Agama Yoga-blog

Integrating with Agama Yoga

By Sean O’Donnell



In the 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, Sahajananda explains that integrating spirituality into daily life is not the proper objective of a dedicated aspirant. To quote the Hridaya Yoga Vision:

“We are not looking to bring spirituality into our daily life. That would mean that spirituality is just an annex, a plug-in, and daily life is what really matters. Instead, we reintegrate daily life into spirituality. The ocean contains the waves, not vice versa.”

This spring, two special week-long workshops will explore Ayurveda, yoga therapy, and Tantra Yoga—ways to supplement the practice of yoga and meditation that support a more holistic integration of the teachings. Hridaya is offering these workshops in partnership with our sister school, Agama Yoga.

Hridaya Yoga and Agama Yoga

yoga-and-ayurveda-workshop-hridaya-

The roots of Hridaya Yoga and Agama Yoga are very much intertwined. At the beginning of his yogic journey, our founder Sahajananda formed a deep spiritual friendship with the founder of Agama Yoga, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati—in fact, Swami was Sahaja’s first yoga teacher. For several years, they studied and practiced together at MISA, a Romanian yoga school. Eventually, both perceived the limitations of the culture and leadership at MISA and decided to part ways with the school.

Swami established himself as a teacher in India before founding Agama Yoga in Koh Phangan, Thailand. When Sahaja decided to leave MISA, Swami invited him to begin offering silent meditation retreats at Agama. Sahaja delightedly began sharing the wisdom of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings and the power of Self-Enquiry with Agama’s international group of students. Sahaja served as one of the senior teachers at Agama for several years before there was an impetus to create an independent base for Hridaya Yoga. In 2012, a home was found in Mexico, but Sahaja still returns to Thailand each year to share the teachings of the Heart in a 10-day retreat at Agama. Join him there May 13-22, 2018.

Sahaja and Swami remain dear friends. Their mutual affection is mirrored in the relationship between Hridaya and Agama, and to this day each school extends a substantial discount on their foundational yoga course to graduates of the other school’s course. Click here to read more about this offer and the history of the two schools.

Touching Daily Life with Ayurveda and TantraAnneke_Maha

This May, Hridaya is blessed to offer two 6-day workshops that guide students in practical ways to align daily life with spirituality. These offerings will be presented by two guest teachers from our sister school―Dr. Mihaiela Pentiuc (Ananda Maha) and Anneke Louise.

Ananda Maha, affectionately known as Maha, is one of Agama’s most senior and most beloved teachers. A doctor with over 25 years’ experience, she combines conventional Western medicine with alternative healing methods. A devoted yogini, she has direct experience of the Truth beyond what medical textbooks may avow.

Anneke Louise has completed both the Agama and Hridaya Teacher Training Courses and is a shining example of how profound it can be to imbue daily life with the wisdom of Ayurveda, yoga therapy, and Tantra.

These two inspiring teachers are teaming up in Mazunte to offer The Science of Tantra (May 10-15) and Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy (May 19-24). These very exclusive teachings are rarely offered in this hemisphere. Both workshops are offered at a reduced rate to make them accessible to all those who feel called to participate and to further honor the relationship between Agama and Hridaya. Register by March 1st to take advantage of our $20 early bird discount! 



We hope to see you soon. If you have any questions about either workshop, please feel free to contact info@hridaya-yoga.com.

 


Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his posts here.

Science and spirituality

The Union of Science and Spirituality, Part 2

By Sean O’Donnell



Last week, we looked at how energy is perceived in both science and spirituality.
This week, we continue the discussion by touching a broad array of topics.

Science and spirituality are both ultimately born of the same impulse: questioning. A search for knowledge. A search for truth. At times, a large disconnect has been portrayed between these two disciplines. Given that what we know as science has its roots in the past several hundred years, at best, while what we call spirituality has its roots going back thousands and thousands of years, there are bound to be some differences. However, we can see a lot of overlap and convergence in the study of physics and consciousness, as well as how some of the greatest seekers made waves in both fields.



East Meets West in Advanced Physics

As the study of physics has progressed, it has expanded into a new field called string theory. String theory is about as esoteric as its spiritual counterparts, and there are infinitely complicated interpretations and depths left to be explored. In some very simple ways, though, these achievements in physics are aligning with some things that Eastern religions and mystics have been saying for quite some time.

String theory revolves around the concept that the entire physical world is made up of vibrating strings as the very smallest component. All matter and all energy would be made up of these vibrating strings. What is even more fascinating about this proposition is that according to modern physics, in order for this to be true, several more dimensions must exist.

brainIt is impossible for the mind to comprehend these dimensions or for us to discern how tiny these vibrating strings are believed to be under normal conditions. Likewise, our deepest, most comprehensive understanding of the spiritual world cannot be reached with the mind. It is nice to notice though that intense seeking, regardless of the lens used, can result in cohesive revelations, such as the concept that the entire universe is made up of vibrations, that there are threads that connect us all, and that there is more to our reality than what we can measure in the three dimensions of space and the dimension of time.

Science and Spirituality on Consciousness

The nature of consciousness is something that philosophers and neuroscientists have contemplated for ages. Recently, a lot of money has been put forth trying to study the nature of consciousness with advanced computer models. One project attempted to recreate a roundworm by reproducing all 302 neurons exactly in a simulation. In attempting to model this brain like a computer, the results produced fall far short of the behavior of a living roundworm.

A living roundworm can find food, find a mate, avoid predators, and learn things. The simulated bunch of neurons did not replicate this. It was lacking anything resembling consciousness. There is something more. Something else that is essential to life. Something beyond a complex pile of neurons that produce consciousness, and this supports what we have been told by countless ancient traditions of knowledge.

einstein-hridaya-yoga

Great Minds Think Alike

Throughout history, some of the greatest scientists are known to have also put a tremendous amount of research into spiritual topics as well. Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, and René Descartes―to name a few―all made contributions or espoused theories in both seemingly contradictory areas of study. Albert Einstein may have said it best:

“Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. … Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion … I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

science and spirituality

The Union of Science and Spirituality

By Sean O’Donnell



Something that people have consistently asked me since I changed careers (more accurately, dropped my traditional concept of a career) and started frequenting permaculture gardens, farmers’ markets, and yoga communities is “Do you ever plan to use your degree again?” Now, that is a loaded question. Every time, without hesitation, my answer has been the same: “I use my degree every day.”

See, at some hopeful point in my life, I managed to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. A lot of people that I meet see my course in life as having gone in an opposite direction from where it was. They seem to think that I put a lot of energy into one path and have chosen to throw it all away and start again down a different one. Since at the university level the rational mind is so strongly cultivated, many people who have a similar professional background are so married to understanding and describing the physical world that they are skeptical of anything beyond that which can be seen, touched, and measured with ordinary methods.

I usually feel compelled to explain to these colleagues that I didn’t go to school to become an electrical engineer, but to learn how to learn. That is my real passion, my real calling, and my real work. In that context, I use my degree every day. Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” So, maybe it would be more accurate to say I went to school in order to learn how to live. Understanding the most basic tenets of electronics has given me a sense of awe and wonderment at how much is constantly going on that cannot, under normal conditions, be perceived with the naked eye or felt with the body.

Science and Spirituality in the Physical World

One human produces, on average, approximately one hundred watts of energy while at rest and, by weight, the brain is responsible for generating ten times more of this energy than average tissues. One hundred watts is equivalent to a strong “old-school” incandescent light bulb. This may not seem like a lot, or it might seem shocking if you have ever burned your fingers on a light bulb that has been on for some time. Just like a light bulb, the human body emanates this energy, in the physical world, in the form of electromagnetic radiation that can be felt as heat or warmth.

