Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Looking at Depression, where did it come from?

We go through life daily thinking that we are coping with all that we face, and then for some, suddenly like a car running out of petrol we can’t seem to go on anymore.  Everything can become just too much to cope with even the smallest of things can seem like a huge thing to take on.  And where did our feelings of joyfulness and playfulness go?  Even getting out of bed can seem like a mountain too steep and daunting to climb.  Because for most of us we have moved into such a fast paced life full of machines and technologies that we don’t see ourselves anymore and then one day we wake up lost.  Then what do we do?  Anxiety can be a natural and normal response to any stressful situation but if we experience it for a long time and it effects our daily life then we call this a disease, and we need some external support. 
Anxiety is a fight response and it is actually healthy up to a point, i.e. anxiety about an interview or exam or challenging situation can make us perform better, drawing the best out of us.  But when somebody feels anxious continually then the ‘fight’ has gone and ‘flee’ takes over often leading to giving up – this is depression.  Fight or flee, sometimes we are not able to fight but we are not ready to flee either and this is causing the problem.
Anxiety normally comes and goes, when it stays for a long time this is when a person can start to withdraw from society, depression is coming from anxiety.
So what is the cause of this anxiety?  Some common causes can be –
1.    Lack of training in childhood, not being given enough duties and responsibilities.  This training should start at home at a young age, things such as doing the washing up, cleaning, gardening, looking after pets etc.
2.    Overworking, handling too big a responsibility without having the correct training.  This seems to be all too often the case as we are expected to be super humans by most employers these days.
3.    Tradgedy in life.
4.    Fear of loosing ones job, income, position in life and fear of death.
5.    Alcaholism, smoking and the use of drugs.
6.    Having a lack of willpower and wisdom.
The main cause of these anxieties is looking for happiness in all the wrong places, looking externally, outwardly instead of looking inwardly to find the joy that is there, which is our birthright.  External things and situations are not the answer to our happiness because they are not permanent they are fleeting.  Think back to when you were a child and you really really wanted something and no matter what you gained that thing, where is it now?  Do you even remember?  All external matters are impermanent, the highs you get whilst intoxicated don’t last and then actually only bring a low and create more anxiety and stress.
So how do we start to put ourselves right?
  1. Firstly be around people you can gain support from, be close to family or friends, stay close in your yoga community, don’t isolate yourself.
  2. Sun Salutations – spending time everyday to move through the 12 postures of the sun salutations can be one of the best mental tonics there is.  This enables you to re-connect not only with your body but to remember that you are part of this universe, that the universal rhythm is within and part of you, you can shine with the sun.  This practice also allows your mind to focus inwardly letting go of the outward experience and concentrating on positive emotions and eradicating the negative.
  3. Working with movement and breathing techniques, such as standing in tadasana – mountain pose (standing) reaching up high with the inhale arms up over your head and exhaling loudly whilst folding from the waist down to the floor, repeating several times up and down with the breath and getting faster then again slowing down.  Also alternate toe touching with legs apart, again moving with the breath speeding up and slowing down.
  4. Getting out into nature as much as possible, visit new places, spend time in places with positive vibrations such as temples, monasteries or holy sites.
  5. Take up new hobbies such as cooking, drawing, cycling etc, find your creativity.
  6. Working with yogic postures such as shoulderstand, ½ spinal twist and camel pose can leave you feeling more in control and invigorated.
  7. Sitting for meditation but using full awareness of breath on sectional breathing – Vibhaga pranayama.  This is where you breathe into your belly, pause then continue the inhalation into the chest, pause and finally continue with a very subtle movement of the shoulders, then exhale fully and very slowly with full awareness. 
  8. Sing and chant, a favourite uplifting song can work wonders to keep in mind and mentally repeat to yourself through the day or sing out loud if you can.  Mantras are encrusted with special positive vibrations and are very uplifting, so sing out, chant out loud to the highest mountain and let yourself go.
  9. Look at your diet, foods with preservatives, colours, white sugars etc can be a root cause of depression.  All the things you ingest have an effect on the mind, in fact the gross parts of what we eat become our bodies forming body tissues, cells muscles etc, the subtle parts of the food we eat become our thought patterns, so be very mindful of what you are eating.  Try to eat as simply and naturally as you can.
Depression is not un-common, so many people are struggling with it.  I believe the biggest step is to recognise that it is there and then we can start to deal with it.  So let us all stay healthy and happy, a happy and healthy body means a happy and healthy mind, a happy and healthy mind means a happy and healthy body.  We can pray to Ganesha, the lord of all living things to give us the strength and the wisdom that we need and to remove all the obstacles in our path.  OM GUM GANAPATYE NAMAH  - prostrations to Lord Ganesha.
Wishing that all living entities be happy, joyful and find their peace.
Jai Ganesha
Om shanti
Mangala / Nicky 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Observing and Overcoming obsticles with Paschimothanasan

