Meditation

Sivoham Meditation

My teacher Hari taught me this meditation, which is meant to help us find harmony in prakriti. Prakriti is nature, or all of the manifested Universe, which is subject to the effects of the three gunas. The gunas are the three potential qualities found in everything that is manifested. The three qualities are sattva (purity, light, harmony, and balance), rajas (activity and passion), and tamas (darkness and inertia).

As an example, your asana practice can be perfectly harmonious and balanced (sattvic), or aggressive and potentially harmful (rajasic), or lazy and without any dedication (tamasic). One’s body and mind are prakriti, but the soul, the Atman, is not. This meditation helps us to come closer to who we really are.

Hari learned this meditation from Gajanan Maharaj, who lived in or near Poona, India. Hari didn’t name it, but I call it “Sivoham Meditation.” You will find it on page 164 of the book Letters From The Yoga Masters, and you can be guided through a recorded version of the meditation under the techniques on the same website.

Sit in siddhasana or your comfortable meditation seat and softly focus the eyes to the tip of the nose (nasagra drishti).  Softly curl the tongue back into the modified khechari mudra (amritpan khechari) — the tongue is positive, the palate is negative, so this mudra creates a current of energy movement.

Four mantras are repeated mentally.

Sudhoham comes from suddha, which means “purity,” and aham means “I am.”
Budoham comes from Buddha, which means “enlightenment.”
Muktoham comes from mukta, which means “free.”
Sivoham comes from Siva. Siva is a name for God.

Mentally say the first mantra once, Sudhoham. Ponder its meaning for several minutes. Mentally say it again, and ponder its meaning some more in a manner that you truly cognize what it means—I am purity.
Mentally repeat Budhoham. Ponder its meaning for several minutes—I am all enlightenment.
Mentally repeat Muktoham. Ponder its meaning for several minutes—I am free.
Now add the mantra Sivoham. Repeat it mentally while you ponder the meaning—I am Siva; I am One with God.

Continue with the process pondering the meanings of these mantras.

An optional technique I like is to repeat each mantra over and over, as in japa, and then ponder their meaning. If you would like to try this format and be guided through it, visit the website Letters From the Yoga Masters under the Techniques, and scroll down to the Sivoham Meditation.

Mugs

Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

Neti Pot

Neti pot

BRING OUT THE NETI POT! SPRING IS HERE!

As spring arrives and the plants come into flower, pollens can begin to play havoc with allergies and sinuses. Spring colds and flus start spreading around as well. The yogic cleansing practice of “Neti” is a perfect first defense.

Neti, or nasal irrigation, is an ancient practice done by Hatha yogis.  The sinuses often become blocked or congested, causing problems such as nasal congestion, headaches, ear infections, and sore throats.  Since yogis are always concerned with maintaining a healthy body, the cleaning of the sinuses through nasal irrigation has been adopted into their daily hygiene.

Dr. Thomas Schmidt, a Doctor of Internal Medicine, performed a research study on the benefits of Neti in reducing the affects of the common cold and other airborne viruses. Dr. Schmidt conducted research over 5 years on the effects of “Jal Neti, or nasal irrigation using water and a Neti pot.  He had 115 soldiers in the study. Some were a simply a control group who did not practice Neti at all, while the others practiced neti on an average of one time per day.  Some did it two times a day, and the time varied between am and pm.  The soldiers kept a diary on how they did Neti and how often.  Each soldier had a check-up at the beginning of the study, at the end of the 1st month, and at the end of the 3 month course. At the end of the study, research showed that days missed from work dropped by 70% for the group that practiced Jal Neti daily. [i]  Why? Here is how Dr. Schmidt explained it.

Nasal mucous membranes have one layer of cells with cilia.  On this is a film of liquid.  One phase of this liquid is like mucous, and the other is like water.  The cilia move like a whip in the water layer, moving a constant flow down to the throat.  The same action is occurring in the lungs, only going upwards.  The sinuses bring this liquid to the nose, where it can be drained.  This protects the body by moving germs away from the cells.

The cilia are sensitive to many effects.  They become less effective in removing germs when they become too cold, too hot, too dry, too moist, too dusty, etc.  Temperature change affects the cilia as well. Gardening and breathing in the dust can laden the cilia with dirt. The first thing a virus does is stop the cilia from working, so they can no longer make the whipping action. It only takes 6 hours for a virus to take hold, and then a virus can infect the cell.  If a cell loses its cilia it takes two weeks to regenerate it.  All this leaves us vulnerable to the common cold and flu.

