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Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

I saw the movie Limitless over the weekend. It’s about unrealistic, overachieving, materialistic desires fulfilled by taking a pill that gives a person access to all of their mental capacity.  What did this movie keep making me think about? Meditation.

Some of what the film portrayed was out of synch with how meditation can help. For example, the main character, Charlie, learns languages and high level math overnight. But there was much to connect the experience of having access to more of a person’s abilities with meditation.

What struck me were the scenes that depicted the change in Charlie after he took the pill.  The visual presentation of what he was feeling looked and felt like being fully present.   The film shows time slowing down and Charlie seeing both the scene in front of him and himself, from the point of view of an observer of everything.  His eyes become clear. His posture becomes straight. He looks confident, centered, ready for anything that comes at him.  The chaos of what is happening in front of him is separate from him. He doesn’t react, he observes and then responds.  His mind is taking it all in, weighing his options and coming to a smart, creative solution.

The movie is science fiction but anyone who has had even a brief experience of being fully present knows the feeling is real.  I have spoken about a period of time when I meditated consistently every day for a year and there have been other times as well, when I’ve felt more creative and centered.   I could literally feel the synapses firing, just like they did in the movie.

Charlie uses his powers to play the stock market.  At one point the big time investor he is working for played by Robert DeNiro says, “what’s your secret?”  Charlie’s answer:  “Medication.”  Jon Kabat-Zinn has observed that the similarity between medication and meditation is not a coincidence.

I know that claims of super powers resulting from meditation are antithetical to the entire concept of the practice. Yet, I have had experiences after an extraordinary yoga session or period of meditation, that felt like scenes in the movie looked.  My mind was highly focused and sharp.  I experienced the feeling of being in the scene and being an observer at the same time. I felt more confident and able to deal with whatever came my way.

I wondered after seeing the movie, if the writer was inspired by taking mind altering drugs or by meditating.  I also wonder what others think about the movie.  You may have experienced that feeling of being “on”– of feeling sharp and confident and strong.  What do you think helped you feel that way?

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Today in yoga class, the teacher, who often starts with a story, told us about how she was hoping to avoid a  particular holiday party but it turns out she would be stuck going to it.  Immediately, she started clenching her fists and anticipating what it would be like to be around these people she dreaded spending time with.  She felt herself literally turning red with anger.  And then, she thought about a time she was on a bus with a mother and her young son and she saw the child screaming and crying inconsolably.  It became apparent that the child had just come from getting measured and examined for eye glasses and was dreading wearing them, anticipating the grief he would get from the other kids, how uncomfortable they would be and how these glasses would change his life. My yoga teacher realized that she was doing the same thing.  The anticipation of this party and what people would say and how she would react, were enough to raise her blood pressure.

The lesson is that we create the drama in our minds and hold on to it for dear life, living out events that never happened, and don’t necessarily need to happen.  In yoga class, one often hears the words “let go of what you don’t need.”  This is the perfect advice as the year winds down. There is so much that happened that we hold on to from a few days ago, from a few months ago and from years and years ago.  We don’t even realize we are holding onto all this stuff but as the year winds to a close, perhaps a better strategy than adding resolutions, is letting go of what we don’t need anymore.

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I’m really not the athletic type. When I was in high school I disliked gym and found no enjoyment from sports of any kind.

But inactivity catches up with you, certainly by the time you’ve reached your 30th reunion. A few years ago, I was feeling down, experiencing low energy, an uncomfortable flab around the middle and general achiness when I awoke. I felt bad enough to be motivated to do something but I was not in good enough shape to do much.

One day, while walking to work I passed a place that advertised something called Dahn Yoga and decided to check it out. It turned out to bear little resemblance to the various types of yoga most people are familiar with, but was easy enough for even the most out of shape person to accomplish. If you Google this type of practice you’ll find mixed reviews, but my personal experience was that it lifted my spirits after each session and got me in decent enough shape after a year to attend the high quality yoga studios in New York City. One of the interesting side effects that continues to this day is that the body-wide stretching that is part of the yoga practice actually wakes you up to your physical being. It just didn’t feel right being a couch potato eating junk food anymore.

I started practicing Vinyasa yoga and gained better balance and much greater strength. Sometimes when I put on my yoga clothing I feel like superwoman–transformed by the uniform into a stronger, more powerful version of myself. Almost all of the other students are much younger than I am and for the first year, I was just grateful to get through the class but now, although it is always challening, I can handle it without difficulty.

The Vinyasa movements are like moving meditation. Breathe in, reach up, exhale, bend down. Reaching up and flowing down feels like gathering energy. The mindfulness of movement keeps me present. The calm atmosphere is lovely.

I never thought when I started that three years later I would still maintain a practice at least twice a week. I’m well motivated I feel strongly that this has helped me stay mentally and physically attuned and has strengthened me both inside and out.

