Summer Retreat Proposed Itinerary

Friday, August 17

3 pm and after     Arrival, Welcome

5 pm                      Gentle Yoga - Yoga Studio

6:30 pm                 DINNER - Main House

8 pm                      Friendship Circle - Yoga Studio

Saturday, August 18

7 am                      Yoga - Yoga Studio

8:15 am                 BREAKFAST - Main House

9:30 am                     Meditation Walk - GATHER AT PATIO

10 - 12:30 pm       FREE TIME

12:30 pm             LUNCH - Main House     

 1:30 - 5 pm        FREE TIME

5 pm                  Yoga - Yoga Studio

6:30 pm             DINNER - Main House

8 pm                  Friendship Circle - Yoga Studio

Sunday, August 19

8:00 am     BREAKFAST - Main House

9:30 am     T'ai Chi/Yoga - Yoga Studio

10:30 am    FREE TIME

12:30 pm    LUNCH - Main House

1:30 pm      FAREWELLS

 

 

Being Gentle With Ourselves

During those times when our lives are filled with what seems to be constant change and growth, it is important to remember that we need to be gentle with ourselves. Since it can be easy to use our energy to keep up with the momentum of our lives, we may not be aware of the fact that we are much more likely to run ourselves down. When things seem to be moving quickly, it is especially essential that we make a point to slow down and be gentle with ourselves.

It might be difficult to notice what is happening to us for we may be so caught up in the whirlwind of our lives that we lose sight of the direction in which things are heading. Being gentle with ourselves doesn't mean that we don't accomplish things. Instead it means that we honor ourselves on an ongoing basis and take care of the needs of our bodies.

This means different things to different people. For instance, it could mean having a session with a healer; taking a remedy, herbs, or vitamins; or getting extra sleep. Putting our energy into ourselves in this way helps create space for a more positive, loving, and accepting view of our lives. By setting the intention to do so, we will be more cognizant of our energy levels on a daily basis and more able to replenish them as needed.

The more we are able to treat our bodies with gentleness, the more tenderness and compassion we will call forth into our lives. Learning to understand and pay attention to what our self needs will in turn allow us to fill our lives with unlimited loving and healing energy and to truly take care of the things that mean the most to us.

Pratyahara - the Fifth Limb of the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga

Pratyahara        ….. often called the “Forgotten Limb.”

 


In our over-the-top stressed out culture, meditation is currently being touted as a THE antidote. It decreases stress and anxiety, calms and steadies the mind, lowers blood pressure, turns down the Sympathetic Nervous System and much much more.

Pratyahara is the first stage of meditation. The term pratyahara is composed of two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara. Ahara means "food," or "anything we take into ourselves from the outside." This can also be sound, things we see, taste, touch and feel....and energy from others.

Prati is a preposition meaning "against" or "away." Pratyahara, then, means literally "control of ahara," or "gaining mastery over external influences." It is compared to a turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell — the turtle’s shell is the mind and the senses are the limbs. (Kurmasana, Turtle Pose, is a deep seated forward bend, where the arms and hands are folded underneath the legs, in much the same way that a turtle would do.)

Pratyahara is usually translated as "withdrawal from the senses," but much more is implied.

The mind is a gigantic field of impressions. All that is contained in the field of our minds has been input by the five senses. All that we ‘know’ is only what has been fed into the mind by the senses. The mind is like a big computer, if you will, into which all kinds of data has been input. That is all we ‘know.’ (Can you imagine all that we DON”T know?!) The kinds of impressions that are currently in our minds will affect how we think, speak and behave in our lives. Being careful of our associations with harmful people, or negative impressions that we see on our televisions WILL affect how we orchestrate our lives. What we don’t know, we have yet to hear, see, feel, taste or smell. This is precisely where meditation comes in. When we meditate we open the door to our minds, and let new wisdom to enter. We ‘see’ more clearly.

It is not possible to move directly from asana (postures) to meditation. We first need to ‘turn away’ from the external world. To do this, we quiet the 5 senses (in Sanskrit ‘indriyas’ ) - the senses of smell, taste, touch, sight, sound. We practice pausing, being still, sometimes closing our eyes, listening inwardly and intently as if expecting to hear something from within, and most importantly, being relaxed. And we are patient with ourselves. This is called pratyahara….the first stage of meditation.

The breath is an extremely important instrument in making this transition. The breath is the link between the physical body and the body of mind. Many breath techniques exist in the tradition of yoga to help us move inwardly, and to marry the mind with the body.

Importantly, the practice of pratyahara can also be explained by not only turning away ... But also by turning toward positive influences and toward making right choices in our lives. Right associations, relationships, right work, right diet, right rest all make for a very peaceful sense of inner calm….as in the old Scottish proverb states “an easy mind is a soft pillow.”

At this time of year when many yogis embrace the upcoming 12 months, and resolving to do better than in the past 12 months,, pratyahara can be considered to be of immense help.

And WOW.....could we all use a healthy dose of pratyahara these days! “Gaining mastery over external influences.” Hmmmmmm. The media would have us believe that if only we had this...or if only we bought that....we would be complete. More clothing, more food, a new car, bigger house, more and more DEBT. Many of us today live our lives like there is a second one waiting in the wings. Not true.

And guess what?! Even with all the additional ‘stuff’, we would still be the same, only poorer or fatter.

We ARE already complete, already perfect....just as we are.......as the tradition of yoga teaches.

 

Becoming a Bodhisattva

In an increasingly interdependent world our own welfare and happiness depend on many other people. Other human beings have a right to peace and happiness that is equal to our own; therefore we have a responsibility to help those in need. Many of our world's problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family.”   … Dalai Lama

Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term which encompasses two words...Bodhi which means enlightenment, and Sattva which means being.  In Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by compassion and seeks enlightenment not only for him/herself, but also for everyone. 

 

Most people are self-motivated and work only to solve his/her own problems, while keeping others’ problems a distance second. While we may learn about difficulties in other parts of the world/country/city/neighbourhood, we are still primarily interested in our own.  In addition, if we do consciously work an act of kindness, it is often accompanied by an expectation of a thank you or further praise.

 

A bodhisattva is motivated by pure compassion and love. Their goal is to achieve the highest level of being – that of a Buddha.   Indeed, The Buddha has been quoted as saying “I will become a savour to all those beings, I will release them from all their sufferings.” Interestingly, this intention is present in most world religions – including Christianity. Jesus Christ was a true Bodhisattva.

 

Beginning the journey of becoming a Bodhisattva is the way of enlightenment. If we can be of aid to others, this is the path. The path is laid out for us in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism in the Six Perfections. They are as follows:

 

1. Generosity                               2. Ethics                                          3. Patience

4. Effort                                             5. Concentration             6. Wisdom

Do the Six Perfections sound familiar?!  If we look to the yogic teachings of Patanjali, there they are! 

 

1. Ahimsa, typically translated as non-violence and inflicting no harm, can be extrapolated out to the very opposite of violence – to sharing, caring, generosity and love.