By performing Neti regularly, it helps the normal flow of cilia, normal flushing and cleansing. Neti works as a defense to keep the cilia functioning when a virus is trying to disable them. This helps to reduce the frequency of colds as well as lower the secondary effects (flu, pneumonia, tonsillitis, ear infections, etc).  Neti can also reduce the length of a cold if it does take place.  If you are exposed to a virus, Dr. Schmidt suggests you do Neti three times a day so the virus doesn’t have 6 hours to infect your cells.  Otherwise, doing Neti once a day should keep the cilia healthy and functioning well.

Many allergy and respiratory clinics use “nasal irrigation” as a standard treatment for people suffering from chronic problems with the nose and ears, headaches, and blocked sinuses. They may not use a Neti pot, but there are nasal sprays, and also a technique to “slowly sniff from a bowl a small amount of mixture (warm water with baking soda and salt) through one nostril at a time, pulling the water in through the nose and out the mouth”.   They recommend this practice twice a day to start, and once the sinuses start to clear, reduce to once a day.  Not only that, one clinic says, “Once you get onto this technique, often it is the only treatment you need to keep your sinuses and upper airways clear.”

Dr. Schmidt recommends using a ¼ tsp of baking soda to ½ a tsp of sea salt to 2 cups of lukewarm water (body temperature). Ideally, you want the solution to match the salinity of your body, or to taste like your tears. The salt makes it so your body does not try to absorb the water, and the baking soda helps it to match the PH of your body. You may need to adjust the amounts of salt and baking soda up or down until you find the comfortable amount.

HOW TO DO NETI

Fill the Neti pot with the salt, baking soda and water solution. Mix well. Insert the spout into the right nostril and tip your head to the left.  The water will pour into your right nostril and come out the left nostril. Be sure to have your mouth slightly open to prevent an air lock. Let the water flow until about ½ the solution is gone, or less if it is too uncomfortable.  Blow your nose gently and repeat on the other side.

Any stinging sensations will disappear with regular practice.  You may also find discomfort being reduced by not doing Neti first thing in the morning – give the sinuses an hour or so to clear after waking.

Hints:

Neti Pots are available from most drug stores and yoga studios. Be sure to measure how much water your Neti pot holds in order to adjust the amount of baking soda and salt to match. Many Neti pots are small and hold less than 1 cup of water so you want to adjust accordingly.

Here is a little video to see how Neti is done. They only use salt in the water, but I do recommend the baking soda as it really makes it a smooth experience without stinging.  http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/product/neti_video.aspx

I do my Neti in the shower daily. It has become a regular part of my daily hygiene.

Caution:  It is advised that this practice be learned with a teacher.  One may need assistance with the position of the head in order to avoid water entering the wind pipe.  If you feel water going down the throat, drop the chin more forward and down.  If you feel water going into the ear, reduce the angle of your head.

MugsMugs McConnell will be leading a workshop in Calgary May 26th and 27th at Hillhurst United Church, and May 28th at Yoga MCC for the Yoga Association of Alberta. She will also lead the SOYA 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary this coming July.

[i] The participation in Dr. Schmidt’s research study is as follows.

39 soldiers performed neti……………27 completed the 3 month course

76 were a control group………………61 completed the 3 month course

TOTAL 115 BEGAN                                        TOTAL 88 COMPLETED

The following table shows the results of Dr. Schmidt’s research:

 Days of Disease (cold and flu symptoms) resulting in days off duty

First Month                                        Third Month                        Total at Completion

Neti group                            .51 per person                                     0 per person                         .51 per person

Control group                       .82 per person                                     .96 per person                       1.78 per person

 

Hindu Trinity

Kumbhak Pranayama with Bhavana

Practicing kumbhak pranayama with bhavana is a technique of loving kindness, where we develop a mental attitude that is rooted in compassion and love toward ourselves and others. Love is the ultimate expression of God, the Creator. Bhavana means “concentrated thought,” or a loving mental attitude focused on God.

This technique on page 68 in my book, Letters from the Yoga Masters, is from Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam. It assists us in developing this loving kindness through concentrated thought, focusing the mind and extending love to the gods of the holy Hindu trinity. If one prefers, substitute another aspect of God to fit your personal spiritual path.

Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam described this technique as follows:

Indian Sadhaks generally think Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—the Gods of Trinity. When they practice these pranayam, with inhale they think Brahma, the Creator, whose colour is like Fire. Fire is the symbol of Creation.

When they retain the air (Kumbhak), they think Vishnu, the Preserving Deity, whose colour is Blue. Blue is symbol of Infinite.

When the air exhaled, they think Shiva, the Deity of Destruction, whose colour is white.

