10 comments on “Why Me-Time and Meditation Isn’t A Selfish Act”

Why Me-Time and Meditation Isn’t A Selfish Act

When it comes to yoga, meditation and even me-time in general, we can sometimes worry we are being a little selfish. Dedicating time to our own wellbeing can feel overly indulgent, and there’s even a creeping suggestion self-care is little more than an excuse for self-absorption. Dr Alison Gray, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has warned that “inward-looking” spiritual practices (like meditation) can make us more selfish – but is this actually true?

Like most things, this would depend on how you look at it. You could say that any action that isn’t taken for the betterment of humankind is selfish – from eating what we like for dinner to pursuing our hobbies – because we do them primarily for our own benefit. But unless we’re planning on becoming monks and completely giving up any notion of doing things for ourselves, there doesn’t seem much to gain from worrying about this.

In this context, meditating and other forms of self-care are no more selfish than having a bath, and the fact they’ve been singled out as particularly self-indulgent starts to look rather strange. However, it can be pretty easy to feel guilty about doing things for ourselves.

Why Self-Care Isn’t Self-Indulgence

People start meditating (and carving out a little time for self-care in general) for all sorts of reasons. It might be that we need a way to calm down, have a health problem that meditation helps with, or have found ourselves burnt out and chronically stressed. We may even have a religious reason.

But as soon as we’ve decided “you know what, I’m going to take a little time for myself,” the guilt can start to creep in. Shouldn’t we be working, volunteering, or spending that time on our kids, partner, or friends? Maybe we should be focusing on changing the world rather than pursuing personal happiness, and the people who claim it’s selfish to think of ourselves in this way are right. Meditation, yoga, and self-care are no longer neutral acts that you can pursue in peace, but have joined the truly vast number of “Things People Have Opinions About.”

That’s why it’s a shame that certain voices have found a place in the media to criticise meditation as selfish, because it adds yet another thing to feel guilty about in our daily lives – as if we don’t get told enough that everything we do is wrong, in one way or another. Women especially can feel guilty for devoting time to our own personal development, and so much cultural messaging reinforces our fears; pursuing a career = bad mother, focusing on the family = lazy and spoilt, being interested in health and wellness = self obsessed.

At the end of the day, life can be tough even at the best of times. If we’ve found something like meditation or yoga helps us, then we can probably safely ignore any idea that we shouldn’t be so “inward-looking” in our hobbies.

How Taking Care of Ourselves Helps Everyone

It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others, but it really is true. Practices like meditation give us the breathing room to calm down, de-stress, and understand ourselves better, all of which can make us much nicer people to be around. It’s often the inward-looking habits which help us understand ourselves better, and in turn, understand other people as well.

Some of us can even find that regular meditation increases our compassion, as we experience less stress and therefore become less fearful, irritable, and angry – negative emotions that can drive some pretty problematic behaviors. Meditation and yoga are also habits which very rarely take more than an hour out of our day. It’s not as if they take up time which could be spent helping others – it’s perfectly possible to do both.

Ultimately, self-care is about keeping ourselves as healthy and happy as possible in a world that can feel pretty hostile at times. It isn’t selfish (in any meaningful interpretation of the word) to want or need coping mechanisms, or to pursue self-improvement. In fact, many of us want to improve ourselves in order to become kinder, more well-rounded people, and do more for the world around us. And if me-time is the thing that keeps our heads above water, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Holly Ashby. Holly is a wellness writer who has worked with the London meditation center Beeja Meditation for three years. They teach a form of transcendental meditation to help people cope with the stresses of modern life, and help those living with issues such as anxiety and depression.

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12 comments on “5 Meditation Practices You Need to Know About”

5 Meditation Practices You Need to Know About

Meditation has come a long way since it first became popular in the West during the 1960s. Some of the most popular and effective methods are now backed by scientific evidence, showcasing the benefits meditation has on the body and our mental health. While meditation has been around for ages, only recently has it become a part of popular Western culture.

