Please feel free to read this blog and join in. I hope you will write something inspirational, inspiring, spiritual, controversial, amusing, engaging or just plain run of the mill. But please don't be brusque, churlish or licentious.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Go to Sleep

Lying in bed after a hard day at work, tossing and turning and worrying about this and that is a nightmare in itself. The more you worry about not sleeping the less likely you will go to sleep. Maybe you get two or three hours of sleep, maybe not and the next night it's the same old thing.

Prescription drugs will help in the short run but in the long run they become habit forming and before long it takes more to get the same results. Alcohol numbs the brain and after awhile it too becomes habit forming. The effect that not sleeping, as well as drugs and alcohol have on the mind/body system is devastating. They bring about premature aging and all kinds of mental and physical problems.

Few doctors and even psychologists and psychiatrists really know what to do about insomnia. They have been trained to prescribe drugs and that's about it. On the other hand the solution has been known for thousands of years by Buddhist monks and yogis. It is called concentrative meditation or just plain concentration.

In order to get a good night's sleep it's imperative to have a calm mind. Too much thinking about anything is not conducive to a calm mind. You must know how to turn off your thoughts and turn on calmness.

The first thing you should do when you are getting ready to go to sleep is relax. Two posts ago I talked about the vagus response and how it induces relaxation. In short, what you do is take a deep breath, hold it for five seconds and breathe out slowly while either humming or saying om. This practice will turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and automatically begein the process of allowing the body and the mind to relax. After that you can begin the practice of concentration to turn of thoughts.

To turn off your thinking process all you have to do is concentrate on your breath and count. Breathe slowly and softly while counting each breath. When a thought appears simply recognize it for what it is - just a thought and nothing more and start over with the counting. If you have a stubborn mind you will undoubtedly have thoughts that seem very important. Your mind will make you believe that you can't ignore the thoughts. It will make you believe that you must solve whatever the problem is right now, this very moment, while lying in bed.

The mind will say something like, "This is a very important idea and I must attend to it right now or I'll forget it." You must have the ability and the tenacity to ignore the thought and go back to counting your breaths. If you are ever going to go to sleep the most important thing is to turn off the thinking mind. Be calm, relax, breathe, and count. Breathe and count - breathe and count - breathe and count - breathe and count - breathe and count - breathe and count - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Aging cont'd

In the last post I talked about how pranayama can reduce stress and that in turn can lead to a longer and happier life. Stress is one of the major contributors in cell death but there are other factors that can cause cell death. One such factor is the lack of sleep.

We all know sleep rejuvenates the body and the mind.  Lack of sleep can lead to all kinds of problems that affect almost all of the physiological systems in our body such as: brain and nervous system, cardiovascular, immune system as well as many metabolic factors. Over a long period of time lack of sleep will bring about premature aging and premature death. But why is this and how can you learn to sleep better?

When you are awake and running around the cells in your body are in high gear. They are burning fuel (glucose) and exhausting water and carbon dioxide as by products. If this goes on for too long the cells will eventually play out. They can't keep going indefinitely. This is true for brain cells as well as all the other cells in your body. They need rest and the best way is to become inactive. The whole body needs to go into a sort of hibernation mode so that growth and repair can occur.

When cells divide (one cell becomes two) the tissues that they comprise (muscles, neurons, connective) grow and get stronger.  Cell division requires energy so the process can't go on very well the same time the cell is having to carry on daily activities.You would be burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. It would take too much energy and cells aren't that big. Think of a cell as a microscopic power plant. Fuel coming in and getting burned up for movement (work) and waste products going out. The demand for work cannot exceed the capacity to produce it without something breaking down. If the demand is too great the cell will die.

When more cells are dying than are being made senescence occurs - the process of aging and dying.  So, keeping your cells strong, healthy, alive, and continuely dividing and growing requires the whole body to shut down for awhile. If you have a hard time falling asleep what can you do short of taking drugs? I will answer that question in the next post.  It's not that difficult.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You can slow down the aging process

From birth to about 30 years of age more cells are being produced in the body than are dying. After that the reverse is true. Although the process is minuscule in the beginning, cell death begins to outnumber cell production as life goes on. The process of more cells dying than being produced will eventually bring about death. The process is usually called the "aging process" or senescence.


