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Meditation? OMG, could it be a good thing?

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MEDITATION

Meditation is something we discuss and talk about a lot in yoga, but what does it mean? Meditation has unfortunately taken a bad rap in modern day American culture as institutions confuse it with religious practices. As a yoga teacher, I assure you that meditation is not a religious practice, although in many instances it may enhance that practice for people who believe in a certain mainstream religion. Meditation and yoga are not religious practices, even though religions have developed out of these practices.

The modern, basic, definition of meditate is: “to engage in contemplation or reflection, or to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. .

While this definition is correct in many respects, meditation can simply mean becoming aware of one’s body and mind. Many times in my yoga classes, I ask my students to close their eyes and do a “mental scan.” This is very helpful, especially after a difficult pose or flow, as people become more aware and self-correct any alignment issues or simply allow their muscles to release. Thus we ask, what were yoga poses designed for? That is a topic for another day.

Pantajali begins his discussion of meditation in sutra 1.33, where he states “In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.”

The discussion continues through Sutra 1.40 however, for purposes of an introduction to meditation, Sutra 1.33 contains virtually all we need. In our current society, we are pressured to succeed financially and conform to the standard. When was the last time you took moment, whether a second or five minutes, to just be? If you have not, I recommend that you start by sitting still and comfortable for a few seconds or minutes each day and contemplate. You will be grateful, and that itself is a meditation.

If you need more of a guide, you can refer to Sutra 1.33, start by closing your eyes and focusing on the breath. Deepen the inhale and exhale allowing oxygen to penetrate every cell of your body. Allow your mind to think about you, what is making you happy right now?, what is stressing you out? You cannot move forward until you acknowledge that you are good, you are loved and you should be loved. A suggested mantra can be “I am loved, I am, I am and and that is all that matters.” Once you have established this, you can move to the next thought, and mantra.

Pantajali suggests compassion for the suffering, goodwill toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked. I say that once you establish self love in your meditation, something that may take days, years or a lifetime, you can establish feelings of positivity, and light toward those around us. I am not keen on feeling indifference for anyone, even those that are evil in our minds. Instead, once you have found self love, send some of that love to those who we perceive to be enemies.

If we all take a few moments to meditate on self love and then love for others, wouldn’t the world be a better place? Rather than schools, governments and institutions saying “don’t meditate,” they should embrace the practice. Imagine a world where all people devoted to live for each other and not at one another. it is a long shot, maybe, but I encourage you to take a few moments a day, make them your own. The universe will thank you .

Peace, Light, Namaste

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Runners Etiquette

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I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie Borat, with actor Sacha Baron Cohen, but there is one scene in that movie that I always remember and laugh about. That is the scene where Borat is at a refined southern home for a dinner, and manners are being explained to him. Surely, Borat goes about and beyond to “learn” the manners explained to him but when the time for him to go to the restroom arrives, he actually poops in a bag and brings it to the dinner table. The people at the gathering are grossed out and cannot believe that he would do something like that. That is however, all that Borat knows, and he did the only thing he knew how to do. The hosts did not like that as it was a violation of the etiquette followed at fancy dinner parties. But for Borat, that was common practice at the dinner table.
As runners, we are an interesting group to say the least. The truth is that we are a happy group of people. Running is something that releases endorphins and thus makes us happy friendly and satisfied emotionally. So why did I mention the scene relating to etiquette in the Movie Borat? The answer is that as runners we have expectations. We are a group of people from, different nations, cultures and traditions who appreciate the benefit of distance running. Some of us do it for competition, some for fun, some simply for fitness. The one thing we share is that we all run and get the same benefits from running, both physically and mentally. The question asked is, whether a common etiquette for runners exists.
During my six mile run yesterday I did not see many people on the trail. Yes, it was cold as heck and many people simply stay indoors and sedentary when its cold. There was one couple I Passed, not runners, but it was in my nature to wish them a happy new year. They said it back to me but, I think they were surprised that I even spoke to them.
When I run, I always wave at other runners passing by, I think it is in my soul as a runner. Most people over they years have waved back, but there are those who don’t waive and give a nasty look. I usually just give a simple wave by raising my arm a bit, not a crazy wave, just enough to say hi.
I have had runners come up to me and start conversations, and they have indeed been the best conversations I have had. I have had other runners try to convert me to their religions, which I have amicably and diplomatically turned away. And then there are those who simply pass you up, ignore your wave and think they are better runners. Just as is the case in Borat, they have their own way of thinking, similar to bringing their poop in a bag to the dinner table.
The question that arrises is, whether in deed there is a common etiquette that runners must follow. The answer is obviously no, runners don’t have to do anything. Most however have been courteous and waved at me or waved back, or at least smiled, it is an acknowledgment that we are working toward the same goal. I love when runners wave back or acknowledge my presence as a runner. I don’t ever hesitate to wave at a runner, in fact I say hello to every runner I see by waving. I have learned however, not to take it personally if a runner does not acknowledge my presence. In fact, in the cold, I really don’t see many other runners.
I love races because the camaraderie of being a runner really is evident there. I cannot wait until my next marathon, the Miami marathon, January 27, 2013, where I hope to see that feeling of belonging to a group who cares for one-another. I really do think that runners respect each other, and most do subscribe to the etiquette also known as common courtesy. Those that don’t are just asking for a lonely and cold run, so be it.
I look forward to seeing some of you on the trail, road or at a race. Good running, and please wave and acknowledge your fellow runner. Don’t be like Borat at the fancy dinner table!

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In the Midst of Another School Shooting…What is Wrong with Society?

