In yoga, the Sanskrit word drshti (drishtee) is seeing, or inner vision. It also refers to the act of gazing at a focal point. Practicing drshti can be as simple as choosing a spot on the wall to look at to help maintain our balance in a yoga pose. Eventually this external gazing turns into gazing inward, perhaps concentrating on our intuition or heart center. To focus means to steady ourselves, to direct our attention, to concentrate.
Concentration is a limb of yoga (Dharana). It’s just as important as practicing asana/postures. Without concentration, we cannot meditate, and we lose out on the first goal of yoga, which is to steady the chitter chatter of our minds.
To concentrate, we reduce the distractions that surround us. Through drshti, we temporarily narrow the scope of our vision. We temporarily put on blinders so that we can have a deeper experience with one thing rather than a broad experience of many things.
In yoga asana class, discipline yourself to keep your drshti gaze, no matter what posture you are in or how you are moving to / through them. Be aware of the room and other practitioners, yet narrow your focus, keep your eyes still and relaxed, gazing at one spot. Work to also keep your body still between postures and during postures. Lessen your fidgeting – for yourself, and also for other practitioners. Yogis work to limit our negative impacts on others – our movements, our words, our actions. Be rigorous, self-disciplined, and compassionate with yourself.
In this way, we begin to direct not just our attention, but also our lives. The more we practice concentrating and paying attention, the easier it becomes. We learn we can sharpen into focus, and then go back out broad with our level of awareness. We become very efficient, because our minds stay still while we perform the task at hand. We begin to tether ourselves to this deep well of peace within us, no matter how hectic things are around us.
Intuition is soul guidance, appearing naturally in man during those instants when his mind is calm. Nearly everyone has had the experience of an inexplicable correct “hunch” or has transferred his thoughts effectively to another person.
The human mind, free from the static of restlessness, can perform through its antenna of intuition all the functions of complicated radio mechanisms – sending and receiving thoughts and tuning out undesirable ones. As the power of a radio depends on the amount of electrical current it can utilize, so the human radio is energized according to the power of will possessed by each individual.
All thoughts vibrate eternally in the cosmos. By deep concentration, a master is able to detect the thoughts of any mind, living or dead. Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted; a truth cannot be created, but only perceived. The erroneous thoughts of man results from imperfections in his discernment. The goal of yoga science is to calm the mind, so that without distortion, it may mirror the divine vision in the universe. – Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
Soul guidance, intuition, is achieved through a calm mind. Calm mind is achieved through distancing ourselves from the chitter chatter of our minds. In yoga, we learn 95% of our thoughts are misperceptions – why on earth would we rely on our thoughts for our answers, especially when intuition is accessible to us? To tap into intuition, the mind is still, no waves. We need extreme discipline of the mind, and our actions, to tether ourselves to our intuition. Is our society, in all of our petty grievances, truly mirroring the divine vision in the universe? What can we do individually to allow the pendulum to swing towards, rather than away from, this divine vision? Take ownership and responsibility for our minds, meditate, practice pranayama and asana, limit our intake of unnecessary or unproductive information and conversations, maintain a Drishti gaze, practice staying in the present moment as if we are training for an iron man, compassionately yet firmly, directing the mind back each time it wanders.
As human beings, we’re exactly the same – energy / light in the container of the human body. Unfortunately, we all identify with our many layers of labels, and it prevents us from seeing each other as human beings. Thinking of ourselves as “white” “black” “gay” “straight” “Buddhist” “Christian” “woman” “man” – whatever the label… is an obstacle that prevents us and others from discovering the pure human being in us. Of course, labels are an important part of our ego self-identification, but the label is not the essence of who we are. We get wrapped up in the labels, the notions and images of what the label means, and we fail to recognize each other as simply human beings – energy / light / goodness. It’s all there, underneath the layers of labels that separate us or make us feel more important or different from another person. The practice of peeling away all the labels so that our humanness can be revealed is truly a practice for peace and understanding.
Inspired from reading Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hahn
Yoga thins the blood which can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, as they are often caused by blood clots. Twisting poses wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in when the twist is released. Inverted poses encourage venous blood flow from the legs and pelvis back to the heart and then pumped through the lungs where it becomes freshly oxygenated. Yoga increases blood flow and levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells which allows for more oxygen to reach the body cells, enhancing their function.
If you practice hot yoga, it’s important to be well-hydrated – for a variety of reasons. One being: hot yoga will only thin the blood in hydrated individuals. In dehydrated individuals, hot yoga increases blood viscosity, increases muscle fatigue and prevents muscle growth.
(sources: Timothy McCall, M.D and Wendy Shubin, Certified Yoga Therapist)
A quiet place is a thinktank for the soul. Silence is an endangered species that we must preserve. Silence is not an absence of sound, it’s an absence of noise.
