Applying The Niyamas To Your Practice

May 2, 2016

Last week, I wrote about how one can apply Patanjali’s yamas to meditation.  Yoga postures tend to dominate our social media feeds so we are quite familiar with the physical portion of yoga, the asana practice. But we tend to be less familiar with the concept of yoga as a science or a process of brining us more in touch with our true self. In the Yoga Sutras, one of the oldest and most regarded yoga texts written by the sage Patanjali, outlines the science of yoga in eight distinct limbs (or steps). The first limb, the yamas, describes the restraints that enable us to harmoniously live within a community.

While the first limb is about our behaviors as they relate to others, the second limb or niyamas, is about the behaviors as they relate to our own internal happiness, confidence and inner strength. The niyamas are the observances or supportive duties that we can use to create a positive internal environment enabling us to connect with our true self. Together, the yamas and the niyamas constitute the moral codes of yoga’s philosophy, science and lifestyle.

The niyamas are comprised of five core observances:

Saucha (purity) Is about keeping things clean. Our body, our minds and our living space. Things take up energy and when we have ‘clutter’ both around and inside of us our state of mind is going to bear the brunt. Our meditation practice is essential to our mental hygiene but it’s going to be impacted by what is going on within our body and within our environment. Impurities adversely affect our thinking patterns, clouding our innate wisdom and clarity. So take inventory of what is going in and around you (and no I’m not suggesting a juice cleanse). What are some attainable and sustainable lifestyle changes you can make to de-clutter and cleanse your life? Where can you find a little more calm and a little more order that could potentially support your meditation practice?

Samtosha (contentment) I love this one. It’s about welcoming what you get. It’s about releasing your mind of wanting something different and accepting what is. When we are constantly striving for something ‘different’ or when we have created a thought pattern that things ‘should’ be a certain way we foster the ideal habitat for suffering. There are a lot of expectations around meditation and this sets us up for frustration and struggle during our practice. But if we approach our practice as a time to just ‘be’ in whatever should arise we can begin to release some of these binding expectations. The number of minutes spent sitting in meditation is irrelevant. The number of times your mind wanders doesn’t matter. Let your mediation be a space to just ‘be’ and invite contentment into your practice.

Tapas (self-discipline) This literally translates to heat. It is the energy you conjure up to mobilize change or focus an effort. We have to call on this energy, or this heat because we’re proactively doing something that will improve our body, mind or spirit. And chances are these are things that we don’t ‘really’ want to do. It takes self discipline to take care of ourselves in a culture seeped in unhealthy habits. Let’s be honest, sitting down for our mediation practice isn’t always high on our list. If it didn’t feel like a chore at times it wouldn’t be so hard to do. It takes commitment, self-discipline and this ‘fire’ to bring us to our practice every day. But here is the thing, we all have self-discipline. So use it.

Svadhyaya (self-study) Literally translates ‘to recollect the Self’. This is about asking the eternal question ‘Who Am I?’ This one is not easy especially because the way we live can (and does) completely distract us from our true nature, our internal self. We are subject to constant stimulation and never ending messaging which prevents us from paying attention to what is going on inside. I’ve written about this here  and here. It’s one of the primary reasons I believe we need meditation more than ever. We need a break from all of the noise and stimuli. We need to practice listening to our own internal needs and inclinations without external influences. Use your meditation practice as a true break from everything we deal with in the outside world. Let your inner voice, your true self be present in your practice, learning from and listening to what’s inside. Use meditation to encourage your true self to be loud – eventually louder than everything else.

Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion) This is the dedication or surrender to something higher. The offering to something greater than ourselves, the pinnacle of spiritual practice. Patanjali states that liberation, the highest happiness, can only come from a love of or communion with God. But once again, don’t get distracted by the anthropomorphic representation of God. Consider that there is a divine design, a benevolent essence in our universe and think about your contribution to this divinity. In simplest terms, it’s about the notion that this offering connects us to something greater. This connection makes our own capacity limitless and this is beautiful. I’ve shared my meditation recipe where I talk about finding the edges of your form. This gives you a tangible place to drop into, or go within. When I think of devotion in the context of this niyama, I think of the edges of my form actually disintegrating. So there is no outside of me or inside of me. It is all just me. There is true comfort here and I don’t think my words can do this comfort justice so I would encourage you to try it yourself. Connect to the greater universe in your meditation and feel the grounding effect this has on your practice.

