Didi Ananda Devapriya's Meditation and Yoga Blog

How I fell in love with Yoga Asanas

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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.

Though I could not remember the long sequences of movements in the class, I had soon memorized a yogic warmup known as the sun salutation and I began to integrate it into my daily morning routine. It soon replaced my need for coffee to wake up – rather with just 5 minutes of the vigorous sun salutation exercise, my entire body felt revitalized and wonderfully stretched and strengthened. It has remained part of my morning routine to this day.

When I returned from France, my friends and family had the impression that I had grown taller. I was already twenty, so I doubt that I was still actually growing in height. Rather, I think that as my posture became more aligned, it allowed my spine to lengthen. As I continued practicing, I found that chronic issues I had struggled with throughout my teen years, such as anxiety, chronic digestive issues and symptoms of chronic fatigue that had lingered after a series of illnesses I had had as a teenager, simply evaporated and disappeared. I felt lighter, more dynamic and energized, and the changes were permanent.

Most importantly, yoga helped me to tune into my own body and learn to listen to it. I found that even my cravings changed, as I began to feel the need for foods that were lighter, simpler and healthier.

Although I had tended to struggle as a child with numerous colds, strep throat, ear infections and flus throughout the winter, after a few months of yoga practice – I noticed that I went through an entire season without falling ill. Indeed, it is now a rare occurence that I catch a cold – despite daily contact with kindergarten children and their runny noses! My eyesight also improved – from a minus 6 to minus 1.75. I attribute this to the practices of “half-bath”, which includes splashing water on the eyes, as well as to the yogic self-massage done at the end of a session which includes many pressure points around the eyes.

Most importantly, after a few months of practice, I noticed my mind gradually settling into a more peaceful and harmonious state. When I first began yoga classes, if the teacher proposed a short meditation at the end, it seemed that the restlessness of my mind flitting around like a moth was heightened under the magnifying lens of the quietness in the room. I felt about as far from inner peace as one could possibly be. However, in time, something began to subtly shift within and soon I found myself curious and drawn to introspective practices, and interestingly, my mind was more easily stilled than before. I only discovered later, when studying “Biopsychology” – Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii’s writings on the relationship between glands, cakras and the mind – that indeed, yoga asanas were designed in order to prepare the mind to be still for meditation.

At this point, yoga asanas have become such a part of life for me that if for some reason I cannot do them in the morning – it makes me feel just as odd as if I were to skip brushing my teeth. They make me feel alive, fresh, energized and ready to face the day. When I practice in the evening, the days tensions and tiredness melt away and I feel renewed and relaxed. I am so grateful to have encountered yoga asanas. They help me to stay connected with my own body and develop an intuitive understanding from within. As I have learned to inhabit my body more fully, naturally and spontaneously I have found that I am then also able to experience and enjoy life more thoroughly.

5 Subtler Benefits of Yoga Asanas

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1. Yoga improves our respiratory system

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.

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5 Important Health Benefits of Yoga

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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.

2. Yoga benefits the heart and circulation

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Song: What if We Made a Circle

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Beyond “Us” and “Them”

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.

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My live kiirtan recordings

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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.

Kaoshiiki: The Most Complete Exercise Ever!

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Kaoshiiki – a yoga dance!

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.

 

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Mindfulness, children and nature

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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.”

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Reflecting on the Freezing Homeless Child Experiment

Many of you may have seen this video that went viral in the past weeks.  If not, watch it first so I won’t spoil it for you..
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…..

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One Simple Tip for Looking and Feeling Beautiful, Inside and Out

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Smile! It – is just that simple. Smiling literally lights up our face. We shine when we smile. When we are at our best, we are smiling. When we are in love, we smile more. When we are satisfied, we smile. When we are joyful we smile.

Sometimes – just as I begin to meditate – I remind myself to relax and smile. Immediately – I feel my heart open and a positive, light feeling fills me up. Smiling reflects our natural state of being – it relaxes us , remind who we are. Everyone looks more beautiful when they are smiling – like a flower blooming, our face seems to reflect our soul more completely when we smile.  Nobody is particularly happy with the pictures on their driver’s license or passports when we are not smiling.
But another secret is that we actually feel happier when smiling. While smiling is usually an automatic response to positive feelings, it is a two way street. When we do it intentionally, as a practice, smiling helps us to trigger those same good feelings. We smile when we feel happy and smiling helps us to feel happy.  Researchers have confirmed this, discovering that smiling alters brain chemistry – stimulating the release of dopamine, endorphins and seratonin – which lift your mood and protect you from stress. (1)  In yoga practice, this connection can be considered a part of the science of “mudra”, an ancient study of how different subtle positions of the body, from hand gestures to different gazes of the eyes, to smiling impact our entire system.
One of the fundamental practices of a spiritual lifestyle – from the 10 ethical principles of “Yama and Niyamas” is “Santosh” which means contentment, or happiness. This is not only a principle – it is a practice. It means – we do not just have to wait for happiness to happen – we can cultivate it, with intention. Practicing gratitude is a way to open our hearts towards the beauty of life.
In Italy, I heard a beautiful Italian proverb: “A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that is growing.”  So often the negative things in life jump to the foreground, obscuring all of the other positives that we are surrounded with.  On the other hand, our gratitude is often like a drop of water on a hot skillet that quickly sizzles and evaporates. What you focus on grows, so when we choose to practice noticing the forest growing around us, cooling our restless mind so that the drop of water doesn’t sizzle away in a few seconds, then we experience the contentment, joy and satisfaction that we crave.
Smile….
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
footnotes:

Right Action, Continuous Effort, Perfect Finish

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EightfoldPathThe Eight-Fold Path lies at the core of Buddhist teachings.  The eight practices are designed to help us to align our lives more closely to Dharma – our divine potential.  Each of the practices : right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration and right understanding helps to channelize our energy towards spiritual realization. The word “samyak” is translated as “right” – but it could also be translated as “good”, “accurate” or “well-done”.  In this case, these things are “right” when they take us closer to our spiritual self.  Spiritual practice is not something limited to the moments we spend with our eyes closed on a meditation cushion.  It is a way of life. Every moment presents us with the opportunity to live from a deep place of harmony with our soul, and these eight points help us to reflect on the different ways we can train ourselves to remain aligned.  I was recently asked to give a presentation at a spiritual conference on “Samyak Karmanta” – or “Right Action” so this article will limit itself to just reflecting on that point. Read more

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