• The Power of Meditation

    In the last 10+ years, both yoga and meditation have grown significantly in popularity across the globe. For most of us, however, the path of yoga begins with a focus on the physical aspects of the practice, like building strength, flexibility and coordination. It isn’t until we begin to further develop and deepen our practices that we actually discover the truth – yoga is more about the mind than anything else.

    I, like many, began my pursuit of yoga with a focus on movement, eager to flow my way into a stronger & suppler body. So, I practiced frequently, both at home and at my local studio. With time and dedication, I was indeed able to achieve the results I was looking for, but I also noticed other effects – like the fact that I felt less stressed and more at peace in my body. As someone who had always been a bit of a worrier, this was huge.

    Yoga became a place of solace for me. The more I practiced, the more I began to realize that it was the moments I spent in stillness that truly impacted me. So, naturally, I became increasingly interested in the stillness part of the practice – the meditation.

    I like to think of yoga as training for meditation. The physical postures work as a means for helping us find more comfort in our own bodies. This in turn, allows us to sit in stillness for longer periods of time without getting too distracted by our bodies. The best time to meditate is after asana.

    Unfortunately, most yoga studios don’t offer time for meditation after practice. For this reason, it’s important to get comfortable practicing yoga at home. That way you can move into meditation straight away after you’re through with asana. But, what if you don’t know how to meditate?

    Figuring out how to sit for meditation is a lot more difficult that you might think. When we’re new to meditation, most of us simply don’t know what to do. We often find ourselves wondering, am I doing this right? Then, when we notice that our minds are going a million miles a minute, we start to think we just aren’t meant for meditation.

    This could not be further from the truth. Every single person on the planet who sits down as a beginner in meditation will find a million thoughts racing through their heads. Even advanced meditation practitioners have a hard time getting their minds focused sometimes. The important thing to remember is that like yoga, meditation is a practice, and it takes some getting used to.

    If you’re curious about meditation or think you might want to give it a try, there are tons of meditation classes you can practice with on Omstars.com. I recommend moving through an asana practice with one of your favorite teachers first, then transitioning into a meditation class. Try clicking the button below to browse through some of the available meditation classes offered online, or sign up to become an Omstars member by clicking here.

    If you’re interested in giving meditation a go on your own, check out this Beginners Guide to Meditation, or just follow these steps:

    Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for at least 5 minutes. You can sit in a chair, on the floor, in your bed – really, anywhere that works for you.

    Step 2: Sit up tall, let your spine be long, and find comfortable stillness.

    Step 3: As you settle into your seat, bring your awareness to your breath, observing each inhale and exhale.

    Step 4: Try deepening the breath so that the belly begins to expand as you breathe in and out. Keep your focus on your breathing.

    Step 5: If your mind starts wandering, just notice your thoughts. Then, let them go and bring your awareness back to your breath.

    Step 6: Continue focusing on your breath for at least 5 minutes. Each time your mind wanders off, notice, and come back to your breath.

    That’s all there is to it.

    It’s important to know that your mind will wander off – probably several times. You will get distracted and you will most likely feel like you can’t focus. This is part of the process. That’s why it’s a practice. We have to practice bringing our mind back to our point of focus (in this case, the breath) again and again.

    Learning to focus the mind in meditation can carry over into everyday life. In time, we can learn to let go of stress and anxiety with ease. We can learn to keep our attention on projects and work for extended periods of time. We may even find that we become better listeners, better students, better partners, and better human beings. That is the power of meditation.

    By Alex Wilson

    Practice Meditation on Omstars

     

    Alex Wilson is a writer, yoga teacher, and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist. She is passionate about empowering students to create space for healing and self-discovery in their lives. She is also the content manager for Omstars.com.

  • What is Tantra? A Primer on Tantric Meditation

    Tantra is as misunderstood in the West, where it’s become synonymous with sexual rituals, as in the East, where it’s considered magic alchemy. But Tantra is actually a vast science that encompasses wisdom from Ayurvedic medicine, Samkhya/Yoga philosophy, Vedanta, Jyotish astrology and spiritual practices using yantras and mantras. The ultimate goal of Tantra is to systematically utilize all of the methods we can to accelerate transformation and help the practitioner to create a life that is richer and more complete. Its focus is on providing the correct approach and specific techniques to cause an individual to grow, become stronger and more capable by undoing all obstacles to freedom in the fastest way possible. According to Sandra Anderson, senior faculty at the Himalayan Institute, “Tibetan Buddhism, the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, and shakti sadhana (worship and practices centered on the Divine Mother) are all examples of the diverse faces of Tantra.”