Bhavana of Brahma should be in navel region, Bhavana of Vishnu in heart region, Bhavana of Shiva in forehead region or Bhrumadhya.[i]

The Hindu Holy Trinity: Right is Shiva, Centre is Brahma, Left is Vishnu.

Hindu Trinity

Pranayama can sometimes cause one to feel anxiousness, so be gentle with yourself. It is easier at first to break this pranayama down into stages. You can use a gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing, or breathe through both nostrils (in the technique described below I am using sukha purvak). Simply watch the breath in the process, without controlling it. Let the breathing just happen. Practice with a concentrated mind, feeling loving peace extended toward the sacred within yourself.

Technique

Begin with a few rounds of gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing until your mind and body relax.

 Using Vishnu mudra to seal the right nostril. Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus or manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly while loving bringing your attention to the heart region, the anahata chakra.

Open the right nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now inhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus at the manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly and lovingly bring your attention to the heart at the anahata chakra.

Open the left nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now let’s add to this technique using the same pattern of breathing, alternating between nostrils:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly expand the colour red like fire at manipura chakra. This is where the personality resides.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly expand the colour blue at the anahata chakra. This is where the soul resides.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril, and lovingly expand the colour white at the ajna chakra. This is where the personality and the soul merge as one.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Adding further to the technique, we bring in the holy Hindu Trinity, representing the cycle of creation, preservation and transformation, which all manifestation experiences:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly think of Brahma, the creator of all. Sense all of creation around you.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly think of Vishnu, becoming aware of all that you preserve in your life.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly think of Siva, the destroyer, who removes and transforms all that is no longer needed in your life. Feel yourself lovingly letting go as you exhale.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Putting it all together now:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril red flowing prana to the manipura chakra. Lovingly think of Brahma, the creator. Create and expand your loving, compassionate personality.

Retain the breath briefly with Vishnu at the heart, expanding the colour blue at the anahata chakra where your soul resides. Lovingly think of Vishnu, preserving your infinite soul and all that is good within you and around you.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril the colour white from the ajna chakra. Lovingly think of Siva, transforming the personality as it merges with the soul as One.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril. Continue doing as many rounds as you feel comfortable with.

This technique engages the mind, so it does not wander or become distracted. The purpose is to connect the heart and mind through focused attention. Pure love is extended for each of these aspects in one’s life—creation, preservation, and letting go of that which is no longer needed. It is very purifying, and it helps us to accept this natural flow of creation, preservation, and destruction as it occurs in all things manifested, including our personal lives.

MugsMARION (MUGS) MCCONNELL is a founder of SOYA and published author of her book, Letters from the Yoga Masters. She will be leading a workshop in Ft McMurray in April, Calgary in May and the SOYA Yoga teacher training in Calgary in July. This article is reprinted from her book with permission from North Atlantic Books.

[i] Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam, Shivananda Yogashram, 471 Netaji Colony, Calcutta, 50, India, Letter to My dear Dickman, April 4, 1966, p.6.

 

Honouring the Culture of Yoga

A yoga teacher training that includes teachings beyond asana

by Mugs McConnell

Seeking out a yoga teacher training must be one of the most confusing things to do for a yoga student. Most people who desire to become a yoga teacher do so because of the great benefits and joy they have experienced in a yoga asana class. However, there is so much more to yoga, and if only asana is taught, then, in my opinion, we are not honouring the culture and history of yoga. Sadly, the student is being shortchanged on what they could and should be exposed to.

If you really want to learn to teach yoga, it is important to understand that asana is only one aspect, and by far not the most important.  Patanjali and several other classical figures of yoga teach us that there are 8 important limbs of yoga. A yoga teacher should not only know about these 8 limbs, but be rooted in their practices and able to teach them with skill and expertise.Kriyas

