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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

muscles engaged by khechari

It amazes me that a simple repositioning of your tongue can have such a profound effect on the body and mind. I’ve already covered a lot of the effects Khechari mudra has on the mind in previous posts, so in this post I’m going to share with you the effects of khechari mudra on the body’s posture and tell you why those effects are important.

When the tongue is curled back in the mouth and stretched up towards the uvula, and beyond into the nasopharyngeal cavity, a number of muscles are engaged. As these muscles contract they generate a cascade of subtle adjustments within the body.

postural changes caused by khechari

  1. The jaw moves back.
  2. The sternum pulls up, to slightly concave the chest.
  3. The thyroid gland also pulls upward (and is stimulated into activity).
  4. The head rotates ever so slightly forward and the spine elongates and aligns. This also causes the pelvis to rotate forward and the knees to bend slightly.
  5. The scapula rotate forward.

So what makes all of these postural effects so interesting? To keep it simple, the body opens up and relaxes, becomes powerful in its movements and gains poise, hormones become balanced and the mind settles. There’s a definite strengthening of the connection between mind and body, which leads to enhanced balance and refined mind body coordination.

galea

Another interesting effect of these muscular contractions is a bit more esoteric. As these muscles contract they pull on and tighten the Galea (the tendinous cap that covers the skull). This tightening of the galea brings the practitioner’s attention and energy up to the top of his head (AKA: crown chakra) allowing him to open the energy centre in the crown centre. Yogis achieve a similar effect by tying their hair up into a knot on top of their head (Rishi knot).

There’s quite a bit more to discuss on this, but time isn’t something I have a lot of right now so I’ll leave you with those main points to think about and maybe take a closer look at the specifics in other posts.

Khechari mudra diaries

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There is a sense of deep peace and clarity after the practice. When my eyes open I feel like a new born baby looking at the world and seeing everything for the first time. There are no labels. There is no prejudice. Everything just is.

The following are notes taken from my personal diary. They offer a first hand account of my experience with the practice of khechari mudra and give some insight into what goes on in the body and mind when the tongue is repositioned into the nasopharyngeal cavity.

At first there’s a burning sensation under the base of the tongue and in the pit of the throat (like the beginning of a sore throat) accompanied by tension that spreads from the front of the neck up into the jaw and temple area.

When the tongue first touches the nasal septum there is a light electrical sensation in the tip of the tongue and a sensation in the nasal septum that is so intense it’s as if you’ve snorted a pint of fizzy soda up your nose (think of the sensation you get in the back of your nose just before you sneeze and multiply it by 10). After some time there are various tastes that become noticeable on your tongue, as if a very delicate liquid is trickling into your throat. It’s salty at first but becomes increasingly subtle in it’s taste and consistency. Some of the tastes are metallic (almost like blood), and sweet (but not like sugar, there’s a delicate intensity to the sweetness).

The breath becomes very shallow and slow, almost imperceptible. Breathing out is particularly strange. The out breath is long ( just when you think there’s no more air in your lungs more comes out. It’s like wringing water out of a sponge). When all the air is emptied from the lungs there is no feeling of wanting to inhale. At this point the soft pallet begins to go into spasm and lightly pulsate around the base of the tongue.

There’s a warmth that moves up from the back of the throat, through the head to settle behind the eyes. The warmth grows in intensity until it feels as if your eyes are glowing like hot ambers under your eyelids – it’s not an unpleasant feeling, in fact it’s quite comforting.

The forehead feels as if it’s being sucked into one point between the eyebrows. It’s a strange muscle tension – difficult to recreate without the help of Khechari, but not impossible (I think it’s a naturally occurring form of shambhavi mudra). This is accompanied by a light in the head (that grows in brightness) and a strange warm breeze that constantly blows against the forehead along with a tugging sensation from inside the head that is somehow synchronized with a pulsation of the perineal muscles. The feeling generated by this is similar to a genital orgasm (there is no ejaculation, rather it’s as if the ejaculation becomes internalized and continuous), but it spreads, like an intense warmth, instantly up the spine.

The heart and chest area feel as if they are filling up with excitement (as if you’re about to hear the best news you’ve ever been told, like exciting anticipation). This culminates in the feeling of the heart wanting to explode with love and happiness. In this state there’s love for everything.