Senescence continues to slowly increase with advancing years. This is a normal and natural process that all living organisms go through. Despite all of the hoopla out there, there is really no way to reverse the aging process or even stop it but there are things you can do to slow it down.

One of the most important things you can do is learn to relax. Learning to relax is an art as well as a science. It is an art because it takes skill and talent that can only be mastered through practice. It is a science because it takes understanding how your body functions and applying that understanding to the proper actions that suit your body.

Mental stress turns on the sympathetic nervous system and causes your body to produce hormones and enzymes that can be very damaging to cells. For example, adrenaline revs up metabolism in some places and slows it down in others. Adrenaline basically readies the body for action when you are threatened. Another hormone caused by stress is cortisol. This hormone causes your liver to release gobs amount of sugar to help cells make energy. If these hormones are produced too often and for too long, (chronic stress) abnormal cell damage occurs and senescence is enhanced.

Being able to relax slows down the aging process by turning off the sympathetic nervious system and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is on adverse conditions that increase the death of cells are quelled.  Adrenaline, cortisol and other damaging chemicals are held at a minimum.

One of the best ways to almost instantly turn on the parasympathetic nervous system is pranayama. By taking a deep breath in, holding it for five seconds and then slowly exhaling, stimulates the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve originates from the lower brain and runs down along the trachea and branches out to all the vital organs. 

You can increase the vagus reaction even more by humming or saying Om while exhaling. The vibration of the sound while breathing out brings about a relaxing and calming effect throughout the whole body.

In the next post I will discuss more ways you can bring about relaxation. In the meantime stay calm.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Some of my favorite quotes

"Please enjoy your only life."
                    Jakusho Kwong

"Accept all ideolgies and systems. One country, one nation, one ideology, one system is not sufficient."
                    The Dalai Lama

"To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees."
                    Paul Valery

"The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust someone."
                    Ernest Hemingway

"Rule your mind or it will rule you."

"The future of the human condition is to be inevitably stuck in a quagmire of random thoughts."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Discover Yourself

Don't hesitate to find out who you are. You are not your body. You are not your mind. You are not what you did in the past and you are not what you will do in the future. So who are you. Only you can find out.

Look beyond your thoughts and your imagination. Look beyond your body and the things you possess. You are none of those things. You are  much much more than those simple pieces of energy and matter floating around in space.

Close your eyes, shut out all sounds and let your body relax. Then begin to notice your thoughts subtlety floating by. Be aware that you cannot be those thoughts because you can notice them. You are the one who is noticing the thoughts therefore the thoughts cannot be you. You are much much more than those simple pieces of energy floating by.

Notice anything your body is feeling or doing. You may feel your arms resting on your legs or the arms of the chair. You may notice your breathing. None of those things are you.  You are much much more than any of these things.

Sit and simply be quiet. Go inward for awhile and then let every molecule and atom of your very being expand into the infinite universe. Let everything go and discover your true essence. 
It is truly amazing how easy it is.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is it possible for everyone to be purely aware at the same time?

It would take only 36 months, or so, for everybody on earth, all 7 billion of us, to become purely aware if we started out with one person and doubled every month. That will probably never happen because not everyone is in the same stage of being awake at the same time, plus new people are coming in while others are going out every day.

Life is a learning process and people learn at different rates. The ability to learn is a characteristic much like the ability to run fast, jump high or swim. Not everybody is the same and that's a good thing; it's what nature intended. A guru whom I admire is Swami Satchidanda, said, "Don't think that one day the whole world will be enlightened. It is not possible. There are always people who are still learning."

It is impossible for everybody on earth to become totally aware at the same time just as it's impossible for everybody on earth to be able to run a mile in five minutes at the same time or sing the National Anthem at the same time.  Some people will never be able to experience pure awareness in their lifetime, some will be able experience it for brief moments and others will be able to be in that marvelous state of consciousness for long periods of time and maybe even some for their entire life.