This is one of my favourite forward bends, it may look to be one of the more simple postures, but it is also one of the most important.  The scriptures say that paschimothanasan practiced in the correct manor and with the right intention can bring relief and healing to all ailments – ‘ This most excellent of asanas, paschimothanasan makes the breath flow through the Sushumna nadi, rouses the gastric fire, makes the loins lean and removes all diseases.’ -Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
I love the meditative nature of this pose, bringing equal amounts of awareness to the posture and the breath, allowing your heart to surrender within will bring you to a sense of peace and inner quiet.  It requires a conscious control to bring the body into alignment – the toes, knees and neck in the correct line, and by breathing deeply and focusing on that flow of breath it helps us to let go, allowing the body to be taken down by gravity giving us a sense of detachment which is vital for meditation.  That sense of detachment can then be applied in our daily lives, what we learn on the mat doesn’t mean it stays on the mat, apply that to our every moment in our daily lives and we find that things become stress free and simpler, causing less suffering. 
This wonderful posture calms and soothes the entire nervous system and gives an internal massage to the abdomen and abdominal organs, joints are mobilized, the spine increases its elasticity and a sense of youthfulness is gained. 
This posture can also be quite challenging for many people, as they think they have to push themselves as far down as they can to be any good at it, this is such wrong thinking.  However you are in the pose is how it is, there is no good or bad in effect, as long as we have awareness of body alignment and breath, then think what is happening to our minds no matter where you are in the pose.  I believe that this pose allows us to see many obstacles that are hiding our sense of true happiness, then we can start to address those obstacles removing them slowly one by one, like peeling an onion! 
Other benefits include the aiding of the digestion, constipation is relieved by the digestive fire being invigoratied.  There is invigoration to all the internal organs especially kidneys, liver and pancreas.  This invigoration to the pancreas controls blood sugar levels and carbohydrate metabolism, it is an invaluable pose for those suffering with diabetes.  And there is a complete stretch to the whole of the back of the body from the toes through the feet, calf muscles, hamstrings, through all the muscles in the back to the neck.  Wonderful hey!  So here is how –
  1. Sit up straight with the legs stretched out in front of you the toes flexing back towards the body, take out the flesh from under the buttocks and sit on the sitting bones, head, neck and back in a straight line.
  2. On an inhalation raise both arms up beside your ears reaching up as high as you can to lift out of your hips.
  3. Exhale and fold forwards from the hips, keeping the spine as straight as you can, try to keep working the crown of the head forward to keep the sine straight, not rounding.  Place your hands where they fall i.e on your knees, shins or ankles or if flexibility is there, hold onto your toes.
  4. Breathe deep inhalations and longer exhalations feeling a sense of surrender with every exhalation. 
  5. To come out of the posture, on an inhalation reach forward with the arms and then gently lift the upper body back up.
Some common mistakes to be aware of are allowing the feet to fall apart, keep the feet together and the toes flexing upward.  The head is bowed – keep the crown of the head pushing forward.  And the rounding of the back, I see this all the time, so really have an awareness of keeping the spine straight, that way the energy can flow more freely. 
So let us remain forever youthful with paschimothanasan, enjoy see you on the mat!
Om Lokha Somasta Sukinho Bhavantu
May we all find peace, balance and harmony
Om Shantih
Mangala / Nicky

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yama and Niyama and why you need them.