There’s a sense of being in your head, as if the rest of your body is separate. This progresses into a feeling of your head expanding like a balloon being pumped up, as if there is infinite space inside your head. And finally, all barriers dissolve to give a sense of infinite expansion and being inseparable from everything- in this moment it’s as if you are one with everything, you are the universe.

There is a sense of deep peace and clarity after the practice. When my eyes open I feel like a new born baby looking at the world and seeing everything for the first time. There are no labels. No prejudice. Everything just is.

Enlightenment, Awakening, Nirvana, Satori, Samadhi, the list goes on. All these words are synonymous and refer to an event that takes place in an individual’s consciousness, an event of such magnitude that it permanently changes that person’s perception and understanding of reality. It’s the moment where the unreal falls away to reveal a direct perception of REALITY.

For some this awakening comes in an instant, without warning, while for others it happens over the course of a lifetime of meditation and arduous yogic practices. While, to the outsider, this can seem like some mysterious esoteric fantasy designed as an elaborate form of escapism, it is, in fact, a scientifically validated process that yields measurable results.

On a physical, brain, level to understand what goes on in the head of someone going through the process of awakening take a look at the video I posted above. It’s an hour and a half long lecture that’s worth watching for the insight it offers🙂

 immortal
Revered for its ability to jolt the practitioner into ever deepening states of awareness, this specialised breathing technique has been passed from teacher to student for hundreds of years across many ancient traditions, including hatha yoga, tantra, taoist chi gong, the six yogas of Naropa (Tibetan yoga), and many of the martial arts. So what is the this technique, and how does it have such a profound effect on the practitioner? First let’s take a look at the basic technique and how it is described by the traditions that utilise it, then we’ll take a look at what’s going on at the physiological level.
The technique goes by many names: Vase breathing, Reverse crane breathing, Shakti chalana, Ibuki, etc. The list goes on. While each tradition describes this technique in its own unique way, essentially they are all teaching the same physical sequence. Here’s the exercise in it’s basic form: Breathe in, push the air down into your abdomen (lower lungs). While holding your breath bare down as if you’re going to the toilet. At the same time, pull up your sphincter, perineum, and, if you’re female, contract the muscles inside your cervix. Hold for as long as you are comfortable then slowly exhale. Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose.
In the Taoist traditions this is said to build chi and light the fire in your lower tan tien to initiate the gestation cycle of the immortal fetus (a type of inner spiritual alchemy that is said to eventually transform the practitioner into an immortal).  In Yoga talk the practice is said to fuse prana and apana (downward and upward moving energy) in the navel chakra, which causes kundalini (a dormant spiritual force) to awaken and begin her ascent to the crown chakra where she blesses the yogi with self realisation and a host of siddhis (powers of the mind). The tantra texts describe this as a type of divine marriage of energies within the body, a marriage that lifts the practitioner into states of pure blissful awareness. Starting to realise why this was and still is seen as such an important practice?
From a western, physiological, perspective by drawing up and contracting the muscles of the perineum, anus, and cervix you have stimulated/activated the pelvic splachnic nerves. These are the nerves that cause genital arousal and subsequently turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates a relaxation and healing effect on the body. Secondly by pushing down the breath, you activate the vagus nerve. This activation can actually generate orgasm in a woman, but more importantly it deactivates areas of the brain that cause fear and emotional distress, such as the amygdala. So effectively, it makes you emotionally centred (to a degree). It also releases a host of hormones and neuro chemicals into your body that positively change your mental, emotional, and physical state of being. Plus, like the splachnic nerves, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
With all this nervous system activity happening from a simple breath holding technique lots of brain changes also take place, as you can imagine, changes that are conducive to meditation and deep states of awareness. Those changes are usually visible on brain scans after only four weeks of practice.

So, there you have it. If you want to accelerate your practice, or just add a powerful anti-stress technique to your repertoire, introduce this to your daily routine. You’ll see the benefits in a few weeks🙂

FREE YOGA MANUAL

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PDF Download: YOGA MANUAL

Word Download: YOGA MANUAL

I finally got around to “kind of” finishing this (still a few bits not done, plus the entire thing needs revision and editing). Anyway, if you’re into yoga, meditation, and/or self development this might be something you’d be interested in. Email me any questions you have about the practices😉 Enjoy

Be Still

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One connection I’ve become acutely aware of from my meditation practice, and more recently from a half hour stint remaining completely still under a gamma x-ray machine,  is how the body mirrors the mind.