Currently in the modern world, there are five meditation practices that have stood the test of time. The reason for this is that they provide the most successful results, some of which can be felt after only one session. In this article, you’ll learn what these five methods are and how you can benefit from practicing them. Each of the techniques should be practiced for at least 20 minutes to have maximum impact.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness was developed to help us place our attention fully in the present moment. It doesn’t have a focus on spirituality; its sole purpose is to teach the student awareness of presence. What are the benefits of this? When we learn to become fully present, we can see our thoughts as separate from us, meaning we don’t have to engage with every one of them. Learning to watch negative thoughts come and go without harming us is one of the foundational principles of mindfulness.

Popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness teaches us to avoid secondary suffering. Secondary suffering is where we enhance our own pain by thinking about something negative that’s happened to us and then replaying it like a mental movie over and over again. Through developing mind awareness, we can learn to tune out secondary suffering and most negative thoughts, helping us to live in a happier, lighter and healthier state of being.

Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation was popularized by the Maharishi in the 1960s when he met The Beatles and taught it to them. The purpose of this method is to silence the mind and transcend to the source of all present-moment awareness. This is achieved through repeating a special mantra given to you by a qualified Transcendental Meditation teacher. The mantra is repeated internally in your mind, and you place your focus solely on your breath and the sounds of the mantra. When other thoughts arise, you let them be but do not engage with them.

After a while has passed, you will find your mind activity is very quiet and peaceful, and you will have transcended to the core of your being. This is the purpose of this technique. A certified Transcendental Meditation teacher is the only person qualified to teach you this method, as he or she knows what mantra is right for you and how to show you the process in its latest form with complete precision.

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a fast-growing meditation method that provides a unique experience to most other techniques. Typically, it involves slow, mindful walking in nature, where the student can use her surroundings to anchor herself in the present moment. This technique can be great for beginners to meditation as the grounding apparatus is very influential because your senses are far more active. You feel the wind and air passing across your face and the contact between your feet and the ground.

This method is typically practiced on nature walks; however, you can use it wherever you wish as long as you feel comfortable in your environment. Meditation teaches us that anything can be used as an anchor into the present moment; therefore, this particular technique could even be used in a busy city center!

Mantra Meditation

Similar to Transcendental Meditation, mantra meditation uses a word or series of words repeated over and over again to quiet the mind. Mantras can be repeated aloud or internally depending on your environment and how comfortable you are with chanting out loud. There are hundreds of different mantras all with different meanings.

Mantra meditation is typically practiced while sitting in a meditative pose, using slow relaxing breaths. The same principle applies as for most meditation methods where you allow everything to be just as it is in the moment. Thoughts and distractions will arise, but the trick is to know that that’s okay. Let everything be as it is, and simply focus on your mantra. You’ll find that if you concentrate on the process of mantra meditation, all distractions will melt away naturally over time.

Mala Bead Meditation

This meditation method involves using mala beads. Mala beads are usually made out of wood but can also come in the form of precious gemstones. An authentic mala bead necklace has 108 beads. The student is supposed to count each bead using a mantra. The entire mantra is repeated on each single bead, meaning the mantra is stated in its entirety 108 times. Mala meditation should be done slowly with deep breaths. Once you reach the end of the beads on the necklace, you’ll find that your mind activity has decreased and you’re in a state of peacefulness and contentment.

Overall, these five methods have proven themselves to be the kings of the world of meditation. You can learn more details about each of them online via YouTube videos, blogs, and other sources.

After learning more about these techniques online, you may wish to take things further and deepen your meditational practices. The best way to do so is to seek out a teacher who’s experienced in your chosen method and learn directly from him or her.

Happy meditating 🙂

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Diamond, a keen meditator whose favorite methods are mindfulness and transcendental meditation. She enjoys developing awareness by helping others find the right kinds of meditation to suit their needs and personality types.

17 comments on “4 Ways to Become 117 More Mindful Each Day”

4 Ways to Become 1% More Mindful Each Day

Little strokes fell great oaks.” –Benjamin Franklin

When I opened my eyes this morning, I looked over at the corner of the room and took a deep breath. It was the corner near the fireplace, where for the last two weeks, I sat, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes for twenty minutes of mindful meditation.

Now, some people may still consider meditation as a strictly spiritual practice. Something reserved for chakra juggling mystics after new moon parties. However, tons of scientific research credit meditation and mindfulness with reducing anxiety, improving cognition, and decreasing distraction.

