Ways to be more present

Stay-Present

It seems like such an easy thing this living in the present, doesn’t it? In reality it can be very difficult, after years of living your life in the past or always trying to ensure a certain type of future. I struggle with this inability to live in the now on a daily basis, so much so as I have become an Eckhart Tolle junkie, owning just about every audio book that Audible has offered me. I wrote a book review a while back The Power of Now on one of my other blogs InspirationalBookReviews.com, that you might enjoy. I highly recommend this book and have listened to it more times than I can remember.

For those of you already enlightened and living in the now fully you can just quit reading this blog right now and I hope you have a great day, but if you are not quite living in the now on a consistent basis, read on. Our minds produce thousands of thoughts per day and it seems like we have little control of all this shit that is happening in our heads. If we stand any chance of experiencing the present moment we are going to need some tools or techniques to combat all that silly shit going on in our heads. Maybe all we need is a way to quiet the mind if you will. Now what I am going to advocate is not necessarily new or unique, but stick with me here for a moment, after all we all need to find some reprieve from all the noise in our heads that is preventing us from enjoying the present moment.

Here are a few things you might try to allow you to consciously experience the present moment:

Winston-Churchill

  • Do one thing at a time – This sound stupid at first, but think about how many times you put on your head phones start listening to an audio book and look at your Facebook or Instagram feed at the same. Even if you do not realize it, you are multi-tasking and pretty soon you missed some of the passages in your audio book as your mind focused on something visual in your social media feed. You have trained yourself to need audio and visual stimulation and your mind is trying to process both at the same time, and while this might be your version of living in the now, it is a pretty fucked up reality. Do this at work and you will find that what you attempt to get done takes longer and the quality suffers. This is really about the power of focus, which facilitates a better experience of the present moment. The lesson is try to do one thing at a time.

yoga and meditation

  • Yoga and Meditation – Oh now here we go again, off on the yoga and meditation tangent, please save me from this mad man. Fine, I said it for you, now let me continue. The simple fact is that it’s pretty hard to live in the past or future once you learn to practice yoga and focus on your breathing. The same is true for meditation where you can use some techniques that will help you stay focused on the present moment. I will not belabor this point, but I do encourage you to start your day with yoga and meditation if you want to experience what living in the present can hold for you.

546290-Rajneesh-Quote-Remember-frustration-is-out-of-expectation-and-ego

  • Expectations – If you are continually filling your mind with expectations of what your life should be like or how the next thing you need to do should turn out; well then you are living in the future. We all do this shit! I can’t tell you how many times I wake up early worried about some stuff at work that isn’t getting done the way I think it should or isn’t turning out the way I think is should. How in the hell can I enjoy the present moment if I continue to have all these expectations? I can’t focus on living in the present moment until I can say fuck it. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it just means I accept whatever happens instead of torturing myself with all the stupid expectations of the future.  The lesson here is expectations are living in the future and preventing you from living in the present.

Really anything I’ve written today seems on the surface pretty straightforward:

  1. Do one thing at a time

  2. Practice yoga and meditation

  3. Stop expecting things to turn out a certain way

None of this shit is easy, but each of these things is possible with a little practice, or in my case a lot of practice. Doing one thing at a time or practicing yoga not only provides an opportunity for you to live fully in the present moment, but also has many other benefits. Why do you think so many people drink, ingest or smoke cannabis, take prescription pain killers, or other forms of mind altering substances? It helps them experience the present moment and quiets their minds, but the problem is it is not sustainable and ultimately causes more trouble than it is worth.

Being the owner of a goal driven, super active, future based thinking mind I am challenged everyday to maintain a focus on the present moment. I would love to hear some of the ways you have found help you stay focused one the present moment.

Namaste

 

 

 

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Is Yoga exercise?