Union of Science and SpiritualityAlso like the light bulb, a much smaller portion of this energy is emitted in the form of visible light. Human beings actually emit light. Our eyes would need to be about 10,000 times more sensitive in order to perceive it, but it is there, at all times, radiating in all directions.

What does this have to do with spiritual practice? Well, many yoga and meditation techniques start to cleanse the sense organs, and a significant increase in sensitivity can accompany this purification. Becoming more aware of the love (warmth) and light being radiated by others is a profound result that is featured in many traditions. In my spiritual understanding, these are all just manifestations of spanda—the scientific world is just describing them in different terms. Spanda is much more comprehensive than heat or light, but these radiating fields stem from the same essential vibration.

Stretching the Limits of Perception

As practitioners begin to open up to Truth, it becomes easier to perceive it in others. After the conclusion of many retreats at Hridaya, there is a noticeable heightening of awareness by participants. In many ways, this is an opening to Love or an opening to perceive spanda, but it completely coincides with a sensitivity that can be perceived by the five senses as well.

In a 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, it is possible to redirect the energy normally used for neurotic thought and small-talk and open up a more intense level of perception. In many retreats, I have often found myself listening less to the English words that are being shared in the lecture, and just hearing, in my heart, the underlying Love that is riding on the waves of the teacher’s voice.

After fasting or completing an Ohsawa #7 diet, the sense of taste can be completely rejuvenated. I have had experiences where I can bite into a cookie and not just taste the cookie but taste the butter, the sugar, and the chocolate distinctly. It is also possible to begin to taste the Love that was put into your food throughout its life cycle, by the rain, the Earth, and the people that cared for it before it got to your dinner fork.

After a solo retreat, such as the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat, the sacred tremor of Spanda can become all-encompassing. Even after completing shorter solitary retreats, I have been able to perceive hugs not just as ordinary physical touch but as shimmering energetic vibrations that unite and synchronize two people.

A dark room retreat can bring about an even more profound sensitivity. The vibrations exuded by all beings can be felt from a distance, without any physical interaction. In my experience, the amount of light in the eyes of others can be extraordinary, and the knowledge that it is simply a reflection of my openness to being able to see the essence of Love is quite comforting.

heart-sunset-hridaya-yoga

Many people feel that science and these seemingly extraordinary sensory experiences are not totally congruent. Since Love cannot be conveniently placed somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, it is perceived as being at odds with scientific reasoning. I believe that as science progresses and continues to refine its definition of how things exist and interact, it will converge more and more with the understanding of spanda.

Spiritual teachings tell us that the physical world is only a tiny part of the action. The electromagnetic spectrum presents an extremely wide range of “measurable” energy in terms of wavelengths and high- and low-frequency vibrations―but what exists outside of these definitions? As modern physics progresses, almost all currently accepted theories involve concepts that spiritual traditions have proffered for quite some time.

Next week, let’s explore some of these ideas and how they overlap in a VERY basic way!

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

nature as a guru

Using Nature as a Guru

By Sean O’Donnell



You meet many people along the spiritual path. Often, you cycle through looking up to different figures for inspiration and knowledge as you develop a deeper understanding of the world. In Sanskrit, a guru is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of a certain discipline or area of knowledge. You may look to another person as the representation of the guru and, eventually, may learn to follow your own inner guru. But, a guru doesn’t have to teach in a traditional way and can come in non-human form.

The word guru can also be interpreted as “one who dispels darkness and takes toward the light” and “an inspirational source who helps in the spiritual evolution of the student.” Clearly, other people can play this role, but much knowledge, peace, and understanding may also be gained by using nature as a guru—connecting with a sunset, a river, a forest, or even a kitten.

Seeing Nature as a Guru

In reality, everything in your field of awareness is divine, even if you cannot always see it clearly as such. Sometimes, it is very simple to experience this divinity—you see very intricate and beautiful manifestations of grace. At times, it is easy to share these experiences with others. But often, they go far beyond words. In a peak experience, you can draw inspiration from and be pointed to your True Nature by just about anything.

There are endless examples to ponder, but consider the following non-human gurus as you start thinking about nature as a guru:

Blue Whales

The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to inhabit the Earth. Reaching over 30 meters (about 100 feet) in length, they have hearts the size of cars and their heartbeats can be heard over two miles away. Their vocalizations resonate at very deep frequencies that go below what humans can normally hear. This, combined with the strength of their voices, allows their calls to travel hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles.

Blue whales have such immense power that they could use sound waves to obliterate the bodies of human research divers or other animals. Happily, they have the restraint, good judgment, and, perhaps, compassion not to do so. Blue whales were long thought to be solitary, but given that they can communicate over such long distances, it is likely that while humans may perceive them as being alone, they are actually in constant communication with a large network of comrades.

The behavior of blue whales can remind you that even if you are physically distant, you can develop the capacity to feel connected to your loved ones. Even though you may appear to be alone, the sea of vibrations keeps you connected to everything else in the Universe. As advaita vedanta teaches, there is nothing other than this One.

bee guru

Bees

Honey bees have one of the most dynamic and powerful community structures in all of the animal kingdom. They all have varied, hierarchical roles, but each supports the greater good. Their labors underlie a web of existence that extends to thousands of species beyond themselves.

Bees represent the nature of sacrifice—toiling away in order to serve their queen, and surrendering their own personal goals for the good of the hive. They also move and communicate as a whole. The individual bee doesn’t go through life in the separateness of “I am a worker bee and I have personal desires and thoughts and dreams.” Instead, the bee hive lives, breathes, and operates as a single, more complex organism. Its health is measured as a unit rather than individually.

Let the nature of the honey bee remind you of how sweet the rewards are when you forego your personal aims in order to serve something larger, releasing any qualms about the role you’re playing and whether it’s important enough. These actions can lead to sustainable abundance for yourself, your community, and countless others who are positively affected by the ripples of your diligent service.

Redwood Trees

One of nature’s most incredible inspirations for spiritual seekers is the redwood tree. Redwood trees can live for hundreds or, even, thousands of years. They grow in groves and are a communal organism. Like many tree species, they can communicate with each other through underground fungal networks, transferring nutrients and sending distress signals and other scents and vibrations to relay information about their health and environment.

Redwoods are silent gurus―growing diligently, in stillness, and always reaching towards the light. They perform the ultimate symbiotic selfless service of cleaning the air needed for all of creation to flourish.

redwood guruJohn Steinbeck said it best in his book Travels with Charley, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

So, remember, whenever you’re feeling devoid of inspiration, you are usually never more than a glance out the window away from some form of life that can teach you about where you want to go.
 
 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

Mazunte safety

Lifeguards: Improving Mazunte Safety

By Sean O’Donnell

The Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte is set in a really beautiful environment, where tranquility and intensity are seemingly engaged in a neverending dance. While you can enjoy witnessing the rise and fall of these energies, you may also savor interacting with and connecting to the sea of samsara by answering the call to go play at one of the many beaches located just steps away from our oceanfront home.

Like many of the most powerful things in life, playing in the water near Mazunte is not without risks. The dance of tranquility and intensity is often reflected in the behavior of the waves and riptides on this part of the Oaxacan coast. Even experienced swimmers and surfers know that they have to be fully aware of their surroundings and the changing currents in order to be safe in the exceedingly powerful Pacific Ocean.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the five kleshas, or obstacles to liberation. The fifth klesha, known as abhinivesha in Sanskrit, deals with the fear of death. Surely, overcoming this subconscious obstacle is a fascinating contemplation for any practitioner, but not one to test while in the Pacific—always try to make loving, respectful choices about when, where, and how to play with Nature. The beaches surrounding Mazunte, including Zipolite (“Beach of the Dead” in the Nahuatl language) and Mermejita, are well-known for extremely powerful riptides that have caused many fatalities over the years. Other beaches in San Agustinillo and Mazunte, while slightly less notorious, but are also subject to similarly life-threatening currents. Although you want to be free from fear and able to enjoy the invigoration and purification that comes from submersion in the Water element, it is best to do so with the understanding that an individual is no match for Mother Nature.