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There’s a little boost you feel when you buy something new or get a gift.  As a matter of fact, two things about getting something new seem to be true:

1.  Getting new stuff that you want makes you feel good.

2. Not for long.

Recently I watched a highly touted Oprah show called “My Favorite Things” where she spends the entire show displaying products she likes, from a diamond studded watch to a new car and she proceeds to give each audience member every single item on the show.  No one who sat in the audience knew that this was “THE” show until it was started.  The level of happiness that each person exhibited upon realizing that they were the lucky winners of an hour’s worth of expensive stuff that Oprah loves was . . . stunning.  They forgot whatever their troubles were for that hour and jumped for joy.

That joy will not last. Guaranteed.  When they go home, they will discover that the thrill of the thing doesn’t make anything better.  In a month they won’t be happier than they were before the show.

It’s not always true that a material thing can’t make you happy.  I’m sure that a budding musician could have his life changed by getting a violin and I have continued get enjoyment from my computer for a long time. But that would not be true if those things were not used to create something and these are the exceptions that will help make my point.

It is what you DO, that matters, not what you have.  Do you want to be happier 6 months from now?  Do something every day that will transport you mentally, physically or emotionally to a better place.  Practice yoga, dance, run, meditate, sing, learn to play an instrument, start volunteering.  There’s no immediate boost from doing these things, but 6 months from now, if you are engaging in something that gives you pleasure, you will feel the change.  That cashmere sweater you bought probably won’t do it.

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MIAMI BEACH, FL - JUNE 11:   Julia Meshcheryak...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

One of the reasons that many people find yoga so relaxing is that it helps you to consciously slow down your breathing. Each time you move you breathe in or breathe out, noticing how the breath matches the movements.

There is a Buddhist belief that there are a predetermined number of breaths one gets in a life and yoga offers a healthier form of exercise, than say, jogging for this reason.

I find that the combination of opposing movements and conscious breathing makes me feel deliciously relaxed and the final shavasana (corpse pose) allows me to enjoy that feeling mindfully for several minutes at the end of each practice.

It’s surprisingly easy for me to get myself to go out of my way and pay money to take yoga classes and surprisingly difficult to sit quietly on a mat for no cost at all in my living room to meditate.

It’s not the same as meditation, but yoga does have some similar effects and I’ll take my peace whenever and however I can get it.

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Fight using Kadhara
Image via Wikipedia

Many Eastern traditions help you to become more flexible. Some literally. Some figuratively. Yoga works muscles and helps you move your energy so that you can bend more easily. Tai Chi is a slow form of martial art that teaches you to respond to force with flexible, unexpected movements. It also trains you to keep your balance. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that trains you to be more aware and open to events, people and experiences as they happen so you are able to respond to opportunities and challenges quickly.

We practice these means of becoming flexible for a variety of reasons including wellness, personal growth and a way of being more authentically ourselves. As it turns out, the ability to be flexible also described by Seth Godin, marketing guru, as maneuverability, is one of the critical qualities of success in business.

As we watch industries like publishing and television slowly (or no so slowly) declining, I think about what might be different if the people running the biggest of the companies in these industries had been more flexible.

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Sometimes you just need to get away to recharge, relax and get inspired. Here are 3 wonderful places to go that are a few hour drive from the New York, Boston and Philadelphia areas. Note that Omega is not open in the winter.

Omega Institute

Located in upstate New York, this beautiful, camp-like setting offers a wide range of workshops for spiritual and personal growth and self improvement. Well-known names in Buddhism, intuition, meditation, yoga and other topics teach workshops lasting from a few days to a week. There are a variety of accommodations from tents to private rooms. During the winter, they move to Costa Rica and occasionally offer New York City events.

Kripalu

Kripalu is located in the Bershire Mountains within hundreds of acres of beautiful land. The main residential building was previously a monestary and has a sparse and institutional look. A new building with many private rooms was designed as an example of sustainable architecture, but also has an institutional feel. There is a wealth of courses for spiritual, personal and physical growth. Kripalu has a strong offering in physical activities like kayaking, yoga, biking, and hiking in addition to it’s wide variety of other other courses. It also has a strong program in nutritional counseling.

New Age Health Spa

Although the educational programs are not nearly as well developed as those as Omega or Kripalu, New Age is a different type of retreat. With a number of classes scheduled throughout the day from meditation to yoga to Nia dance, you can take in as little or as much activity as you like. The setting in the Catskills feels small, although it is surrounded by woods and opportunities for hiking. An exquisite building with a cathedral roof and giant windows where yoga and meditation are offered looks out on fields with deer and it is attached to a building with an indoor pool and hot tub with a large picture window and beautiful view. This is truly more of a retreat than a learning center. The word “spa” can be misleading as this is not a luxurious place but a simple spot with open or active time where a guest makes of it what she wants.

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