The niyamas can truly serve us by opening up new capacities to nourish our body, mind and spirit. Together with the yamas, we can learn to live a simple, peaceful, disciplined life that enables our true self to flourish. Once again, think about these observances and how they can contribute to your meditation practice.

Mediate & be well.

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Monthly Readings

Meditation & Mindfulness Readings On The Internet

April 30, 2016

It’s the last day of April and to round out your month, here is a list of interesting reads on mindfulness & meditation from around the interwebz. Enjoy.

Meditate and be well.

The core skill of meditation is showing up
Release your expectations and keep coming back to your practice.

What Unconditional Self-Love Looks Like
Self-love is deep within. This piece gives a new perspective to loving your true nature.

The Unexpected Benefits of Anxiety
We often use meditation as an anxiety anecdote, but this piece gives a different perspective on anxiety.

Different Perspectives
The last quote really resonated with me.

Don’t Just Declutter, De-Own.
Interesting thoughts on shedding the ‘things’

We Are All We Have
We are all that we need.

12 Self-Awareness Exercises That Fuel Happiness and Success
Powerful message about how recognizing your motivations.


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My Meditation Practice

Ramblings On My Meditation Practice – Small Steps

April 28, 2016

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’  – Lao Tzu

This past weekend I was walking with a friend. A good friend. A friend who suffers from chronic pain. Every day.

For the past few months, she has been participating in a clinical study that is testing the effectiveness of this new treatment specifically designed for her ailment. On our walk, she was articulating the stress she feels when she has to speak to the effectiveness of the treatment – she thinks it is helping but it isn’t night and day. It was like she didn’t want to let someone else or herself down if she couldn’t say, with complete confidence, that this was a cure. She can pinpoint small improvements in some areas, but it’s not like her chronic pain is suddenly gone.

This made me think of so many things that we assume will change. One action, one modification, one trial. Immediate results.

I started out thinking this story represented the meditation journey. But as I’m writing it, I am realizing that this is how meditation also serves us too.

When I started meditating, I didn’t notice anything. Not a damn thing.

I was uncomfortable sitting and my mind wandered.

But I kept at it.

After awhile I was still uncomfortable sitting and my mind kept wandering.

But I kept at it.

Even though the B.A.T.s (Big A$$ Things = the things that stress me out and knock me down) I was dealing with were still in my life, I started to notice that very small things were changing. And I mean small.

  • I could watch a TV show without having to fiddle on my phone or get up constantly.
  • I could stand in line and not be impatient.
  • I could do things at a slow pace (slow paces typically drove me nutty).
  • I could read an entire article in one sitting without getting up to check something, do something, be somewhere, etc.
  • When something frustrated me, I could think, ‘huh, that’s frustrating’ as opposed to letting it completely consume me (this still ebbs and flows).
  • I could leave a dirty dish in the sink (hello type A).
  • I could untie my shoelaces before yanking my foot out of my sneaker.

I told you they were small.

When I sit on my cushion and drop into my meditation, I am making a small step towards my own inner connection, peace and fulfillment.

And in return, I’m seeing small steps towards inner connection, peace and fulfillment.

If you go in expecting that meditation is going to cure all of your BATs, you’re going to be in for a serious let down. Chances are you’ve practiced being a certain way for many, many years and it is going to take time to reverse your patterns, modify your behavior or change your actions.

It also doesn’t help that we are conditioned to think that there are [immediate] fixes for everything.

Attaching the expectation of immediate results puts an unattainable goal on your practice and that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the science of meditation and most of all, it’s not fair to you. You deserve a chance at whatever you are trying to cope with and meditation gives you a [really good] chance. So many things take time, and this is not a bad thing. There is a lot of learning, growing and strengthening that can take place with time. Think of how long it takes to save money or grow your hair out or move up in your career. The good things are going to take time.