How Can You Be Safe at the Beach?

Please keep in mind the following safety tips whenever visiting the beach:

  • Always go to the beach with a friend and keep an eye on each other.
  • Observe the currents and waves for at least 5 minutes before entering the water, and only enter when you see that there are no big waves or strong currents.
  • When entering the water, be aware of rocks and be careful not to step on manta ray’s tails.
  • Always be aware of the waves. Watch other swimmers and how they react to large waves. Learn to dive under the waves. Leave the water when it is too dangerous!
  • If you get caught in a strong current, swim with it instead of fighting against it. Try to edge towards the shore and exit the current when you get the opportunity.

Volunteer Lifeguards: Supporting Beach Safety

Ultimately, though, no matter how much respect you give the sea, accidents can still happen and conditions can change very quickly. Of course, you don’t want perceived dangers to cause you to avoid going in the water. So, luckily, our neighbors in Mazunte have formed a volunteer lifeguard crew. Crews like these have significantly reduced the number of ocean-related fatalities over the past few decades, though beach safety is still a very real concern. This essential task is left up to a handful of very well-trained and skilled lifeguards. With the main tourist season approaching and the number of visitors dramatically increasing, there is only so much ground the volunteer lifeguards can cover. Only four positions are paid by the government, and there are very limited resources to train new volunteers and provide essential equipment that will directly contribute to Mazunte safety and provide a sense of freedom for everyone who wants to enjoy these wonderful public beaches.

mazunte lifeguards

What Can We Do to Improve Mazunte Safety?

As the Hridaya Yoga Center continues to evolve and expand, we are more connected to and have a bigger impact on the town of Mazunte. At the last public assembly meeting, there was a direct plea for resources for lifeguards. In addition to more trained help, they require funding for basic needs―uniforms, stretchers, radios, cold drinking water, and wages, to name a few. In addition, having a vehicle capable of patrolling the beach would greatly enhance the ability of a limited crew to provide life-saving support in time to make a difference. In many other parts of the world, these services are taken for granted. In Mazunte, help is needed. There is a willingness in the local community to do this selfless service with pride and expertise. But, most of the visitors are transient and there is little awareness of the lack of support that the volunteer lifeguards receive. As permanent neighbors in Mazunte, Hridaya students, teachers, and staff benefit tremendously from these services, and are in a unique place to pool resources and energy to make a big difference―likely saving lives and providing a safe, natural space for everyone’s benefit.

Donate Now!

This holiday season, please consider making a donation in support of Mazunte beach safety. Funds can be put into action right away, as the town and beaches become saturated with eager vacationers. Please donate via this link. All money received will be used to buy items that support the selfless crews that help save lives in every day in Mazunte.

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog.
You can read all of his blog posts here.

Ohsawa Diet hridaya

Expanding on the Ohsawa Diet

By Sean O’Donnell

I’ll admit that when I first heard of Ohsawa diets, I thought that “Ohsawa” was a Sanskrit word or referred to an ancient, revered yogi. It took me a while to acquaint myself with its real namesake―George Ohsawa, the founder of macrobiotics.

George Ohsawa was a Japanese man who spent most of his life in France. He mission was to bring Eastern principles of health to Western society. In his life, he authored over 300 articles, papers, and books describing general systems of well-being. Ohsawa achieved some fame in the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps peaking with his 1961 publication of Zen Macrobiotics, which was specifically intended to introduce these principles to the United States. Some credit Zen Macrobiotics with sparking the local food and organics movements that were popular in America in the 1960s.

Ohsawa presented ten dietary regimens, beginning with a mix of meat, fruit, and vegetables and becoming progressively more restricted. However, in contemporary yoga communities, the buzz seems to be centered around the most restrictive, “Diet #7.”

Ohsawa Diet #7

Ohsawa Diet 7In its simplest form, Ohsawa Diet #7 consists of only brown rice. Like all of Ohsawa’s principles, this was not a “new” concept in the 1960s—it had been practiced in many cultures going back at least 5,000 years. Its general intention is to give the mind a break from stimulation and the digestive system a dose of simplicity in order to balance the being. Ohsawa described this balancing in terms of yin and yang, but whatever terms may be used by others—from ancient Hindus to modern dieticians—the underlying principles remain the same.

However, calling this diet a “brown rice only” diet perpetuates a few myths. The basis of all of Ohsawa’s recommendations is having whole grains as the primary dietary component and supplementing them with small amounts of other natural, local, in-season foods. This fully includes the options of whole wheat, millet, buckwheat, whole oats, and barley. Exciting, I know! Granted, the easiest of these to find and prepare for most people is brown rice, but any of these cereals can be the basis for a balanced and healthy diet according to Ohsawa.

Ohsawa Diet #7 is his most extreme regimen. But, there are still some allowances. The use of well-sourced natural sea salt is, in fact, instructed. Natural, traditional soy sauce is also permitted in all Ohsawa diets. But, the vast majority of commercial soy sauces available today are not “natural.” Any that contain corn syrup, caramel color, or sodium benzoate should be avoided. Additionally, gomashio―a mixture of ground sesame seeds and sea salt―is heavily encouraged throughout Ohsawa’s writings. While not technically suggested for a strict Diet #7 in Zen Macrobiotics, the use of gomashio has been allowed by some of his students in their current practices.

Some practitioners have also come to include certain teas―such as basil or cinnamon―in Diet #7. While these are yang teas, there is no mention of their use in Zen Macrobiotics’ explanation of the diet. In fact, cinnamon is a severe yang product, and, generally, Ohsawa diets are meant to balance yin and yang. Whole grains are very moderate yang foods, and the balancing they induce provides a defense against the natural bombardment of pollutants, chemicals, toxins, and electromagnetic fields that are almost inescapable in modern life. Drinking copious amounts of cinnamon water would not seem to be in line with any kind of balancing, and also defeats the purpose of giving the senses a chance to rest and balance during the diet.

Focusing on restrictions, however, belies the greater wisdom that George Ohsawa was trying to communicate. Diet #7 is but a tiny slice of his teachings, though it has gotten more than it’s share of attention. The fact that the diet is “#7” indicates that there is a much wider range of healthy eating options taught by Ohsawa. The cereals-only version is recommended because of its simplicity. It is, in fact, the easiest diet to follow, as Ohsawa noticed that people had a greater tendency to stray when given a wider range of options and more complicated “rules” to adopt. It is recommended to follow this diet for a maximum of 10 days, and in the preface to modern versions of Zen Macrobiotics, there is a quite ironic and insightful passage relaying a conversation between George Ohsawa and one of his students, Herman Aihara:
“Ohsawa told Herman that the French always cheated on their diets and that is why he recommended a number seven diet as the best. In this way, he overstated the case so that they (the French) would eat more natural foods. Again, according to Herman, Ohsawa had no idea that Americans had the willpower to eat only grains for unusually long periods of time.”

If you go deeper into Ohsawa’s teachings, there is, in fact, nothing inherently restrictive about his principles for happy living.

The Broader Experience of Doing an Ohsawa Diet

The core of Ohsawa’s teachings is that macrobiotic principles are a means to achieve happiness through health and nutrition. This is a very deep shift in perception and holistic living, and it encompasses everything from how you cook to the freshness and purity of the foods you consume to the attitude with which you eat them. Happiness experienced through balance at the physical level can help lead to the experience of true happiness, that of the Self.

