Gone to the dogs

On Sunday evening, I went to the Healing Circle Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre, along with 30 or so other people and one dog! My dog, Sofie, is a skilled meditator and has participated in a number of group meditations at Bound Lotus.

During the meditations, which involve chanting mantras and sometimes use mudras (hand gestures), Sofie curls up in front of me and settles into a meditative state of her own. She helps bring out my meditative best and seems to create an even more calming energy for the group. And she loves getting petted and cooed at by students 🙂

Sofie regularly joins me when I practice yoga or meditate at home, so she’s very used to the process. Within minutes of rolling out my yoga mat, she’s on it. Sometimes I can convince her to provide assists, like applying a little pressure to my hips in swan/pigeon pose or letting me use her as a prop in child’s pose. And she’s always willing to rest next to me during savasana.

One of the challenges of any meditation or yoga practice is letting go of all the mental clutter and simply experiencing the present moment. Dogs are masters of ‘now.’ Sofie doesn’t understand ‘later,’ or ‘before,’ she’s entirely in the present. Exactly how I want to be when meditating!

The Healing Circle Meditation is a free monthly event at Bound Lotus. If you or someone you love could use a little healing boost and/or you’re interested in experiencing a group Kundalini meditation look for the next date on the Bound Lotus website. Hopefully Sofie and I will be meditating there with you!

Laura and Sofie stretching together

Change the way you think

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.

Practicing meditation can be a powerful way to change the way you think.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt posits that there are three ways to change your thinking and permanently alter the way you view the world: Prozac (or other similar medications), cognitive behavioural therapy, and meditation.

Meditation is the cheapest and comes with far fewer side effects that medication!

And I highly recommend taking a look at Haidt’s website and reading his book. It’s a scientific approach to why we think the way we do… and how to make ourselves happier.

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

Savasana is where the magic happens

Rich Roll, ultra-marathoner and triathlete, recently wrote an article on Why Every Athlete Should Do Yoga for wellness site Mind Body Green. I’m not convinced that yoga is a cure-all or would provide everyone with an athletic edge, but I wholeheartedly agree with Rich’s position on the importance of savasana – the relaxation part at the close of class.

Rich writes that savasana allows us

to clean mental house, center focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines the expression of our “best self” within.

Savasana gives students the power to settle in to their bodies, quiet their minds, and commit to a few moments of deliberate relaxation. It’s rare that we give our brains permission to fully relax. My usual “relaxation” is watching TV, reading, or surfing online, often while having a glass of wine. While these activities may feel calming and my body can rest, my brain is still engaged and often flitting between thoughts.

Savasana is quite different from relaxing in front of the TV. The mindful relaxation at the end of a yoga practice is focused on allowing the mind to go blank – thinking of nothing and disengaging with any thoughts. It truly enables the brain and body to relax and students often slip into a deep meditative state.

Join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre tonight at 6:30pm for yin yoga and an extra-long savasana with a guided relaxation – known as yoga nidra. Guiding students through yoga nidra helps me tap into my own meditative state – and I’m lucky enough to lead an extra-long savasana during the last Friday night yin class of every month!

Anti-negativity muffins

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling a bit low and struggling to combat negative thoughts. Needing to raise my spirits before teaching yin yoga at Bound Lotus in the evening, I decided to bake a batch of muffins.

Baking generally distracts me from whatever’s swirling around my brain, but I needed a little something extra to clear those negative thoughts. Cue the Gobinday Mukunday mantra, perfect for overcoming negativity. With SatKirin Kaur Khalsa chanting in the background I stirred my way to more positive thoughts and a dozen muffins.

Listening to meditative music while baking, cooking, or doing dishes is wonderful. I can’t help but start chanting along and it turns into a quasi-meditation as my mind starts to clear.

Continue reading “Anti-negativity muffins”

Meditating on authenticity

Today marks day 40 (the last day!) of the second meditation challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. While I didn’t partake in the meditation challenge this time around, I did get to lead the Friday evening sessions.

Leading meditation sessions was a unique opportunity for me as all the Bound Lotus meditation challenges use Kundalini meditations (which tend to be quite active and can be pretty complex) and I’m not a trained Kundalini yoga teacher.

The meditation was focused on the second chakra and involved chanting the mantra “Har hare haree – Wahe guru” for 11 minutes while holding guyan mudra and performing arm gestures. It celebrates the creative spirit and a loose translation of the mantra is “Hallelujah for the creativity of the universe!” Guyan mudra is the hand gesture of wisdom and the arm gestures are meant to gather creative energy into the second chakra (roughly at the level of the tailbone).