 

2.  Satya – truth in word and thought.  Asteya – not stealing, and non-coveting that which is not ours.  Santosha – satisfaction with what one has. Are these qualities not Ethics?!

 

3 and 4.  Tapas – austerity and associated observances for body discipline and mental control...Patience and Effort.

 

5. Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana – the 3 steps to meditation. Concentration.

 

6.  Svadhyaha -  The study of scripture and the search for God and the soul.  Wisdom.

 

Here are some questions to ask ourselves during meditation.

1.  How can I become more generous? In my thoughts, words, actions? Is it possible to control materialistic tendencies and to work toward being kinder to others? How is it possible to share what I know about yoga and the teachings so that people are able to help themselves?

 

2.  How can I refrain from doing harm to myself, and all those around me...in thoughts, words and actions?  In every way?  Do I know the difference between what is absolutely right, and what is absolutely wrong?

 

3.  How can I develop more patience? Patience it an the antidote to anger.   In Chandrakirti's 'Supplement to the Middle Way' he writes: "Anger makes us ugly, leads to the unholy, and robs us of discernment to know right from wrong." When we become angry, our body stiffens, our blood pressure rises, our breathing is impaired, as is our reason. “

 

Patience creates a joyousness within us. Our features become relaxed and we can look many years younger. We are then tolerant and happy and much further along the path of becoming a Bodhisattva .

 

4.  Enthusiastic effort is necessary if you want to achieve anything, but for something as noble and challenging as joining the ranks of the Bodhisattvas, effort is definitely a requirement. Who doesn't want their efforts repaid instantly? However, the way of the Bodhisattva is arduous and requires virtues that many of us currently lack. Laziness (Tamas – inertia and lack of effort/laziness) is a huge fault that curtails effort. Tapas is the discipline that moves us forward! Our effort is needed NOW!

 

5.  Concentration - Developing a calm mind through meditation will sharpen our concentration. Being able to focus single-pointedly on one object with a non-wavering mind will be a great advantage. The calm-abiding mind develops clairvoyance and abilities to heal ourselves and others. When radiating inward and outward calm, you'll become like a lighthouse in a stormy night. You'll inspire others with your strong mental capabilities and they in turn will want the inner peace that you have found for yourself. Concentration is a form of mindfulness. This means that when you pay unwavering attention to what you're doing – while you are doing it - you avoid many frustrations.

 

6.  Wisdom, the sixth perfection, is said to be the root of all great qualities we can cultivate in this life. The Buddhist texts emphasize two vital subjects when it comes to knowledge – selflessness and impermanence.  When we have clear understanding of impermanence, that everything is changing, that everything begins, is, and then ends, that all in the physical world and all living beings are created by the mind, only then will we have ‘wisdom.’  This clarity of mind then brings about all the other 5 perfections. 

 

A Bodhisattva is often likened to a lighthouse on a stormy, dark sea.  Is there anyone in your life who has been – or is - a Bodhisattva for you? Are you a Bodhisattva?!  Can you BE a Boddhisattva?!

 

The above was prepared with notes from http://www.essortment.com  Many Thanks!

 

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What is SLOW Yoga?!!

SLOW Yoga focuses on the gentlest of yoga postures, most of which are either done lying down or comfortably sitting. So, once down on the mat, this is where we stay! It also involves pranayama, (the art of breathing), meditation, resting, and a bit of yoga philosophy All of our SLOW Yoga teachers are highly trained to help you obtain the best practice for you. The idea is to maximize your practice in all forms.

We believe that yoga is not something that you do to yourself, but rather yoga is something that you do WITH yourself. Slow Yoga -- an all-round beautiful practice.

                                                               

The 8 Limbs of Yoga!  Time to Reflect!

 

                                    Yoga (from the Sanskrit ‘yuj’ – to yoke) has been around for roughly 5,000 years! It was an oral tradition, passed down from teacher to student.  Around 2,000 years ago the sage Patanjali gathered together what was then known about yoga and proceeded to write the

95 Sutras (threads, wisdom pearls) which today, form the basis of our study of yoga. The Sutras form a tapestry of knowledge drawn from many traditions of Yoga.

 In the second and third chapters of the Sutras, Patanjali described 8 disciplines or ‘limbs’ which must be practiced in order to perceive ‘the true self.’ Once the ‘true self’ was found, freedom or Kaivalya was achieved. Oh, how appealing is this!  At any rate, Patanjali called this The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Ashtanga or The 8-Fold Path. (Not to be confused with the style of Yoga called “Ashtanga” which is a form of Yoga practiced widely in the West.  For some reason, this aggressive, very tough style is quite popular, which is beyond me at this stage of life – physically and psychologically! But that is for another time!)

The Third Limb of Yoga, called Asanas, is all about the physical poses of Yoga. This is largely the aspect of Yoga that initially attracts many yogis to the practice. Yet, in addition to the myriad of physical benefits that the poses offer, practicing requires mental concentration and steadiness of mind, self-study of-  and high regard for the physical body, as well as breath control.  So, we could therefore state that the poses themselves are a meditation. They include aspects of the Yamas (Non-Violence, Truthfulness, nSelf-Study, Containment of Energy and ).

In the 2nd Sutra Patanjali lists The First Limb of Yoga – the Yamas and Niyamas –and especially the Yamas – these are of particular interest to me at this special time of year. Broadly, the Yamas are guidelines for getting along with the rest of the world. They include:

1.    Ahimsa - Non Violence

2.    Satya - Truthfulness

3.    Asteya – Non-Stealing

4.    Brahmacharya – Containment and Redirection of Life Force

5.    Svadhyaya – Self Study

 

Non-Harming, Non-Violence.  Hmmm. Peace on Earth. Goodwill Toward Men.  Hmmmmm again.   Where, oh where, did all of that go?  Time to reflect on Ahimsa during this season of destruction and reparation of our Earth. And lots of prayer wouldn’t hurt!    

Asmita.......I-am-ness

 

Lonely. Separate. Disconnected. This is the feeling that is associated with the concept of Asmita. The ancient Sage Patanjali tells us that this feeling leads us to identify with the body, mind and possessions and keeps us apart from others.  We begin to identify ourselves with our ego. We can create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us.  Yoga teaches us that the self is different from the ego. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) or internal (I am a bad person) false projections.

In Indian philosophy, the true nature of man consists of a divine kernel, which is in itself pure and infinite. This true nature is called Atman, the world-soul, which all living beings share and which is the source of life. 

As we experience life, we begin the journey through the senses - the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin - and this sensory world begins to drag us away from our true nature. We begin to strive for more of what brings us pleasure - material things, pleasurable acts and thoughts. We begin to confuse this ‘self’ (really EGO) as the true self. In this ignorance we can easily lose our anchor and our foundation.  

We can see Asmita acted out every day in ourselves, in our families, in our colleague, even in our studios. When people purport themselves to be something other than what they are, this is Asmita. They can either pump themselves up, or put themselves down. A false view of self.  