As the mind quietens, the body has a tendency to become less active. When the mind becomes completely still, all outer, gross muscle movements in the body seem to stop. Stillness in the mind seems to permeate both the mental a physical levels of being.

I took this understanding and applied the concept of reverse engineering to it. The idea here being that if I still my body through a process of systematic relaxation, that stillness should work its way into my mind. And guess what? It worked. Stilling my body stilled my mind. Though I have to say, it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. After all, the body and mind are intimately connected, locked in an unending dance with one another from birth until death. A dance in which the mind sometimes leads the body, and the body sometimes leads the mind.

Give it a try.

BE STILL🙂

Stress makes you stupid

Actually, stress makes you stupid, sick, and smelly.

Now that’s a good incentive to learn to relax and destress with slow, deep breathing. So why does stress make us stupid, sick, and smelly? We can answer that question by looking at why we get stressed in the first place.

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a threat to your safety and wellbeing. A classic example is to look at what happens to you when you find yourself face to face with an aggressive dog. Your heart rate increases, your digestive system dramatically slows down, your pupils dilate, your blood pressure increases, your breathing becomes shallow and fast, you begin to sweat, and your muscles and heart become engorged with blood as your skin turns pale from the blood being redirected. All of these things happen because of the release of stress hormones preparing your body for fight or flight in response to a threat. In the short-term this type of response can save your life, however, if you experience stress every day, all day, because your boss happens to be an asshole that bullies and abuses you, or you have an aggressive partner, etc, then that type of reaction going on in your body all the time is unsustainable. Eventually you’ll burn yourself out.

From a health point of view, being in a continuous state of stress strains your heart, increases your chances of having a stroke due to high blood pressure, and lowers your immune function because all of the body’s energy is being used elsewhere, which increases your susceptibility to infection and even increases your risk of getting cancer. Where health is concerned STRESS is your body’s enemy.

The effects of stress don’t just stop with the body, they spill over into the realms of the mind. When you get stressed the flow of blood in your brain decreases in your frontal lobes and is redirected to your hind brain and emotional brain. This means your ability to think rationally and plan ahead is severely hampered. Essentially stress turns you into a puppy. Seriously, when you’re under stress you act more like a puppy than a human. This is why it’s never a good idea to make decisions when you’re under stress unless you absolutely have to.

What about smelling bad?  Think about the original example of the dog, or maybe it’s a lion or a bear. When you get stressed, your body will begin to sweat. The more stressed you are the more profusely you’ll sweat. Why? Two reasons. One, sweating lubricates your body and makes it easier to escape the grip of whatever it is your faced with, and secondly, when you get stressed the sweat you excrete tends to smell bad. That’s not a great thing if your on your way to your new girlfriend/boyfriend’s house to meet your future parents in law! But it’s very useful when you’re faced with a predator that wants to eat you for dinner because when food smells bad, it’s a sign that it’s gone off. And even animals don’t like to eat food that will make them sick.

So there you have it. Stress makes you stupid, sick, and smelly. WHat can you do about it. Simple. Learn to slow your breathing and you’ll be able to control your stress levels😉

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I love how some of the simplest yoga practices turn out to have the most profound effects upon me.  

Most people think of yoga as sets of excruciatingly painful postures followed by hours of meditation and strange cleansing rituals. And while this is how some people like to practice “yoga,” there’s also an entirely different side to this fascinating way of life that most people never even realise exists. That way is simplicity itself. It’s such a deceptively simple path that when you’re on it you wake up one morning wondering how you’ve made so much progress with such little effort. It’s a way of practicing yoga that I like to call the path of the five kings.

The five kings are a set of simple practices. They’re what the ancient yogic texts describe as practices that can bring about liberation without the need to do anything else. Those practices are: Siddhasana (the perfect posture), Bramacharya (moderation), Ahimsa (nonviolence), Kevala (breath suspension), and Kechari (mudra of the void).

How do they work?

Siddhasana (perfect posture) is a basic sitting posture used by yogic adepts, when meditating, in which the heel of one foot is placed against the perineum (between the anus and genitals) with the second foot resting in front of the first (or, in an advanced posture, pressed against the pubic bone). 

So what’s so special about siddhasana? Apart from providing a stable sitting position for meditation, the position the feet are placed in causes the mind to drift into a naturally meditative state. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, the blood flow to the legs is lessened which leaves more blood flowing in the upper body, keeping the mind alert and focused, and secondly the pressure applied to the nerves in the perineum has an interesting effect on the breathing centres at the base of the brain that cause the breathing to become light, slow, and steady. And slowing the breath, as we know, calms the mind (I’ve discussed at length in previous posts).