I was reading Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar a couple days ago, and historically the actual act of performing an asana is only a fraction of what yoga is all about. Even if you have never studied the origins of yoga one must appreciate there is something different about yoga. It is not like strength training, although strength is an important component of yoga. It is not like Pilates, although core strength is very important. It is not like distance running, although breathing is key to performing an asana. Maybe the difference between yoga and some forms of exercise I have mentioned is in the purpose. One runs to build aerobic capacity, for overall fitness, and to get the runners high. If you perform Pilates you are building stronger core muscles and getting a great workout at the same time. Strength training or bodybuilding is about increasing strength and size of all the muscles in the body.

yogaBigban

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not my intention to disparage any form of exercise, and clearly my list of reasons one engages in a form of exercise is not exhaustive. Maybe all one can do is express things from their own perspective. For me yoga does more than exercise my body, building strength and flexibility. My purpose for practicing yoga includes:

  • opening my body up, removing stress, and calming me
  • a prerequisite to meditation, making it easier to sit
  • brings me into the now
  • makes me want to take better care of myself
  • seems to interconnect with other interests like Buddhism
  • supports an interest in a more ecological existence on earth

Back to the question is yoga exercise? Sure in the sense that it strengthens the body, increases flexibility, enhances blood flow, and aerobic capacity. It is also therapeutic for the mind, in bringing calmness, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifetime of challenge. If you have been practicing yoga and still feel it is just another form of exercise and nothing more, then I challenge you to read a few pages from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor to get a little historical perspective.

No more excuses, take your socks off, and get on the mat.

Namaste

 

Early or Late?

women doing cobra

Should you engage in your yoga practice first thing in the morning or later in the day? Many of the experts out there would say first thing in the morning is the best time, and if that’s not possible then later in the day is also acceptable. I used to go on that premise and once I was fully awake I would be on the mat starting with sun salutations. I also tried performing my yoga practice after work and found there are pros and cons to both approaches:

Morning Practice

Pros

  • You get it done first thing in the day, and don’t have to worry about something else coming up.
  • Yoga done first thing in the morning sets the stage for morning meditation by breathing and stretching before sitting.
  • Both the yoga and meditation enhance your frame of mind as you start your day.
  • Early in the morning is usually quieter for both yoga and meditation.

Cons

  • You are the least flexible first thing in the morning.
  • You must make time for it and you may have lots of things to take care of first thing in the morning.

Evening Practice

Pros

  • You are the most flexible later in the day. I found this particularly true for me as I was much more flexible at night versus first thing in the morning.
  • After working all day you may really need some physical activity and yoga is a great way to re-awaken your body, especially if you have a job where you sit all day.
  • It sets the stage for an evening meditation session.

Cons

  • It is more likely that something else may come up and you end up skipping your practice.
  • If you are also performing some other form of exercise you will need to determine how to fit this in. I personally had to move my strength training to the weekend so I could concentrate on yoga during the week nights.

I am currently performing my yoga practice in the evenings as soon as I get home from work, and when I’m done I spend about 20 minutes meditating. I would also note that while I don’t practice yoga in the mornings I do other forms of exercise and about 10 minutes of meditation. My strength training routine had to change as I went from a 6 day split to a 3 day split, with the majority of this being done on Saturday and Sunday.  This leaves me 5 days a week to devote to yoga in the evening. I guess you have to ask yourself, what works best for you and your lifestyle? Can I get up early enough and have the uninterrupted time needed to perform a morning practice or is it more convenient to do it after work? Neither of the approaches is optimal for people with demanding careers, but choose the least objectionable one and make sure you make it a priority.

Namaste

Three great yoga balancing poses

Balancing poses are an important part of a yoga practice and have many benefits. One of the primary benefits of a balancing pose is as its name implies it allows you to work on your ability to balance your body weight by improving your coordination and strength. In my daily yoga practice I perform three asanas that I find helpful in maintaining and improving my balance, and that I just enjoy doing.

Let’s start with King Dancer Pose:

Benefits of King Dancer Pose

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest
  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen
  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Improves balance and coordination

How to perform King Dancer Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose. Inhale, shift your weight onto your right foot, and lift your left heel toward your left buttock as you bend the knee. Press the head of your right thigh bone back, deep into the hip joint, and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong. Then repeat but this time, inhale and shift your weight onto your left foot.

King Dancer (beginner)

simple variation jof king dancer pose

King Dancer (intermediate)

king dancer pose common

Another of my favorite balancing poses is Tree Pose. I’m only going to show what would be considered the intermediate version of Tree Pose or what is the most typical at least from my experience.