Ohsawa diet macrobiotic

Ohsawa was a big proponent of another ancient tradition that also shows up in yogic texts―chewing foods thoroughly. In fact, if you aren’t chewing your brown rice thoroughly, you are not following an Ohsawa diet. If you think about it, this practice implies so many other beneficial “side effects.” It’s a matter of slowing down. It’s about appreciating your food. In the West, there is a tendency to be in a hurry so much of the time. It is deeply conditioned, and even if you aren’t frenzied, the world around you seems to be. In the Eastern tradition, mealtimes are not the place for this. The discipline of slowing down and chewing thoroughly also dictates, in time, that you start to appreciate mealtimes more. You have to make time for them and treat them as something special. You are taking a break and nourishing yourself, and this is a very high form of connecting with the world around you. Furthermore, physiologically, digestion takes place in the mouth, and properly chewing your food and letting saliva do its prescribed work takes an unnecessary burden off the rest of the bodily systems. This also gives your body time to respond to what is being ingested, allowing you to feel full and stop eating when you are naturally inclined to do so. As M.K. Gandhi said, “You must chew your drink and drink your foods.”

On that note, one of the major principles of Ohsawa’s diets that has nothing to do with eating grains is based on liquid intake. Ohsawa’s advice has varied, again touching on some very austere recommendations that may have been overcompensations. Adaptations by his students generally follow the guideline of drinking when you’re thirsty and avoiding excess water. Some modern health proponents espouse the idea of “flushing” the body with lots of water, but Ohsawa’s teachings rightfully view the kidneys as a much more complicated organ than, say, a steel pipe that needs flushing. Excess water can overwork the kidneys, engorge them, and dilute toxins to where they cannot be properly filtered. This advice should also be flexible based on the climate you are living in and your activity level, but keep in mind that more water is not always better. Remembering that almost all foods contain water is something that can point you in a balanced direction.

Going beyond Rules

Ultimately, in the full realization of the macrobiotic principles, there are zero restrictions. If you can look past the simplicity of a “brown rice only” diet and realize that it is just a tool, a pointer, meant to decondition and provide a new system of health in people’s lives, you can see the deeper truths Ohsawa conveys. If you can learn to treat cooking as an art form, if you can pick ingredients that aren’t shipped long distances or forced to grow with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, if you can treat food as a sacrament and mealtimes as communion, then you are free to eat anything you want, in any quantity you want, at any time you want.

Ohsawa dietAs Ohsawa said, “For those who have lived from their youth through middle age and into their late years in accord with the order of the Universe, there is no special diet; they are allowed to eat anything. Anything is used in the macrobiotic sense of the word: he who has lived in dynamic yin-yang balance for many years is so well-adjusted that he can control himself. His high level of judgment governs his choice of things to eat and drink so that he is able, figuratively, to eat anything that he desires.”

This is reminiscent of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, another great figure whose goal was to bring Eastern wisdom to the West. Yogananda recounted a conversation he had with a potential devotee that touches on a similar concept. The devotee asked, “You mean to tell me, if I come to study with you, I can drink alcohol?” Yogananda replied, “Yes.” The devotee asked again, “You mean to tell me, if I come to study with you, I can smoke cigarettes?” To which Yogananda again replied, “Yes.” Astounded, the devotee finally asked, “And if I come to study with you, I can have promiscuous sex?” To which Yogananda again replied “Yes. But what I cannot guarantee you, is that if you come to study with me, that you will continue to desire to do any of these things.”

Have a happy and healthy holiday season, everyone, and please feel free to leave a comment about your own personal experiences with diet and nutrition.
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

neti neti

What is Neti Neti?

By Sean O’Donnell

“Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.” –Nisargadatta Maharaj

Negative theology is a type of religious and philosophical practice with roots that can be traced through several prominent lineages―including Ancient Greece, early Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

This practice shows up in the Hindu tradition as a technique described in the Upanishads as neti neti—meaning “neither this nor that.” This approach is featured in Jnana Yoga―the yoga of direct knowledge―as a path to Self-realization. It is a way of using the mind to negate and disidentify with all names and forms in order to distinguish between the limited and relative world and the eternal, unchanging perfection that is the Absolute Reality. Ultimately, whatever can be conceived by the mind is not Brahman, and the practice of neti neti will eventually point to this.

How to Practice Neti Neti

Divine-neti-netiThe actual practice of neti neti is based on the quite broad premise of simply taking any thought or object that the mind can conceive and telling yourself neti neti―that that object is not the Supreme Reality. The object could be anything: a new car, your job title, or your cat. Another way to practice this approach is to think of statements like “I am my name,” “I am my body,” or “I am my personality,” and then disidentify from them, negating them with neti neti.

When I do this, I find that the mind eventually tires of putting on labels, and I start to slide into modes of seeking that originate from somewhere deeper.

When I first learned of this practice, it seemed quite esoteric. It surely resonates more with some people than others, but it can be useful for both beginners and advanced practitioners. As a beginner, I find it useful to contemplate how this concept of negation is paralleled in other, more superficial aspects of life. It is a natural way of seeking truth. You may have applied this method in an attempt to find romantic partnerships—going through the process of figuring out what doesn’t work for you in order to eventually arrive at what does facilitate your contentment. The same could be said if you are engaging in a conscious relationship with your food. Personally, I came to conscious eating at a time when my diet included an extremely broad spectrum of foods. As I started to consider my choices more thoughtfully, I slowly started eliminating specific items and, even, whole food categories. I continue to refine my ability to discern what works well for my body and what doesn’t.

Ultimately, these are very mundane comparisons to the process of trying to reveal your True Nature, but it helps me to see some parallels in how I’ve used similar processes for much more earthly endeavors.

Is Neti Neti a Bottomless Pit? Yes and No

neti-neti-surrenderThere are times when I’ve practiced neti neti and felt like it was futile. It can feel that way, and it is, in fact, if you only approach the process with the mind. Going beyond this level is one of the goals of the technique.
Ultimately, neti neti can only get you so far, and can and should be complemented by other Jnana Yoga practices. The true sense of the Divine Reality is, in fact, ineffable. When trying to pin this down with the mind, it feels like a really difficult mystery that cannot be “solved.” But, by accessing deeper layers of the being, the difficult mystery becomes a beautiful mystery, and some sense of understanding can be gained.

To quote Adyashanti, “If this understanding is held only in your head, you can know it but you are not being it. The head is saying, ‘Oh, I know, I’m the mystery,’ and yet your body is acting like it didn’t get the message. It’s saying, ‘I’m still somebody, and I’ve got all these anxious thoughts and wants and desires.’ When we are being it knowingly, the whole being receives the message. And when the whole body receives the message, it’s like air going out of a balloon. When all the contradiction, turmoil, and searching for this and that deflates, there is the experience that the body is an extension of the mystery. Then the body can easily be moved by the mystery, by pure spirit.”

 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

earthquake-relief-mexico

The Heart of Earthquake Relief in Mexico

By Sean O’Donnell

In the month of September, Mexico suffered two devastating earthquakes. The first, on September 7th, was a magnitude 8.1 and was centered off the coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The second occurred on September 19th. It was a magnitude 7.1, and its epicenter was in the state of Morelos. It was much more well-publicized as it caused significant damage in Mexico City. The Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte has personal connections to both disasters.

Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Oaxaca

Many of us in the Hridaya Community are acutely aware of the earthquake that struck off the coast of Oaxaca on September 7th, but news of that tremor did not spread very far and it was quickly overshadowed by the Mexico City quake.