There is so much emphasis in today’s Yogic world on the physical body, but what we do on the mat is such a tiny proportion of what yoga is.  If you think that you have been to your yoga class today so you have done your yoga then think again, this is not the way.  Yoga is a state of mind, a way of being, a science of the heart that explores and defines all aspects of life.  In the traditional yogic world there is little attention given to the postures and full attention in ones inner nature.  Today it seems as technology is taking over the world human beings are moving further and further away from the inner nature and a totally caught up in the body and machines.  We want to start with the body for sure, to be able to keep it healthy and to control it but then move on away from the physical aspect and dive into the inner being.  Yoga should allow you to reach your higher nature, not become obsessed with the body but know how to use it beneficially, everything should be focusing on reaching that higher state, every breath in your day should be yoga and this is where the practice of the Yamas and Niyamas are essential, without them ‘Yoga’ is not possible. 
Yama outline the actions from which we should restrain, the things we should not do in our daily lives and the Niyama details the actions, which we should do.  Together they form a highly moral code of ethical conduct that keeps the mind quiet and more positive, they enable purification of the mind that prepares us for deep meditation.  Without following this ethical code all our mistakes come back to us whilst meditating and disturb the mind greatly creating huge boundaries and barriers for us to overcome before we can reach our inner peace.  Without the practice of Yama and Niyama inner peace is not achievable. 
Ahimsa – non-violence or non-injury to all living entities including humans, birds, insects, fish and ourselves.  In thoughts and deeds.  This means maintaining a fully pure vegetarian diet.  We must show compassion and respect to all things blessed with life.  Every living thing at the end of the day is trying to find happiness, even those mosquitoes!
Satya – truthfulness, not lying not only to all living beings but also to ourselves.  This is also in thought as in deed, sometimes words are not needed to make a lie, and sometimes saying nothing or making a gesture can also lead to incorrect impressions and misleadings.  Don’t be manipulative.
Brahmacharya – non-sexual misconduct, not harming anyone through sex, any action of a sexual nature that causes suffering to another.  Rape, adultery, sex with another’s partner, sex with children or family members are obvious forms of sexual misconduct.  Or sexual acts that result in expressions of anger, disputes and even violence.  Brahmacharya also means chastity or sublimation of the sexual energy, refraining from sexual activity.
Asteya – non stealing, this could be taking others possessions by force, by deception, secretly or by borrowing and not returning.  We can take this also to the level of ideas not just in objects.  This means not exploiting or cheating any living thing.
Aparigraha – non-greediness, not living with too much, living simply is best and having a lack of jealousy of what others have.  Many of us live with so many unnecessary things, time to think of the cause they have on mother earth and give them up, be simple and happy.
Saucha – purity or cleanliness, this is keeping both internal and external cleanliness.  Our yogic postures, breathing and kriyas can provide internal cleansing for the body, but we also have to think about our minds, which we can ‘clean’ during meditation.  This also refers to our environment. 
Santosha – Being content.  The yogic way is to be able to maintain a happy and contented mind whatever your situation.  If you end up staying in some grotty place be content with it, the next time if you end up staying at a five star hotel don’t be over excited but maintain being content.  Everything is always coming and going, always changing, yoga can mean keeping a contented mind in any situation.
Tapas – performing austerities, meaning don’t be lazy get out of bed in the morning, don’t be greedy, don’t eat too much, and don’t indulge yourself.  Extreme austerities for us normal householder yogis are not recommended unless under expert guidance, just be very mindful of all that we do.
Eshwarapranidhana – self surrendering, having an awareness of a higher nature, a higher being and living with that awareness, whatever faith or non faith you are coming from, but the yogic way sees a higher spirit and lives with that awareness.  Surrendering your ego to a higher spirit.
Swadhyaya – self analyzing, being the witness to yourself and learning to build on your wisdom eradicating ignorance.  This includes study of the scriptures and Vedanta philosophy.

So breathe life into your yoga practice through your whole day and night, even in your sleep!  Allow yourself to rise to a different level, there may be many challenges on the way but this is your strength, overcoming our weakness, our mistakes and our ignorance is what makes us strong.  So dive, be bold dive deep and find the complete peace of which is within you and is your birthright.
Om Lokha Somasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May you all find balance, harmony and peace.
Om Shantih
Mangala / Nicky