There are 8 limbs of Yoga

  • Yamas & Niyamas are the first two, which are the ethics or the ten commandments of yoga. They are the foundation for your behaviours – things you should do and things you shouldn’t, if you really want to be a practicing yogi. Things like telling the truth, not stealing, cleanliness, and practicing contentment. There’s more, but this gives you the idea.
  • Here is where Asana comes in; your stable seat. Being comfortable in your body so you can enjoy health and movement with good circulation, and to sit comfortably for the other, deeper practices.
  • Pranayama or control of the life force through breathing techniques. Even though our breathing happens without us thinking about it, we can benefit hugely by paying attention and making use of our lung capacity. There are many practices that play a key role in raising our consciousness to the higher states that we haven’t even thought of, but the yoga masters have known this for centuries!
  • Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses… our senses draw us outward and away from our inner self. Here we learn to turn inward, away from sensual distractions, even for a moment. There are very easy practices, like yoga nidra, that help one to achieve pratyahara. A yoga teacher should be able to guide the students through this very important bridge to your beautiful spirit within.
  • Dharana, or concentration, includes practices like gazing at the candle flame, or a flower. These techniques help to tame the mind and become focused. A wandering mind will struggle with communication, listening, and being present.
  • Dhyana or meditation is a deepening of concentration where one experiences spaces between thoughts, where the real meaning of yoga or union begins. Here in these spaces of thoughtlessness is a sublime peace that cannot easily be described, but is far from empty, and very attainable. There are many techniques that help us to move into these spaces of silence, including mudras and japa and visualizations.
  • Samadhi, nirvana, or enlightenment at last…. A place of true unconditional bliss, not tied to the pleasures and pains of this world. This is a very healing state of being and comes as a result of practicing well all the other limbs.

MeditationKnowing about these practices is one thing, but knowing how to do them and to teach them is more important for a yoga teacher. In the classical yoga texts it remind us that we can do all the reading we want, but unless we put these into practice it means very little on the path of yoga.

The students in your asana classes don’t need to know all these practices, but very often you will find they want to!  It will serve you well to be well versed in these techniques. Then you can taper classes to suit the needs of a variety of students; such as those who want athletic yoga, those who want a spiritual yoga and those who need to breathe more effectively.

The 5 main paths of yoga

Let’s add to this vast abundance of yoga knowledge the fact that there are 5 main pathways of yoga! These are the yoga of compassion and love (bhakti yoga), the yoga of the mind and meditation (raja yoga), the yoga of wisdom (Jnana yoga) and the yoga of selfless action (karma yoga). Then there is the yoga of the body – Hatha yoga – the youngest of them all.

Being well educated as a yoga teacher allows you to still favour the hatha yoga asanas you love! These other limbs will enhance your hatha yoga practice greatly. As you learn more about the other limbs and pathways of yoga, they too will be enhanced by each other. And oh, there is so much more!

Most of your highly respected “rock star” yogis of today did their homework. They are well trained, dedicated teachers with a strong knowledge of yoga beyond asana. You deserve to get that kind of training too, so you get all the pieces of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter what the minimum standard is for a teacher training – set your own standard and do your homework to investigate, like you would if you were choosing a University to attend. Take advantage of the gift of these teachings that the yogis of the past have shared so generously with us, and find a teacher trainer who can really teach them.

I for one believe yoga is life-changing. All the gifts that yoga has to offer have given me a life map. After 45 years of yoga, 40 of those as a teacher, I wouldn’t have lived it any other way. By finding teachers who know the teachings and share them willingly made all the difference,. These beautiful techniques of Yoga have enhanced my faith, increased my confidence, and helped me find my voice. I hope it offers you the same.

 

Mugs McConnell is leading a RYT 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary Alberta July 4-19th. She has been practicing yoga for 45 years and teaching for 40 years as a classically trained teacher.  She is a published author of the highly acclaimed book “Letters from the Yoga Masters”, containing classical teachings passed on to us through the masters of the past.  To learn more about her and her book and workshops or trainings visit www.lettersfromtheyogamasters.com

 

Puja Ceremony

The Puja Ceremony by Marion (Mugs) McConnell

There is one invisible, formless spirit called Brahman which manifests itself inside every living thing. Hindus believe in one God, and they worship God through the many forms of gods and goddesses known as deities. The gods and goddesses, with all their gifts and strengths and personalities, help us to understand what God is like. By showing love and respect to the deities, we are showing love and respect to the One that is the Source of all.

For example (and a really simplified one), Lakshmi is the bountiful provider and has gold coins falling from one of her hands. Brahma, the creator, has four heads so he can see oversee all of creation in the four directions. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles along our spiritual path. He has an elephant’s head, representing the power and strength of an elephant to get those obstacles out of our way. These specific qualities represented in the individual deities are all qualities that come from the One God, and are potentially manifested in each and every one of us. We focus on one of these deities in order to tap into that strength within ourselves.

One way to show respect and devotion to God is called puja. Puja is a ceremony that can be performed every day or on special occasions, in a home or in a temple or shrine. One can have pictures or statues of the deities they are honouring in that particular puja. The place for the puja should be clean and comfortable – a place to meditate or pray.