Keep practicing. Notice the little changes. Give yourself time. Treat your practice with compassion.

Mediate & be well.

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Applying The Yamas To Your Practice

April 23, 2016

Many (many, many) moons ago, Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, considered one of the foundational texts of yoga. When we think of yoga, we often think of the physical poses that comprise the asana practice. But the yoga tradition is much more – it’s a systematic science that enables us to realize and embody our true authentic self. Yoga is the process we can leverage to experience a life free from any false conceptions or illusions created by our environment and learned by our mind.

Why is this important?

Because the separation from our true self, our authentic nature, created by delusion or misconception causes suffering.

We spend our days bombarded by stressors, constant messages, moving in unnaturally fast paces setting almost unattainable standards. Without awareness, our minds can start to process and interpret these days in illusory ways. We make assumptions about the way things appear to be, how others are thinking, what may or may not happen. And then we brood, taking on these thoughts, far far away from our true self.

Patanjali states that ‘Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications.’ It’s the experience of disassociating the ‘thinking’ mind and allowing the deeper layers of consciousness, the more authentic mind, to shine through. Tapping into these deeper layers gives us the ability to identify and become aware of false thinking, judgements and assumptions. This is considered one of the fundamental definitions of yoga, embraced by many of the yoga traditions.

Patanjali lays out a map, or a guide to understanding the process of yoga organized into eight limbs or steps. This ancient text has been interpreted many ways and while seemingly esoteric, the Yoga Sutras offer valuable principles that can help to navigate our intricate lives.

The first limb or step is the yamas which address the restraints necessary to live within a community or family. Restraining from violence, greed, truth and possessiveness are necessary to live a life free from harm and fear and they can also offer guidance and compassion during our meditation practice.

The Yamas are comprised of five core restraints:

Ahimsa (non-harming) While traditionally referring to nonviolence, the meaning and application can be broadened to encompass a mind without violent or hurtful thoughts. We can often be hard on ourselves during meditation – frustrated with a wandering mind, lack of concentration or success leading to forceful meditation. This frustrated or even hurtful thought pattern disables awareness – when we are forcing we are not feeling. Meditation is the practice of coming back to yourself, and this does require discipline. But when you become aware of your drifting mind, compassionately call yourself back, without harm and without judgement.

Satya (truth) Honor your feelings, your thoughts, words and deeds. Not just with others, but with yourself and your meditation practice. If you are struggling with your practice try to lean into the challenge. Recognize and assess what is going on. Do you have to try a different meditation approach? Do you have to process and address something that is unpleasant and uncomfortable? Do you need to recommit to your practice? Honesty will only serve you in your meditation practice.

Asteya (non-stealing) It’s easy to think of the material things here, the tangibles like food, money, clothes, cars, etc. But when thinking of asteya, it is important consider why there is a perception that stealing is necessary and that does not only pertain to tangible things. Asteya is about the fallacy that we cannot create what we need leading to a sense of scarcity, greed and hoarding. In the context of meditation it can be a significant leap to realize that so much is within and that our wanting is really the illusion that we are lacking. When we judge others and ourselves, we are stealing away from our true self, creating a story based on assumptions that fill a superficial longing. In our practice, it’s hard to let go of the expectation or judgment of what meditation should be, should feel like, should accomplish and this can steal from the presence that grounds our meditation.

Brahmacharya (celibacy) Buzz kill right? But let’s be real – we’re not renouncing. But like Asteya, there is more to this principal. Think of it as preventing the exertion of one’s precious energy through the misuse of the senses. Your personal energy, your currency to get through life is precious and shouldn’t be ruled by superficial urges. This principal is more important than ever today – think of the overstimulation we deal with everywhere. Our diet, media, marketing, multi-tasking, fast-paced lives are seeped in overstimulation – everything is overdone. Because of this, we actually struggle to unwind, unplug, relax or vacation (buzz kill for real on this one). We feel this in our practice – one of the biggest challenges is to just ‘be’ and that is what meditation is. To just be. Without judgement, without attachment, without a constant stream of thoughts that rivals your twitter feed. So. Much. Distraction. It’s also why we need meditation more than ever. Recognize the forces fighting for your energy and keep coming back to your practice.

