I am really honored and delighted to be part of the Meditation Steps project that Dada Sadananda initiated, with his very popular Russian YouTube channel, that now has versions in English and many other languages.
Together with the help of a very dedicated team of volunteers, we have managed to launch a Romanian version of the Meditation Steps course – called “Meditatie pas cu pas” as well as a YouTube channel, where I publish a weekly video.
It is my deep wish to see the transformative power of developing a regular meditation practice reach as many people as possible in Romania in an easy, accessible way.
In 2005, I was invited to India for a very special, sacred moment: my avadhutika diiksha. I had already been a brahmacarinii (the equivalent of a novitiate) for four years, posted in Italy, but now I would have the opportunity to learn a special, advanced form of tantra sadhana called kapalika sadhana, and take a deeper set of sannyasi (renunciate) vows. I was full of excitement, and arrived in India, eager to begin the lessons.
I first fell in love with yoga practices in France. I was an exchange student at the time, and we were encouraged to sign up for extracurricular courses in the afternoons. I chose yoga and modern dance. It was the first time I learned to direct my attention within my body and learn to listen and understand its silent language. Although I struggled to understand the directions flowing in graceful French, I was able to follow along with the movements. I became fascinated with my breathing, discovering to my surprise that I didn’t know how to breath correctly. I also learned to use my breathing to release tensions, sink deeper into positions and relax my body consciously. I discovered the limits of my flexibility and witnessed my body gradually loosening, lengthening and becoming stronger. Read more
Deep breathing is the foundation of all yoga practices. By activating the diaphragm and breathing from the abdomen, the capacity of the lungs is increased and oxygenation of the blood improves. Most importantly, deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “relaxation response”. This deactivates and neutralizes stress, which has often become so chronic that it seems like our normal state of being.
2. Yogic self-massage for the lymphatic system
Unlike blood, which is pumped through our body by the heart, lymph only circulates with movement. Lymph has the important function of purifying our system of wastes and is closely interconnected with our immune system. In ancient texts, yogis referred to lymph as pranarasa – one of the stages of “shukra”, which is considered to be the final and most refined substance that is produced out of our food. It is compared to ghee (clarified butter), which is the most refined essence of milk. In yoga, lymph is considered the precursor to hormones. According to yogic understanding, when the lymph enters into contact with glands, it is converted into various hormones. Thus great importance is given in yogic lifestyle to increasing and improving the quality and quantity of lymph through specific dietary guidelines and lifestyle practices. In particular, foods high in cholorphyll (leafy green vegetables such as spinach, parsley and kale) are said to increase the production and quality of lymph and are thus favored by yogis.
The regular practice of even a short 15 minute routine of yoga asanas provides multiple levels of benefit to all of the systems of our body. This two part article will cover ten benefits of yoga:
1. Strengthening yoga postures increase bone density
Many yoga exercises, or asanas are considered excellent weight bearing exercises. Our bones reach their maximum density at around 30 years old, and all of us will naturally begins to lose some bone mass with aging. However, especially in women, this loss can be as dramatic as 20% in the first 5-7 years after menopause,* (1) leading eventually to the painful, degenerative condition of osteoporosis.
Integrating weight bearing exercises into your daily routine is important to prevent bone loss. Yoga postures that support the body’s weight and are held isometrically, such as the plank pose, cakrasana (wheel), sahajasana (chair pose) not only strengthen the muscular system, but also increase bone density. Asanas increase the pressure on bones without stressing the joints as movements are slow, deliberate and careful attention is given to proper alignment.
In its essence, the Neohumanist philosophy is about continually expanding the radius of our circle of love to include the entire universe. Human love is nurtured from birth by forming attachments to those closest to us, but often, beginning in early childhood, those outside of our circle of love, are part of an unknown “Other”. We then begin to experience the duality of “us” and “them” – those that are part of our world and thus familiar, safe and approachable, while those that are not, and are unfamiliar, alien and often thus perceived as threatening on some level due to our basic fear of the unknown.
I just made a playlist on SoundCloud of some of my favorite recordings of live kiirtans, that I made during gatherings with hundreds of Ananda Marga meditators. Kiirtan is the chanting of sanskrit mantras that create a deep resonance with Divine Love. There are many mantras in the tradition of kiirtan – but the one that I love best is “Baba Nam Kevalam” which means “I am only calling out to my Beloved”. It focuses and aligns the whole heart and mind to that core of unconditional, Divine Love that vibrates the essence of the entire universe.
Singing kiirtan is such an amazing simple way to experience pure spiritual bliss. These recordings give a taste of how that bliss intensifies when many people gather together to sing, creating a powerful flow of minds all moving towards that same Divine Nucleus.
I believe that Kaoshikii dance is one of the most complete, all-round workouts ever invented. It is a rhythmic yogic dance, that uniquely combines a stretching of the spine in all directions while at the same time giving an aerobic workout to the heart. The cross-lateral movements of the feet, which tap a toe behind the heel of the opposite foot, this crossing over the body’s center line, are considered by authors such as Eric Jenson, who wrote “Brain Based Learning” to be connected to improved brain coordination and increased mental acuity. At the same time, the arms are gracefully bending to the sides, forwards and backwards, open up the major meridians of the body, increasing circulation and energy flow. The forward bends are calming, while the backward bends are invigorating and energizing.
In our increasingly sophisticated and technologically driven world, many children are primarily exposed to discovering the world through the screen of a tablet, TV or computer. They become habituated to these highly concentrated doses of information and their young minds readily adapt and crave greater and greater stimulation. It is then no wonder that it becomes difficult for them to sit quietly, to have long periods of concentrated attention. We adults complain that ADHD has reached epidemic proportions, yet if we observe ourselves, many of us have become accustomed to being constantly available on our cell-phones, filling up the spaces of our lives while we wait in line, drive in the car, or go for a walk with checking email, messenger, Facebook, or making calls. How much calm, quiet spaciousness do we grant our own minds? How much do we flit rapidly from task to task?
Mindful time in nature is both antidote and medicine for this condition. The natural world operates in spontaneous harmony with its Divine source and thus exudes peace, beauty and truth from its very essence. Poets and artists throughout the ages find metaphor and inspiration in the natural world as it is a pure mirror of subtle, spiritual truth. Only human beings have the ability to choose consciously whether or not to act in harmony with their Divine nature or to ignore it. The rest of Nature is on auto-pilot. As a zen teacher I heard speak once said, “Human beings are number one bad animal because human beings don’t know what human being’s job is.”
I first have to say there is something questionable about the older brothers getting their young brother to freeze in the cold for what apparently are hours (!!!) for an experiment. But okay, let’s trust that they didn’t coerce him and that he didn’t get seriously sick or frostbitten from the exposure to cold. I don’t think I could have filmed someone I cared about shivering so intensely. That kid was really cold, not just acting. If it is true that it was -5 Fahrenheit (for those of us living in Europe that means minus 15 degrees Celsius!!), that is not just cold, it is dangerously cold – with frostbite and hypothermia risks that can do permanent physical damage. I can just imagine a mother’s voice shrieking when they all got home “You did what???”
Looking in the Mirror
Of course, it can also be seen as quite strong and brave of him to sacrifice his ordinary, middle-class comfort for a day to make a statement, and the statement is powerful. How many of us have walked right by the invisible homeless? Do we see our own indifference reflected in the mirror? Or perhaps our own busy lives that keep us so focused on our own stuff that we just don’t have time to stop and deal with the suffering of others. The thought of it overwhelms us, and we hurry past because we don’t have time now. Or do we see our own powerless? Our irritation – why does this problem exist? Why doesn’t someone DO something…..