How often should we be practicing?
This question seems to come up quite frequently.
As much as we like to be told exactly what and when, unfortunately it's not quite so simple.
Firstly, why are we practicing in the first place?
If you want to feel stronger, fitter, more mentally alert and emotionally stable, you will have to find the right weekly input and rhythm that will work for you to achieve this. This varies person to person for many reasons.
The bottom line is, give and take a few factors, we get out what we put in. So make an effort and you will see some result.
In the final analysis, practices like Tai Ji, Yoga, Meditation and so on are more a mind state than anything else. Our core beliefs, attitudes, feelings and physical actions will operate to roll out how we gradually gain and benefit or go round in circles or just fall off completely.
These kinds of practices are currently popular, so many folk may just be in it because everyone is doing it. We may want to ask ourselves the question, how real is this for me? Is it really meaningful? and so on.
Director Sacred Spiral Yoga
Yogic relaxation practice is usually performed in a posture (Asana) called Savasana - Corpse Pose.
Basically lying down with the arms and legs splayed slightly.
Many people find this seeming natural posture on the floor actually quite difficult and uncomfortable. This is usually owing to stiffness and lack of body alignment understanding which can be greatly aided by the regular practice of Yoga Postures.
The other big hindrance to real relaxation is the activity of our mind.
Better physical tone helps, especially given that the physical body tends to ‘store’ tension and stress in our muscle groups – tense, sore, neck and shoulders, knot in your stomach etc.
So, a gentle to moderate yoga session before you practice your relaxation will help you a lot.
Many folks suffer from insomnia for a variety of reasons ranging from stress and worry to poor health to relationship and emotional issues and so on. A gentle Asana session using appropriate postures and exercises can do wonders to remedy this condition too.
Perhaps the most important factor in Yogic relaxation method is learning the ability to reduce and eventually stop the endless activity of our thoughts. Our beliefs, worries attitudes and endless thoughts all exert a considerable impact upon our nervous system and thereby directly into our physical bodies. In this arena, the Meditation practice now becomes important to assist us in having better control of our minds and therefore our ability to relax properly.
When attempting to work with our often unruly minds and emotions, having a healthy perspective on ourselves and life in general can be very helpful.
There is a wonderful and simple technique of smiling to your-self to relax the nervous system. It is more the feeling of the smile we are trying to catch. We 'take' this feeling into our tight, stiff, sore areas and enjoy the sensation of peace that comes from this technique.
Regular practice and keeping our view of the world flexible and non-dogmatic, we are able to be more encompassing within our personal belief systems and attitudes. This way we achieve a greater harmony and unity with the rest of our fellow man and with ourselves. Probably because we are no longer wasting precious energy on defending ourselves or judging others we disagree with.
Egotism, the issue of self importance, has been called by many in the great eastern spiritual traditions, one of the biggest obstacles. When we operate in life as if we are the center of the world and exclude anything and everything that does not conform to our personal views, we miss many subtle perceptions and experiences that could potentially give us a much broader and maybe even a totally different view.
One great way to very naturally reduce self importance and alter our mind-scape to a very positive state is to regularly find things to be grateful for. The state of gratitude brings us into a valuable calm and peaceful mode. Practicing this for a while before a formal relaxation session is very helpful.
Sacred Spiral Relaxation Practice.
This should be performed a minimum of once a day and if possible two to three times over a 24 hour cycle. The early hours of the morning or late at night is a great time. An easy stretching session beforehand may be very useful.
Suggested Preparatory Asanas (20 Minutes) – Child's pose, Down Facing Dog, Seated twists, gentle chest opener, Side stretches, 9 – 16 easy cycles of Sacred Spiral Pranic Breathing. A few cycles of deep AUM/OM chanting can also works wonders to center and balance our energy systems before relaxation.
Be comfortable, warm, alone, silent, preferably in a dedicated space – Absolutely no cell phones, TV sets, radios etc. to disturb you. We have a set of appropriate MP3's, most of which are FREE in our STORE to greatly assist the process.
The body is placed with the arms and legs slightly splayed out. The shoulder blades should be drawn down slightly so they are flat on the mat and not uncomfortably on the tips. Head and neck level and comfortable. Sometimes the heels of the feet are placed poorly and should be lengthened slightly and comfortable. Yoga Savasana relaxation should be practiced on a firm mat or blanket.
We should spend a few minutes, or as long as needed, consciously expanding and relaxing the feeling of tension in our faces. The skin is often drawn tight here and this is eventually how frown lines develop – along our habitual face tension pathways. Smiling as mentioned above is invaluable and should be practiced frequently. When you feel ready, move your attention downwards into the rest of your physical body, smiling to your limbs and organs and consciously releasing tension.
Ironically, the harder we try to relax the less we will be able to, so be simple, easy and understand that we need to divert our attention as soon as possible into conducive channels in order to relax properly.
Imagination, the faculty of ‘inner imaging’ is enormously powerful and should be a standard tool for our practice. Equally important is to know when and how to 'drop' the tool of imagination. If we fall short here, we may become hooked into the imaginative mode of mind and then not being able to change, this will once again stop us accessing the deeper levels of relaxation.
Our ‘feeling’ we all have of the so-called boundaries of our physical body is a conditioned perception. It is relatively easy to relax a while and then by playing around with a sense of expanding and contracting our feeling awareness (aided by our imagination in linking our image faculty to feeling sensation), we can quickly distort the sense of where our arm or leg actually is!
