If you think it’s too early to be talking about holiday gifts, you may want to check your calendar. We are less than one week away from Black Friday, the official start of the holiday season. It may be tempting to run out and get some bargains for everyone on your list, but in my experience it can be difficult to find something for that “person who has everything.” Sure, you could pick up a gift card or a bottle of wine, but not without appearing like you have no imagination. Why not consider something different like exotic incense and incense holders? (more…)
Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category
Have you ever wondered how to meditate? Unless you have actually tried it; you could think it looks easy. Outside of certain circles, we’re all conditioned to believe that successful meditation is a simple, that if we just sit in the right position on meditation cushions or “zafus,” the mind will automatically wander into a semi-conscious state. But beginners soon realize that achieving this focused relaxation is very difficult when the mind is in a heightened state of awareness. With all the constant messages bombarding our brains all day; it’s no wonder we have a difficult time “emptying the mind.” Thankfully, there are hundreds of books to help people you hone your meditation techniques and discover which method works best for you.
True inner peace and serenity is hard to come by these days. With all the distractions from the media, cell phones, job stress and jam-packed schedules; it’s no wonder we have so little time left over to relax. People need to find quick and satisfying ways to decompress and detach from the outside world, and Zen gardening is a great way to do this.
Unlike traditional American gardens which consist mainly of flowers, a Japanese garden maintains a much lower profile. Tranquility is the primary goal of a Japanese garden, so it’s just as likely to contain fountains and rock sculptures as it is to be minimalistic.
Many people try to make meditation a part of their daily routine, but they find it more challenging than they expected. Oftentimes, the more stressed one becomes from the endless mental “chatter”; the less likely they are to achieve a state of inner silence. It’s a vicious circle. As frustrating as this can be, there are many ways to fix it through a combination of physical and mental props.
As someone who has been practicing meditation regularly for the past 20+ years, I am often asked for advice from people who are just starting out. “I can’t meditate,” they will say, “and “my mind just won’t shut off, it’s too hard!”
This may sound like a bold assertion, but there are actually hundreds of thousands of Buddhists out there who would wholeheartedly agree – the Japa Mala is the most essential piece of jewelry one can wear. Unlike costume or fine jewelry, these unique and decorative garlands are used by Hindus and Buddhists for counting mantras or the name of a deity. Known in the Sanskrit language as “japa,” this practice is typically done while wearing a set of 16, 27, 54 or 108 beads.
This month, we explore Chi from ancient times to present day, how to find your chi and exercises to develop its full potential.
Used by the Chinese for centuries, Chi is also closely tied to the Chakra energy system and is the foundation of many health and fitness practices today. By connecting to and channeling Chi, you open the flow of energy within you promoting health, happiness and longevity. Chi is the inner strength to overcome physical, emotional or spiritual challenges in everyday life.
Chi is well known in martial arts, particularly Tai Chi and known as “moving meditation”. Through breathing and defined movement, students learn to focus and invoke the body’s natural use of positive energy. This results in the release of tension and promotes mindfulness. As we age, the cumulative effects of mental and physical stress cause muscles to tighten. When our bodies are tense over prolonged periods of time, the natural flow of chi becomes unbalanced or blocked, which may create physical illness. Tai chi is a wonderful and popular outlet for people who lead stressful lives. In martial arts, there is often a shift from defense maneuvers to softer, internal exercises to channel more chi. The ability to overcome challenges on the mat, as in life is linked to the ability to invoke the internal strength of Chi.
Many ancient therapy modalities are still in use today and centered on the use of chi including acupuncture, Reiki therapy, reflexology, Qi Gong, yoga and Feng Shui.
Finding your chi involves centering and is similar to meditating. Centering brings the mind, body and spirit into harmony and balance while developing your chi. To find your chi, try this simple exercise:
Sit in a comfortable position and allow yourself to completely relax. As you relax each muscle and part of your body, imagine your feet becoming one with the earth – known as grounding. Next, visualize a small hollow tube attached to the base of your spine running up through your body, the top of your head and extending into the universe. With eyes closed, breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Focus on your breathing and allow the energy from the earth and universe to enter you through this hollow tube. Let the energy flow throughout your entire body. With each inspiration, you are allowing the entry of positive energy and with exhalation, cleansing the body’s negative energy. Through practice, you will achieve a greater awareness of chi.