Yoga teaches us that one of the ways in which to overcome Asmita is in the act of generous sharing. To give rather than to strive to acquire. The point isn’t so much what we give or how much we give...the point is that we lose our habit of clinging — and acquiring. We reverse the process!

Yoga teaches us that we are not here on this planet to simply please ourselves. We are not meant to live in a vacuum. We are part of a much larger community. Tibetan Buddhism teaches us that we are here to ease the suffering of others. One of the ways that we can do this is by giving. At our studio during the month of February, students are asked to take part in a self-challenge of giving a gift every day of this month. For more information on this wonderful practice, as we have borrowed this practice from Cami Walker who has written a book entitled “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.” 

Gifts need not be large and may be made to anyone — family, friend or a strange — a simple smile, giving a dollar to a street person, holding the door for someone. Preparation of food, dusting furniture, washing dishes can all be selfless acts of giving — when viewed in that way. Your full attention to someone while really listening to them is perhaps the most precious gift that you can give.

Loneliness

 

No, this is not a Sanskrit word!! This is an English word that is defined as a feeling in which people experience a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. Loneliness is often compared to feeling empty, unwanted, and unimportant. Someone who is lonely may find it hard to form strong interpersonal relationships.

One of the first recorded uses of the word "lonely" was in William Shakespeare's Coriolanus, "Though I go alone, like a lonely dragon..." Act IV Scene 1. How well Shakespeare put it.

Over the past few weeks I have become very aware of many people who are lonely and in need of contact with others. And so, our Yoga Philosophy of the Month is being put on hold for a bit. Poets, songwriters, playwrights, artists from all walks of life have expressed their feelings of loneliness in verse, song, drama and paint since the beginning of recorded time.

Today we are asking everyone who reads this letter to sit with this thought for a bit, and to recognize those in our daily lives who may be in need.

 You CAN make a huge difference to the quality of someone’s life by reaching out to that one person. In the yogic tradition, we do not expect self-gratification for this action. Our aim is to include others, to ease the path of someone who may be suffering (often in silence.) I could go on and talk about loneliness and it’s very close ties to depression. Only recently we lost one of our studio members to suicide. We did not know that this person was so lonely. The pain of living was too great. We needed to open our eyes, and to REACH OUT. Please, everyone.


Only by Letting Go Can You Be Truly Free

If you’re having trouble letting go of negativity and embracing your future, you’re invited to experience the positive effects of yoga. Yoga can help you learn to let go of negativity through regular yoga practice, and by repeating a mantra, called a Japa, to help you to focus your mind and create positive mental patterns.

Repeating a mantra has always been an important aspect of the tradition of yoga, and one of particular benefit for people living in today’s busy world. Using a mantra during yoga practice allows you to focus your mind in a positive, or even dispassionate, direction, releasing the negative thoughts that often weigh us 

In Buddhism, there is a parable called The Problem with the Raft that describes a man whose journey takes him to a river that he would like to cross. The man painstakingly builds a raft and uses it to cross to the other side, where he then has a dilemma: should he hold on to the raft he worked so hard to create, even though to carry it with him would be a burden? Or should he abandon that raft, and his labour, and move on free and unencumbered?

Can you relate to this parable? Are you paralyzed by the thought of letting go of your past and moving forward to a new, more spiritual future? The Buddha teaches that one must let go of that which no longer serves a purpose, and Japa serves as a mechanism to complete the process of letting go.

Experience the benefits of regular yoga practice and explore the spiritual impacts of Japa by letting go of the past and evolving spiritually.

Place yourself in the experienced hands of a qualified yoga instructor and learn to enjoy your life and achieve your goals through inward contemplation.

On Forgiveness

(With a lot of help from Madisyn Taylor! Thank you.)

 

During your classes, you may often have heard your teachers speak of ‘opening your heart.’ This can be a most confusing direction! And is often met with resistance instead of softening.

Feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, - whether they are directed toward others – OR TO OURSELVES, tend to block our life force energy in the heart chakra.

Of course, this is another confusing issue! The ancient yogis in their meditation were given the vision (which has now been substantiated by Western Science) that energy in the body travels according to a pre-determined arrangement. Energy, when free of roadblocks, will travel upwards from the root chakrs which we find near the base of the spine. This energy or ‘chi’ or ‘prana’ as we know it in the tradition of yoga is critical to health – both bodily and spiritually and mentally.

So, then when we choose not to forgive ourselves or others, and instead to hold in feelings of anger, jealously, and resentment, this negative energy remains in the heart chakra and we may experience it as fear, or anger or a whole range of negative emotions – including an inability to open up to others, to remain inward. 

And importantly, when we remain in a negative state of being and living, and in turn attract more of the same situations into our lives.

So, when your teachers suggests that you relax, Let Go, soften, this is what is meant.

We can do this in small stages throughout our day. Each time a memory comes up or should we see or hear something that upsets us from my past, remind yourself to FORGIVE…..and to stay open.

Forgiveness is an act of self-love.

When working on forgiveness and opening your heart, painful feelings and memories may come up. But the rewards of choosing to stay open and forgive far outweigh the negatives.

When we work on becoming open and eradicating all that blocks us, this opens us to love and possibility. When we hold in anger, we carry that situation or person with us and keep hurting ourselves. Why would we want to keep hurting ourselves?

We won’t move forward unless we let go.

So, small ways! Learning to forgive the man who cuts us off when driving or beeps his horn at uss. Or when someone jumps in front of us in a queue.

It’s hard to do, but we keep practicing, because keeping it in and holding onto it simply doesn’t serve us.

And, after all, let's acknowledge that we are human! and therefore, we WILL make mistakes going forward. But if we want to experience happiness, relief, and true well-being, we must practice forgiving.

Holding onto anger holds us back and weighs us down.

Let us learn to forgive and feel as light as air. Let our energy pass upward, through the heart chakra, and onto the higher states of being.

We will then be open to receiving all the goodness that’s available to us in life.

 

 

Women's Hairy Legs

About 2 months ago – when the weather got colder, I stopped shaving my legs.

Why, I at last wondered, would I shave my legs when no one would see them (except me), and especially when leggings and tights are worn during the winter months – when just my own hairiness (hairyness?) would serve to keep me warm?

Anyway, this got me to wondering why in the world would women shave their bodies, when we spend so much time trying to tame and beautify the hair on top of the head?

How did all this get started, anyway?!

Well, depends on who you talk to, of course. But apparently, at least in North America – and according to womenyoushouldknow.net:

Underarms 
American women had no need to shave their underarms before about 1915 – after all, who ever saw them? Even the word “underarm” was considered scandalous, what with it being so near certain other interesting body parts. Then came the sleeveless dress. An ad in the fashion mag Harper’s Bazaar decreed that to wear it (and certainly to wear it while participating in “Modern Dancing”), women would need to first see to “the removal of objectionable hair.” They didn’t need much convincing, and by the early ’20s, hairy underarms were so last decade, at least in America.