In Mazunte, there was some damage to buildings and roads, but the concerns were minor compared to what was experienced in other parts of the state of Oaxaca. Many buildings were toppled, many more were damaged to the point of being unsafe to inhabit, and over 60 people were killed―including at least 36 in the city of Juchitán de Zaragoza. This municipality continues to be underserved as far as aid in supporting recovery from the disaster, but the surrounding villages are receiving even less attention.

At Hridaya, a connection was made through a long-time employee whose family from San Pedro Pochutla was involved in bringing supplies to one such town: Union Hidalgo, located about a 30-minute drive east of Juchitán. Many people in Mazunte were able to contribute canned and dry food as well as money for tents and temporary shelter soon after the earthquake. However, damage to the town church left it uninhabitable as an emergency shelter and there is still a need for supplies both for temporary shelter and reconstruction materials.

Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Morelos

While Southern Mexico was still reeling from the September 7th earthquake, the earthquake in Morelos made headlines around the world. This earthquake was publicized for affecting Mexico City, where the damage and loss of life was extensive, but many surrounding towns and villages have also suffered and are receiving much less aid.

The Hridaya family has a presence in Morelos, where Tara (Giselle) Trimmer and Paul Baxter run the Sahridaya Refuge in the valley of Tepoztlán, one hour outside of Mexico City. Tara and Paul have been focusing intensely on relief work in their area and their efforts present a unique opportunity for the greater Hridaya community to provide resources directly to the people and places that can use them the most. Hridaya has used their reach to help the cause in Morelos, and Tara has generously taken the time to answer a few questions in an attempt to explain first-hand what it was like to experience this traumatic event, what it has been like trying to repair the damage, and what the outlook is for the future of the area.

Sean O’Donnell: What was the experience of the earthquake like in Tepoztlán as it was happening?

Tara Trimmer: I had just returned home when it happened. My baby daughter Uma Sophia, my partner Paul, my mother who runs the Refuge with us, and John―a guest―were all at home at the time.

When it started we felt that it was very intense and clearly trepidatory (when it is up-down in motion rather than left-right). The tiles started almost falling on mine and my baby’s heads. We all came out into the garden immediately. We located a safe spot and placed ourselves there waiting for it to pass. Tepoztlán, Morelos is just 56 miles (90 km) away from Axochiapan, Morelos—the epicenter.

Trepidatory earthquakes are the most destructive. I was familiar with this, having grown up in Mexico City, a very highly seismic area, with a collective memory of the tragedy that occurred in 1985.

My first thought was: WHAT IS GOING ON IN MEXICO CITY? I thought that if we felt it that strong in Tepoztlán, it would definitely be stronger in the city, as earthquakes don’t normally come from Morelos, but from Oaxaca or Colima. There was a fear of what this meant for them. Was Mexico City still in existence?

Before this fear, though, was the immediate insight that I wanted to anchor my frequency in love. We decided to bring our hands into the center of the chest and just ground ourselves in the Heart at that moment, when we didn’t yet know the consequences of this movement for the rest of the country. Spanda was felt very clearly.

earthquake

SO: After securing your family, how did you go about finding out what kind of help was most needed, and where?

TT: In the immediate aftermath, we all took care of our families and intimate relationships and the following day we went to the plaza to meet with the resistance movement here in Tepoztlán. We linked with them because we knew they were an ethical source (non-governmental). We started receiving donations almost immediately, as well as the support of people volunteering to go into the affected communities. It was a very spontaneous, community-involved organization, initially without central management.

We all took our cars and the first thing that happened was there were a lot of WhatsApp groups formed. I was put into one for the coordination of civil movements in Morelos. So basically, we were receiving real-time information about resources, transport, food, and materials. They sent me a contact in Morelos and that’s where I organized a brigade of seven vehicles to go. It was all members of the community and volunteers from Mexico City. Everything was very spontaneous and organic.

You saw everything from mothers cooking to other people just going into the streets to remove stones―all of the town was working. But, there was no government presence. It was all personal, private cars driving private aid. We started getting money immediately which was almost entirely used for fuel for cars for the convoy from Mexico City and for buying tarps for temporary shelter. This was the initial effort and it was all very chaotic.

We spent the first week going on brigades to all the towns every day, helping with the emergency. But then we realized it was a bit chaotic. They were flooded with food and not with materials to remove all the things that fell or professionals to classify the structural damage. We had to learn on the spot—it was like an experiment in self-organization and collaboration without hierarchy, in a way.

SO: What is the current status of relief efforts? Are things stable? And, what is the long-term relief effort going to require?

TT: Our organization now involves taking care of human rights, putting pressure on the government, coordinating emergency aspects (food, shelter, etc.), and finding reconstruction alternatives that are sustainable and loving for the Earth like adobe, super adobe, and other eco-conscious techniques. It’s a way of bringing awareness to these other aspects of a New Earth, even building sustainable communities and connecting.

Other proposals include building community shelters to be used in future emergencies as well as places to host civic organizations that can start organizing and building the foundation for further collaboration.

On a deeper and subtler level, there are many others who feel and know in our hearts that this is a pivotal moment, a turning point, that we cannot look back, but need to see what is spontaneously arising and noticing what is truly important and what truly matters, which is human collaboration, service, compassion, love, and kindness.

earthquake mexico
SO: I really found it amazing how you came back to the Heart immediately after this moment of fear, feeling spanda and centeredness. Can you say more about how a spiritual practice and Hridaya teachings helped guide your reaction in this intense situation?

TT: I realized that that initial impulse of centering in the Heart―it was like channeling into action. Most people were driven from a spontaneous, collaborative, and compassionate state. Everybody forgot about their jobs, money, and anything that may have mattered before―to help others. The whole community here in Tepoztlán was paralyzed, everybody was doing something to relieve this. So, it was impressive to see everyone waking up.

Many people who were not so much into spirituality were realizing this spontaneously and intuitively—I have seen people, for example, the shopkeeper on the corner, that you would never have expected doing amazing, amazing, conscious work directly with the community.

How to Help

Supporting these relief efforts is a long-term project. Hridaya Yoga is accepting donations for this purpose, which can be made here. Money collected by Hridaya will be shared between efforts in Morelos and those in Oaxaca and given to citizens who are directly involved in providing aid, using 100% of the proceeds to benefit earthquake victims.

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

Finding Advaita in Daily Life

By Sean O’Donnell



“The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” –Abraham Heschel

Upon returning to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I have been re-immersed in a plethora of tantric, non-dual practices and teachings. The amount of information and reminders of my True Nature has been almost overwhelming, but in a beautiful way. I’m at a point where when I start to feel this way, I like to take a moment to touch base with my past to establish a reference point for where I am now.

Coming Home to a Familiar Experience in a New Light

Last Saturday evening, I took a dip into my expansive pool of freedoms to take advantage of an opportunity to connect with friends, family, and a culture that sometimes seem distant while living in Mexico. On this particular night, tantric rituals were not in my field of awareness. Rather, my entire home state was buzzing about an entirely different kind of ritual―the biggest American football game of the year. This was a feeling that I grew up with, and felt very far removed from, but the buzz from so many of my loved ones still permeated the ether and was calling for me to tune in to a game I had told myself I no longer cared about.

So, I took a walk and found the perfect spot: an empty café across the street from the beach, owned by my friend Lorenzo. I needed a break from spiritual work, and as I opened up my computer, found a stream of the game online, and started talking to Lorenzo about sports, I was much more interested in escaping from daily life than trying to see Advaita in daily life. I expected to quickly escape into my past and reconnect with my secular roots. But, as a popular American football commentator would say, “not so fast, my friends!”

