Tag: Yoga

Focusing Less on Doing and More on Being.

People are the juice of life. What I mean by that is the older and, hopefully, wiser I grow, the more I value relationships, community, caring for each other, kindness, and love that freely gives life to one another.

Along those lines, I find myself blessed to have several groups of incredible friends, one of which is a group of guys who gather together every Tuesday for Beer and Bible. In Beer and Bible the homebrewed beer is fantastic, the conversation is incredible, and the people are the best.

A few weeks ago we were talking about prayer. More specifically, we discussed the importance and power of not only “talking” in prayer, but also quieting our minds and listening. Our general consensus was that calming our minds and minimizing our thoughts is powerful stuff but also super hard and difficult to make time for. That night, hopefully in a humble and kind way, I shared a bit of my yoga journey and the mind-blowing gifts it’s given me.

When I started practicing yoga nearly seven years ago I did so to get more flexible and support my now ex-wife who had just become a teacher. I thought yoga would certainly make me more bendy and hopefully stronger and that’s pretty much it. That said, as I practiced yoga more and more, I began to realize the most marvelous medicine of yoga wasn’t external, it was internal—it was (and is) a sense of peace, calm, joy, bliss, and love within me that blows my mind.

As I shared with the Beer and Bible fellows, this blessing comes most poignantly at the end of the yoga practice, while we lie peacefully in savasana and when we sit in meditation. For me, this isn’t a nonstop experience of peace and bliss, though. Instead, some days it’s 15-30 seconds, others it’s a minute or two, and others it’s longer, yet these brief encounters with What/Who I’d personally name God fill most of the rest of my life with a bliss, peace, and love so big and amazing I struggle to find words for it, which I kind of think is the point. I think often the same thing can be said about beauty in nature. We have no words to describe when we experience scenery like I captured above, better than “Wow!”

But one thing we need to remember is that we can’t expect to go from A to Z overnight. People don’t change from eating whatever they want to being clean-eating vegans at the snap of a finger. Likewise, we can’t expect to go from practicing no meditation, contemplation, yoga, or other mindfulness practices to 15 minutes or an hour per day instantaneously. Instead, we go from zero to one mindful breath where we pause to listen to the Divine, to two mindful breaths and so on.

In these moments of mental quiet and calm I don’t think our Creator is the only being we encounter though. I believe we also meet our True Self. We discover the “I” beyond doings, possessions and statuses. Our egos and the messages of society create a false self that many of us never get beyond, but we all have a True Self. This is the “I” in the image of the Divine, the “I” filled with joy, the “I” saturated with peace, the “I” rich with love. One could say the True Self is crowned with glory as is written in the Psalms:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 8.3-5, NRSV

Have you ever heard of the temptations of Christ? Before Jesus started healing people, spreading love, and preaching the Good News of God’s blissful reign, He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. The brilliant thing I’d like to draw your attention to is these are temptations common to us all. They are the lure to identify ourselves, relate our worth, and name our love based on what we own, what we do, and/or what others say/think about us. This is the false self.

Another way to talk about this is the ego. Our ego is important—it gets us out of bed, it gets stuff done, it pushes us to be the best version of ourselves possible—but the problem comes when we let the ego drive our lives. The ego is all about what we do, what we own, and what other’s think/say about us. While there is value in these things, they do not define who you and I truly are. You, my friend, are an infinitely worthy, loved child, made in the image of and filled with Divine Light and Love and when we do mindfulness practices (like yoga, meditation, and contemplation) to quiet our thoughts and minds, we experience this truth.

As I shared with my friends at Beer and Bible, while I’ve experienced this over and over it has nothing to do with anything I do. Instead, it’s about simply being. I think it’s only when we slow down and take time to just be, that we meet our True Selves. In these moments we encounter a peace that passes understanding, a bliss that defies description, and a love that knows no bounds.

So, how does one do this? How can you and I increasingly tune into our True Selves? First, I’d say it takes time and is a process. The big question here is what’s the next right thing for you? What’s a doable step you can take today/next week/next month/next year?

We’re all uniquely wired and we all go through different seasons in life, meaning what works for me might not work for you, and what resonates with you today might not vibe with you next year. My point is, there’s a zillion mindfulness practices out there and I think they all lead to this same beautiful and amazing result.