In a world where external stimuli chases us down like an avalanche, a mindfulness practice can be a beacon in the snow storm.

Craving the benefits of this so-called bicep curl for the brain, I had enthusiastically committed myself to a 30-day mindful meditation challenge. This morning would have been day 18.

I sat in my corner, felt the heat of the fireplace and wiped the sleep from my eyes. Eager to begin my cerebral scrub down, I set the timer. That’s when it hit me—yesterday came and went, and I didn’t meditate.

I had told myself I’d find the time, yet somehow, the barrage of office emails and hours of mindless internet scrolling took precedence over my mental hygiene. All that time lost in thought, rehearsing arguments in my mind I’ll never have in real life, added up to a day lost and a meditation streak broken.

“What a waste,” I thought, disappointed with myself. I surrendered and said, “Maybe I’ll try again next month.”

This initial feeling that “all was lost” is a misconception that surrounds many things. For instance, some of us might consider dieting one day a week, or lifting weights only once a month, to be pointless. We don’t like to believe lackadaisical regimens can produce the fast, proven, real, extreme results we crave. If we can’t do something correctly and consistently, why bother at all?

What we forget, however, is what Einstein called the 8th wonder of the world—compound interest.

The power of compound interest is simple. In financial terms, it means we earn interest on both our initial investment along with whatever interest has already been earned. If we invest $100 and compound 1% interest every day, in one year we’ll have $3,778.34. That’s an increase of 37x!

I considered this 8th world-wonder and my last few weeks of meditation. I realized how my sense of contentment and emotional well-being had increased not only from when I started the challenge but how it continued to build upon the progress I made from each previous day. While I may have failed the 30-day challenge, all was not lost.

Practicing mindfulness, to put it simply, is the act of pulling ourselves back into the present moment. When we make the decision to stop and focus, to be grateful, to notice our emotions without trying to change them, we not only improve the quality of the present, but invest in our ability to be mindful in the future.

The moments we spend being mindful compound and pay interest in the form of clarity, gratitude, and presence.

Think about the example of compound interest above and consider how becoming just 1% more mindful each day could add up over a lifetime. We may not see 30-day-money-back-guaranteed results, but compounding small improvements every day leads to huge growth down the road.

But just as is it when investing money, compound interest can be a double-edged sword. Markets can crash. Days of enlightenment can be followed by days of darkness. The time we spend lost in thought, emotionally scattered, or ungrateful—those moments compound as well.

That’s why adding up mindful moments whenever we can is so valuable. We’ll need them when life’s storms inevitably come.

There is an old zen proverb that goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

While this is noble in sentiment, for most of us, it offers little value in action. Carving out twenty minutes a day for a new habit is hard enough without worrying if more time is needed to even make a difference. We must remember that when it comes to mindfulness, we are working towards clarity and appreciation for the present— every moment counts.

For those of us that aren’t ready to invest an hour a day or even twenty minutes to meditation, here are 4 ways to become 1% more mindful each day without setting aside any extra time.

First. Taste your food.

We’ve all been there, starving as our slice of pizza arrives, ready to devour. We take a bite, pull out our phone, starting thinking about what so-and-so said last night. Before we know it—the food is gone and we have no recollection of chewing.

During your next meal, focus on those first few bites. Notice the smell. Identify the flavors. Tune into your body and mind during the meal. Resist the urge to solve problems or think about your schedule, this is your time to eat.

Second. When you go from sitting to standing—check in.

Moving from one position to another gives us a chance to check-in with ourselves.

When you stand up from your workspace, are you in a hurry? That’s fine, don’t try to change it. Just notice it.

When you sit back down does your mind begin to rush towards the rest of your day before finishing the task at hand? Gently reel yourself back to the present. Close your eyes, take a breath and focus on what’s happening right now. This only takes a few seconds.

Third. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for every morning.

This is a tip I learned from using The Five Minute Journal. For how easy it is and for how little time it takes, I cannot express enough how much of an impact doing this consistently has had on my overall satisfaction with life. If you only incorporate one thing from this post, make it this.

Fourth. When you walk…

Don’t let your monkey mind crawl around the cage while you stroll. Instead, feel the weight of your feet pressing against the asphalt with each step. Notice the temperature of the air on your face and hands.