Legs 
The ’20s fashion was risqué on the bottom half, too, but most women of the era didn’t seem to feel the need to shave their legs, and when hemlines dropped again in the ’30s, the point became moot. The ’40s, however, brought even shorter skirts, sheerer stockings, and the rise of leggy pin-ups such as Betty Grable. “The removal of objectionable hair” suddenly applied to a lot more surface area.

So there you go. In case you ever wondered.

 And from educateinspirechange.org we have another story...

At the turn of the 20th century, women didn’t wax or shave, but with a little marketing and a dash of body shaming, that changed fast. Media and marketing created ads that made women feel embarrassed about having body hair. 


“The fastidious woman today must have immaculate armpits if she is to be unembarrassed.”
- An early anti-armpit hair ad.


Hmm…that’s not the first time that media and marketing has made women feel bad about their bodies…

It is as natural for women to grow hair under their arms (or anywhere else) as it is for men, yet women are shamed if they choose to allow their body to remain in a natural state. 

Women grow hair for a reason. Why are we constantly trying to get rid of something Mother Nature clearly intended us to have?

None of us women actually enjoy the process of waxing or shaving. Am I lying, ladies? How many of us have rocked jeans for an entire month just to avoid shaving? (Yes! Me! Two months!) We do it because its expected. We may feel “sexy” after the process is over, but the question is why? Who made us believe we have to be hairless in order to be sexy?

People are used to seeing women with hairless bodies and are horrified to see anything different, but people are used to a lot of things, and too many of those things aren’t the truth. The truth is, women grow hair everywhere and if it wasn’t for marketing and media, they wouldn’t have to be ashamed of it. There are so many things women worry about when it comes to beauty standards, body hair is just one.

There is a really interesting video on this site! Please visit! 

How about NOT shaving your pits or your legs today? This week? Even for a whole MONTH?!! YAY!

 

Health, Love, and Peace to All in 2017 and beyond!

I know, I know! That old cliché! Out with the Old, In with the New. And with the New Year comes New Beginnings!...AND ALL THAT….

But really! We have four new classes on our class schedule! And a bunch of very exciting workshops! AND…a BRAND NEW WEBSITE! It’s going to take up to 72 hours, I am told, for the Universe to switch from the old to the new site, so I am working on my patience muscle instead of waiting. Be sure to check it out at http://www.mraesyogastudio.com

Oh, and if you are looking for an awesome website and graphic designer, that would be my daughter, Shauna Rae! www.shaunarae.ca

There. I said it! New Beginnings! Speaking of Beginnings…

Now, most of you will not remember Jimmy Durante…great star! Comedian, Songwriter, Actor…and of course Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong…But for the ‘old-timers’ among us…have a look…and sing along!!!

Maureen’s Musing of the Month: The 8 Limbs of Yoga! Time to Reflect!

Maureen’s Musing of the Month:

The 8 Limbs of Yoga! Time to Reflect!

Yoga (from the Sanskrit ‘yuj’ – to yoke) has been around for roughly 5,000 years! It was an oral tradition, passed down from teacher to student. Around 2,000 years ago the sage Patanjali gathered together what was then known about yoga and proceeded to write the
95 Sutras (threads, wisdom pearls) which today, form the basis of our study of yoga. The Sutras form a tapestry of knowledge drawn from many traditions of Yoga.

In the second and third chapters of the Sutras, Patanjali described 8 disciplines or ‘limbs’ which must be practiced in order to perceive ‘the true self.’ Once the ‘true self’ was found, freedom or Kaivalya was achieved. Oh, how appealing is this! At any rate, Patanjali called this The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Ashtanga or The 8-Fold Path. (Not to be confused with the style of Yoga called “Ashtanga” which is a form of Yoga practiced widely in the West. For some reason, this aggressive, very tough style is quite popular, which is beyond me at this stage of life – physically and psychologically! But that is for another time!)

The Third Limb of Yoga, called Asanas, is all about the physical poses of Yoga. This is largely the aspect of Yoga that initially attracts many yogis to the practice. Yet, in addition to the myriad of physical benefits that the poses offer, practicing requires mental concentration and steadiness of mind, self-study of - and high regard for the physical body, as well as breath control. So, we could therefore state that the poses themselves are a meditation. They include aspects of the Yamas (Non-Violence, Truthfulness, nSelf-Study, Containment of Energy and ).

In the 2nd Sutra Patanjali lists The First Limb of Yoga – the Yamas and Niyamas –and especially the Yamas – these are of particular interest to me at this special time of year. Broadly, the Yamas are guidelines for getting along with the rest of the world. They include:

  1. Ahimsa - Non Violence

  2. Satya - Truthfulness

  3. Asteya – Non-Stealing

  4. Brahmacharya – Containment and Redirection of Life Force

  5. Svadhyaya – Self Study

Non-Harming, Non-Violence. Hmmm. Peace on Earth. Goodwill Toward Men. Hmmmmm again. Where, oh where, did all of that go? Time to reflect on Ahimsa this Holiday Season. And lots of prayer wouldn’t hurt! Happy Holidays, All! 

Perfectionism...and me, and you, and everyone!

The other day as I was making my bed in the morning, and of course, seeking to rid the puffy duvet of ALL the wrinkles, I suddenly had the most insistent, repeated message (more felt than heard) that what I was caught up in doing was an attempt at Perfectionism, which as every good yogi knows is a state of being that is impossible to attain. (More on that below!) How fun was that insight?!  

Perfect. Flawless. Without wrinkles. By Jove, what a complete and utter waste of time!

One of the Sanskrit words for Perfectionism (there are many!) is purna, which is usually translated as fullness or wholeness. A feeling, more or less, that everything is alright. A 'zone' if you like, that for sure, cannot be maintained for long before life jumps right up and taps you on the shoulder (or elsewhere.)  A zone like no other. Where everything that is seen and felt is like a field of fullness and joy!

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE! Galatians 5:22-23

Been on a wonderful cruise for the last 3 weeks. Cruising is conducive to thoughtfulness, and as such I’ve been thinking about – and doing some research on – patience. And, of course, its opposite – impatience.

The statement above jumped right out at me as amazingly, for I really don’t believe in co-incidence, we have just spent some time in Ferrol, Spain where a people called the Galatians once settled. The Galatians – or Gauls – as they were oft named, were Celtic peoples who invaded much of what is now France, Spain and parts of Asia. A warrior people, pre-Roman, fierce! In fact, it is written, ‘Nearly all the Gauls are of a lofty stature, fair and ruddy complexion: terrible from the sternness of their eyes, very quarrelsome, and of great pride and insolence. A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Gaul if he called his wife to his assistance who is usually very strong and with blue eyes...’ This from a 4th century Roman historian...

Sounds like a thoroughly impatient bunch to me!

Patience is sometimes defined as ‘Waiting without complaint.’ And further, to add to the initial definition above, to be patient is to endure discomfort without complaint. (I once tried to go a whole day without complaining, without success!) But, waiting without complaint calls into play some other virtues, specifically, self-control, humility, and generosity. That is, patience is not a fundamental virtue so much as a complex of other virtues. Ah, the world religions are in harmony once again! As these 3 qualities are others of the 6 Paramitas! Read on.