That being said let me throw a few practical tips out there for us all. I’ll start by saying there’s something powerful about doing something everyday, or nearly everyday, for 3-4 weeks, as this period of time rewires our brains and turns practices into habits so I’d recommend trying to pick something doable that you can try out for that long. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Yoga: While I think going to a studio will give you the biggest bang for the buck, there’s a lot of online videos you can use at home. Only 15 minutes a day will have amazing effects.
  2. Gratitude journal: Take 5 minutes before going to bed to reflect on the day and write about three things you’re grateful for.
  3. Meditation: Take 1-15 minutes to simply be and quiet the mind. I recommend using a podcast or app for this, but it’s free and super helpful to just breathe a mantra that speaks to where you are in life. For instance, one could inhale “I am” and exhale “loved,” or “worthy,” or “peace,” or “joyful.”
  4. Contemplation: Take 1-15 minutes to simply be and quiet the mind by contemplating some aspect of God, nature, scripture, etc.
  5. Meditative Walking: Step and breath in time with a mantra that speaks to where you are in life.
  6. Contemplative Walking: Notice, but I mean really, notice the nature and people and everything else around you.
  7. Praying the hours: Set an alarm on your phone for 9, 12, and 3. When it goes off, stop for a minute or two and take a few really deep breaths in time with a short prayer.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to get started. I think mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and everywhere, it can be simply slowing the breath down, noticing your thoughts and remembering you have thoughts but you are not your thoughts, and taking time to really see and hear what’s going on around you. When we do this we both come into touch with our True Selves and God, and the affect is amazing on you, me, and everyone we come into contact with.

I truly think our money, our possessions, our achievements, and what other people think about us do have their place and are good in their own way but they do not define us. You and I are something infinitely more precious, imperishable, and beautiful than those passing things, and the more we come into contact with this—our True Selves—the more amazing life gets. Honestly, the people I’ve met who are in tune with their stable, secure, and real selves are calm, joyful, and loving even in the midst of adversity, conflict, and trauma. They are bright sources of light and love in the midst of darkness. They are able to be non-anxious, calming presences when everyone else is freaking out. The awesome thing is, though, we can all be like these saints! Each of our True Selves is full of Divine bliss, peace, and love, we simply have to take time to be and tune into it!

By Lang Charters Blissology 200-hr YTT 2017
He’s here to awaken, open to, and be love together!
Check out Lang’s teacher profile to learn more.  

Put Down Your Smart Phone and Pick Up Your Heart Phone

Even though I am obsessed with yoga, I think it is only the second best thing we can do for health. The best thing we can do is to have an intimate connection with nature.

Last winter we moved to one of the great yoga hubs of the world, Santa Monica, California. I taught yoga, went to yoga classes every day with talented and famous yoga instructors, got used to paying $22 for superfood smoothies and practically took out a second mortgage at the Whole Foods salad bar. Every day was full of California sunshine and palm trees, but there was an emptiness inside me and a sense of restlessness that I could not quell. One chilly December evening, my wife, two-year-old son and I drove North on Highway 1. We found a long stretch of beach that was isolated with the exception of the distant silhouette of an older woman strolling in her leopard skin coat. A reminder of our proximity to Malibu. I had surfed on Venice Beach every day and played in the parks of Santa Monica with our son daily, but those beaches were filled with a stream of cruiser bike riders, joggers and roller coasters.

There was a quietness to us that night as we watched the hazy pink marine layer softly blend into the ocean’s seemingly endless horizon. I stopped and breathed deeply, not because it says to breathe deeply in a yoga text, but to replace the emptiness I felt in my chest. My heart became more inflated and I could finally pinpoint the source of my unease…

Read the rest of the article on Huffington Post Canada.

 

Blissology Project: January 22nd – February 4th, 2018

Aloha everyone!

This January 22nd – February 4th 2018 we’re launching the Blissology Project. This is a program we created years ago to create an Upward Spiral of positivity and health in ones life. We’ve refreshed the content while keeping what works the same and we’re stoked to change lives!

Watch the video below for more information. More detailed information will be released in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and keep your Bliss Vibes strong in the meantime!

Beyond Fight or Flight.

Often in yoga we refer to something called “fight or flight” to account for the mundane worries of the world that may steal our presence during practice.

Fight or flight refers to our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which are the “autonomic” nerves to our organs that are believed to be out of our control. It is generally understood that the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) revs us up or excites us, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) revs us down or relaxes us, but there is so much more to it than that.

I would like to talk about the entire nervous system, including the peripheral or “somatic” part that we do control and how it also ties in. My ultimate goal is to (1) explain how yoga and asana integrate with all parts of the nervous system, (2) help you understand why some poses stimulate certain pathways either consciously or subconsciously, and (3) show how to pair the PNS an SNS into a yoga class for those perfect sensations whether you’re shooting for peak asana or something more subtle.

Part 1: Nervous System Integration

The PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) does not inhibit the SNS (sympathetic nervous system), they are both excitatory systems. Ideally, these systems are in balance with each other, one waxing while the other one wanes. The SNS excites us when it is time to fight or flee (heart races, eyes widen and dilate to look out, lungs open up, sphincters close, digestion stops, adrenals release epinephrin, liver calls for energy stores to become sugar) while the PNS excites us to rest and digest (eyes constrict, heart slows, sphincters relax, digestion begins, liver calls to make energy stores). Notice that with each, the organs are being stimulated for a purpose but not two purposes at once. IBS is a problem where a confused gut becomes dually excited, so stress causes a painfully mixed reaction of both PNS and SNS activity.