You don’t even need to make time to “go for a walk.” Do this when you walk to your car in the morning. Do it when you walk towards your bed at night. When you walk, be present.

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Whether it’s embarking on a 30-day meditation challenge or just remembering to be a little more grateful once in awhile, remember—the power of compound interest is happening all around us.

Will you let it work for you, or against you?

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Corey McComb, a San Diego-based writer that focuses on the sweet spots in life where travel and personal development intersect. When he’s not dreaming about running away to South America with his girlfriend, he writes on his personal blog and stares at lunch menus utterly confused. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Artwork by HavocHendricks on Instagram.

12 comments on “Breathing Techniques: Why are they essential to yoga?”

Breathing Techniques: Why are they essential to yoga?

Pranayama

By Suzana Altero

Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.” ~Krishnamacharya

Pranayama (breathing techniques) are a key practice of Hatha Yoga, the mother of all physical or postural yoga. They are such a core tool in this tradition that the term Hatha itself is closely connected to it. Wanna understand how?

What does Pranayama mean?

The word pranayama can be technically translated as breath control (prana=breath, yama=control). However, in the hatha yoga texts it’s also linked to a wider interpretation. Prana stands for the life force underlying all life-activities and the word ayama means the whole field. Therefore, the pranayama techniques are practiced to introduce us into the whole field of the life-force itself that is present in all life-activities. Once we get to know it we are soon able to cleanse, harmonize, and ultimately control it.

But why is it a key practice in Hatha Yoga?

The life-force (prana) travels around the layers of our body through specific channels which are called nadis. There are 3 main nadis: pingala nadi, ida nadi and susumna nadi.

Pingala Nadi, The Sun and the Ha of Hatha

  • All the life-activities that need energy to be broken down and give heat are linked to the Pingala nadi. This channel starts from the right side of the base of spine and ends up in the right nostril. It has the Sun as a symbol and is linked to the Ha, in hatha

Ida Nadi, The Moon and the Tha of Hatha

  • All the life-activities that need energy to be conserved and by consequence cultivate coolness are linked to the Ida nadi. This channel starts from the left side of the base of spine and ends up in the left nostril. It has the Moon as a symbol and is linked to the term Tha, in hatha.

Both channels travel upwards in a spiral way, that means they go from right to left to right and so on. The word Hatha stands for these two opposing channels (nadis), the Sun and the Moon, and in a broader perspective, to the process of bringing harmony between the opposites in order to reach ultimate balance. After all, it’s only when these channels are balanced that the path towards this ultimate balance is opened. In other words, when pingala nadi and ida nadi are balanced our main channel opens up: Susumna nadi.

  • Susumna nadi is the channel that rests in the middle of the spine. Kundalini awakening (or the awakening of our primal life-force) stands for the opening of this main channel. This whole process brings about a full transformation that leads to realization (samadhi), the ultimate goal of Yoga. We can understand realization as the experience of recognition of oneself as being one with the universe. That is attained when Kundalini have travelled up through Susumna nadi and have reached the highest center in the brain.

Pranayama, therefore, is a major practice that balances our energetic channels (nadis) and assists our Kundalini into the final path towards enlightenment.

Pranayama break-down:
puraka, kumbhaka e recaka

The word puraka stands for inhalation and recaka stands for exhalation. Kumbhaka refers to the part of the pranayama technique that the practitioner retains the breath either before an inhalation or after. As pranayama techniques are key to hatha yoga so is the retention to the pranayama technique. It is because of this retention that the term kumbhaka is also used to address each style/technique of pranayama in Hatha Yoga (Ujjayi kumbhaka, bhastrika kumbhaka, Bhramari kumbhaka etc.).

Why is the retention so important?

It is very difficult to control our minds and our emotions. However, it is quite more simple (though it is not easy) to manipulate our breath. The breath and the mind have an intimate relationship: tamper with one and you’ll affect the other one right away. This can be easily seen once someone is having a panic attack: their breathing patterns become fast, shallow and they often need assistance to come to a more relaxed state.