During the puja ceremony many mantras are chanted, which are prayers and verses from the Hindu holy books. These various mantras usually end in “samarpayami,” meaning “I have offered.” Many items are used in the ceremony, such as a bell, a copper pot of water, a diva lamp, and a pot of red kum kum powder. The worshipper then makes a series of offerings to God during the repetition of mantras. The offerings include pushpam (flowers), phalam (fruit), gandham (sandalwood paste), dhupam (incense), deepam (light), naivedyam (food), and jalam (water).

puja tray

Items used in Puja:

Each item used in puja has a special symbolism or meaning. When we understand the meaning then the offering makes more sense and we become more sincere in the process.

Puja thali: This is the tray on which the puja items are placed. Often participants in the puja will place in the tray special items such as rings or mala beads to be blessed during the puja. Water and rice are offered into the tray blessing these items.

The bell is rung to let God know that you have come to worship. You invite God into the home. The bell produces an auspicious sound (and helps drown any inauspicious or irrelevant noises).

The Conch shell is believed to make the purest sound – AUM – which is the sound of creation. Often it is used as a vessel to pour water into the Thali plate.

The diva lamp is lit and moved around clockwise in circles to bring light to the shrine. This light is a symbol of God’s presence within us. It reminds us that even in our darkest hours, there is also light.

The incense stick is lit and moved around the shrine in circles. This cleans the air and brings a lovely smell to the shrine for the gods and as it dissipates into the air, we are reminded that God is everywhere. Incense also represents the desires we possess. We burn these attachments before the Lord.

Water is offered to the deity on a spoon or poured from a conch shell. This is to show respect. It symbolizes offering a drink of water, and also bathing or washing the feet of the deity, as if using the water from the sacred Ganges River.

Rice is revered as a potent symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and fertility because of its basic life-sustaining qualities. In the puja ritual it represents feeding the deities. Rice also symbolizes steadfastness and dedication and stands for peace.

Kum Kum is a red powder is a symbol of loyalty, devotion and commitment. It symbolizes the emotions of the worshipper. Hindus use this to make a dot on the forehead of the statues or pictures of the gods. This is a sign of respect and devotion to the gods. They will also make a mark on their own forehead (at the ajna chakra) as a sign that God has blessed them. The dot, or bindi, is a means to worship one’s intellect. Worship of the intellect ensures that thoughts, speech, actions, habits and ultimately one’s character becomes pure. The ajna chakra involves balancing the higher and lower selves and trusting inner guidance. Its inner aspect relates to visual consciousness and clarity on an intuitive level. The bindi placed at this position is said to retain and enhance this energy, strengthening one’s concentration. Men generally apply the kum kum with the thumb and women with the ring-finger. Kum kum may also be applied by the priest when a puja is completed at a shrine or temple.

Chandan (sandalwood paste): This is sometimes also placed on the forehead of the deities or participants, at the point of the third eye of wisdom.

Sacred Red thread (kalava) symbolises offering new clothes to the deity after being bathed by the water. It chiefly symbolizes unity, helping to unite the congregation as one symbolic body during worship. The color red symbolizes purity, mastery and bravery.

Flowers represent growth and beauty, and the good that has blossomed in us. Flowers vibrate a certain state of consciousness that represents purity. Flowers represent renouncing ones desires for enlightenment. As flowers are close to our heart, symbolically one is offering the soul or atman to the deity.

Fruit: The offering of fruits signifies our detachment, surrender and self-sacrifice. The tree surrenders its attachment to the fruit, allowing it to release itself. By giving up something sweet we develop our self-control and cultivate inner strength.

Prasad: Worshippers offer food for the gods to bless it, transforming any karma involved in acquiring the food into spiritual mercy. This blessed food is called ‘prashad’. After the food is offered to the deities, it is eaten by the worshippers.

There are many different formats for pujas, including short forms that may only take 15 minutes and those that may last several hours. Every puja is special and sacred. May you be blessed with the opportunity to enjoy participation in this sacred event.

Mugs McConnell will be performing short 15 minute pujas during the Pura Vida Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica along with teachings from her book Letters from the Yoga Masters this coming March 1-8. For more details please go to www.soyayoga.com/events

Upanishad Mantra Meditation

The Upanishad Mantra Meditation is one of my favourites in Letters from the Yoga Masters on page 165.  It includes four mantras that are intended to help awaken our consciousness to the spirit within. Along with the mantras we visualize the flow of prana. I have slightly modified this version of the meditation for flow. To hear the mantras in this meditation, go to sanskrit, chants and mantras and scroll to the last mantra on the list.

Sit in a meditative posture. Breathing is free. Gradually the mind is absorbed in experiencing the inhalation and exhalation (pranas). As a consequence of concentration, the breath becomes slow.