Chi walking and Chi running are also becoming popular to practice aligning your mind and body through focused centered activity. The goal is to keep your body centered in the direction you are moving while maintaining concentrated focus on one object at a distance, much like an animal stalking its prey. Through perfecting this technique, you will begin to sense your body aligning with the energy from your eyes, almost as if you were being pulled toward the object of your focus. The coordinated effort between focused mindfulness and alignment of the body creates a greater sense of balance between your Yin (negative energy) and Yang (positive energy). This creates harmony within mind, body, spirit and heart.
Developing Chi can be practiced within any activity. By focusing your eyes on the object or task at hand and setting your intention (mindfulness), direct your body’s energy to your eyes. You will find that that when your mind becomes focused without distractions, your mind, body and spirit become aligned leaving you feeling refreshed, energized and clear headed upon completion.
In part three, we will discuss how to incorporate Chi into your daily life and home through the art of Feng Shui to create a more harmonized balance in life.
Not long ago, the practice of yoga in America was limited to a few health clubs and yoga centers where people would gather to learn the most popular postures and poses. Sure, there have always been some diehard yoga practitioners that would travel to India and study with a yoga master, but the average person stuck with a weekly class at their local yoga studio.
My, how things have changed in the past 20 years! Today there are yoga retreats, yoga weekends, yoga stores, online yoga classes, and yoga festivals. People who used to just dabble in the practice are now becoming yoga junkies, and it seems like the trend is growing even faster than anyone anticipated. Some believe that yoga has grown in popularity because it’s a relaxing way to promote good health. Others point to a widespread yearning for spiritual growth. Life has gotten busier and anxiety is a serious problem in America. People need to develop the ability to remain centered so they focus on the task at hand. Yoga offers that a type of physical and spiritual refreshment that is not easily duplicated by other forms of exercise.
Learning how to meditate and practicing daily will produce immediate benefits for your mind, body and soul. Meditation can be done anywhere and anytime and may become your favorite daily activity.
Meditation is as simple as paying attention to your breathing and thoughts. Try it while sitting in your car, having coffee, taking a lunch break, or before getting out of bed in the morning. If you are busy, take just two minutes a day. Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits has outlined some key points to get you started and says there’s no reason or excuse for not meditating when you simplify the meditation habit.
There are countless benefits to practicing daily meditation. It relieves stress and creates a state of relaxation. Practicing mindfulness will extend into your everyday life activities and remind you to be present in everything you do. Meditation improves your focus, happiness, memory and school or work performance. It may also have other physical benefits including improved metabolism, heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. Perhaps the most profound benefit of meditation comes from a better understanding of your inner self and an awareness level that you have never before experienced.
In its most simplified form, sitting in meditation for a few minutes a day brings a sense of calm and relaxation that we rarely find in our hectic schedules – and that alone can be the most rewarding.
How do you get started? There are many ways to meditate, and experimenting with a few methods will be helpful in finding the one that feels the most comfortable for you. Remember, the goal is not to find the perfect form in meditation but to develop the daily habit of meditation. Keep it simple.
1. Start with committing to just 2 minutes a day. Don’t set unrealistic goals in the beginning. Starting with a simple goal of 2 minutes a day will create a habit that will stick.
2. Pick a time and trigger. Selecting a general time each day will help create a trigger. The trigger is a daily activity that will remind you that it’s time to take those few minutes to meditate. Triggers can be you’re your first cup of coffee, getting the newspaper, feeding your pets, showering or lunch time.
3. Find a quiet spot. For some, early morning before everyone awakens is ideal. If your trigger is lunch time, find a park bench, sit in your car – the place doesn’t matter as long as you won’t be disturbed during this precious time.
4. Sit comfortably. Many sit on the floor cross legged and use a zafu/zabuton cushion for support. You can meditate in a chair or sofa if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable.
5. Just 2 minutes. You are more likely to succeed in developing a lasting habit by meditating for 2 minutes. Gradually expand to 5-7 minutes if you are able to meditate for a week, then 10 minutes after two weeks, 15 minutes if you can stick to it for three weeks, and 20 minutes if you can meditate a full month.
6. Breathe. Sit straight and close your eyes. As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nose, into your throat, your lungs and belly. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. To stay mindful in the present moment and keep your thoughts from wandering, try counting your breaths. One breath in, two breaths out, three breaths in, four breaths out … when you get to 10, begin again. If you lose track, start over. When you find your mind wandering, gently refocus on your breathing. It will be challenging at first, but with practice, you will become better.
It’s a very simple practice, but you want to do it for 2 minutes, every day, after the same trigger each day. Do this for a month and you will have a daily meditation habit.