We can say energetically the SNS is a plus and the PNS is a minus however the minuses don’t turn off pluses and the key to sustainability is balance without extremes. This way we can experience healthful levels of excitation to lift us up while also providing our body with energizing rest that restores us. Unbalanced SNS may drive anxiety or anger and too much PNS may make one lazy or depressed. The demands of the modern world frequently drive us into too much SNS and subsequently we get adrenal fatigue.

There is also the “somatic” nervous system which controls our skeletal muscles and sensations like pain or comfort. It is a bottom up model where our somatics work in concert with our emotions and intelligence to change and modulate the outputs of the autonomics. When properly aligned, or at least comfortable in asana, we lose the over-excitation that comes from the protective need of the PNS or SNS, and this is when we feel yoga relax us into a state of presence where our thoughts and control of wellbeing is not influenced by our external altercations or stimuli. Here we may hypothesize why yoga “miraculously” healed Iyengar and Paramahansa Yogananda. It is also part of the scientific basis for osteopathy whereas other forms of modern medicine try to only adjust outputs to organs and therefore cannot create true natural healing from within.

Part 2: Stimulatory Effects of Poses

Nerves pass up and down through ganglia or “switchboards”. SNS switchboards are located along the thoracic and lumbar spines and is why dancer pose is so exhilarating. PNS switchboards are located at the neck and sacrum and is why child’s pose is so relaxing.

That perfect experience in poses like camel balances both PNS and SNS switchboards by evenly distributing the curve to make us feel proud, strong and energized through the mid-spine while at the same time making us feel relaxed but poised and protected through the neck and pelvic regions. When poses are properly embodied, somatics to the brain speak comfort and we perceive a safe place, the SNS or PNS are balanced and naturally go back and forth between excitatory states without extremes. Extremes overly heighten the system and drive one towards the opposite excitatory state, ie. crunching of the lumbar spine in camel that suddenly drives us into child’s pose, or a pigeon pose that just doesn’t feel accomplished without having to be a mermaid.

Part 3: Pairing of Asana and Flow

As yoga teachers, we must be experts in neuroplasticity and ask ourselves what we want to achieve, and then strategize a practice that uses somatics to balance the body and mind without extremes or drastic autonomic cycling. Yoga thus provides a way for teachers and students to actively remodel how the body handles stress and disease.

All yoga poses have their perfection, but we want to teach to the needs of the students. Compliment sustained flow of poses affect both SNS and PNS equally in turn, but don’t push one system too hard. This creates an enjoyable and sustainable practice.  From an anatomical model, movement and engagement in the thoracic and lumbar spines stimulate the SNS more. The PNS is stimulated more through the neck and pelvic regions. Asanas that intensify awareness in these parts of the spine or add rapid cyclic motion to them will heighten the effect, as do focused assists and touch.

Thoughtfully creating your yoga class can involve more than just warming up and stretching the muscles and joints and also include fully balancing the needs of the automatics. Classes that build to those climactic poses do so best though the gradual crescendo of SNS excitation of the thoracic and lumbars without overstimulating a premature collapse into the PNS. Restorative flows can calm us down greatly by stimulating areas of the neck and pelvis. Asanas that go back and forth without pushing one too far gives us something enjoyably and sustainably in between.

In a standard yoga teacher training, you learn how to build heat or create cooling in various intensities, and think ahead as to where and why this is important for the rest of the class. A deeper art is understanding why some poses stimulate certain autonomic pathways either consciously or subconsciously, and how to build flow to pair the pathway for those perfect sensations whether you’re shooting for peak asana or something more subtle. Embodiment that allows the somatics to deliver sensations of safety and wellbeing avoids triggering the protective need of the SNS or PNS. Doing so balances the the SNS and PNS into naturally healthy oscillations of excitation without extremes and is fundamental to helping students truly feel yoga liberated from the instinct of fight or flight.

By Dr. Jonathan Bloch, Blissology 300-hr YTT graduate
Check out Jonathan’s teacher profile to learn more.  

Join the EcoKarma Challenges!

Let’s keep plastic out of the ocean.

Challenge #1: Stop Sucking!

Our EcoKarma Challenge number 1 of 4 is to stop sucking.

Literally, every day there are 500 millions straws used per day in the USA alone. How can we reduce that number?  It’s easy—I carry a glass straw in my backpack.

Let’s commit to stop sucking this month!

Challenge #2: Go Topless!

Please share with eco-minded yogis you know and check out our EcoKarma Challenge to see how you can participate, make a change and even win some swag!