Meditation Helper

MHP

Timers are a fantastic way to create a container (my current favorite notion, thanks Jen Louden) for your practice, and have been mentioned a couple of times in posts and comments lately, so I thought I’d say something about the one I use and love. I’ve tried half a dozen or more over the last six months (when I started using aps… I know, I’m behind!) and this is my go-to. I use it for my personal yoga and meditation practices as well as classes, private lessons and even meetings. People love it when I not only end on time but a pleasant meditation bell concludes the discussion period.

Meditation Helper Pro is the easiest to use, most elegant, pleasant, modifiable and effective timer I’ve used. My top three criteria for a meditation timer:

  • pleasant, real-sounding bell
  • infinitely modifiable for length and intermittent bells
  • easily modifiable for same

Meditation Helper Pro meets all of my criteria. The wizard makes it easy to create and save or modify a program, the standard bell is my favorite and available on the free ap though on the pro ap you can use others or ringtones from your phone. I have a simple 20 minute profile, an evening meditation profile with bells every 2 minutes and a double bell 2 minutes before the end. I have a 75 minute profile for class and 30 and 60 minute presentation profiles.

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Meditation Helper Pro will even remind you with a custom message (mine says “Sitting makes you happy.”) and keep a log for you so you can view your patterns and make adjustments. Are you a data freak? This is the ap for you. Do you just love elegance and simplicity in the tools you use, so you can get down to what you’re doing? This is the ap for you. Do you need a pleasant interface and sound to continue using a timer? This is the ap for you. Go to the ap store and try it out. Let me know how it goes? Leave me a comment below, let me know what you use and love!

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Home yoga practice: it’s the simple things that matter

“Just do it” doesn’t  usually work when it comes to the home practice of yoga. Chances are, if you have an established home practice, you are “just doing it” and not spending time wondering how to get there, and what gets you to the mat every morning (or evening or lunch or saturday or whatever) isn’t some grunting force of will, but a draw born of experience: the experience of how you feel when you’re there, how you feel on days when you get there, how you felt that day when you didn’t.

 

English: All Solutions By Yogi Tamby Chuckrava...

You don’t have to look like this guy to do yoga at home. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you’re wondering how to start – or start again, though, white knuckling it could undermine the very reason you’re planning to do yoga at all. Try these actions instead and find out how good life is when you yoga on your own:

  • If you’re practicing in the morning, bring  your morning cuppa into the yoga space with you. Whether it’s water, coffee, tea or vodka (just kidding, really… yoga before drinking) sometimes this can create a nice transition. Instead of having to finish your current routine before you roll out the mat, use your current routine to find comfort with the one you’re creating. You can sit and take a sip or two of hot morning yumminess while on your mat and absorb the loveliness of your new practice. 
  • Choose a simple signal to begin and end your practice. Whether you have a fancy bell to ring or start the same music every time, simply having a repetitive action that you associate only with coming to your mat can be powerfully settling. I have come to look forward to ringing the lovely bell of compassion my MIL sent for Christmas at the start and end of practice. It sends a wave of “Okay, you’re here now, until this bell rings again” and allows me to sink in to simply doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing and letting that be fresh  and new and not pre-planned.
  • Plan the beginning and end of each practice. This creates a container of sorts and can free you up in between. I begin sitting in vajrasana with breath observation (also how I begin all classes) and end with a selected sequence of finishing poses (as a recovering Ashtanga Yogi there are a few things I’m incapable of doing without). You can begin in  Mountain Pose and end with Bridge before Corpse Pose 
      If you know what you’re going to begin and end with, you may find it easier to let go.
  • Use a template. There’s no reason you can’t plan or have your practice planned for you. Wondering “what am I supposed to do???” or “what should I do next???” or whether you’ll remember that great pose from class can all trigger a massive round of monkey bars for the mind and before you know it you’re a stress ball instead of a bliss monkey. Choose three to five poses you want to focus on and write the names or draw stick figures out before hand. A note from yourself, to yourself. If you want examples, I posted some early versions on this blog, and if you want help just leave a comment. This is one of my favorite things 🙂

Leave me a comment below with your favorite tip for making it to the mat or letting me know how these tips work for you! Home practice is my passion and I’d love to know about yours. Namaste.

 

 

 

Reflections on self retreat

 

As many of you know, I head out into the desert for a week every August, to spend time listening and wandering among the ruins and hoodoos.
English: Fritz Swanson took this picture of th...

English: Fritz Swanson took this picture of the Fajada Butte in the summer of 2005. The Butte stands at the entrance to Chaco Canyon in the northwest New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

How can you create your own retreat, even if you can’t get away for an entire week?

 

 

Retreat isn’t about moving away from your life, but toward your core values, personal truth and definite best. While we retreat from distractions and energy drains, we embrace the practices and habits that give us sustenance and allow us to bring it in our everyday life.