Paying attention to your breath is a mindfulness practice and a way to train yourself to focus your attention. Once you’ve practiced a bit while sitting in a quiet space, you can expand your mindfulness practice to other situations.
When you feel stress, take a minute to pay attention to your breath, and return your mind to the present moment. Try taking a walk, and instead of thinking about things on your to- do list, focus on your breathing, your body’s sensations and what’s around you. Perform each activity of daily living mindfully. The more you incorporate mindfulness into focused activities, you will find that you naturally extend that to more activities, people and places and ultimately become more aware of your inner self and to all that surrounds you.
Some people prefer a vigorous workout, others a Swedish massage, and still others find it easy to unwind when surrounded by their favorite scents. Whatever it is that you do to relax, it should be something that is readily available when you need it. The nice thing about aromatherapy is its instant availability. Need to settle your mind at the end of a stressful day? Simply light an aromatherapy candle. Want to feel instantly refreshed from the moment you walk in the door? Get your favorite scents and use a diffuser.
Whether it is bath products, candles, essential oils or incense, there are certain scents that are known to have specific effects on the human body. Some work best for soothing a crying baby while others promote stress relief and healthy living. But only a regular practitioner of aromatherapy could tell you if it lives up to its claims.
This month we explore the 7th and last of the seven energy systems, the crown chakra. The Sanskrit name is Sahasrara which translates to “thousand fold.” It is often seen as a lotus flower with a thousand petals symbolizing the opening of spiritual awakening.
This chakra is located on the top of the head at the crown and its associated color is violet transitioning to white, symbolizing the blending of the seven chakras. Its associated element is thought and fire and the musical note is B. The crown chakra’s function is the assimilation of wisdom, divine enlightenment, and the integration of our spiritual self with our physical body.
The crown chakra governs our faith and belief system and is a portal to our intuitive resources which ultimately controls our thoughts and actions. It is the pathway to a higher state of consciousness and as it becomes more developed, we move beyond being controlled by our ego and into “consciousness” itself.
As the connection to our spiritual essence grows, life becomes more peaceful and harmonious. Daily challenges and worries easily fall away and the direction we seek to life’s deeper questions and problems is attainable. People with an open crown chakra experience unconditional love, freely passing that on to others. Life is fulfilling and joyful with a keen sense of clarity, meaning and connection to all life. The power of faith in this chakra drives your thoughts and actions turning dreams into reality and your intuitive resources ensure that the decisions you make will keep you safe.
Have you ever experienced a day when nothing seems to go your way? The smallest things leave you feeling frustrated? Feel off-balance or ungrounded? Can’t make a decision when you need to? These are signs that your crown chakra energy is imbalanced.
An overactive 7th chakra is often characterized by being overly intellectual. The inability to think for your-self and relying on others to give you direction becomes a dominant pattern. Often there is spiritual skepticism and a focus on material things to define satisfaction in life. Difficulty concentrating, depression, migraine headaches and apathy are also signs of imbalance.
To balance your 7th chakra, climb a mountain! Find a quiet space to go within and reflect being mindful of the present moment. Set the intention to be aware of what is beyond you – to your consciousness.
Do less! Simplify your day. Take that a step further and try doing less for an entire week, then an entire month. Use that time to meditate, pray and just spending time being in the moment.
Visit places that offer a sense of calm, whether it is a park, the beach, or the mountains. Practice working with your connection to something special in your surroundings. Being one with nature, one with self, one with the universe will create open and balanced energy.
Wear violet or place purple accents in your room or office as a reminder. If you use essential oils, breathe in rose, cinnamon, jasmine or sandalwood. The gemstones associated with the crown chakra are amethyst, alexandrite, quartz crystal, diamond and selenite. The foods that energize your crown chakra are concord grapes, eggplant, plums, purple broccoli and blackberries.
The development and direction of chakra growth is upward, from the basic needs of survival (first chakra) to the development of our self (second), connection with others (fourth) and self-discovery (fifth chakra) to our connection with the divine (seventh). The spiritual connection and force of faith we develop through the crown chakra works in tandem with the seven chakras only conversely, beginning with the 7th chakra and working downward. It melds with the intuitive powers of the 6th chakra, stimulates our innate sense of will in the 5th, and blends with the heart chakra connecting us to our emotions. The force of faith then personalizes our emotions in the 3rd chakra and clarifies those responses into actions in the second. All of the combined energies are ultimately grounded in the first chakra; creating a synthesis of living spiritually and being in the moment – the essence of life.