    There are three paths of Tantra: the Kaula path, which relies on external rituals; the Mishra path, which blends internal and external practices; and the Samaya path, which is purely internal and meditative. Samaya Tantra is ultimately more like a deep communion with the creative force of the universe, Shakti, than worship in a ritualistic sense. Yantras, geometric figures, and mantras, vibrational sounds, create a locus for these universal powers (shaktis) to manifest in our inner and outer lives. Patanjali’s teaching on Tantric alchemy can be found in the Yoga Sutras, chapter 3.

    Tantra, in essence, signifies to expand beyond limitations. Its ideology recognizes that all of the powers, or shaktis, in the universe are encountered in the individual: Tatha brahmande, yatha pindande (“As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm”). In Tantra, the ultimate yantra is the body, and our self-realization potential (kundalini shakti, the vast powers dormant within us) is awakened through the use of asana, pranayama, bandhas, mudras and mantra. Through these systematic technics, the practitioner harnesses prana shakti, the creative lifeforce, to enable the dormant kundalini to rise through the chakras, riding on the river of the central channel to the crown, where it can join pure consciousness. This “awakening” brings an intense and inexplicable joy that is beyond time, space and causation. We feel empowered, healed and fulfilled.

    Tantric meditation, then, would use multiple tools and techniques to help us “pierce the veil” that obscures our awareness of limitless potential in the quickest and most effective ways. Using the simplest of asanas, one can stabilize the pelvic floor, strengthen the sacrum, and increase flexibility and stability in the spinal column. Pranayama serves to energize the solar plexus, access the heart center, and enter the eyebrow center, or third eye, to replenish the brain and nervous system. Subsequently, one can engage in the samyamas: Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (union/merging with the Infinite).

    Look for my guided Tantric Meditations on this platform to have a direct experience:

    Tantric Meditation for Clarity & Wisdom – The third eye (ajna chakra) is the center of clarity and wisdom. Blending breathing techniques (pranayama), chanting, visualization (kriya), and vibrational sound (mantra) to gain access to Turya, the fourth dimension, tap into the wisdom of the third eye and rest in a pool of restful, effortless awareness.

    Tantric Meditation to Clear Difficult Emotions – Tantric meditation is about the alchemy of transformation. In this meditation, you will use breath, concentration, visualization of energy movement and color, and meditation to transform difficult emotions in the heart center.

    Tantric Meditation for Empowerment – Connect to the creative forces of will, power, and determination residing in your manipura (third chakra), known as the city of gems, by using breathing techniques, visualization, concentration of prana at the navel center, and mantra.

    Tantric Meditation to Awaken Sushumna – One definition of a yogi is “one whose prana, or energy, is in the spine.” Connect to the spinal energy channel known as sushumna, clearing the path for Kundalini to rise, using breath, chanting AUM multiple times, visualization and meditation.

    By Inge Sengelmann

    Inge Sengelmann is a somatic psychotherapist and certified ParaYoga teacher, initiated in the Himalayan Tantric lineage of Sri Vidya. ParaYoga is a living link to the ancient traditions of yoga, meditation, and tantra. 

    Join Inge For Meditation on OMstars

  • Blow your mind with Meditation

    To me, the popularity of the war-time phrase ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ seems out of place in one of the most prosperous and war-free societies in the world. In our connected, fully wired 24-7 society, it can be hard to switch off.  Our normal rhythms are easily out of sync and ‘stress’ has become an everyday word.

    As a lawyer, I remember hearing stories about how – before email – documents took days, if not weeks, to be passed around by hand, typed and re-typed with corrections handwritten in different colours – now it takes seconds to ping an email to everyone and complex contracts can be marked up overnight with tracked changes. The pace of modern life is sometimes astounding. 