That doesn't mean you should give up and forget about working on being purely aware. Anybody can become more aware then they are right now. It just takes wanting to get there. You have to have the intention. That's the first and primary step - intention. After that it's practice with lots of patience.

Keep practicing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is it possible? I wonder.

Is it possible for everybody on earth to be purely aware at the same time? By pure awareness I mean the ability to be aware of one's self while at the same time being aware of being connected to the outside world and to a higher power.

And what is awareness?  Awareness is the ability to be in the moment both inside and out. Awareness is noticing what is going on within yourself (thoughts, emotions, feelings, breathing, movement, etc.) while noticing what is going on around you.

So pure awareness is awareness plus one additional, but very important, element - being aware of the Absolute.  Try walking around in pure awareness.  It ain't easy. You might be able to do it for a few seconds or even a few minutes - but all day long?  Forget it.  However, with lots of practice you can learn to be in pure awareness longer and longer, even for hours.

What are the advantages of pure awareness? One advantage is not being forgetful. Have you ever gone into a room to get something and when you got there forgot why you went there?  You forgot because your mind was distracted. While you were going toward the room to get the item you started thinking of something like, "I wonder if Bill is coming home tomorrow."  In that brief moment of distraction the item slipped your mind. If you had been purely aware or even aware, your mind would not have wandered.

If you are purely aware your mind is focused on three elements: 1. self, 2. surroundings, and 3. a higher power. You can call the higher power any name that suits your fancy: God, Absolute, Divine, Allah, Krishna, Brahma, Jesus, or whatever. There isn't enough room on this post to name them all. If you are an atheist you can focus on the goodness within your heart.

When you are in pure awareness there is no way you can harm any living thing because you are everything. You are the mosquito on your arm. You are the bird in the sky. You are the fish in the water. You see living beings as individual entities with souls like your own because it's just one big soul. There is no difference between you and the person you are talking to or the person across the street. We all (mosquitoes, birds, fish, people) have the same desires and wishes for a long, healthy, and joyful life. There is no way you could ever deny another living creature of those values because once you do, you know, you are hurting yourself.

If everyone lived in pure awareness there could never ever be any killings or wars of any kind. Everyone would have compassion for everyone else. There would be cooperation between all individuals. There would be no jealousy, hate, greed, animosity, envy, or any other such negative thoughts and actions.  But is this possible?

On the next post I will try to answer this question.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obama vs Romney

For the first time in my life I don't feel like voting in this coming presidential election. I don't like to talk about politics and I'm sorry for bringing up the subject but I feel we have come to a crossroads that can't be ignored. So, I made up a list of items that I feel are of great concern for us here in the United States and how the two candidates view them.

                          Obama                             Item                           Romney

                  Keep spending           Debt ($16 trillion)              Cut spending

                  Not too good              Negotiate with                          ?
                                                     other party
                  Raise                           Taxes                                  Not raise

                  Good                            Foreign affairs                   Not so good

                  Reduce                         Military                              Increase

                  Reduce                         Oil production                    Increase

                  Increase                        Alternative energy             Not worth it

                  Forget about it               Israel                                  Help

                  Socialism                     Ideology                              Capitalism

                  Questionable                Awareness                          None

                  Strong                           Environment                      Weak

Which view is good and which view is bad depends on your own ideology. For example, if you think the national debt doesn't matter that much you might side with Obama. If you think taxes shouldn't be raised you would side with Romney, and so on. So it's going to be decided by the voters.  I'm going to look very carefully at the candidates in the next few weeks, make a decision, and vote.  I hope you do too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Keep Balance In Your Life

I teach yoga to veterans who have PTSD and other problems. One of the biggest problems I see among this group is Parkinson's disease. I don't know exactly know why but it seems to be a prevalent problem especially among Viet Nam veterans. My hunch is these people were exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant that was sprayed from planes, helicopters, and from the ground to kill plants so troops could hunt out the Viet Cong more easily. When I was there I saw planes fly over dropping this stuff not only on the forests but troops and natives on the ground.

Some 20 million gallons of this highly toxic liquid was dropped in South Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia and one million people were affected in some way or another. Nerve damage, skin lesions, cancer, lung problems, and birth defects are just some of the problems these people experience.