For several minutes experience the cool air entering inside the upper nostrils and the warm air exhaled along the lower part of the nostrils. Continue to feel the breath and contemplate on the unity of the cosmic prana (inhalation) and individual prana (exhalation). Inhalation represents peace, infinity, fullness, transcendence. Exhalation represents spiritual freedom, expansion of consciousness, diffusion of the individual breath. Contemplate on these qualities for some time, feeling the breath.

Once the mind is absorbed in experiencing the prana inside the nostrils. Mentally and slowly repeat the mantra “Idam prana ayam atma Brahma.” Contemplate on the meaning—consciousness of prana awakens in me the consciousness of my atma, which is one with God—feeling the breath. Continue for several minutes, feeling the breath flow in the upper and lower nostrils while repeating the mantra.

Breathe freely, feeling relaxed for two minutes. Breath is slow and deep again. Inhaling, now move the mind upward and backward along the convex outline of a new moon in the middle of the head, the forward point being the nostrils and the backward point inside the back of the head. Exhaling, move the mind from the back upward and forward along the lower line of the convex moon. Feel the breath thus for several minutes.

Continuing, mentally repeat slowly the mantra “Idam prana sarva bhuteshu gudah,” for several minutes. Contemplate on the meaning—through the experience of prana I experience the spiritual essence, which is in all as it is within me. Continue to visualize the movement of prana along the convex moon.

Relax for a few minutes, breathing freely, with eyes closed. Breath is deep again. Feel only the inhalation, the sensation of prana moving up to the top of the head and the Sahasrara chakra, in the shape of the lower half of the moon. Give no attention to exhalation. Constantly maintain the sensation of the prana flowing up and into the crescent moon bowl at the Sahasrara chakra, renewing it every time by feeling the inhalation.

For the next several minutes mentally repeat the mantra, “Idam prana pragnanam iti Brahma,” feeling the prana inside the top of the head. Contemplate on the meaning —the experience of prana awakens in me the transcendental consciousness of God. Continue to visualize the movement of prana toward the Sahasrara chakra, being deposited into the crescent moon bowl.

Conclude the meditation with the verbal repetition of Om or the Purnamadah shanti mantra if you know it.

 

Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

Om symbol

Pranava Dhvanyatmaka Pranayama

Chanting the Sound of Om

By Mugs McConnell, drawn from her book, Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda and Others. Available online and in bookstores everywhere.

In many yoga classes we open and end the class by chanting “Om,” but for many students they don’t really know much about this powerful, sacred mantra. I hope from this article the next time you chant it the Om sound will be rich and full with meaning for you.

Pranava is the sacred word Om. Dhvan refers to sound. Atma is the individual soul, or God within. This pranayama is about listening to the sacred Om, the movement of the prana, control of the breath and the quietening of the mind.

The Mandukya Upanishad refers to Om as “all”. “OM. This eternal Word is all: what was, what is and what shall be, and what beyond is in eternity. All is OM.”[i]  Om is considered in yoga to be the first manifestation of God, the Creator, the Source of all.

In a letter to my teacher, Dr. Hari Dickman, Paramhansa Yogananda described the fullness of God so beautifully, it really touched my heart.  “God is cosmic sound, cosmic light, cosmic vibration, cosmic love, cosmic ever-new joy, cosmic peace, cosmic wisdom, and cosmic ever-new bliss. These are the different expressions of God felt by the Yogi during ecstasy. The Yogis say that when the ears are closed and one hears the cosmic sound… [and] concentrates deeply upon that sound, he begins to develop omnipresence.”[ii]

Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh explained to Hari, “Om is not only saying ‘Yes’; but Om being a Great Mantra that pervades the three states of Consciousness and passing beyond, too, enables the affirmations to sink into the Subconscious and the Karana Shareera, too. Great Will Power is developed.” [iii] (The karana shareera is the seed or “causal” body, which carries the seeds of your learnings from one life into the next.)

The Mandukya Upanishad speaks of the four conditions of Om. First we envision the Om spelled as A-U-M, representing all sound vibrations encompassed in the one sound of Om. The “A” represents the waking state of outward-moving consciousness. Through the senses we experience our manifested world. The “U” represents the dreaming state of inner-moving consciousness where we enjoy the subtle inner elements. The “M” represents the sleeping state of silent consciousness where we enjoy silent peace. Finally, the silence following the sounds of Om represents Atman, the awakened supreme consciousness.[iv]

Now, to the practice of Pranava Dhvanyatmaka pranayama. I first learned this pranayama without making any oral sound. Sit in vajrasana with hands in chin mudra (tip of the index finger touching the tip of the thumb, palms facing downwards). Breathe in, filling the lower, then middle, then upper lungs. Perform jalandhara and mula bandhas during kumbhaka (breath retention). Release the bandhas when ready to exhale. Hear the inner sound of “A” as you empty the lower lungs, “U” as you empty the middle lungs and “M” as you empty the upper lungs.