Buddhism is particularly known for its ‘lists.’ The 4 Noble Truths, the 10 Bhumis, The 6 Paramitas and so on! Indeed, one could spend a loooong time just reading about the ‘lists!’

Being an Aries by nature though, one of the 6 Paramitas – Patience – struck a chord…..a quality that I would like to cultivate in this lifetime! Although Aries’ natural traits list many positive traits (!), on the dark side is listed ‘impulsive and impatient’ no matter which source is looked at!

So first, the list of the 6 Perfections...all according to AboutReligion.com...Generosity, Conduct (Morality), Patience, Effort, Meditation and Wisdom.

The Six Perfections, or paramitas, are guides for Mahayana Buddhist practice. They are virtues to be cultivated to strengthen practice and bring one to enlightenment.

The Six Perfections describe the true nature of an enlightened being, which is to say they are our own true nature. If they don't seem to be our true nature, it is because the perfections are obscured by our delusion, anger, greed, and fear. (Ah! So the positive traits are already present! But hidden! Buried treasure!) By cultivating these perfections we bring this true nature into expression.

The perfection of patience is called Ksanti and is much about enduring hardship. In modern terms, we might think of this as facing difficulties in constructive, rather than destructive, ways. These difficulties might include pain and disease, poverty, or loss of a loved one.

We learn to remain strong and not be defeated by despair. 

Cultivating this aspect of patience begins, of course, with acceptance of the First Noble Truth , the truth of dukkha. We accept that life is stressful and difficult as well as temporary. And as we learn to accept, we also see how much time and energy we've been wasting trying to avoid or deny dukkha. And so, we can stop feeling defeated and sorry for ourselves.

A lot of our reaction to suffering is self-protection. We avoid things we don't want to do, that we think will hurt -- visiting dentists comes to mind -- and think ourselves unfortunate when pain comes. This reaction comes from the belief there is a permanent "self" to protect. When we realize there is nothing to protect, our perception of pain changes.

The late Robert Aitken Roshi said, "The whole world is sick; the whole world suffers and its beings are constantly dying. Dukkha, on the other hand, is resistance to suffering. It is the anguish we feel when we don't want to suffer."

As a yogi, this makes perfect sense to me! I call this ‘the pain of the pain.’ When we feel pain in the body, most times instead of accepting the pain as being temporary and passing, we create a ‘wall of resistance’ around the pain, thus contracting and obstructing energy as it attempts to arrive at and to heal the pain.

Aha! We arrive at the Dark Side…..Patience With Others

Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, “L'enfer, c'est les autres” -- “Hell is other people.” I think a Buddhist would say "hell is something we create ourselves and blame on other people." Not as catchy, but more helpful. My own father, a Manager of Personnel, used to say ‘It’s a great job if it weren’t for the people!’

Numerous reports on this dimension of patience are about how to handle mistreatment from others. When we are insulted, cheated, or injured by other people, nearly always our ego rises up and wants to get even. We get angry. We get hateful.

But hate is a terrible poison -- one of the Three Poisons, in fact. (Yet another list!) We’ll save this for another day!

Accepting Truth. We've already said that ksanti paramita begins with accepting the truth of dukkha. But that includes accepting the truth of a lot of other things -- that we are selfish; that ultimately we are responsible for our own unhappiness; that we are mortal.

And then there's the big one -- that "I" am just a thought, a mental phantasm conjured by our brains and senses moment-to-moment.

Teachers say that when people are getting close to realization of enlightenment they may experience great fear. This is your ego trying to preserve itself. Getting beyond that fear can be a challenge, they say.

In the traditional story of the Buddha's enlightenment, the demon Mara sent a monstrous army against the meditating Siddhartha. Yet Siddhartha did not move, but instead continued to meditate. I think this represents all the fear, all the doubt, raging at Siddhartha at once. Instead of retreating back into himself, he sat unmoving, open, vulnerable, courageous. It's a very moving story.

But before we get to that point, there's something else we must accept -- uncertainty. For a long time we won't see clearly. We won't have all the answers. We may never have all the answers.

Psychologists tell us that some people are uncomfortable with uncertainty and have little tolerance for ambiguity. They want explanations for everything. They don't want to proceed in a new direction without some guarantee of outcome. If you pay attention to human behavior, you may notice that many people frantically will grab onto a bogus, even nonsensical, explanation for something rather than simply not know. 

This is a real problem in Buddhism, because we begin with the premise that all conceptual models are flawed. Most religions function by giving you new conceptual models to answer your questions -- “heaven” is where you go when you die, for example.

But enlightenment is not a belief system, and the Buddha himself could not give enlightenment to others, because it lies outside the reach of our ordinary conceptual knowledge. He could only explain to us how to find it ourselves.

To walk the Buddhist path you have to be willing to not know. As Zen teachers say, empty your cup.

As always, we welcome your comments and stories. Sharing your experiences can often go a long way to helping others to ‘see.’ Please feel free to email us at info@mraesyogastudio.com

Anxiety...The Black Plague of the 21st Century

Long before recorded time, when our ancestors were created....or evolved..... depending on your preference.....they were hard-wired for survival...which is ultimately the reason why you and I are here today. Clearly, it was a big issue just to stay alive...sabre-toothed tigers and all. Our predecessors were issued a set of physiological and psychological responses to situations where they were threatened. This system is called the Stress Response. Today, there are not many prehistoric animals roaming about, but we are left with this process as part of our legacy. To simplify, when frightening situations are perceived,whether real or imagined, our thoughts are relayed throughout the physical body by way of specific hormones which act on the Autonomic Nervous System. As its name implies, the ANS is an automatic system that controls the heart, lungs, stomach, blood vessels and glands. Due to its action we do not need to make any conscious effort to regulate our breathing or heartbeat. Somehow, the Universe continues to breathe us, our stomachs digest the food that we take in, the intestines release what we don't need, and the cells of our body continue to communicate with each other in an amazingly complex fashion...without our having to give any of this even one thought. Truly, a miracle upon miracle.

The ANS differentiates into different systems: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and theParasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When all is well, the PNS conserves energy levels. It increases bodily secretions such as tears, gastric acids, mucus and saliva which help to balance bodily systems ofthe body. It essentially aids relaxation and a feeling of calm and harmony.

The SNS, however, prepares the body for action. In a stressful situation, it quickly does the following: Increases heart rate (palpitations/heart racing/irregularities in heart beat) Increases sugar and fat levels(diabetes/weight gain) Reduces intestinal movement (constipation and/or diarrhea) Inhibits tears, digestive secretions (difficulty digesting food, heartburn) Relaxes the bladder (difficulty in retaining urine) Dilates pupils (dry eyes, twitching, blinking, eye-rolling) Increases perspiration (sweat a lot!/hot flashes) Increases mental activity (to a point where ability to focus is hampered dramatically) Constricts most blood vessels but dilates those in heart/leg/arm muscles (vital organs deprived of valuable blood supply resultingin decrease in function)

The bracketed bits above become a reality when chronic stress is present.