Aparigraha (non-grasping) Or more simply, letting go. We only have so much precious energy and when it is consumed by the ‘old junk’ that doesn’t serve us, there is nothing left to seek what does serve us. We hold on to illusions that serve our thought patterns or need to believe a certain way. While meditation is our best anecdote, holding onto these false thought patterns can be such a barrier to our practice, they keep us stuck in the superficial layers and prevent access to the deeper layers that make up our core, our true self. Let this come up in your meditation but don’t let it block your practice. Let your meditation confront these un-serving thoughts.

Yama means ‘bridle’ or ‘rein’ which accurately represents the the ‘restraints’ we should willingly epitomize as we seek a fulfilling life. Think about these yamas in the context of your meditation practice and how they can contribute to your journey.

Meditate & be well.


  • Reply Lisa April 23, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Hi Erin-thanks for this beautifully written reminder of the yamas and the importance of meditation. I hope to join you starting in a few months.
    Good luck on your journey.

    • Reply Admin April 23, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Thank you Lisa, I am glad you connected with the post. Be well.

  • Reply CaseyHAiello August 21, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Very nice article, exactly what I needed.

    • Reply Erin August 21, 2016 at 5:39 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it CaseyHAiello!


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  • Reply GroverBMonks August 27, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Very energetic article, I loved that bit. Will there be described as a part 2?

    • Reply Erin August 29, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      I will continue to build out the content of this blog. That being said, I do have a full time job so my goal is 2-3 posts per month. Thank you for reading and reaching out with a comment.


    Leave a Reply

    My Meditation Practice

    Ramblings On My Meditation Practice – Starting Over

    April 20, 2016

    I live in the beautiful green mountains of Vermont. It’s a special place for sure, but if you live here, you know spring is not Vermont’s glory season. While the rest of the country is enjoying all of summer’s benefits with none its extreme heat, we are probably still under foot of snow with below freezing temperatures. This year has been no exception. Last week we had a stretch of weather that was gray, spitting snow and hovering around 12 degrees. In April. It’s a downer.

    My practices of late have been scattered and just blah. For the most part, I have found a recipe that works well for me and I have a couple of tools to use when the going gets a little rough. But it’s been a challenge to sink into myself. I haven’t come out of my practice feeling centered or grounded.

    Much like the recent weather. Just blah.

    Maybe it’s the day job? Maybe it’s the change of season? Maybe I’m processing more than I’m realizing?

    After weeks (and really months) of damp, grey or frigid cold, the sun started to shine yesterday. It truly warmed up to a comfortable 60 degrees. It was a true bluebird day and it was glorious.

    It didn’t solve my meditation woes but it made me think about how we can always start over.

    Our minds are going to wander, sometimes more than other times. We’ve actually practiced chasing things with our mind way more than we’ve practiced clearing our mind so be compassionate and bring your mind back to your breath. You can always start over.

    Life gets going and maybe you missed a day or two or ten of meditation. Be aware of this and realize that it takes commitment and discipline to prioritize the important things. Meditation deserves a spot on the important list. You can always start over.

    Your practice isn’t always going to be comfortable. Either physically or emotionally. Maybe you’re pose isn’t serving your practice and causing discomfort. Maybe your practice is bringing up some feelings that aren’t easy to be with. Changing your practice or trying some new techniques are sometimes an easy fix and other times you may just need to work through the discomfort. You can always start over.

    Just like Mother Nature started over with a blue bird day, we can always start over. Maybe it’s a small start-over or maybe it’s a big audacious do-over. Maybe it’s some action that your whole world can see or maybe it’s a small shift in your mindset that you alone benefit from.

    The point is, spring will always come, even in the dreariest of Aprils. This seasonal start-over does more than just bring the warmer weather, it shifts our our feelings, outlook and energy levels. We too can start over, at any time in our practice, in our day or in our life.

    Meditate & be well.


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      Thanks for reaching out and letting me know you enjoy my content!


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      Thanks DaraJZiebert!