The “A” energizes the prana from the toes to the lower abdomen, the “U” from the mid-area to the heart, and the “M” is everything above the heart. Repeat as often as you like, and then savour the deliciousness in the silence of the Om in its fullness. The bliss is indescribable.

Hari and Swami Yogeshwaranand communicated back and forth about another method for this pranayama. Here is a summarized version of this lovely practice:

Sit in a comfortable seated position with a straight back. Very slowly, so as not to disturb the external air too much, breathe in through the nose and silently hear the sound of Om coming into you. Visualize the gross or physical form of the breath going into the lungs, while the subtle prana is being taken all the way down to the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine.

Now parting the lips slightly, make a soft Om sound during a slow, gradual and deep exhalation. Give the “M” a slight nasal sound with it. While exhaling imagine the prana is raising up the front of the spinal column, through the chakras from the base of the spine to the sacral area, navel, heart, throat and third eye.  During the exhalation try to imagine the gross/physical form of the breath going out through the nostrils, while the subtle prana goes into the sushumna (central canal within the spinal column) and rises through the chakras.

The “O” should be twice as long as the “M” during exhalation. To pace this you could say the “O” sound while you visualize the prana rising from the root chakra up to the heart, and the “M” sound while prana moves up from the throat to the third eye. Always inhale and exhale slowly, and let your mind be completely absorbed in the process.

This pranayama helps one to gain control over the breath, making it long and subtle. It draws the mind away from the senses. It quietens the mind and steadies the intellect, improving concentration. With continued practice, the “O” can be extended to 40 seconds, and the “M” for 20 seconds. Swami Satchidananda said that repeating “Om” attunes one to the cosmic vibration of God, like tuning the dial on your radio for the best channel reception. Over time, one may hear the delightful subtle sounds of the anahata chakra, such as bells, conches, music and thunder. May your Oms be forever beautiful!

[i] See The Upanishads, Commentary by Juan Mascaro, Penguin Books, 1965, p. 83.

[ii] Paramhansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles 31, California, USA, Letter to Mr. Harry Dikman in Germany, December 6, 1946.

[iii] Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Ananda Kutir, Rishikesh, Himalayas, India, Letter to Sri Harry Dikman, November 24, 1950.

[iv] See The Upanishads, Commentary by Juan Mascaro, Penguin Books, 1965, p. 83.

 

Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

Village Yan

Learning Forgiveness from First Nations

Bob and I have been travelling this month in some remote areas of Northern BC. Aside from wanting to get out on the lakes with our paddleboards, we feel a deep connection with First Nations people and wanted to learn more of their history and spirituality. What we got was so much more than we expected – a lesson in forgiveness. Forgiveness may not be listed specifically as a yama or niyama, but it comes as a result of practicing truthfulness, non-stealing, contentment, Svadyaya… it is an underlying benefit of practicing yoga ethics.

First we visited “the Hazeltons”, the Ksan Historical Village, and Kispiox. Learning to read the poles outside each longhouse bearing the family crests was an enlightening experience. Each pole records a bit of history and information about that family or village.

wolfWe headed north to the Nisga’a Nation in the Nass Valley, where three villages were buried under volcanic lava around 250 years ago. Four villages remain today: Gitlax̱t’aamiks (New Aiyansh), Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Lax̱g̱alts’ap (Greenville), and Ging̱olx (Kincolith). Each of these villages has a different way of life, from coastal to inland, and the people were warm and eager to speak with us. At Lax̱g̱alts’ap there is the Nisga’a Museum where this young First Nations man was passionate to share the history of these villages, and filled us with stories and deeper understanding of the shamans, gatherings, clans, crests, and the impact of white civilization on their lives. The Lava Bed Park is worth spending some time at, as the lichens and lava tubes are quite beautiful.

YanFrom here we went over to Haida Gwaii.  We met Oliver, a Haida, who took us by boat to the ancient site of the village of Yan. He taught us more about the longhouse, the poles including memorial poles for recording events, mortuary poles that held those who died, house poles that told you who lived there, and even shame poles when a member of the village didn’t pay their debt (these poles were removed when the debt was paid).