Isn’t that amazing. Simply changing the way you sit can catapult you forward on the path of yoga.

The second king, as I call it, is Ahimsa (nonviolence). This, for me, is a no-brainer. It’s quite simple really, by practicing nonviolence we’re cultivating a state of mind that’s conducive to peace, and a mind that’s at peace is a mind free of turmoil, a mind that naturally gains stability and focus (traits essential for progress to be made in meditation).

Bramacharya (moderation) is the third king. By practicing moderation we’re wiring the brain in a very specific manner. We’re wiring it in a way that allows us to exercise tremendous control over our thoughts (an essential ability we need to develop if we want to meditate correctly). The other element of Bramacharya is more physical. It says that every yogi, who wants to make progress, should moderate their food intake. The reasoning for this is simple and really obvious once you think about it. When you eat , your body directs its energy into the digestive processes. The more food you eat and the more time you spend eating it, the more energy it uses. When your body is busy digesting food the mind becomes dull and tired and incapable of meditating. So simply eating in moderation has powerful effects on your state of mind.

The fourth king is Kevala. Kevala is a special type of breath suspension that happens spontaneously when the yogi reaches deep levels of concentration, meditation and absorption. This is a state I’ve experienced many times during deep meditation. it feels as if there is no need to breathe in or out, your lungs stop moving but it feels as if the air around you still permeates them. What’s interesting about this is that we can trigger deep states of meditation by consciously slowing the breath so that it becomes barely perceptible. Although this isn’t technically kevala, it does apply the same idea. Amazing results come from this simplest of practices.

The fifth and final king is Kechari mudra which I’m not going to go into details about here because I’ve spoken about it at length in a number of previous posts.

So there you have it. Simply changing the way you sit, altering your eating habits, cultivating nonviolence, and slowing your breathing, promotes a powerful effect on your mind – acting like rocket fuel on your yogic journey.

 

To be a Bhakti Yogi is to be utterly in love with life itself.

Drunken Krishna plays the drums

A few weeks ago I passed a Krishna devotee on the street. As I passed him I noticed a natural and completely subconsciously occurring smile creep onto my face. Then I looked around and noticed everyone else passing him had that same warm smile on their faces too. That was a nice experience but what was even nicer was watching what happened when a drunk guy walked over and started playing on the devotee’s drum.

Instead of walking away or getting angry and pushing the drunk guy to the side, the Krishna devotee allowed him to use his drum (which sounded awful, I might add), and as the drunk guy began to play, the Krishna devotee changed the rhythm of his singing to match the new dodgy drum beat. After a few minutes they both ended up laughing and having a great time, as did the crowd that gathered to watch :-)

Reflection

It was only later when I reflected on what Bhakti yoga was that I understood what happend that day. The Bhakti yogi is in a constant state of meditation. His mind flows towards the object of his devotion like a river towards an ocean.

For the realised devotee, playing that drum and singing with the drunk guy was like playing and singing with Krishna himself, because the true Bhakti yogi sees his beloved in everyone and in everything.

The Yogi Science of Bhakti

In Bhakti Yoga the idea is to find a thing (an object, person, deity, guru, concept) that you feel infinite love towards, and to focus your love and devotion on that thing for every waking moment. Every thought, word, and action reminds the yogi of the object of his devotion. For example, you may be a follower of Krishna (although you don’t have to be a follower of anyone, Krishna is just an example). You focus your mind on Krishna no matter what you are doing. If you’re singing a song, you imagine you’re singing to krishna. You imagine that the song is Krishna. If you’re eating, you imagine that the food is Krishna. As you breathe, you imagine billions of particles (at the centre of each is krishna) flowing in and out of your lungs.

When the Bhakta feels intense love and devotion towards his chosen object, and he thinks of that object every moment of the day, he becomes infused with the emotions he feels towards it. His mind becomes focused and one pointed until it merges with the object of his attention. Bhakti is indeed a fast-track path to achieving yoga, if you’re so inclined.

Have a look at this previous post on meditation see just how this works.

Adding more Bhakti yogins to the world can only make everyone’s life better🙂

To finish the title of the post. Put a little love in your heart, and the world will be a better place…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh1-ObRCsps ;-)

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