Seeing Unity in the Profane

My friend Lorenzo and I, at first glance, could not seem any more different. Both of us are a long way from where we were born, but have found a sense of “home” in Mexico. Aside from that, Lorenzo fills the role of a fit, stylish, European café owner. I have the form of a tall, pale, and scruffy spiritual aspirant. Lorenzo goes surfing every morning when he wakes up. I have an irrational fear of fish biting my toes when I go in the water. Lorenzo grew up watching Italian football where they almost never score and don’t use their hands. I grew up watching American football with pads and helmets and lots of TV commercials.

As we sat and chatted while watching the game, I started to share about what football meant to me 20 years ago, and what it meant to me now―and so did Lorenzo. My father started taking me to games when I was very young, and I bonded with my dad over this Saturday pastime. Lorenzo and his father had a similar bonding experience. Lorenzo’s hometown team was known for having the loudest and craziest fans in the entire country, exactly the same as my hometown team. I shared with him how I can still get goosebumps on command while evoking the feeling of being in the presence of the amount of energy that is created when 70,000 people are in the same place and focusing their attention on the same thing. Lorenzo smiled and agreed as he looked at his arm, experiencing goosebumps the same as mine. My father and I sat with the same people week after week, year after year, and so did Lorenzo and his dad. I sat next to a guy who would high-five everyone after every touchdown and behind an old lady who always gave me a lollipop after every point. Lorenzo sat next to a guy who would hug everyone after every goal and behind an old lady who gave him a cookie after every point.

As the conversation went on, the sense of wonder and delight started to become obvious to me. I was amazed at the similarities in experience. I was 5,500 miles (9,000 kilometers) and 9 years apart from Lorenzo’s experiences, but he had an almost identical experience to mine. Beyond that, I had strong emotions surrounding this part of my life, and Lorenzo shared that with me as well.

Even more fascinating was how my relationship with this aspect of life evolved the same way as his. After some time, these football teams started to become very popular. Tickets to games became ten times more expensive than they used to be. The stadiums were filled with wealthy businessmen who didn’t have the same passion as the loud and crazy people who used to attend every weekend.

In short, everything changed. As it always does. The experience was made even more powerful for both Lorenzo and me because it was temporary, but at the time that it was occurring, it was so magical that it never crossed my mind that life would ever be different. As time went on, I’d start to see my friends getting very angry every time my team lost a game. This became exhausting. I had seen them win so many times before and seen them lose so many times before, the success of the team rising and falling with such consistency, I realized that the only lasting enjoyment of this passion could be found by detaching myself from an outcome. The transition was very much one of watching a game with a strong desire for my team to win to one where I just witnessed the game taking place and finding joy in so many parts of it that had nothing to do with my team winning or losing.

Lorenzo shared a very similar process in his life. He didn’t want to shun his culture, his past, his family, and the friends he grew up with who love to use sports as a means to come together and connect. There really is no need for that. I avoided football at times because I felt repelled by a lot of the violence it evoked in people that I loved. Last Saturday night, though, I found as much joy in it as I’ve ever found in my life, but this time from a much more sustainable place.

Advaita in Daily Life: Teachers are Everywhere

I set off that evening with the intention of experiencing something mundane. I ended up experiencing something divine. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of a tantric worldview. I found a connection with another person that reminded me that I could see myself in others, and they, too, could see themselves in me.

Advaita In ways that might seem superficial at first, in the context of my limited knowledge of Advaita, I felt that these similarities were easily taken as a definite reminder that the reality of my origin was not separate from other people’s origins. The experiences shared were very worldly, but the identical nature of our perception of them pointed to something far deeper.

Long before I started to consciously cultivate a spiritual outlook, I was given a quote by the artist formerly known as Richard Alpert, and he sums up the perfect reminder of the beautiful insights we have to gain by being open to learning about Advaita in daily life. This is exactly what I experienced watching football in a café on a very ordinary Saturday evening:

“Now, in our culture, we have been trained for individual differences to stand out. So you look at each person and the immediate thought is: brighter, dumber, older, younger, richer, poorer … and we make all these dimensional distinctions, put them into categories and treat them that way. And we get so that we only see others as separate from ourselves and in the ways in which they are separate. And one of the dramatic characteristics of (…) experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you, not different from you. And experiencing the fact: well, yes indeed we are brothers, in the true sense, of that which is essence in you, which is essence in me is, indeed, One.” –Ram Dass
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

pure intention

Beginning the Path of Pure Intention

By Sean O’Donnell
“If you maintain the constant wish to benefit others, the power to actually do so will come by itself, as naturally as water runs downhill.” –Dilgo Khyentse

The power of intention is an often overlooked force in the Universe. But, we find that the same words and actions can carry entirely different effects and result in different outcomes based solely on the intention behind them.

Our intentions may not always be communicated on a tangible, surface level. But, often, we can immediately perceive if someone has crude intentions. There are many subtle layers to this, and the process of purifying intentions is something we refine as we navigate the ever-unfolding mystery of life.

The Purest Intention

In Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2, we discuss Pure Intention as one of the 14 Hridaya Yoga Attitudes. There are many actions, words, and thoughts that can come from a pure intention, but this attitude culminates in an intention that can be succinctly communicated by an ancient Sanskrit prayer: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, meaning “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

To some, this may seem like an impossibly lofty aspiration. Trying to measure every action against this highest intention would be crippling. Is brushing our teeth in the morning with a plastic toothbrush that will end up in a landfill benefitting ALL beings? Is going to yoga class in a car powered by fossil fuels and killing bugs with the windshield for the benefit of all beings? These might sound like absurd examples, but hopefully, they illustrate how we can become paralyzed by the mind if we take an all-or-nothing approach when first starting to explore our aspiration for this purity.

What’s important to keep in mind is that it is just that―an aspiration. Just because we are not there yet (and we may never be in this lifetime) does not mean we should stop ourselves from consciously aiming in that direction.

Another key component is the idea that we are aspiring to contribute in some way towards this happiness and freedom for all. Meaning, we do not have to come up with a way to achieve this for all sentient beings before we leave the house in the morning.

Where to Begin?

We can cut the grandiose nature of this ultimate intention a little by looking at it from different angles. It is quite daunting to try to benefit all beings with each action. There are many fascinating ways that the eight limbs of yoga and the Hridaya Attitudes can overlap, support each other, and become one with each other. But, one helpful way to begin the journey of benefitting all beings is to practice ahimsa (“to do no harm”)—the first of the yamas.

Instead of asking “Does this action, word, or thought benefit all beings?,” we may find less resistance in simplifying our analysis to “To the best of our knowledge, will this action directly harm any being?” This question is a lot easier to work with when we have a decision to make or are contemplating an action and are not sure if it will fit with our desire to practice pure intention. Obviously, if we can think of someone who will have their happiness or freedom stifled by the ripples of our behavior, regardless of how we perceive it may benefit us, it may be worthwhile to find a different approach.

If this sounds overly simplistic, remember that that is by design. It is often easier to solve complex problems by working with many small, stable, and strong solutions than trying to work with mechanisms for change that involve convoluted and esoteric tools that can become fragile if we try to operate them under pressure, as beginners.

Get out of Yourself, but Not at the Expense of Your Self

power-of-intentionSelflessness is the natural attribute of people who embody the mindset of living to benefit all beings. However, in order to properly serve our highest purpose, we are wise to find a balance—honoring both our aspiration for purity and our current level of consciousness. When we dedicate ourselves in roles such as teachers, healers, mentors, karma yogis, etc. we may take on these identities with such a passion that it is possible to get in our own way, adopting masks instead of acting from the Heart. It is often not particularly easy to see this imbalance and we may not recognize when we are acting from the ego. Resting in awareness, being honest with ourselves about our underlying motivations, and taking care of our own well-being will allow us the space to open deeper to true selflessness.

Anyone who has traveled via airplane may fondly remember in-flight announcements about oxygen masks in the overhead compartments. In an emergency situation, we are reminded to secure our own devices before assisting those around us. It is clear that we will not be of much help to others if we neglect our own well-being.