There is a memorial pole currently being carved by four Haida carvers (designed by James Hart) to honour the Truth and Reconciliation report and movement forward. The pole records the progression from life before contact with European immigrants and missionaries, through the trauma of residential schools and the loss of their culture and languages, to acknowledgement and reconciliation, into the new future that lies ahead.  The pole will be raised at UBC around mid-October, and all are welcome to participate in this ceremony.

carving pole

This is where forgiveness comes in.  Every First Nations person has been gravely impacted by people misunderstanding their culture and trying to change them. And yet today they welcome our presence in their villages. Many embrace the church for what it continues to give them. The future of relationship is heralded. These people know that resentment, hatred, and anger all lead to illness and there is no possible growth from holding on to these. Without the desire to move forward from the hurt, we will miss the opportunity for growth into a bright future. I am reminded of the book “Oneness” by Jeffrey Moses, where he says:

The Chinese language has a word for “crisis” that is made up of two separate written symbols-one for “danger” and one for “opportunity . … Far too often, we become angry when confronted with something that blocks us from achieving a desire. Anger often flares up during the very moments when clarity and objectivity are needed most. In such instances, anger is the enemy of success…”

Life continuously throws obstacles in our path to success and happiness. How we respond to these challenges is what is important. We may feel angry and frustrated with those around us, however an objective mind can show us that every bit of growth and opportunity we experience comes out of the challenges we face. The manner with which we deal with these events is a choice. We can choose anger, discordance and suffering, which can be a dangerous path for the soul. Or, we can choose to do some soul searching and ask ourselves “What am I supposed to learn from this situation?” This practice is known as “svadhyaya” or self-study, which can lead us away from our resentment and anger. It provides the opportunity to discover new knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our strengths that can move us forward into our future. This practice takes us deeper into connecting with our True self, and guides us to a profound peace that pours over into our relationships.

Erich Schiffmann urges us to ask ourselves, “What is the Truth here, really?” This is a very deep and challenging question, with emphasis on the “really.” Ask it over and over as each answer arises. Meditate in search of the Truth. Really. Then act from a place of Love.

Our travels through First Nations’ lands are not over yet. As we continue, we are in awe of their capacity to be forgiving, welcoming and loving. We can learn so much from this. We are deeply touched by their spirit, creativity, and welcoming hearts. May we all be so blessed with these gifts.  Hawaa. Bob & Mugs

 

pushpaputa mudra

Pushpaputa Mudra

Pushpaputa mudra is a gesture of offering a handful of flowers to the Divine. You are the offering – you are the flowers, when you are open to what the Divine lays before you.  A great time to try this mudra is after opening yourself up with back-bends. Combine it with pranatasana (child’s pose) and it can help to calm our emotions and bring us back into emotional balance. Note:child’s pose is called pranatasana because it restricts the flow of prana in the legs while increasing the flow of prana in the spine/chakras.

hand mudra

Kneel into pranatasana and open the palms of both hands in front of you. Place your face into the palms of the hands. If your head does not comfortably rest into your hands, then elevate your hands on a blanket or block. Rest. Consider what you would like to offer or release to the Divine. When you feel ready, come back to kneeling in an upright position.

This is a sneak peak into Mug’s book “Letters from the Yoga Masters.” 

00 LettersYogaMastersCover

 

About Mug’s Book: (order online or at your local bookstore)

Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.

Shanmukhi Mudra

Sarva Dvara Baddha Pranayama: all doors closed

(another sneak peak from Mug’s book)

Sarva means “all”, dvara means “door”, and baddha means “bound.”  All the doors or gates where prana can escape are closed.

Sit comfortably and apply shanmukhi mudra (cover the ears with the thumbs, eyes with the index fingers, nose with the middle fingers, upper lip with ring fingers and lower lip with the baby fingers.) Keep the finger pressure light the nostrils to allow for breathing.

Breathe in slowly through both nostrils, visualizing the prana flowing all the way down to the muladhara chakra and filling the space up to the throat chakra. During the “pause” at the top of the inhalation, concentrate on the ajna chakra. Then begin a slow, controlled exhalation through both nostrils, releasing the power of the senses with the breath. Repeat several times, if comfortable.

00 LettersYogaMastersCoverA more advanced version of this pranayama is to have intentional breath retentions while visualising the ajna chakra. This pranayama leads one to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). As we withdraw the senses from the outward-moving consciousness, we awaken the inward-moving consciousness and the divine light of the third eye. Awakening the third eye gives us knowledge of the Self.

~

Excerpted from Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2016 by Marion (Mugs) McConnell. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books.