 

 

To create your very own retreat, decide on a time and a set of core practices that you know fill your heart. Start with three days. If you can take three days off from obligations of work and social life that’s great, but if you want to have a retreat in concert with your everyday life that’s great, too. Either way, mark this time as special: you might begin with a massage, an extra special yoga class or simply a solo hike. Let the people in your everyday life know that during these days you won’t be taking on extra tasks. Consider taking an email and phone break, if only before and after work.

 

 

Consider changing your routine and surroundings regardless of whether you plan to take time off. Make the house extra neat and clean, enlist a family member to have quiet coffee or tea with you in the morning. Set your space up with the books you want and any other resources you desire: yoga mats, blocks, blankets, bolsters, DVDs or streaming videos, special bath salts. Make sure the cupboards are stocked with food that will make you feel good. You might decide to eat lightly during this time.

 

 

Decide which distractions to eliminate and what practices to embrace during this time. Begin by considering your “ideal day.” If you could have anything and everything you wanted for 24 hours, what would that look like? Would you sleep for 10 hours and have a luxurious yoga practice with meditation upon wakening? Spend the afternoon reading inspiring, soul-filling books or go on a challenging hike? Would you eat all vegetarian or buy extra special wine to go with dinner? Think minimal distraction, maximum practice. What would feed your soul?

 

 

Finally, design how you will avoid the inevitable distractions. On my retreat trips, I go as far away from civilization as I can get in the contiguous 48… and recently, I was able to get cell service. I’ve learned that I have to turn the phone off and make it inaccessible to maintain my chosen discipline. If I bring my computer for writing, I disable the wi-fi. The point is to go inward, cultivate silence and listen for what comes from deep within.

 

 

Make this a pampering time as much as one of discipline. Have your favorite healthy food, best bath salts and linens, go to your favorite location. If you take time literally away, expect the first three days to be an emptying out. Journal, draw, walk, record the insights and fears… but always relate to them as interesting products of your thinking, not necessarily as reality. Reality is here and now, this breath, this sigh. Keep coming back to your breath. If you’re taking more than three days, you can anticipate a great calm after you’ve cleaned the pipes.

 

 

How do you connect with your core truths and self? A retreat – whether on your own or joining a planned event – is a great way to reset and restore your factory settings. Do you remember what those are? Find out! Treat yourself to your own retreat.

 

 

Focus, concentration, things that masquerade as them and spiritual bypassing

Seal of Good Practice as it appeared in 1958

Seal of Good Practice as it appeared in 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Practice is called “practice” because it is just that. The mechanism by which yoga and meditation practice work on us is repetition despite fluctuating desire and facility, and this repetition is called practice.  And you’ve no doubt heard and experienced that the point of showing up day after day, desire or no, and despite how easy or hard it is on any given day, is that we are practicing for life.

Meditation is described in yoga by the sixth and seventh of the “Eight Limbs” described by Patanjali. Dharana and Dhyana together describe meditation: concentration + focus. Concentration is the ability to stay present to the field of awareness, while focus is the ability to select and moderate that field. Focus, put simply, is the ability to choose your object of meditation while concentration is the ability to remain with it.

Meditation Sticker

Meditation Sticker (Photo credit: Sanne Schijn)

Dear Hubs and I often refer to one another’s quirky abilities  – you know, the character traits and capacities that can be endearing or annoying depending on how you relate to them – as special secret super powers. Organizing and focus are two of mine.

Any superhero will tell you that their super power can also create their biggest problems, and is usually the repository for the bits of experience they want to avoid. So how can a mere mortal avoid the pitfalls of special secret super powers if the chicks and dudes of flight and steel can’t avoid them?

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised the other day when my laser focus and persistent concentration were revealed to me not as super powers, but the armor with which I gird myself and fend off the demands of body and home.

When the mix of focus and concentration is out of balance, it’s pretty easy for me to catch myself using these capacities to live in my head rather than whole body and to snap at people who ask me to change the range or object of my focus. When Dear Hubs came in to ask how I’d like to be served breakfast, I’d become so absorbed in my focus that I snapped (not a proud moment, to be sure).

Like Gollum with the Ring, I had mistaken the object of attention for the value.

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital...

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The object is only valuable for what it reveals about the field of awareness in which it resides.

Using my special secret super power as a shield from the world, I was so far in my head I had ceased to feel hungry, notice my posture and breathing or respond to the person I admire most in the world as the wonderful human being he is.

The balance of focus and concentration is part of what I need to practice when I arrive on the cushion or mat. My personal tendency is to fall into over focus, which can be a sort of spiritual bypassing, when we use our practices to escape the world rather than find equanimity in it.

How do the components of meditation show up in your day-to-day world? Have you ever noticed that you “leave your body” during your day-to-day life? How do you use what you learn on the mat and cushion to adjust how you relate to your work and love?

Hiking Yoga: What better way to get back to your roots?

The way we newsify things for the sake of entrancing eyeballs never ceases to amaze.  Authors and journalists and editors do it with politics, medical studies and trends in every realm. Yesterday I was listening to The Friday News Roundup and journalist and news analyst Juan Williams, commenting on recent happenings in the American presidential contest, commented something along the lines of  “People remember the truth and political spin won’t erase that.” (I

English: Journalist and correspondent Juan Wil...