So why is controlling the breath so important in the first place? Here is Hatha Pradipika’s answer:

So long as breathing goes on the mind remains unsteady; when (it) stops, (the mind) becomes still and the Yogi attains complete motionlessness. Hence, one should restrain one’s breath.” Hatha Pradipika (II, verses 1 and 2)

Kumbhaka is praised and considered an essential part of pranayama in the majority of the hatha yoga scriptures. This part of the breathing techniques is considered to be closely related to the awakening of our Kundalini, the beginning of the last journey of hatha. A more tangible result of the retention of breath is simply a stronger cultivation of silence in our minds.

An even more fundamental question is why do we want our minds to become steady and silent ? In other words, why do we want the inner babbling to stop or be let go?

All yoga techniques are about bringing silence not only to our gross level (body) but also to the subtlest layers of ourselves (emotion, mind and intellect as well). Cleansing our pranic channels is also a part of reaching this silence: if everything flows nicely, our psycho-physical structure will demand less of our attention (and will complain less!).

Only through silence can we start exploring and experiencing who we really are beyond what we’ve been conditioned and learned to be.

Pranayama and its modern adaptations

These days our pranayama practices mostly derive from Hatha Yoga literature. Though they are derived from these scriptures they do not necessarily include the breath retention in their techniques. A good example is the adaptation that happened to the “Ujjayi” practice: one segment of the ujjayi kumbhaka (the contraction of the glottis while inhaling and/or exhaling) has been broadly used in yoga classes since the gurus of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (a modern yoga style of practice) have combined it with its flowing body movements.

It is very important to note, though, that the practice of pranayama without retention does not mean that it has no benefits. Breath awareness and the first stage of pranayama itself brings a multitude of benefits to our mood, mind-state and overall health. In fact, beginners are strongly advised to practice with no retention of breath for at least 3 months and under an experienced teacher’s guidance.

Is pranayama without retention useful?

There are several pranayama techniques and they all bring many benefits even without retention. For general health and well-being pranayama without retention is actually more than enough; retentions are usually for those that have chosen hatha yoga as their spiritual path since they are connected to the awakening of our primal energy (kundalini) as previously mentioned.

But, what can be gained from pranayama without retention?

We can summarize quite an amazing list of benefits:

  1. Normal breathing gives a gentle massage to the kidneys and bowels. During pranayama this massage is more intense and helps the practitioner to relieve any constipation and eliminate toxins. Moreover, the nerves and muscles that control those organs functions get a tone-up too!
  2. It is a myth that we absorb more oxygen during pranayama… However, the whole breathing apparatus (the lungs) is well trained by being expanded and stretched to its fullest potential. That induces the practitioner to actually breath better for the rest of the day and have more oxygen as consequence!
  3. Stomach, pancreas and liver are also massaged which helps in the digestion and the absorption of food. As a consequence our blood has more oxygen and more nutrients, which means that it has more quality and can support the different systems and organs to work more effectively!
  4. During pranayama, the diaphragm also massages the heart nicely. Moreover, bhastrika (a pranayama technique) improves the circulation by the vibrations that it creates and are spread to all tissues, including veins, arteries and capillaries.
  5. The nerves receive better blood supply, which provides a big boost to the nervous system. But it’s not just that! As one study claims, “The focus on slow deep breathing has been shown to improve autonomic nervous system functioning through enhanced activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

The majority of the pranayama techniques work through slowing down the breath. Though researchers are still focusing on fully understanding how it works it’s known that when we slow down our breaths we decrease the effect of stress and strain on the body, which improves physical and mental health.

Modern Yoga practice (and not only pranayama) has been found to be a great tool to manage our mood and help us just feel good. It’s not surprising that yoga keeps being discovered by the west as complementary therapy to stress, depression, and cancer, among other dis-eases.

Are you ready to feel the power of pranayama? I hope you feel inspired by all these amazing facts and give some time to pranayama in your self-practice!

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imageEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Suzana Altero. Suzana lives in India and is married to an indo-german who is also a yoga geek! She is a passionate yoga teacher and co-founder of Turiya Yoga where a wonderful team offers Yoga Teacher Training in IndiaShe is a world traveller and a complete yoga, psychology, mythology and… theology geek! Fully into nature, being with friends and devouring books, her perfect day is an ecleft if mixture of all those things while also having time for listening to an inspiring satsang (spiritual talk)! You can follow her work on Facebook or Twitter.