In short, when the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, we initially feel alert and responsive.....But,the deal is that the SNS is programmed to be active for only a few moments at a time. If periods of time -day/weeks/years of chronic SNS occur, disastrous results follow.

Many in today's society perceive every day of their life as being stressful. They live in chronic states of anxiety. Increasing work loads (or no work), the speed of our lives, and financial concerns are with everyone of us. Although we have most everything that we will ever need, we feel dissatisfied, disillusioned and defeated. Never before has life been so fast and so furious. According to current research, the prevalence of anxiety disorders is greater than previously thought to be the case. Many of these individuals fail to obtain professional treatment and choose (or rather, do not choose) to do nothing about it. These results argue for the importance of more out reach and more research on barriers to professional help-seeking. Anxiety, although as common as depression, has received less attention and is often undetected and undertreated. Unfortunately, the prolonged effect of the elevated stress is that the body's immune system is lowered and blood pressure is raised which may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more. There are many, many symptoms of chronic stress.

Do you find yourself or your family with symptoms of tiredness, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, restlessness, aggressive behaviour, tics and tremors, alcohol/drug abuse, depression, anger, heartpalpitations, nausea, feelings of helplessness and isolation?

Stress is the #1 reason for visits to the family doctor....and the long-lasting, medicine cannot be found in a bottle of pills. Change is in order...and knowing this, for most intelligent individuals are fully aware of the reasons behind their stress loads, the thought of change creates even more stress! Better the devil we know, than the one we don't...that's how the saying goes, isn't it?

Fortuitously, we have already within us, the tools that we need to bring about calming and healing. These tools have always been there, and they always will be. The first thing that we did when we came into this life was to take a breath, and we will exit this life with our last breath. In between, there are many breaths of course....and it is these seemingly innocuous breaths that are the key to calm. Breath is, for the most part, unconscious.....we don't need to think about it. But, and this is a big BUT, when we bring our minds to attending to the breath, magical change begins within the body mind. Yoga offers many varying breath techniques that are most effective in reducing and eliminating elevated levels of stress.

Try this: Set aside 5 minutes where you will be uninterrupted. Sit quietly, with a straight spine. It's fine to sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Be at ease in your body. Close your eyes.

Mentally scan through your body for obvious areas where stress might be hiding. Make a mental note of these areas, and then let this list go. See yourself releasing this list of stress-ridden areas like you would a helium- filled balloon.

Bring your mind to your breath now. And without changing anything at all about your breath, let your breath be your breath. Notice the short breaths, the longer breaths, the pauses between the breaths. Just let it be. Take some time to do this.

Now, when you are ready, notice the feeling of your breath as it comes in through both nostrils. What does this feel like? What is the sensation in your nostrils as you breathe in? As you breathe out? What is it that you breathe? Where does it come from? Where does it go when you let the breath out? Take some time to consider all this. Try not to change anything about the breath. Let it alone. Let everything just BE.

Now, when you are ready, even out the breath. Have both nostrils be taking in and letting out the same volume of breath. Have the length of time of the inhales and the exhales be the same. Let the breath be continuous without pausing between the in and the out breaths.

Notice now what happens to the breath. The breath takes on a life of its own .... It slows....and lengthens....and calms. Practice watching your breath for a minute or two...or longer. Then, when you are ready, quietly open your eyes and let the light in. Sit quietly for a few more minutes. Notice how you feel.

 

Desire and how it creates unhappiness

Discontentment. Lack of satisfaction. Unhappy. Sad. Angry. Depressed.

A Malcontent - a person who is any or all of the above.

Of late, I've been thinking about discontentment. And Malcontents. At a personal level, I don't feel discontented (most of the time!) but, just in general, it seems to me at least that most people are deeply unhappy. Not often do I meet someone who clearly indicates that they are completely ok. When I do, wow, they seem to GLOW.

But, it is not all our fault! Seems our society hinges upon creating a sense of discontentment in folks. A feeling of being deeply dissatisfied with one's life. Of not having enough. Of desiring. Wishing. Wanting. Needing. Craving for O so many, many things. Our teeth are not white enough. Our cars are not fast enough. Our bodies are not slim enough. Our relationship is not ecstatic enough. Clearly, WE are not enough. Or so the media would have us believe.

Put your attention for a moment on our advertising with smiling, perfectly decked-out, flawless bodies, (usually young bodies) having the time of their lives - driving a fast car, drinking some alcoholic beverage, swooning over some ridiculous after shave, or lounging in a hot tub with other flawless bodies having an excrutiatingly amazingly good time. Hah!

Take Facebook for example. FB has literally millions of subscribers, most of whom don't post a lot (or ever!)...but they lie back in the trees and watch the goings-on. I've never seen a post from a 'friend' who was having a bad hair day, or who failed at some life-changing event. Most posters post happy times, which serve to increase the feeling of self-confidence in the poster, and supremely contribute to the feeling of negative self-confidence in the reader. Of feeling that the whole world is dancing through life, while you are lying on the couch, snotty tissues in hand, nursing a bad cold. Ugh.

Seems our economy hinges on creating DESIRE!!

Now, Yoga speaks volumes to the avarices of desire and greed. These are considered to be the 'great destroyers' of peace. In Sanskrit, these mental states that cloud the mind are called the 'kleshas', and these we will leave to another day! For now, let's just say they are 'negaative thoughts.'

Challenging Negative Thoughts.

Everybody has negative thoughts. It's normal. You are human. But, if negative thoughts begin to run rampant, they become toxic. You know, the mind is a powerful thing. It's not so different from a large tool used in construction called a trencher / or a Ditch Witch! Seems you can ride it, walk behind it, push it, pull it, OR you can TURN IT OFF. YAY!

A negative (or positive!) thought by the mind lays down a trail..(not unlike the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel and their trail of bread crumbs!!) But, every time the thought is repeated, the trench/trail that has been carved out by the Ditch Witch (called a Samskara in Sanskrit) becomes deeper and deeper... and more ingrained...and more difficult from which to disengage.

Now, there is tons of information about how to TURN OFF...and these we will leave for yet another day. But suffice to say that a Ditch Witch is used for trenching.

So, the next time you hear yourself having a Ditch Witch-ing thought...Here's some advice from a Not-So-Wise Woman..If you have a human body, and if you are reading this, take a look around you to really, actually, honestly and truly, notice all the wonderful, fantastic, magical things (and people, too!) that are also in your universe. Banish self-defeating thoughts with a practice of Gratefulness.

Part of the human condition -- the part that can only lead to pain, is that we are blinded by the things around us and that we can't see our true, divine and blissful nature.

We forget who we are. Divine Beings!

Invisible Women

Warning....these thoughts may be a bit of a downer!!!

"I think there is a certain age, for women, when you become fearless. It may be a different age for every woman, I don't know. It's not that you stop fearing things: I'm still afraid of heights, for example. Or rather, of falling – heights aren't the problem. But you stop fearing life itself.
It's when you become fearless in the way that you decide to live. Perhaps it's when you come to the realization that the point of life is not to become rich, or secure, or even to be loved – to be any of the things that people usually think is the point.