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I just went to yahoo.com on the internet and the first thing that came up was a school shooting in Connecticut. The report states that at least 27 people have been killed. The shooting was at an elementary school and the victims include children. This is sickening to say the least, and the question that pops up in my mind is, what is wrong with our society?

We have had years of economic downturn in the United States and people have begun to do things that are unimaginable. This year alone there have been so many tragedies, that one has to wonder what is wrong with society. I think that something that may help is teaching yoga to kids. Yes, I know, it may not solve all of the world’s problems, but its a start, and this is why:

If we start with the first limb of Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, we know that this is how people in the world would live a more peaceful and meaningful life. “Himsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा; IAST: ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa). The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hims – to strike; himsa is injury or harm, a-himsa is the opposite of this, i.e. non harming or nonviolence” (Source)

If the first teaching in yoga sutras is nonviolence, then maybe this is the only place to start. If we start teaching yoga to children, the first thing they would learn is nonviolence. Personally, if I have a rough day, I take out my emotions by participating in a yoga practice involving physical poses as well as breathing exercises. By the time I am done with the practice, I am ready to move on and tackle my tasks peacefully and with a clear mind.

The brain is a complex organism and can react to situations in many ways. Some people simply resort to hurting others as a result of stress. Others do whatever they can to help those in need and resort to nonviolence. The question that arises is whether how we act is due to nature or nurture. I think it is a little of both. In my criminal defense practice I have seen many people act in negative ways because that is all they know. At school they associated with the clicks that accepted them, many involved in drugs and gangs. This starts at the elementary school level, and I see more juvenile cases now than I ever have.

If we start teaching yoga in pre-school, it would pave the way for a better world. I am not suggesting that this would solve the world’s problems, but it would make for a better society. Take for example: “Ahimsa manifests in various ways. Mahatma Gandhi used ahimsa as a powerful weapon against the British to drive them out of India and to achieve independence. Even Martin Luther King junior, after a trip to India, adopted nonviolence as the hallmark of his civil rights movement in America.”A Hindu Primer
by Shukavak N. Dasa

So yes, teaching nonviolence would make a difference in America. Unfortunately in difficult economic times, people worry about finances and making ends meet. The stress can become so intense that it results in people doing the unimaginable. It is so disturbing to see another school shooting. I hope that people reading this will spread the word and help make this world a better place for our children.

May those whose lives were taken by a coward rest in peace, and may nonviolence be a resolution for humankind this new year.

Its a Miracle!! an oil Miracle? What is an oil? Hanukkah – oil – yoga – oy vey!

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So, there were so may ideas coming to me during my 15 mile run yesterday from Wauconda to Buffalo Grove in the freezing rain, that I will have enough to post for a week, I think! In any event, there is no way I could get away without posting about Hanukkah. So what is Hanukkah? Well, the simple answer is that it is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

Really, we celebrate the fact that one drop of oil that the Jews had to light the Menorah for one day actually lasted for eight days. This was a miracle due to the fact that the Menorah was actually a flame that was spiritual in nature and part of the ritual practiced in the holy temple. This was not simply to light a room, the oil was sacred and used as such. The oil had to be Ritually pure. “Ritually pure.” What, exactly, is that? What properties does a ritually pure sample of olive oil have that the others don’t? What laboratory tests can be performed to measure degrees of ritual purity? There are none. Ritual purity is a state that has no parallel in the physical universe; it exists solely in the world of the spirit.(Chabad.org).

What does this have to do with my blog you may ask…. well, in many yoga practices, essential oils can be used to enhance a pose or assist in healing one of the shakras. So spiritually oil has been a part of tradition for thousands of years. An oil is any neutral chemical substance that is a viscous liquid at ambient temperatures, is immiscible with water but soluble in alcohols or ethers. Oils have a high carbon and hydrogen content and are usually flammable and slippery (nonpolar). Oils may be animal, vegetable, or petrochemical in origin, volatile or non-volatile. Source. The oils used in yoga are plant based, vegan, “green” and refined to be of therapeutic grade (not to be confused with ritually pure). But if you would like to know more about these oils please let me know. A good example can be taken from an article published in this month’s natural health magazine. The article discusses how Japanese corporations are encouraging employees to go on walks into forests. Breathing in the air within the forest not only makes the employees happier, less depressed, it makes them productive. The article suggests taking a high quality DVD of a forest and watching it while diffusing therapeutic grade spruce oil. The effect is the same, and I speak from having tried this.

So, can an oil be a miraculous substance? I would say that any substance that can alter a state of mind for a positive purpose is a miraculous substance. We can talk about medications that cure ailments and lend to a better life for humans. Of course if abused, just like anything else, substances can even kill us. Certain substances, of course should never be used to alter ones mind as they do not enhance one’s well being, they on the other hand damage the way humans act or feel. But it is still a miracle that we have the ability to study and choose to use these substances found in nature (for good – I am officially condemning the use of illegal drugs and hope that no one misrepresents what I am saying here) Oils are miraculous and the fact that they can be purified by humans and used for therapeutic purposes is a miracle. 

We live in a world where people say that miracles are not possible. Everywhere I walk I seem to hear people say that things are bad, times are bad, etc. The news focuses on the bad, not the good. I would recommend Huffington Post’s Good News site by the way, there you can see miracles unraveling. The next time you take a deep breath think to yourself and ponder whether that in itself is a miracle. I would say – it absolutely is a miracle.

As we celebrate Hanukkah, which commemorates more that one simple miracle, take a look at everything around you and I bet you will find a miracle. I can tell you one thing … you being on this planet is a miracle!