Benefits of Tree Pose

  • The position helps improve posture and balance
  • It strengthens calves, ankles and thighs
  • Perform this pose regularly to improve balance and overall well being
  • For me it is very calming, especially when you pick a focus point and relax your hip allowing it to open up

How to perform Tree Pose:

Stand in Mountain Pose, draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. I like to put my hands together as depicted below, but you can extend your arms over your head either hands touching or apart. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Mountain Pose with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

Tree Pose (intermediate)

Tree Pose Standard

 

The third balancing pose is called Warrior III. This pose is great for building strength and balance. Unlike the first two it gets your back perpedicular to the floor.

Benefits of Warrior III:

  • Strengthens the ankles and legs
  • Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
  • Tones the abdomen

How to perform Warrior III Pose:

With one leg in front of the other bring your weight forward into your front foot and gently kick up your back leg. At the same time, bring the torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the neck relaxed, as if it’s the natural extension of the spine. You can either bring the arms back along your sides or bring them together in front of you as depicted below.

Warrior III (hands forward)

warrior-III

 

Use these balancing poses to help calm yourself and work on your coordination, balance, and strength. They will help you acquire the strength and balance you need to protect yourself and prevent falls and other mishaps that happen out there in the world. For me they are more calming in nature than most of the other standing poses and provide a nice transition to supine or sitting poses.

Remember the key to maintaining your balance is to pick a focal point in front of you with your eyes and focus on it allowing your body to naturally balance itself.

Namaste

More Yoga – working around pain

As you may have guessed I am not in my twenties. With age comes a phenomena called something always hurts. Now I’m not whining, and it isn’t the can’t get out of bed type of pain, but instead you always seem to be nursing some sort of muscle pull or strain. If I decided to take the day off from my yoga or strength training routine every time I had something that hurt I probably wouldn’t get too many workouts in, so I am going to suggest there are ways to work around these nagging pains you might be experiencing.

Let’s take my yoga practice, something I really love doing, but there are times when I need to be smart about what poses I undertake when nursing one of those minor injuries. Recently I had what appeared to be some form of a pulled muscle around the rib cage, so one of the poses I do is APANASANA Knee to Chest with a supine twist which is where one leg is bent and essentially goes over the other leg that is straight (see picture below) had to be temporarily eliminated. As you know there are a number of asanas where twisting around the spine is par for the course, so I also stopped doing things like MARICHYASANA III Seated Twist (below). About a week later the pain around the rib cage subsided and I was able to resume those poses that caused the most pain, while still maintaining my practice.

Apanasana supine twist

APANASANA Knee to Chest Post (supine twist)

marichyasana III

MARICHYASANA III

I’m not advocating you eliminate all asanas where you feel a bit of pain, just those where you know you are making the injury worse and probably compromising a speedy recovery. I don’t care if you are 20 or 60 you will encounter muscle strain and pulls from time to time, or if you are like me you will always have some nagging pain to deal with, but don’t let that stop you from maintaining your practice. Be smart and work around those injuries, and get what you can out of your yoga practice; remember you can modify many of the poses to work around that injury. So when I was dealing with the pain around my rib cage I opted to do a simple APANASANA bringing the knee to the chest without the supine twist until I had healed my body. Look for those opportunities to make modifications or temporarily eliminate certain asanas, but don’t stop practicing.

Namaste

How does Yoga make you feel?

There are times that I get up around 5:00 a.m. and think should I skip my yoga practice this morning, somewhat dreading those first couple of Sun Salutations as my back is stiff from laying in bed. Instead I finish my cup of coffee, let the dogs out and back in then take my socks off, unroll the mat and here we go. The funny thing is just like many forms of physical activity, once you get started all those thoughts about skipping it just fade away. You start to remember why you like yoga so much as you go from pose to pose and work to control your breathing, and 30 or 40 minutes later you are done.

yoga-inspiration

So how do you feel after your practice?

For me I feel:

  • relaxed
  • loose in the hamstrings, back, and hips
  • calm
  • happy
  • like I achieved something
  • alive
  • focused on the present
  • ready to do it again tomorrow

 

Namaste