I was a little nervous before leading my first meditation a few weeks ago – luckily a few friends were willing to let me use them as guinea pigs beforehand! After leading a practice meditation session with friends, I knew I could do it for real at Bound Lotus.

The five Friday evening meditations I led went well, but I didn’t feel quite settled for them. While students assured me that I was doing fine and seemed quite comfortable, something felt awkward to me.

Maybe it was wearing the full whites of a Kundalini teacher but not being trained in that tradition; maybe it was not partaking in the whole 40 days of meditation; maybe it was just too far out of my comfort zone. Wherever the disconnect was, I wasn’t confident leading the meditations.

The contrast between how I feel teaching yoga classes (awesome! empowering! satisfied!) and the unease I experienced for each meditation session underscored my unsuitability for leading Kundalini meditations.

I was asked to continue leading the Friday evening sessions for the next meditation challenge, but felt too inauthentic doing the second chakra ones to carry on with the third chakra cycle. I feel like a great version of myself when I teach yoga classes or do a Kundalini practice, but I felt like a fraudulent version of myself while leading the meditation sessions.

I’m happy to have led Kundalini meditations and I’m grateful for the experience (particularly the students’ support!) but I’m also happy to discover how much I value teaching with authenticity and confidence. Mostly, I’m happy to be able to say ‘no’ to situations where I don’t feel like a great version of myself.

Healing from the heart

I have a couple friends whose mothers are going in for surgery today… and I’m thinking of them.

Loved ones with health problems are one of the many circumstances where we feel powerless to have any kind of impact. We can worry all we want but deep down we “know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum,” to quote Baz Luhrmann in Everybody’s Free.

I’ve started using meditation to channel my energies towards whoever is having health issues and away from my own fretting. I like doing the Kundalini healing meditation, which uses the Ramadasa mantra and an easy mudra (hand or body position).

The mantra is Ra ma da sa; Sa say so hung and all you do is repeat it. There are lots of recordings to chant along with, my favourite is by Snatam Kaur, and I usually chant for 11 or 31 minutes.

To come into the mudra, sit cross-legged (or in easy pose) and bend your elbows into your body; let your forearms fall open over your thighs, with your inner arms facing up. Your palms are flat and facing upwards with your fingers together and thumbs stretched outwards. The mudra is a gesture of receiving.

KundaliniYoga.org has full instructions if you want more details, including an illustration of the position.

I did Ramadasa as a 31 minute meditation with my dad when he was in atrial fibrillation (a-fib), which is persistently elevated heart rate. He had been in a-fib for a few days and medication was not helping his heart convert to its normal rhythm.

I was thrilled that he was open to meditating together, although immeditately after we were done his heart rate was even higher. While I was on my way home from my parents’ place a couple hours later, though, dad called to let me know that his heart had converted back to a normal rhythm and the a-fib had passed.

I’m hesitant to say that the meditation is the reason my dad’s heart reverted to its normal rhythm, but I don’t think it hurt! And at least it made me feel like I was doing something and let dad know that I love him.

So today I’ll send the love and energy from my Ramasada meditation to my friends and their moms… letting them know that I love them ♥

Silence through boredom

The hand gesture of wisdomThe second 40-Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus started earlier this week and Sofie and I joined the meditation this morning. The first 40-Day Meditation focused on the first chakra (or energy centre); the second one fittingly concentrates on the second chakra.

The mantra (or meditative phrase) we’re using for this Meditation Challenge is the Kundalini seed mantra: Har hare haree; Wahe guru (pronounced: Har haray haree; Wha-hay guroo – with kind of a silent “d” after the har). We’re repeating the mantra for 11 minutes – chanting along to the version by Gurudass from Longing to Belong. This meditation also involves holding guyan mudra (the hand gesture for wisdom – shown in the photo at right) and moving our arms. It’s a trifecta of techniques for meditative concentration; chanting the mantra, holding the mudra, and repeating the arm movements.

I find manta meditations very effective at clearing my brain and finding internal silence. Chanting the same sounds over and over again pretty much bores my brain to death and stops me from thinking. The Sanskrit syllables don’t connect with any meaning like English words might and my mind starts to let go of everything but the mantra.

Adding in holding a mudra and repeating arm movements, further drives out any thoughts and helps bring my mind to stillness.

I’ve compiled a list of other musical mantras I like for meditation, which are great to chant along with or have playing during meditation. I also like having mantras playing while I do other tasks like food prep or dishes; I often find myself chanting along and finding a bit of stillness as I cook!