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    • Reply Erin August 20, 2016 at 6:30 am

      I’m so glad you enjoy the blog. Thank you for commenting.

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Grounding Your Meditation With The Breath

    April 16, 2016

    The research and anecdotal evidence is all around us – meditation is a practice that can benefit so many areas of our lives. But unfortunately, meditation is hard. How counter intuitive right? You just have to sit and clear your mind. Some days are easier than others, but when we are inside our minds, it can be hard to find peace.

    Samatha meditation is a common form of sitting meditation based on breath attention. By focusing on your breath, you can begin to calm the mind. Superficially, the breath doesn’t seem like much to focus on and as a result, the mind can begin to wonder. In actuality, the breath is really quite elaborate. It’s the tide of our life and bringing our attention to the intricacies that make up our inhales and exhales has the potential to actually ground our practice and clear our mind.

    When focusing on just the inhale and exhale seems like not enough, try the following techniques to tap into our ethereal breath:

    Visualize Your Breath

    Think of your torso as a vessel and visualize the breath moving up and down this container. Maybe your breath is a beautiful color, or a soft light moving from the bases of your pelvis up to the rim of your chest on inhale. Watch this beautiful color or light as it moves down from the rim of your chest down into your pelvis as you exhale.

    Feel Your Breath

    Breath causes movement within your body. Can you feel every articulation of this movement? Can you feel the shoulder blades actually splay out as you fill your vessel with breath? Can you feel the collar bones lift just a little at the top of the inhale? Can you feel every fiber move as the breath moves down your body during exhalation? Can you feel your navel come in towards your spine at the bottom of the exhale?

    Breath From The Inside Out

    Try to visualize your breath happening in your deepest core – your bones. Picture your frame, your actual bones breathing in and out. Then visualize this breath moving to your muscles and tissues. Picture your flesh breathing with your bones. Finally, picture your skin, your outer layer to the world breathing with your bones and your muscles. Feel the breath literally from the inside out.

    Pause Your Breath (Kumbhaka)

    Just for a moment as you transition from you inhale to your exhale. And then again as you transition from exhale to inhale. Can you find stillness in this pause? Can you let the stillness envelop you and then let the weight of that stillness ground you?

    Equal Part Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama)

    This is the practice of equalizing the length of each inhale-pause-exhale-pause. For example, you would inhale for a count of 4, pause for a count of 4, exhale for count of 4 and then pause for a count of 4.

    Using A Mantra

    The journey within is personal, so choose a word or words that resonate with your practice. One of the easiest mantras I use is ‘Be Here’. I inhale with the word ‘Be’ and exhale with the word ‘Here’.

    Breath Into The Corners Of Your Body

    Visualize your breath reaching the farthest regions of your body – the ends of your fingers and toes. Feel each inhale radiate from your heart center to the far corners of your body. Feel each exhale start from your farthest regions, the edge of your skin, the ends of the fingers and toes all the way back to your heart center.

    Meditation is hard so be kind to yourself as you recognize it is a process. May these simple ideas resonate with your practice and bring peace and calm to your mind.

    Meditate & be well.

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    My Meditation Practice

    Ramblings On My Meditation Practice – What It’s Like

    April 9, 2016

    I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what meditation is supposed to feel like.

    Or even what I’m supposed to feel like. 

    I would find myself asking the question – Am I doing it??

    Meditation is kind of weird like that. In concept, it is simplistic in nature but in reality, it’s complicated in practice.

    Like when you were a kid on a road trip – are we there yet?

    When I sit down to meditate, I go through my recipe as a way to arrive within in my practice. The first few minutes (really no clue how long I spend here) are about settling in and this is probably the hardest part of the practice. I have intention, but I also have a mind that is going like an overactive twitter feed:

    What do else do I have to get done today?

    What do I have to do at work?

    Ugh, So-And-So bothered me so much when they did XYZ.

    GAH! Why am sitting here doing nothing when I have to do ABC!

    Should I be exercising and burning calories instead right now?

    You get the idea.

    Here is where I’m the kid in the back seat – when are we going to get there?