The point of life is to live as deeply as possible. To experience fully.
And that can be done in so many ways."

- Theodora Goss

I read the above quote this morning while sitting. Resting for a bit. Waiting for the aching to subside in my hip and knee. It does subside after a while.

It got me thinking .....which is a good thing....because I am not a person to sit ...I choose to be active, other than quiet times in meditation.

So I thought. And what I think is that there is a certain age, for women, when you become contracted and fearful. I see it all the time. 'Older' women that are virtually SHRINKING...in every way.

Physically, mentally, emotionally. Fearful. They are closing, rather than staying open to the ever-changing events of life.

Physically, their bodies are changing. Eyes, ears, taste and smell are affected. Brittle bones. Weight gain....and waaay more! Mentally, their worlds have become much smaller so stimulation is less. Emotionally, well....family and friends are ill or have already gone to the great beyond.

So, yes, Shrinking! Withering. Shrivelling so much so that they become virtually invisible. Some folks call this condition "Invisible Woman Syndrome." In essence, these are women who are over 50 who are no longer considered attractive or productive. Society ignores them and colleagues don't listen to them...they are passed by in so many ways.

Perhaps it's when you realize that the body in which you knew so well, and by which you depended on to move through life .... that same body that you pushed to new and scary limits in physically challenging exercises and became so strong!...that this very same body which helped you to earn your living is changing....as everything always is. A creeping realization from the inside to the outside... you come face to face with the understanding that this same body is aging.

Or perhaps it's when you cannot remember what it was that caused you to walk into the next room. Or maybe it was that you couldn't remember the name of that website that offers synonyms!

Perhaps it is when your children are almost as old as you are! And are living their very own lives without needing guidance from you any longer.

Perhaps it's when you come to the realization that your expiry date is not so far off, and there really isn't anything that you haven't done that you still wish to do! That you are just really putting in time.

Enough! You see what can happen when you allow your thoughts to drag you down into the dumpster?!!

At any rate, I am reminded very often of the brilliant writings of Michael A. Singer in his book called 'The Untethered Soul." I had a difficult time in choosing a specific quote from this book for this newsletter....as there are so many, many wonderful insights there. He writes "When you close your heart center, energy can't flow in. When energy can't flow in, there is darkness. Depending on the amount of darkness, you either feel tremendous disturbance or overwhelming lethargy." (Anxiety or depression.)

"There is a very simple method of staying open. You stay open by never closing. It's really that simple....closing is a habit, and just like any other habit, it can be broken."

"The problem is, we don't exercise that control."

Michael Singer goes on to say "How you learn to stay open is up to you. The ultimate trick is to not close. If you don't close, you will have learned to stay open. Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you're willing to close your heart over it. When your heart starts to close, just say, 'No, I'm not going to close. I'm going to relax. I'm going to let this situation take place, and be there with it.'.....Deal with it with excitement and enthusiasm. No matter what it is, just let it be the sport of the day."

Incredible isn't it, that your state of being can become so pinched just living your life. Unless you take the time to get in-touch and bring back moments of poetry and freedom into your body and consciousness, you remain contracted. The tissues of your body actually change their shape and shorten causing actual physical constriction.

From a yogic perspective, we can readily see how these words relate to the Chakra System, and to our ultimate aim of freedom and self-realization. If we close the heart, our energy moves downward, and we therefore will be unable to rise above the challenges of life to experience
transformation.

The Invisible Woman – when she opens her heart – will realize that she still has time. Time to see what is REALLY there....that there is love to be given and received. That time is precious. That time is the scarcest resource. That there still is time. To live as deeply as possible.

Rest

Namaste, Folks! Let’s Hit the Hay!

(Origin: Probably related to the fact that in the U.S.A. in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century mattresses often consisted of old sacks filled with hay or straw.) Yikes. I am getting itchy just thinking about it!

Anyway…….Rest. Part of every yoga class. What’s the big deal about rest anyway? Most beginners feel that it’s a waste of their time! “I sleep every night! I should pay someone to tell me to lie down and rest during the day?!! What a waste!”

But far from being wasted time, from the moment we slide into Savasana, fascinating things begin to happen! (In fact, there is a practice in yoga called Yoga Nidra (Yoga Sleep) that has seen immense popularity in the last few years in treatment of folks with PTSD.)

We are aware that a whole raft of functions takes place during sleep to make sure that we get optimal benefit from our nightly rest. But most of us are not getting enough sleep!

Sleep is the time the body can undergo repair and detoxification. Poor sleep patterns are linked to poor health - and those who sleep less than six hours a night have a shorter life expectancy than those who sleep for longer.

So sleep has a profound effect on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

But that is for another day.

Now....how about rest. Just resting....? Does rest have a similar profound effect on every system in the body....in every cell of the nervous system, the muscular system.....well, EVERY system? The answer is a resounding YES!.... A few benefits....(for those of you who are not yet convinced!).....

• a decrease in heart rate and the rate of respiration,
• a decrease in blood pressure,
• a decrease in muscle tension,
• a decrease in metabolic rate and the consumption of oxygen,
• a reduction in general anxiety,
• a reduction in the number and frequency of anxiety attacks,
• an increase in energy levels and in general productivity,
• an improvement in concentration and in memory,
• an increase in focus

The eminent U.S. sleep specialist Dr Matthew Edlund suggests if you can't sleep, a rest can be just as curative as sleep. The key is how you rest.,,,,and let’s be clear, ‘rest’ doesn’t mean couch/TV ‘resting!’

Dr Edlund regards watching television as 'passive' rest. Although this downtime does allow for a degree of cellular renewal, the brain will still be buzzing (indeed, studies show that in some of the brain's 'rest' states, more energy is used up than when the brain is performing set tasks.)

Active rest' is what is needed. This can make you more alert and effective, reduce stress levels and give you a better chance of a healthier and longer life.

Dr Edlund describes four different kinds of active rest: social, mental, physical and spiritual (using meditation and prayer to relax). No specific time is indicated but he believes it's vital to factor each into your daily life.

SOCIAL REST

This is defined as spending time with friends and relations and even chatting to colleagues.

No matter how busy you are, it is vital to build this into your day. A famous U.S. study in the late Seventies found that socializing isn't just pleasant, it is crucial for our survival, with sociable people at reduced risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses.

More recent studies have confirmed this link, proving that social support helps you survive a cancer diagnosis, fight off infectious illness and ease depression as well as reducing your risk of dying from heart attack.

Just chatting with friends has been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and provide hormonal and psychological benefits. Indeed, most researchers argue that social connections are at least as significant to your rate of survival as obesity or whether you smoke.

The good news is that sex also counts as social rest.

Aside: What does this have to say about our increasingly solitary lives?

MENTAL REST

Today we all try to do too many things at once - texting while driving, eating while watching TV - and we've lost an understanding of the brain's need to focus on one thing.