    It’s easy to lose ourselves in the rush and pressures of modern life.  Meditation is an antidote; a route to perspective and calm, to navigating the hectic traffic we experience in all areas of our lives. Meditation can change how we work, it can improve our health, and it can affect how we relate both to ourselves and to others.  Beyond a mechanism for coping with stress, mediation can be a vehicle towards finding more meaning, purpose, depth and connection in our lives.

    The mind is a surprising instrument. So powerful that science has yet to understand more than the basics of how it fully functions. But then, trying to understand ourselves has always been a tough, yet valuable pursuit.

    Our minds (along with our bodies) have developed over millions of years of evolution to give us the best chances of survival in a sometimes hostile world. Our brain is rewarded with pleasure – with substances such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin – when we do something that evolution would suggest is survival-enhancing. And, of course, the other side of the coin is pain when our survival is threatened.   When we sit in meditation and train our attention, we are acting against many of the reactionary tendencies that we have developed as a result of evolution.    

    Our evolutionary tendencies have helped us to survive so far, but some of them now lead us to overreact.  We have, for example, developed a bias towards negativity, giving far more weight and attention to negative events and emotions than positive ones.  And, particularly, under stress, we overestimate and ‘dial up’ the perceived ‘dangers’ around us. The evolutionary ‘down’ that we sometimes experience after the ‘high’ of being with a partner, is designed to draw us towards that person helping us to mate and procreate. But if that evolutionary tendency is too strong in us, our neediness may get activated and end up pushing the person away. Meditation helps us to temper the reactions that evolution has set in motion, so in that sense it is going against some of our evolutionary instincts.  But maybe, that’s what’s needed for us to evolve even further.

    Previously the purview of monks and lamas, meditation is now being used by the likes of Google, hedge fund managers  and MBA students to boost their performance. Scientific research supports many health benefits of meditation mainly associated with stress reduction, and ability to focus.  Cautiously promising research in its early stages even suggests that meditation may have some effect on a cellular level on patients in remission from cancer. Further evidence is needed to confirm that. So, maybe, in terms of health and focus, meditation is giving us an extra edge. 

    Meditation affects the quality of your attention and where you place it. And, as Stanford scholar and international meditation teacher B. Alan Wallace, PhD explains in his book The Attention Revolution, ‘Our perception of reality is tied closely to where we place our attention’. What we focus on shapes our experience and the things we ignore, pale into insignificance for us. In 2012, Usain Bolt says he won the 100 meters in 2012 by concentrating on his strength on “concentrating on his strengths” (execution) rather than his weaknesses (his poor start). Meditation allows us to choose where we place our attention.  That, in turn, gives us more control over how we shape our lives.

    Meditation also helps us to navigate our emotions. Neuroscientists debate whether regions of the brain perform specific functions or whether a more interconnected view is more accurate.  It is, however, established that the amygdala (emotional centres) play a huge role in the fear response. In order to deal with the fear-causing – at an evolutionary level read ‘life threatening’ – situation, we dissociate. We stop using the logical, decision-making functions of our brains. I interviewed Louann Brizendine, neuroscientist and author of bestseller, The Female Brain. She described this to me beautifully, using the analogy of a car with the clutch being pushed in. When we are in a state of stress and fear, the gears are unable to engage with the decision-making functions of our brains.

    Of course, modern day stressful situations are not always related to mortal danger. And, in a non-life-threatening situation such as work, most of the decisions we make would probably benefit from some logical engagement! Awareness developed through meditation can help break the cycle and get you back there. 

    Meditation helps us to press ‘pause’ on our reactive patterns. It gives us perspective and choice. This allows us to be cool under fire.  In this sense, it helps to blow the patterns that have been deeply ingrained in our minds out of the water, leaving us clearer, calmer and more available for genuine meaningful connection.  Any takers?

    By Mia Forbes Pirie

    Watch Mia’s course, Intelligent Start, on Omstars

    Join Mia’s 5 day meditation challenge and see how meditating for as little as 5 minutes a day can make a difference to your day https://intelligentchange.life/five-day-challenge/ or be part of Mia’s small Facebook “Not too Perfect”  Yoga & Meditation community https://www.facebook.com/groups/379578869076090/