    And then the twitter feed starts to slow down. I start to process and cleanse out the chirping twitter-birds. It’s here where I begin to take up my form, truly within my edges. I can feel my breath and focus on it. I can sink into the comfort of my body.

    Here is where it all melts. The time, the destination and the judgement. What is left is space. Slow, open, undefined space. A twitter-bird-thought may pop in but it melts away pretty softly without taking away this cozy space.

    Some days are better than others. Some days you sit and take what you can get, compassionately accepting your practice however it went and realize that you’re building up your meditation-muscle even if you only lasted two minutes. Hey, you’re meditation muscle worked out more than zero minutes right?

    Other days you relish in the bliss of space and say ‘I got this’. 

    It’s called a practice for a reason. I don’t want to be a buzz kill, but this is my 2nd year of practicing and I am finally craving meditation as opposed to considering it something to get through because I should.

    Keep at and be kind to yourself. Two minutes here and there will add up and you’ll get there. It’s a constant journey and it all matters.

    Meditate & be well.


  • Reply ViZDunkinson July 27, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I am just actually grateful to the holder of the
    webpage having shared this great piece of writing at at this time.

  • Reply CarleeUEplin August 4, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Awesome post.

    • Reply Erin August 5, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

    Leave a Reply

    Meditation & Minfulness

    Understanding How Meditation Works Has Eased My Practice

    April 2, 2016

    I came to yoga through the usual western way – I was a runner and needed to stretch more.

    And I always thought it was so cool that good yogis could do fancy poses and make it look effortless.

    I really had no clue what yoga was – really.

    Just after I started my meditation practice I enrolled in a 200 hour yoga certification program at my local studio. The 200 hour program was primarily focused on leading a physical asana practice and just briefly touched on the meditation practice and it wasn’t until my 300 hour certification that I became fully aware that yoga is fundamentally about meditation. As I look back now, it is pretty obvious that the universe was bringing me to meditation, anyway it could.

    Our culture associates asanas (the physical poses) with yoga almost exclusively. And that is ok. Everyone should have their own relationship with practices, whatever they may be. However, I do want to share how having a deeper understanding of yoga’s ancient philosophies has helped my meditate practice.

    Yoga’s definition, according to ancient yoga texts (specifically Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), yoga is:

    “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.”


    Yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind.

    Yoga teaches us how to address the suffering that we experience in our lives through meditation. 

    As I mentioned above, my 300 hour certification was focused less on the asana practice and primarily on the theory of yoga. The lecture portion of the course was significant and we covered the various components of yoga and meditation in quite a bit of depth. To compliment the lectures, we were also required to read some of the foundational yoga texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Granda Samhita, Fire & Light and Kundalini Tantra.

    When I returned from my 300 hour training and came back to my personal meditation practice, I noticed that my devotion and progress continued to improve even though I was not in such a structured and dedicated environment. (Of course it’s easier to do something hard when you are being instructed and it is all you have to do!)

    I realized that understanding how meditation works & how the techniques ‘remove the fluctuations of the mind’ enabled the prioritization of the practice much easier to do.

    Setting aside time to sit down and actually meditate is one of the biggest challenges….there always seems to be another task, thing, errand or job that takes precedence. It really does take discipline to actually sit down, close your eyes and meditate. The other challenges is staying in the practice. The mind wanders, the sitting pose becomes uncomfortable and then before you know it, you don’t know what you are supposed to be doing or why you’re sitting there.

    Understanding the theory and how the practice works helps one get through these challenges.

    I plan on exploring how meditation works in detail on this blog so I’ll end this post with a very brief conceptual overview.

    Meditation allows us to practice slowing down the mind. When we slow down the mind, we have more space between our thoughts and this gives us the opportunity to choose our responses as opposed to blindly reacting. We’ve all reacted to quickly and more often in than not, the off-the-cuff reactions aren’t the best.

    When we meditate, we are actually practice tapping into slower brain wavelengths and this activates different areas of our brain. These are the areas of creativity, problem solving, attention and higher functioning which (unfortunately) aren’t as accessible or strong as our lower brain which is responsible for fight-or-flight reactions. Meditation not only taps into higher brain function, but it strengthens it.