Teaching yoga to someone with Parkinson's is not easy. Not only do they have tremors but they are also plagued with tremendous fatigue, slow reaction time, muscle aches, many emotional problems and problems with balancing and walking. Yoga and meditation helps them with all of these problems.

After class I am often asked, "What can I do between classes?" My response is to practice balancing on one leg using a chair for support. Balancing encourages focus and immediately brings one into the present moment. Feeling the weight of the body on the bottom of the foot and isolating exactly where on the foot pressure is felt, brings your focus to that very small area of the body - a few square inches somewhere on the bottom of the foot.

By focusing on that small area on the sole of the foot while being aware of the breath and the body in space takes tremendous concentration for any normal person. It takes even more concentration for someone with Parkinson's. 

Propreception or positioning, sometimes called the "sixth" sense, that tells you where your body is in space can be enhanced through this simple practice of balancing on one foot. For special needs people, like Parkinson's patients, holding onto the back of a chair is necessary in the beginning. As practice continues, there may be no need for the use of a chair.

When a chair is no longer needed the next step is to balance with both feet together, on the ground, with the eyes closed. The goal is to balance for one minute without too much wavering. To do this exercise someone needs to be standing by to measure wavering and to help in case the balancer begins to fall.

This is one of the biggest components of yoga - being with the body and the breath while being aware and relaxed. "Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation." Yoga Sutra 2.46.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

You've got a friend.

I've taken the lyrics from the song "You've got a friend" written by Carol Kind and made famous by James Taylor and modified them to stress the importance of knowing the Self.  I hope it doesn't offend anyone.

When you feel down and out and need a helping hand just close your eyes and go into the Self,
and soon it will be there to brighten up your darkest hour.

All you have to do is call out its name, and it will come running to help you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall all you have to do is call, and it will be there.  You've got a friend.

If you are feeling lonely and afraid and everyone has deserted you, just keep your wits about you and call out its name and soon it will be there. Just call out its name and you know wherever it is, it will come running to see you again.

Isn't it good to know that you have a True friend. When people are cold, hurt you and desert you and take your soul if you let them, just remember you've got a friend.  Just call out its name and it will come running to see you again.

All you have to do is close your eyes and go into the Self, and soon it will be there to see you again.  You've got a friend. Oh, isn't it great to know you've got a friend that won't hurt you or desert you. Yea, you've got a friend.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Controlling Prana

As mentioned in the last post, prana is the ever existing life force. Prana is first mentioned in the Upanishads, primarily the Prasna Upanishad, where it says, "Prana is the soul of the universe, assuming all forms."

Prana may be equated to energy which exists not only in living organisms but nonliving as well. It exists in, around, and between all objects. It is in sunlight and is what enables subatomic particles, atoms, and molecules to move. Prana links all things together. You might say that prana is the matrix in which all things exist.

Although prana is all inclusive and everlasting it can miraculously be controlled. The breath and the mind are the magic elixirs that allow you to bring prana into the body, move it, and direct it. As you inhale, prana automatically flows in and immediately begins circulating into all organs and systems throughout the body. As this occurs, apana (waste products) accumulates. By focusing the mind on the breath you can direct prana into any part of the body. For example, let's say you have an injured knee. You can heal your knee by directing prana into the knee and apana out of the knee.

As you beathe in feel the energy coming into your body and direct it to your knee by focusing on the knee. The breath will follow your focus and the prana will follow the breath. It's that simple. When you exhale you can move apana out of the knee by focusing on the breath again as though it is flowing out of the knee. Of course the breath is not really flowing out of the knee but by focusing on the breath and imagining (mind) that it is flowing out, apana will flow in the directing of the focus. Remember, the breath and the mind are the two forces that control prana. The ability to control prana is called samyama.

Since prana is everywhere and in everything, you basically are prana as is everything else. Although your breath comes into your mouth and nose and flows down to your lungs, prana continues to move into the all the cells, tissues, and organs. By concentrating and focusing on the two elements of breath and body part you can direct prana to any desired location. Prana, breath, and mind become one directional force.