This little analogy is a beautiful reminder. A reminder that, when embracing selfless service and following the yearning to benefit all beings, if we give to others without first connecting with the pure intention stemming from our hearts, we will never reach our full potential to serve. Going deeper, we can acknowledge that when we are centered in the Heart, the concept of “self” and “other” dissolves completely and we simply understand that anything that benefits anyone benefits everyone.

Thus, we can best stay true to the pure intention of benefitting all beings by keeping a balance point that encourages a mutual flow of freedom and happiness between our perceived selves and our perceived surroundings.
 
 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all his posts here.

sitting meditation

Sitting and Health: Sitting Is the New… Sitting?

By Sean O’Donnell

In many respects, trying to heal from sitting for long periods of time is what led me to visit the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte in the first place.

Like many people entrenched in modern society, I’ve spent huge chunks of my life sitting. Staring. Specifically, at a computer or phone screen. This has become the predominant posture in so many aspects of daily life. You are on the computer in order to educate yourself. You are on the computer to earn a living and forge a career. You get on a computer to entertain yourself and to escape. You may even rely on a computer or phone for the majority of your social interactions.

Now, this may apply to varying degrees depending on your profession or hobbies or ability to resist the new “normal” environment. For me, it certainly became all-encompassing, and as can be expected from any kind of substantial imbalance, difficulties in my life soon followed.

Sparing some dramatic details, through these difficulties, yoga found me. After I got comfortable with yoga, I begrudgingly opened up to meditation.



Sitting and Health: Is the Problem Separate from the Solution?

In one of the most ironically non-dual experiences of my life, I had gone on this great journey to cure myself of all the ailments associated with the plague of too much sitting, and the best medicine ended up being… sitting!

I’m fond of the Albert Einstein quote “No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.” But, can a problem be solved by the exact same action that created it? Well—yes and no. In a very crude way, sitting in meditation and sitting at a computer desk can be considered very similar. But at a higher level, important differences exist between how these two types of sitting are normally carried out.

If you do any research on the subject of sitting and health, you’ll find a huge market for all kinds of ergonomic support—advice, routines, equipment, strategies. These are all finely tuned to keep your body in some “ideal” position in an attempt to delay the cycle of pain, fatigue, and injury that can result from a sedentary lifestyle. In my personal experience, however, all of these methods missed the mark, the underlying cause, the genesis of the problem: the general tamping down of the spirit that can occur when you are “stuck” at a desk, looking at a screen, for the majority of your life.

Sitting and Health



Looking beyond Posture

It is often said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Remember, though, that they are not a one-way mirror! The eyes are a gateway like no other and are susceptible to being polluted and strained, which can have a cascading effect on overall health. I’m not a doctor and if you are experiencing or trying to prevent posture-related maladies you certainly should listen to your own body and follow your own truth. But, I’ve found that a lot of healing can come from being aware of what I’m doing with my eyes while at my desk.

What I’ve found fascinating is how my posture and my eyesight are related. I started sitting with better posture but found myself slowly leaning towards the computer screen in order to more comfortably read small text. So, if you have glasses, wear them. If you suspect you need them, or need an updated prescription, get that done. Not being able to see clearly is something that is easy to get used to, but can sabotage many other aspects of your health without being detected as the culprit.

Another factor that I had previously overlooked is how the body’s systems are interconnected. The lack of mobility and increase in tension in my eyes was actually becoming strain in my jaw and neck, which, in turn, affected nerves and blood flow all the way into my arms, wrists, and hands.

There are plenty of eye exercises that can be performed, but, for me, the simplest and most effective is to follow the “20/20/20” rule.

This means looking at something at least 20 feet (6 meters) away for at least 20 seconds at least every 20 minutes. At first, it will probably be beneficial to use a timer, app, or browser extension to remind yourself to practice this rule because some of these patterns run very deep and it can be hard to maintain awareness when focused on a task.rule-20-20-20

Something I’ve added since visiting Hridaya is combining this 20/20/20 practice with the “stop” technique. Several times a day, typically during meal times, a gong sounds and, for a short time, everyone stops what they are doing, centers themselves, and rests in awareness.

I’ve found that regardless of my posture, desk sitting can be an unhealthy habit if my breathing and my attitude are not also in tune. Certainly, the breath, mind, and posture all support or defeat one another. I now use the 20/20/20 rule to not only rest my eyes, but to take a moment to become aware of my breath, focus on my spine, center in the Spiritual Heart, and cultivate Open Attention. Afterwards, I resume my task from this space of presence. This has multiplied the benefits of the practice.

In the end, I realized I blamed a lot of my suffering on sitting. Then, I came to a place where I set myself free and healed by… sitting! For me, the lesson is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with sitting. It’s your breath and your mood and your posture and your awareness of subtle tensions in your body that can separate an experience that used to be excruciating, soul-sucking, agonizing, and destructive and turn it into a type of sitting that brings inner peace, freedom, limitlessness, love, gratitude, and spiritual healing.

A final word of advice: If you really just want to get up out of your chair, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the opposite of sitting is standing. The opposite of sitting is DANCING! Give it a try!
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about the power of laughter here.

laughter hridaya yoga

The Divinity of Laughter: The Natural State Is a Playful State

By Sean O’Donnell
“To me, there is nothing more sacred than love and laughter, and there is nothing more prayerful than playfulness.” –Osho

The Vibration of Laughter

In Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry method, we learn to continually ask the “Who am I?” question. In Ramana’s words, “The question (…) is not really meant to get an answer, the question (…) is meant to dissolve the questioner.”

In my experiences in 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, as well as through other deeply spiritual events in my life, I have often found that asking myself this question under the right conditions shifts my perception. It brings me to a place where everything around me vibrates, and all the levels of my being are also vibrating. Everything interacts with everything else—the smallest particles of my physical body, emotions, thoughts, and intentions dance with one another and dip their toes into the sea of vibrations around me, rippling out and affecting everything infinitely. At the same time, the ground, the wind, the trees, the birds, and the bees are also vibrating. Those ripples are being received and having an effect on every layer of my being. In this state, it is very easy to comprehend the idea that our perceived separateness is an illusion.

hridaya yoga meditation classIn a meditation retreat, we remain silent order to allow ourselves to more easily perceive these other vibrations. In a Dark Room Retreat, we take away external sound and light to reveal even deeper levels of perception. However, these deeper levels of perception are always present—most of us just need reminders and practices to cultivate our continued awareness of them.

My takeaway from these experiences is a confirmation that we are all, always, in constant communication. How easy is it to tell that someone is in a bad mood before you’ve even asked them how they are doing? How many times have you met somebody who was radiating love as you passed them on the street, and you knew this without ever exchanging a word?

When we start to incorporate vibrational communications into our tool box, it is easy to see how much they influence our surroundings. They are powerful! And one of the most powerful incarnations of these vibrations comes in the form of laughter. Whether it’s an uncontrollable giggle or a belly-laugh so strong that it hurts, laughter can jump around a room and build to a crescendo after starting with just a single seed.

Laughter is contagious, and in a state of freedom, I’ve yet to meet anyone who is immune to it!

Laughter as Medicine

Something I notice is that when I’m upset, or lost, or in a heavy place, or worn down―whatever the case may be―it becomes really hard to laugh. Even when something is objectively funny and clever, I can acknowledge it, but the laughter just doesn’t come very easily, or I block it out. On some level, I believe that the ego just doesn’t want healing to be that easy (but, that is a topic for another time…).

By the same measure, when life is great, we’re in love, everything seems to be going our way, and we’re walking on the clouds, it seems so easy for the littlest blessings to bring a chuckle to our day.