    When we meditate, we are finding space – we are actually looking for a clearing in the forrest of our mind.

    There will be more to come in these areas, as this is what this blog is about. Understanding and knowing how meditate works has been a grounding force in my practice, giving me the means to work through the challenging practices where I just want to jump out of my skin. I hope this information helps you too.

    Meditate and be well.

    1 Comment

  • Reply LovieUMiga July 27, 2016 at 2:36 am

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  • Leave a Reply

    Meditation & Minfulness

    Loving Kindness Meditation – A Weekend with Tara Brach

    March 28, 2016

    I spent the weekend at Kripalu with Tara Brach. And 300+ others who were there to learn more about Loving Kindness and Forgiveness meditation practices.

    Loving Kindness or Metta is one type of meditation that is simply the heartfelt wish for the well being of oneself and others. It is fundamentally about softening the heart and bringing the feelings of compassion, empathy and friendliness that are within our core to the surface of our being or presence.

    Isn’t that lovely?

    In concept, Loving Kindness is just that – lovely. But in actuality, in practice, when it is personal, Loving Kindness is really quite challenging.

    Think of someone who has wronged you. Someone who is challenging for you to communicate and interact with. Think of an instance that was hurtful or painful for you. What tends to come next is blame, judgement, resentment and probably deep rooted thoughts of intense dislike.

    Now try to send loving, kind thoughts of forgiveness and compassion to that person.

    Therein lies the challenge.

    We create these stories that encase the situation or person in one specific way. Then through practiced thinking, we convince ourselves that this is the only way to see the person or situation. We may have practiced seeing or thinking this way for years. Oh vey.

    Here is the thing – these thoughts and emotions feel awful. They actually feel toxic and unhealthy complete with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, upset digestion and tension.

    So if toxic emotions towards others feel awful and loving kindness is lovely – what’s the problem again?

    Oh right – we’re vigilantly wired to be on hyper alert for the negative because we needed to be on the look out for bears and danger when we lived in the woods collecting berries. It’s a survival technique that has stuck around. More on that here.

    I don’t know about you, but I do a pretty good job of masking my judgmental thoughts. I have some pretty negative opinions and there are areas of my life where I feel truly wronged and I can get pretty really cynical. And I hide these thoughts. They are a deep, dark secret because they make me feel like a bad person.

    I had read Tara Brach’s books and listened to her pod casts and thought ‘Nope. Can’t do it. No way can I associate empathy and compassion to this negativity.’ I couldn’t even imagine toeing the line of loving kindness when it came to these well-practiced and well ingrained cynical stories I had created.

    Here are some ‘oh wows’ from this past weekend with Tara and 300 others also interested in learning more about Loving Kindness meditation:

    • I’m not an anomaly, misfit or even a bad person. There are so many others who also feel bound by cynical emotions towards another. And this causes us to suffer.
    • Being bound by negative, cynical thoughts put us in a trance that inhibits our ability to truly feel what is going within ourselves.
    • When we are in a trance, when we aren’t willing to really feel, we are not living a full life. This causes suffering.
    • Loving Kindness and forgiveness ≠ condoning the situation or person. It isn’t about letting down your boundaries. It is about letting go of the story so it can start to release it’s grip on your thoughts, lifting the toxic trance.
    • Those that cause suffering are most likely suffering very much themselves.

    The weekend illustrated the power and importance of connection in this journey – in everyone’s journey. Realizing that others are struggling and suffering in similar ways breaks down our tough exteriors, creating a space for compassion and empathy to come out with out fear of danger (or bears). Surrounded with others who were like me took away the perception that I was the only one who had judgmental, toxic thinking patterns.

    For me, this was the first step in realizing that I could begin to forgive and let go of the stories that seeded my toxic, judgmental thoughts. It’s certainly going to be a project, but I started. I actually toed the Loving Kindness line. I saw the potential of practicing Loving Kindness or Metta Meditations and how worth the effort will be.

    There was one question Tara sprinkled throughout her lecture that felt like an echo in my soul:

    “Who could you be if nothing was wrong?”


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