Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to Relax

Why Do I Need to Meditate?

The convenience resulting from technology is always increasing and this has given us the ability to get more accomplished in the day and have access to an infinite amount of entertainment and information. With all there is to do in the world and the increasing pressure to accomplish more each day, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted, and tense. People attempt to counter these effects with alcohol, TV and medication. None of these actually solve the problem and, as we all know, they actually lead to more problems. Instead, the demands of the modern world make meditation essential. Each of us can greatly benefit from setting aside time each day for deep relaxation, prayer and/or meditation.

What Are The Benefits of Meditation?

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased focus
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased self-awareness, self-control & self-confidence
  • Decreased headaches, depression & insomnia
  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Increased exercise tolerance in heart patients
  • Strengthened immune system which aids in the fight against cancer and bacteria & helps in post-operative recovery
  • Aids in weight loss because it decreases the hormone cortisol
  • Lowers blood pressure
How Long Should I Meditate?

Ideally, one would meditate for at least 20 minutes every day. However, it is recommended that beginners start with just 5 minutes of meditation and gradually work their way to 20 minutes. This is because meditation is about finding the gap between thoughts. The more you practice, the more the mind becomes trained to relax and the meditation practice becomes easier. Attempting to meditate for too long, too soon can possibly lead to frustration with your thoughts and judgment about your meditation practice. So, as you begin a meditation practice, take it slow and be gentle with yourself.

What If I Don't Have Time?

For many busy people, this is not easy but it is something that must often be written into the schedule. After all, making time for your health and well-being is just as important as going to a business meeting (its actually more important). If you feel like you don't have time to meditate for 20 minutes, you can simply meditate for five minutes at different times throughout the day. Maybe five minutes in the morning, five minutes at lunch, five minutes after work, and five minutes before bed. This is a great way to bring a relaxed and peaceful mental state with you throughout your day. However, it is important that you realize that everyone can make 20 minutes for meditation. You probably spend 20 minutes watching TV, talking on the phone or playing on the internet without a second thought. So why not spend that time doing something that will help you live your life more fully by making you more relaxed, focused, and healthy?

How Do I Begin?

LOCATION: First, it's best to designate an area for meditation. By doing this, you are creating a sacred space, where over time, you'll be able to reach a meditative state more easily. This space can be anywhere that is quiet, with the exception of the bed. You do not want to meditate where you sleep because you want to be awake and aware during meditation.

ATMOSPHERE: Second, it's best to create an atmosphere in that area that encourages relaxation and a connection with your source. This area should include a chair, cushion, or bench for sitting as well as decorations. You may want to have candles or incense, a small electric fountain and pictures to set the mood. These can be pictures of nature, family, or enlightened beings (ex: Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, the Cross, etc.) There is no wrong way to create sacred space, you must simply think of what inspires you and brings you peace.

TIME: Lastly, choose a time for meditation. The ideal times to meditate are during sunrise and sunset. If this is inconvenient for you, pick a specific time that will work for you every day. Meditating at a consistent time each day is more important than what time of day you choose to meditate because you are creating a healthy habit and setting a rhythm in your body and your mind that will allow you to more easily reach that calm and peaceful state.