Laughter and the Spiritual HeartOne of the things I find fascinating about laughter is that we laugh the same in every language. It is something that transcends any learned behavior or culture. It is a universal expression. It is a root human experience that we all share.

 

When something happens that is funny, or somebody tells a good joke, a huge amount is communicated. Laughing with someone is a bonding experience. Ah, yes! Somebody else is experiencing the same feeling in the same way as me, at the same time as me, based on the same sensory inputs! Connection! Unity! Love!

Unconsciously, I believe these experiences are what make laughter such powerful medicine. It is a reminder, universally understood and beloved, that we are not separate.

Laughter and the Spiritual Heart

When I first came to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, my trip was preceded by a year of self-work. I started really holding myself accountable for what I put in my body. I started really tasking myself with controlling my reactions to situations. I started to really budget and criticize how I was using my time every day. All of this self-work became just that: work! Serious business! And all for a reason. But, I always wondered if this seriousness was sustainable. It was certainly necessary in order to get closer to an effortless balance point, and I was doing it all in the name of healing, but I had shut something out that had always been a very important marker of my personal health: levity.

This realization had poked me a couple of times in the year but didn’t really break through until a month after I arrived in Mazunte, near the end of my first 10-day retreat. Sahajananda spoke about returning to and living from a natural state. The part that was music to my ears was his proclamation that “the natural state is a playful state.” It was that simple! Why didn’t somebody tell me this when I first got here? That revelation, perfectly timed, opened up the floodgates for me. I had taken this state of determination, devotion, and stoicism into my retreat. I went through a lot in the meantime, but when I came out, the personal message I chose to receive was that if I wanted to go deeper with this practice, I needed to stop letting my power be consumed by the seriousness that brought me to this place.

The first place I started was with myself. It really helped to start making fun of myself again. In many respects, if you can’t make fun of yourself for something, the ego is probably highly involved in the matter. It really helped to acknowledge the seeming absurdity of many of the decisions that led me to this point in my life, and to laugh at them!

Trusting Life laughterWhich led to being in awe of them. Which led to being in love with them. Which made it easier to laugh at them all over again! And a much healthier, more sustainable, and more playful samskara was created. 

Suddenly, I found myself able to enjoy the sacredness in sitting around a table with people from all over the world, taking turns pronouncing the word “banana” in dramatically different English dialects, but laughing all the same, together.

I’ve always known that I’ve loved to laugh, and I’ve always known the beauty of making others laugh and of laughing together, but I may have taken it for granted at times. Through my experiences at Hridaya, it has become clear to me that laughter is yet another pointer, and our openness to it is yet another marker. A marker and a pointer towards our True Nature, towards the Divine, and one of the most powerful manifestations of spanda that we can access at any given time.

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about Yoni Puja here.

A First Experience with Yoni Puja

By Sean O’Donnell



There are many tantric rituals that are practiced with the intention of deepening devotion and raising awareness of higher states of consciousness. Yoni puja is a ceremony designed to cultivate a reverence for Shakti and all other manifestations of the Divine Feminine. More information on the specific steps included in a traditional yoni puja can be found here and here.

A Beginner’s Yoni Puja

This past February, while visiting the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I had the chance to participate in a large group celebration of Maha Shivaratri  or “The Great Night of Shiva.” It was my first encounter with structured worship in a group setting and was orchestrated by many senior Hridaya teachers. I had no expectations going in other than to spend time singing and meditating with good friends, but the experience ended up having a profound effect on me.
Despite the deep sense of devotion that arose from that celebration, like many other things that have undeniably been breakthroughs in my spiritual practice, my ego has done a good job of keeping repeat experiences at arm’s length. Having left Mazunte for the summer, there is every excuse in the world to continue to put off these experiences―no group support, nobody to guide me through something new, and plenty of distractions and patterns that want to compete for my attention. However, I recently heard about yoni puja. Upon reading the details, I decided that I would put my reservations about whether I was doing it “right” or not to the side, clear some sacred space, and give it a try! I didn’t know whether I was “qualified” to organize such a ceremony or whether or not it would “work.” But, I convinced myself that those were relative concepts. So, despite it being my first time arranging the specifics, I knew if my intentions were pure and my mind focused, I would be sure to perform the most important aspects—inner devotion and appreciation.



Clearing a Space

Without any guidance in preparing for this ceremony, I had to surrender to the idea that I was going to have to make it my own. Being in a setting that wasn’t very reminiscent of the practice halls at the Hridaya Center, I needed to be resourceful to find objects that would help me direct my reverence and to realize that my offerings, even if they didn’t seem special, could be made special for the occasion.

 

yoni-puni-ceremony

 

I ended up covering a workout bench with a shawl from Oaxaca that is very significant to me. I adorned it with a couple of crystals, some fresh-picked wildflowers, and a few meaningful pendants and tokens that I had as keepsakes from my time in Mexico. As far as offerings, I took some care in selecting items that were fresh and of high quality, but I also knew that the intention behind the offerings was more important than their perceived material value. Incense, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and an egg all seemed fitting and were readily available. For the final, key component, I selected a seashell set inside a triangular piece of china— a representation of the womb, of creation, of the Divine Feminine—to use as a vessel for the puja. I’m not sure anyone’s ceremony has ever quite looked like this, but it was mine, of my creation, unique, and special to me. In hindsight, I think this had the effect of making the entire experience more meaningful and personal. Even if I had had expensive statues or objects blessed by a guru at my disposal, I don’t think the significance of the ritual would have been amplified one bit.

Receiving the Power of the Divine

With everything in place, the process of settling down to begin the ceremony already commanded my full attention. It was a very welcome feeling, one that I had not connected with so easily since leaving Mazunte. I was confident that a set of conditions had been created to properly and respectfully show devotion to the motherly essence of creation. With this, a calm came over me, and the practical steps of the ceremony began to move through my body very naturally, all the while reinforcing a reverence for the energy that illuminates our existence.
While I consider myself familiar with the meditation techniques taught at Hridaya―focusing on the Spiritual Heart and letting myself return to that space from a background of Stillness―this ceremony called for a slightly different approach. I found myself spending time being still, but with open eyes―gazing at the representation of our divine source set before me. I found that the more I attempted to project my rigid, focused, steadfast gaze on the centerpiece of the altar, the more that energy was reflected back to me, asking me to become more receptive―to letting things be as they are, to the beauty of creation that is always inside of us and around us, and to the ridiculous power of life that is encapsulated in the ever-present feminine energy of change itself.

 

rituals yoni puni

Feeling the Echoes

As the ceremony wound to a close, I definitely felt connected to a state of being that I hadn’t accessed in a while. Living in the Hridaya Community, it was easy to take such profound experiences into the day with me. But, now, it crossed my mind that practicing this ceremony may only be a momentary boost to my awareness. I wondered about my ability to integrate this awe and reverence after closing the ceremony.
after-yoni-puniMuch to my delight, there were some lasting effects after the ceremony! All of a sudden, the peach sitting in front of me was not only a reminder that I was hungry and craved sustenance, but that it, too, was a pointer to something being born into this world, that was to be held sacred, and that had the energy of all creation wrapped up inside it. The milk beside me wasn’t just something useful for washing down dessert, but a convenient representation of maternal nourishment. The jar of honey was no mere replacement sweetener, but a precious nectar―fit for a queen! I walked outside as the full moon was rising, and it graciously illuminated the patch of wildflowers I had visited earlier.

The scene had dramatically changed since I sat down for the ceremony, with all of my surroundings now colored by this soft, lunar essence. It was a very fitting setting for me to realize that I had reconnected with an appreciation for that same essence―not just around me, but inside me, as well.

 

 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about the power of laughter here.