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