Doing this for even a short period has been shown to affect the nervous system, change blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. The idea behind mental rest is to get so engrossed in something simple that the big stuff no longer bothers you.

One way is to teach yourself a very simple form of controlled concentration.

Practice: Look straight ahead and roll your eyes up to the top of your head as if you're staring at the ceiling.

Next, with your eyes looking straight up, slowly close your eyelids. A really good 'eye roll' such as this will show lots of white on your eye as you close the eyelids.

Concentrate on keeping your eyes looking up while your eyes are closed. Take a deep breath in to the count of four, and out to the count of eight. As you exhale, feel the sense of relaxation spreading from the back of your neck down your body, until you feel it spreading to your toes.

Imagine you are on a beach on a sunny day, or a sun-dappled forest. Or walking in this environment and take note of what you see.

When you are ready to finish, keeping your eyes rolled up, breathe in deeply and open your eyes. Then roll your eyes down. (My eyes got really tired doing this practice!)

PHYSICAL REST (i.e. TADASANA!)

This is about actively using the body's processes, such as breathing, to calm body and mind.

The best way to do this is to stop and take a few really deep breaths. Breathing deeply fills the lungs with oxygen, opening up collapsed air spaces, sending richly oxygenated blood around the body.

Practice. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. Look straight ahead and try to align your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders into an imaginary vertical straight line. Roll your shoulders back, tuck in your chin and breathe in deeply for the count of four, feeling the air filling your lungs as your chest expands.

Breathe out slowly to the count of eight, hearing and visualizing the moving air as you breathe. Focus only on two things: keeping your alignment straight and breathing deeply and evenly. Another excellent form of physical rest is to nap (for 15 to 30 minutes) if you're feeling tired.

SPIRITUAL REST

Brain scans have shown that people who meditate are able physically to expand parts of their brains, growing bigger, fatter frontal lobes - the part that controls concentration, attention, focus and where we do much of our analysis of problems.

Meditators are also able to build up more grey matter in the midbrain (which handles functions such as breathing and blood circulation) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (important for muscle co-ordination and active memory).

They also show changes in the structure of the thalamus, a part of the brain critical for processing information flow from all parts of the body.

Praying has similar benefits. U.S. research has shown that people who regularly attend religious services live longer than those who do not. Although some of this benefit must lie in the social connection, scans show the brain responds in a similar way to prayer as it does to meditation.

All very interesting, don’t you think?!! Let’s get some rest, Folks! For more information: The Power Of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, by Dr Matthew Edlund.

Henna Art

Ever seen a yoga teacher - or a yogi - with alienlooking, orangey-brown stains on hands/feet/ankles? What's that all about? On closer look, the 'stains' look to be actual designs! Deliberately drawn! Well, if you have ever wondered what those strange designs are all about, here's a little info.

The designs are called 'henna.' Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is a flowering plant grown in arid, hot countries typically Arabic, North Africa, Indian and Pakistani areas. The leaves are used to prepare a dye with which to stain parts of the body to celebrate passages of life, for healing purposes and for purely cosmetic purposes. The art of 'henna' or 'mehndi' as it is sometimes called has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair and fingernails, as well as fabrics including silk, wool and leather.

The art itself is said to have originated in Egypt some 6,000 years ago, and then migrated to other parts through the trade route as it expanded to open up to other parts of the world.

It's interesting - and important to note - that henna is NOT black, athough it is purported to be 'henna' and sometimes seen to be offered in tropical tourist areas, and local trade shows. This black dye can contain many toxic chemicals which may cause extreme allergic reaction, and should be avoided at all cost.

Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, henna is commonly traded as a powder which has been dried, milled, ground and sifted. To prepare for the artwork, the pulverized flour-like substance is then mixed with an acidic liquid such as lemon juice, perhaps have a wee bit of sugar added to encourage the paste-like substance that appears, and then left to 'sit' for anywhere from 1 - 48 hours. Some artists add an essential oil to the mixture which gives it an aromatic essence. Lavender works well here!

In order for the resulting paste to be applied to skin, the mixture is put into a cone-shape, pliable container which is then 'drawn' onto the skin in intricate design. A lot of practice is required before one can be called a 'henna artist.' (I'm still practicing! It'll be a long while….!)

The paste dries on the skin - 20 minutes or so - and then begins to fall away. If the paste can be kept on the skin for longer, the resulting stain will be deeper. Henna stains are orange when the paste is first removed, but darken over the following three days to a deep reddish-brown. Soles and palms have the thickest layer of skin and so take up the most dye, and take it to the greatest depth, so that hands and feet will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. Some also believe that steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin, or after the paste has been removed. It is debatable whether this adds to the color of the end result as well. After the stain reaches its peak color, it holds for a few days, then gradually wears off by way of exfoliation.

Henna has been used to adorn young women's bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest text mentioning henna in context of marriage and fertility celebrations comes from the Bible in the legenc of of Baal and Anath which has references to women marking themselves with henna in preparation to meet their husbands, and Anath adorning herself with henna to celebrate a victory over the enemies of Baal. Wall paintings excavated at Akrotiri in the island of Santorini (dating prior to the eruption of Thera in 1680 BCE) show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, in a tableau consistent with the henna bridal description from earlier text. Many statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500 BCE along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna. This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated worldwide. The

Night of the Henna was celebrated by most groups in the areas where henna grew naturally: Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others, all celebrated marriages and weddings by adorning the bride, and often the groom, with henna.

Most saints' days were celebrated with some henna. Favorite horses, donkeys, and salukis had their hooves, paws, and tails hennaed. Battle victories, births, circumcision, birthdays, as well as weddings, usually included some henna as part of the celebration. When there was joy, there was henna, as long as henna was available!

Henna was regarded as having Barakah ("blessings")and was applied for luck as well as joy and beauty.Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck. Some bridal traditions were very complex, such as those in Yemen, where the Jewish bridal henna process took four or five days to complete, with multiple applications and resist work.

The fashion of “ Bridal Mehndi" in Pakistan, Northern Libya and in North Indian diasporas is currently growing in complexity and elaboration, with new innovations in glitter, gilding, and fine-line work. Recent technological innovations in grinding, sifting, temperature control, and packaging henna, as well as government encouragement for henna cultivation, have improved dye content and artistic potential for henna.

Though traditional henna artists were Nai caste in India, and barbering castes in other countries (lower social classes), talented contemporary henna artists can command high fees for their work. Women in countries where women are discouraged from working outside the home can find socially acceptable, lucrative work doing henna. Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Suan as well as Indian, and many other countries have thriving women's henna businesses. These businesses are often open all night for Eid, Diwali and other religious festivals. Many women may work together during a large wedding, wherein hundreds of guests have henna applied to their body parts. This particular event at a marriage is known as the Mehndi Celebration or Mehndi Night[ and is mainly held for the bride and groom.

Is it not wonderful to think of traditions from the early days - such as yoga and henna - among others - that are still alive and thriving even today? It is somehow calming and grounding and most reassuring - especially as our lives seem to be getting faster and faster - to find constancy and steadfastness in our oh-so-busy lives.