How Do You Do It?
There are several different types of meditation and choosing a particular style is a matter of preference. You can choose two or three types of meditation that interest you and try each one for a week. Then decide which one you like best and stick with it for at least 3 months to fully allow yourself to get comfortable with the technique and experience the benefits. I will discuss a few different types of meditation below.
  • BREATH MEDITATION: Simple Breath Meditation is one of the best ways to begin a meditation practice. By becoming fully aware of your breath, you are able to silence the mind and move into stillness. Meditation is a way of training the brain to concentrate and finding the gap between thoughts. In this meditation, concentrate on the temperature of the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils and any other sensation you feel as you breathe. One also focuses on the rise and fall of the chest as the lungs expand and contract. Each time a thought arises, it is released and allowed to float away as the focus returns to the breath.
  • MANTRA MEDITATION: The classic form of meditation associated with yoga is mantra meditation. A mantra is the repeated statement of a phrase (often in Sanskrit). One word that is often used in mantras is om. Om is the most sacred sound and does not have a defined meaning; it has been described as everything and nothing, the essence of the Universe and a symbol of Oneness. You can simply chant "om," "om shanti" ("peace") or chant "om namah shivaya" (loosely translated as "I bow to God and remove the blockages that cause me to believe there is any separation between me and God"). While Sanskrit is traditionally used in mantra meditation, you can use anything that resonates with you. You can use scripture or an inspirational phrase such as "I am peace" or "Be still and know God."
  • YOGA: Yoga, itself, can be practiced as a form of moving meditation. When practiced in a sacred place and with the intention of relaxing, focusing the mind, and connecting with your source, the coordinated movements of the body with the breath can have a very calming and centering effect. One can also chant a mantra, prayer, or scripture while practicing yoga to make it even more meditative.
  • YOGA NIDRA: Yoga nidra is another form of meditation that is used to obtain deep relaxation. It relaxes the body and the mind. Listen to this Yoga Nidra video on youtube. It will take you through the first 3 steps of yoga nidra. If you like what you hear, you can purchase the entire yoga nidra meditation on the website.
  • GUIDED MEDITATION: Guided Meditation is an excellent way to begin a meditation practice. In fact, it is the way I began my own practice. If you have a hard time sitting still and quieting the mind, a guided meditation will give you something to focus your attention upon and gently guide you into a calm, peaceful place. In fact, many guided meditations are spoken over music that blends and sequences sounds that help your brain easily slip into a meditative state. Two of the leading companies in this technology are Hemi-Sync and Brain Sync .
  • TAIZE MEDITATION: This is a Christian form of meditation that incorporates music, scripture, and silence. This is a sample of Taize. You can also attend a Taize meditation at the Center for Spiritual Living in Dallas.
How Can I Find Out More Information About Meditation?

  1. The Three Minute Meditator: 30 Simple Ways to Unwind Your Mind While Enhancing Your Emotional Intelligence by David Harper
  2. Journey of Awakening: A Meditator's Guidebook by Ram Dass
  1. Yoga + Magazine
  2. Yoga Journal
  1. Awakening Heart
  2. Center for Spiritual Living
    Ronda Jyoti Litwin

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    What Yoga Means to Me

    If you asked 100 people to explain why they do yoga you would probably get 100 different answers. Some do it to get a good stretch, some do it to lose weight and others do it to relieve stress. That is the beauty of yoga--there is a yoga class for everyone! And often it's the same class.

    If you asked me why I started doing yoga, I would say all of the above (increased flexibility, weight-loss, stress-reduction). But, if you asked me why I chose to teach yoga, you would get a very different answer.

    After practicing yoga for some time, it became more than a physical practice for me. It is now a philosophy and a way of life that focuses on having my spiritual, mental, and physical actions in proper alignment. Yoga has helped me walk a path to a more healthy, balanced and peaceful life. I decided to start teaching yoga so I could be a part of helping others improve their lives as well.

    I love exposing people to yoga for the first time. In doing this, however, I come across two common misconceptions: (1) you need to be flexible to do yoga and (2) yoga conflicts with religion, such as Christianity. While there are definitely some yoga classes that are made for super-flexible people and there are yoga classes that are very focused on the Hindu religion, that is not true of all yoga classes. It is certainly not true for my class. My yoga philosophy does not require a person to come into class flexible or to compromise their religious beliefs. Instead, I believe yoga is designed to help improve flexibility and complement your religious or spiritual practices.

    Yoga is about being the best YOU you can be. It is about reaching your full potential mentally, physically, and spiritually. Each person is made differently. Each person has their own physical injuries, limitations, and gifts and yoga can help you heal your injuries and fully realize your physical strength and/or flexibility while respecting your limitations. This is why yoga teachers offer modifications and encourage students to listen to their bodies. Yoga class is not about being the most flexible or getting into the most advanced pose. It is about loving your body, focusing the mind, and getting in touch with your Source.

    Yoga is about deepening your spiritual practice, regardless of your religious beliefs. Yoga opens the body, which might be thought of as the vessel through which the divine works in our lives. Regardless of whether you worship God, Jesus, Buddah, Allah or Krishna, the goal is the same. The goal is to make a connection with the invisible force that created us and connects us. Because of this, yoga is an excellent preparation for meditation or prayer.

    I hope my yoga classes bring my students the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga so that they can experience a more fulfilling life.


    Ronda Jyoti Litwin
    Yoag w/ Ronda on Facebook