Provided we can release the imaginative mode of mind at the appropriate time, as discussed above, this is a desirable state and should be sort after. It may initially be a little strange for some folks to suddenly find that the old familiar sense of exactly where and what their bodies are, has become all ‘fuzzy’ or has even completely disappeared. Do not worry, we can all return very easily back to that good old familiar body. Deep and extended versions of this practice are called in Sanskrit ‘Yoga Nidra” Epitomized by ‘body asleep, mind alert but motionless’. Advanced Sacred Spiral Relaxation coming soon.
That brings us to consider our state of the mind in a deep relaxation state. The ‘alert but motionless’ frame of awareness implies that the common or normal, hectic activity state of mind has given way to a state that is fully alert, but without thought or emotion to disturb the placidity. Scientifically speaking the brain wave activity has calmed down to an Alpha range (Savasana), or even maybe a Theta level (Yoga Nidra - body asleep, mind awake).
This all sounds relatively easy, but in practice it may be hard to achieve and could take considerable effort and practice. Continued practice and trying will eventually yield good results.
If you do fall into normal sleep when doing your relaxation, this is quite fine and will be good and beneficial, but it is not really what we are after and if it happens continually, you may need some extra pointers to work with the situation.
Coming out of a deep relaxation will need a process as well since the body will be dormant. Our first action when focusing on returning to normal wakeful consciousness, should be to come to the awareness of our breath. This will be very shallow and quiet at this stage. We should all, with relative ease, be able to very slightly deepen our breath. Be with this for a while and then deepen it a little further. Be sure to still maintain that lovely quiet rhythm a little longer. After a while, feel your way down into your body and starting at your extremities, fingertips and toe-tips, begin to look for sensation here.
Cellular & muscle memory will rally fast and most likely you will quickly be able to return sensation. After another short period do this for the rest of the body until you are ready to drag up one leg, then the other and curl over onto your right side, away from the physical heart, head supported on your arm. Be here a few moments until you naturally open the eyes and sit up.
Sit for a few moments, quietly acknowledging your inner self in a way that is meaningful to you.
You can visit our YouTube Channel for many videos on all aspects of Sacred Spiral Yoga.
Doors of Perception
The Doors of Perception
A brief exploration of attention, awareness, concentration and consciousness.
Many of us feel a bit unsure as to the differences of these terms or just tend to lump them all together with more or less the same meaning. So this post will take a quick, non academic look.
Attention is really best described as a kind of force within us that can be focused on something or used in a broad sense. Interestingly the qualities of attention can be developed by practicing concentration exercises. Concentration can be described as the marshaling of our attention and maintaining this force steady, usually on a chosen object or topic.
Our five senses, especially our eyes and gaze, both the physical eyes and our inner eye are very intimately tied up with our attention and concentration.
Awareness refers to some-thing we become aware of via our attention. Attention itself can be used at least two different ways. ‘Peripheral’ attention is diffused, casual, open and receptive. On the other hand we can access a torch beam style, narrow and highly focused type of attention.
Un-trained attention (scattered) is broken easily when we try to gather it, un-trained attention ‘jumps’ around from topic to topic etc. We experience a jumble of thoughts and words in our head.
Most folk don't have much problem using there attention well if they are interested in a subject. If they are very interested, their attention becomes easily riveted and you have difficulty even asking a casual question of someone in this state. We can say attention has become so absorbed in some-thing that general peripheral awareness has narrowed right down, for example when engrossed in reading a fascinating book.
It is common for say, one person to be aware of some-thing others are not within a small or large group. Perhaps that one person is the only one to be aware of this ‘some-thing’. Conversely, many folks within a group could be aware of some-thing, while a few or one person is not aware of this some-thing.
Consciousness is the next issue and is often defined as ‘sharing awareness with others’. So consciousness is the faculty that allows us to participate together with others within the greater field of awareness. Consciousness (sharing with) may include or exclude the contents of various individual’s awareness.
From this discussion so far we can easily see how ‘consensual perception’ arises. Dominant agreement about ‘some-thing’ will take place overtly within a group even though individually, some, or even one person may ‘see’ something else or say they ‘agree’ and yet privately disagree. This goes beyond an ‘opinion’ about matters to include elements of personal awareness.
Consensual perception can and does mushroom to encompass from small families to whole societies, whole races and literally then extend to millions of people. The thing to realize here is that consensual perception (this is frequently belief or opinion based) is not unquestionably absolute. To an indigenous folk living deep in an ‘un-explored’ jungle, a strange light moving across the sky at night could be taken unanimously as ‘gods from outer space’. To millions of ‘civilized’ folks it’s just a radio satellite doing its rounds of the globe or an airplane. This concept extends fully into the world of science with its currently ‘proven’ and later genially ‘dis-proven’ theories. Quantum physics has been telling us for quite a while now that the outcomes of an ‘experiment’ are impacted by the person or persons conducting the said experiment. (Different persons may render a different result) The fascinating revelations around the ‘placebo’ effect, especially within the realm of pharmaceutical advertising are another eye-widening, thought provoking subject.
So, perception, as much as many would love it to be (would be much safer) is not concrete, ultimately verifiable and absolute, but is unique to individuals and greatly subject to one’s innate conditioning, education and so on. Personal and group perception is a composite of socialization + attention, awareness and concentration that gives us the ability to be ‘conscious’ or share and participate with others. Attention and the resulting awareness can go beyond ‘normal’ or common interpretations and boundaries to reveal obscure and unknown ‘things’.
Paul Carlos Y.A.I 500h Sacred Spiral Yoga
Paul Carlos is the founder of Sacred Spiral Yoga.