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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life is a Series of Choices

5.20.11  Meditation based upon Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
Taught by sisters Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine Klein
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ

Today I would like to talk a little bit about choice. In spiritual life we can think of choice as both a verb and a noun. As a verb, choice is about the decisions we make to strengthen our spiritual path and the decisions we make that may take us off course or that may not be in our best interest. You all made a choice to wake up on a Friday morning and come to a meditation class. We make choices every second of the day whether it be socially or emotionally, in our work lives or in our personal lives. Earlier this week I made the choice to take on a more vegan diet...and yesterday I made the choice to have a butter croissant! It’s neither right nor wrong, but I think it’s helpful to acknowledge the choices we make and the control that we have over certain aspects of our lives. There is a lot we cannot control, but it is important to take note of that which we can.
Choice can also be understood as a noun. We have many different options, methods and techniques to employ that will bring us closer to a life without suffering. We have meditation, Hatha Yoga, following a yogic diet, prayers and affirmations and a range of other methods that encourage our liberation.

In Book One of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes something especially encouraging for all of us as we sift through the variety of choices we have. In Sutra 1.39 he writes that one can meditate on “anything one chooses that is elevating.” Sri Guruji’s commentary is that,

“Sri Patanjali knows human nature. There will always be someone who will find a reason not to take his suggestions. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he assures us. ‘As long as you find it spiritually inspiring, go ahead. It will work.’ The teachings of Raja Yoga are useful for everyone, regardless of background, era, or faith tradition. If the chosen object captures our interest, inspires and points us in the right direction of the Self, it has Sri Patanjali’s seal of approval.”

We have few excuses for why we cannot practice when we are given so many choices. However when we do feel ourselves pulling away from our practice is precisely when we draw upon our discipline of decision making and make the choice to practice anyway because we know its benefits.

In our meditation classes we will explore the various objects of meditation one can use. Today’s method uses the breath as the object of meditation. We breath every moment of the day yet we rarely pay attention to the breath unless we are nervous, excited or particularly tired. Some of the benefits of using breath as your object of meditation is that it’s highly portable, it can be done without the use of props and it’s discreet.
Pranayama is the mastery of prana, the universal life force, through the breath.  According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the light within is covered by a veil of mental darkness.  The benefit of pranayama is that it removes this veil of mental darkness and then the mind becomes clear and fit for concentration.  The main benefit of pranayama is the control of the fluctuations of the mind.  When we gain mastery over the prana, we have mastery over the inner nature.  We receive prana from food, sun and our breath.  We can maximize our intake of prana by eating the freshest fruits, vegetables and sprouted grains.   Adversely, we loose prana by over-eating, over-talking, smoking, using drugs, and drinking caffeine/alcohol.  Pranayama and meditation are food for the soul.

"You can live for many weeks without food, days without water, minutes without air, but not even for a fraction of a second without prana." - H.H. Sri Swami Satchidananda

Nadi Suddhi Pranayama - Alternate nostril breathing - Today we will be working with extending the length of the exhalation.  Begin by bringing awareness to the breath.  Inhale smoothly and evenly 4 counts in, exhale 4 counts out.  Continue this method of even breathing for five rounds.  Next, begin to extend the length of the exhalation to 8.  Inhale 4, exhale 8.  Continue for five rounds.  Form the Vishnu mudra with your left hand (peace sign to touch the third eye, thumb touches right nostil, ring and pinky finger join to touch left nostril) and the cin mudra in the right hand (join thumb and pointer finger and rest palm up or down on your lap).  Continue with the extended exhalation breathing and begin the alternate nostril breathing by closing off the right side, exhale left.  A full cycle of breath is an exhalation and an inhalation.  So, exhale left, inhale left, switch.  Now exhale right, inhale right, switch.  Continue with this pattern for several minutes.  One OM to complete exercise.  Sit quietly and feel the effects of the pranayama.

Breath Meditation - It can also be combined with several of the other practices we’ve spoken about. Your breath meditation can be combined with a mantra, for instance inhaling and exhaling to the manta OM Shanti. Breath also goes along well with visualization, or envisioning the prana as light as it enters and exits the body, rising from the abdomen to the chest and collar bone and out through the nose.

One simple way of following the breath is to count your inhalations and exhalations up until a count of 10. I like this method because I can typically tell when I’ve gotten off course when I no longer remember which number I am on. If you have distracting thought, which we all do, we can first try to ignore the thoughts and let them pass by like wispy clouds. We can label them “thoughts” and not give them any attention beyond that. If a particular thought keeps making its way through you can "bookmark" it, so to speak, and reassure the mind that you will analyze and come back to it when your meditation is finished.

Choose any breath method you would like and I will signal the end of this meditation with one OM.

Played the throat chakra crystal singing bowl after the breath meditation. 
A Poem from Ashtavakra Gita by an unknown Hindu master 
The Soul of the World edited by Phil Cousineau

I am the boundless ocean.
This way and that,
That wind, blowing where it will
Drives the ship of the world.

But I am not shaken.

I am the unbounded deep
In whom the waves of all the worlds
Naturally rise and fall.

But I do not rise or fall.

I am the infinte deep
In whom all the worlds
Appear to rise.

Beyond all form
Forever still.
Even so am I.

Closing Peace Chants
OM Aasto Maa Sad Gamaya Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real.  Lead us from darkness to the Light.  Lead us from the fear of death, to the knowledge of Immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light.

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