English: Journalist and correspondent Juan Williams speaking at Chautauqua Institution in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

don’t remember whether he was imputing half truths to elephants or donkeys, he can be trusted to do both when appropriate.) Usually I read Williams as a realist, but I have to say that in this instance I found myself wondering how wide a net he was casting and if he’d read any Orwell (I’m certain, of course, he has. More the wonder he retains his faith.)

What has any of this to do with yoga or hiking or hiking yoga? And have you ever heard of hiking yoga before? Of course you have, if not in name then on your last hike you probably stopped at a spot of beauty and reached for the sky or your hiking buddy to stand in wonder together. The most organic form of hiking yoga.

Blue diamond-shaped sign used to designate hik...

Blue diamond-shaped sign used to designate hiking trails in provincial parks in Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I read Taking Yoga on a Hike  this morning I was struck by the mini-history given in the third paragraph:

“This yoga fusion option started in San Francisco three years ago and made its debut in New York City this spring, promising the chance to connect with nature in an urban environment, with stops for yoga along the way.”

Where does the need to pedigree and attribute natural, everyday activities come from except maybe word count? While outdoor and yoga on hikes may not be everyone’s cup of chai tea, folks have been taking yoga hikes as long as they’ve trekked the Himalayas or strapped a yoga mat on an old frame pack. These days I tend to throw my Yoga-Paws in my lighter pack, but it’s the same urge and the same amazing feeling.

The very things that can be complained about in outdoor yoga are the reasons that some of us feel best doing yoga outside: the variability. Sticks and stones  remind you you’re in contact with the earth, bird chirping and dog barking blend together (they only seem different – one more annoying and one more relaxing – because of our reactions), and uneven ground , while challenging balance, adds a tremendous core and functional element. Try doing Downward Facing Dog without a mat and tell me you don’t feel your core in whole new and different way.

I love my early morning and before bed yoga sessions in a flat floored room, on my silk rug with Jonathan Goldman‘s creations streaming from the sound system and candles flickering kind shadows on the visage of Kuan Yin staring down from her museum poster.  But I also love my yoga in the sand, among the cactus and lizards in the foothills of the Sandia mountains, or on the plateaus overlooking

An image of Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon (New Me...

An image of Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon (New Mexico, United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chaco Canyon… or a thousand other places. These sessions are a meditation, too, albeit with some extra bumps or slants under my feet and hands and perhaps the wave or querying head tilt of another passing hiker (I do tend to choose places where this is less likely to happen). What better intermediate training in watching and caring for your monkey mind in daily life? What more inspiring backdrop? And what better way to groove your own practice?

Subtle talk, subtle body

I’m  just back from my walk today and had to share this talk with you.

This podcast, “The Subtle Body,” is from Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico – worth a visit in and of itself. The peace and dignity palpable there are food for the heart.

The speaker, Tias Little, is a deeply accomplished yogi and teacher from the area. In this talk he illuminates the subtle body and gives eminently practical advice on how yoga poses, meditation, breathing, touch and attention interact with the subtle body to obstruct or allow healing and optimum function.

Equanimity

watching Shinzen Young videos on the iPad = ub...

Image by ~C4Chaos via Flickr

Just completed a fabulous mini-home-retreat. Usually I design and create these for myself, but I’ve found a meditation teacher who has honed the content and delivery to a “T”…. or maybe “M” for mindfulness. Shinzen Young‘s basic mindfulness home retreats feature his program of methods for mindfulness and are awe inspiringly powerful.

One of my “aha” moments during the four hour combination of didactic instruction, interaction, and sitting meditation made communal by the use of the internet (I use Skype to connect, quite happily) was Shinzen answering a question after the first technique was practiced. “Equanimity” is one of those words you’ll hear as often as “cool” in yoga and meditation circles, so hearing Shinzen apply his scalpel like mind and bring the discussion back to the definition is always refreshing. One of the many things I appreciate in his teaching is that he is truly a philosopher in the Socratic sense: philosophy is a practice as well as a system of interrelated definitions supporting clear thinking.

He reminded us that equanimity is the skill of allowing images, thoughts, feelings or sensations to arise “without push or pull,” without moving toward or away from them, without craving or aversion. Equanimity is what we exhibit when we allow these experiences to arise and pass away without our interference – perhaps without even our explicit notice.

And he asserted, if I understood properly, that this is our psyche’s healing mechanism. The intuitive appeal of this theory has me looking into his deeper philosophy, but for now all I can say is that it makes sense to me and resonates with my experience. I had an image of the desert plateaus and canyon floors I spend so much time traversing. After a good rain, an infrequent phenomenon to be sure, bits of the past surface with as much ease as spring water seeping through cracks, to be worn away and converted to light and heat by the wind and the desert sun. What a blissful new way for me to relate to sitting.

How do you define equanimity?