We create a lot of noise. As creatures among other creatures, what sounds of ours can become part of the greater soundscape – part of the silence? What is our message in the sounds that we create? Can we apply our own artistic sense, our own signature, our sense of timing, to the grand performance that creates a sense of place – a peaceful joyous welcoming home or workplace? Through our emmeshed sounds, the whole topography of the surrounding landscape can be revealed. Are our sounds creating noise or are they adding value to our place?
Listening is not about listening for sounds – listening is simply about listening to the place, and taking it all in. Being completely present. After deeply listening, we are all affected. We internalize whatever we have listened to. We live out whatever we listen to – through our later interactions with people. Can we hear the music of the place, of the land, and have it move and inspire us?
We are listening creatures, but our listening abilities are destroyed in noisy environments. In noisy environments, we are cut off from a level of intimacy with each other and we are less in touch. We are busy not listening to this, not seeing that, and we end up closing ourselves off to being fully present.
When we are in a relatively quiet place, we can hear all the information. Quiet places generally tend to be secure places, which calm us. No noise is being jammed into us. Quiet places allow us to open up and be receptive and truly listen. When we are truly listening, we may become changed by what we’ve heard. Real listening is about being vulnerable. A great way to practice real listening is to listen to nature, because we aren’t invested at all in what nature says to us. When we really listen to another person, we dare to risk listening to what they really are saying.
Inspired from listening to On Being w/ Krista Tippett – Gordon Hempton – Silence and the Presence of Everything
We can naturally stop our thoughts if we focus our attention fully on our in-breath and our out-breath. After one or two minutes of practice, the quality of our breath will improve. Our breath will become deeper, slower, and more harmonious and peaceful, whether we are lying down, sitting, or walking. By practicing mindful breathing, we bring elements of harmony and peace into our bodies.
In a few breaths, our brain chemistry begins to alter – conscious breathwork helps loosen the grip of anxiety, depression, agitation, stress. Our breath helps create a bit of space to see things more clearly, peacefully. If meditation sounds too difficult, perhaps try breathwork.
(inspiration from “Your True Home” by Thich Nhat Hahn)
Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is a beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it! – Mother Teresa
Asana = action done with ease and attention.
What if we can change how we experience asana – and have it become an energetic expression of the mantra we are working with, rather than identifying with it as merely as it’s physical form? I’ve been working on my mat with “loving grace” – in every breath, every movement, every posture, I tap into this energy of what it feels like to be in this posture with loving grace. I ask myself what does a loving graceful breath, movement, posture feel like as I’m expressing it. This effort extends to my day – what do my daily routines look and feel like when I’m grounded in loving grace? Working with colleagues in loving grace. Having conversations with family and friends in loving grace. Running errands in loving grace. When I forget, or fall asleep, I wake myself back up and try again. Over time, with practice, we can transform ourselves and our whole experience (perspective) into something more productive for ourselves and our world.
I had a student last week ask me if yoga can help you lose weight. Well, sure, but maybe not in the typical way we look at weight loss.
Yoga asana burns some calories, builds muscle, calms the nervous system and helps us live in a rest/digest mode rather than fight/flight mode. But more important for weight loss, I believe yoga helps us look deeply and compassionately at ourselves and see patterns of behavior that are helpful and hurtful to us.
As we grow in our practice, we naturally desire to take better care of ourselves. We make better choices about what we eat, what we think, what we consume (movies, books, news), who we hang out with, getting good sleep. If we have used food as an emotional or mental crutch, we start to make behavioral changes and begin to use food solely for fuel/medicine. When we are anxious or stressed or depressed or lonely or angry, rather than use food to stuff the emotions, we allow the emotions to move through us and out of us. Rather than over eating junk food, we take a walk, garden, meditate to alleviate our mental health issues.
Obviously, if someone has a deeply engrained pattern of overeating, this change takes a lot of time and effort – and much self-compassion along the ride.
So, yes, yoga helps with weight loss because it helps us slow down, live in the present moment, and connects us to the part of ourselves that has an insatiable desire to live and feel well! We feel our best when we are at an appropriate weight for our body and lifestyle. We feel well when we eat real food and build a diet that works for our individual constitution.
This simple breathing meditation has been incredibly helpful for me and I thought it may be helpful to you, too!
Start becoming aware of your breath and create a slow, deep, even inhale and exhale from your nose. It may be a for a count of 4, 5, or 7 – we all have a different breath cycle, so make it your own deep even breath. As you inhale, meditate on “Serve”. As you exhale, meditate on “God”.
As I move through each moment of my day, I go back to this breathing meditation. When anxiety fills me, or my heart becomes heavy, or my mind starts it’s incessant chitter chatter, I go back to: Inhale Serve, Exhale God. Everything slows down. Crystal clarity returns. Worry resolves itself. Stress melts away. I step back into my true purpose – in each moment, Serve God.