Posts under tag: Meditation Resources

Notes on Your Practice:
Pranayama, Part 2

Written by Kevin ODonnell

As many of you have experienced, at Chorus we use a specific three part breath. This breath can be traced back to the fourth limb of yoga called pranayama. Prana is the life force that is within the breath, it is the energy that allows creation and gives life to the universe, and yama means control or expansion. This practice is done through conscious breathing much like the breath we use in Chorus. So, where does this practice come from?

The practice of Pranayama can be found in texts that date back to 3,000 BCE. The first writings about prana are found in the Chandogya Upanishad, while the practice of pranayama is first found in the Brihadaranyaka and Maitrayaniya Upanishads, which outline this practice and the importance of including it in your sadhana (practice). In one of my favorite Upanishads, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, it describes the Self as a river and the breath as the streams of that river. These are some of the interesting concepts we discuss during my Story Time Tuesday and Wisdom Wednesday classes!

The idea that breathing could be used to achieve greater health and even immortality is a theme that is often repeated in subsequent yogic texts and teachings such as the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 4, verse 29). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali also outlines the importance of Pranayama.  He describes it as one of the prerequisites of meditation along with asanas (poses), pratyahara (sensory control), and other codes of conduct called the yamas and niyamas. Patanjali notes a number of specific benefits of pranayama practice which include mental fitness and the ability to concentrate. Additionally, Patanjali shares that regular breathwork practice could lessen or dissolve the veil that covers our “inner illumination” (verse 2:52).

The reason this is so important, according to Hindu philosophy, is because breath does not just begin and support life, the breath is life.  It is much more than the movement of the lungs within animals and humans. Every movement in the universe is the Cosmic Breath, or vishwaprana. Everything that occurs within ourselves and the cosmos is the movement of prana. Now imagine how interesting life could be once we learn how to control this prana the way these practices train us to do!

There have been documented stories of beings who have been able to master the control of prana over time. For example, the Buddha was said to be able to only take 10 breaths per day while he was doing his tapasya (austere practices). In today’s world, we see people, like Wim Hoff, who have been able to overcome extreme weather and illness by using the breath as a tool. Through pranayama we are able to rewire our mind, our bodies, and our spirit to strengthen our abilities to live more fully. Swami Sivananda states “if you can control prana, you can completely control all the forces of the universe, mental and physical.”

Many of these traditional pranayama techniques are nasal breath practices whereas the more modern “breathwork” practices are done with an open mouth. These practices, like Chorus, allow more prana to enter the body and induce altered states of consciousness quicker than traditional techniques. This is almost a shortcut to different states of consciousness and can lead to extraordinary experiences and deep healing.  

Although these experiences can be beautiful they can also bring a lot of unexpected feelings to the surface, like different traumas or repressed emotions that we as practitioners have forgotten about. These shortcuts, unlike traditional techniques, can bring this right to the surface rather than easing you into it. This can be great for deep healing if you are prepared but if you are not prepared it can be something you weren’t expecting. It is important to understand the implications of these practices and ease into them with great respect. You should dip your toes in the water before you dive into the ocean.

As you can see, this breath that we use in Chorus has a long history and has deep importance within a yogic practice. Conscious breathing, or pranayama, is a practice that we should strive to master as it leads to deeper meditations and a longer more enjoyable life. It should also be handled with delicate care, respect and intention as these practices bring you deeper into your inner landscapes and some of which may have never been explored before. With proper guidance—like what you receive from our Chorus teachers—and a loving supportive space—like our amazing community—these practices can lead you to deep healing and a beautiful, unified state within yourself.

Notes on Your Practice:
Meditation, Part 1

Written by Miya Kishi Dunets

Just what is mediation? Is it something we do? A state we maybe, someday reach? 

To meditate is to train our minds, directing our attention to something—an object, a sound, a being, a concept—in a deliberate way. It is an act and a state that allows us to widen our perspectives to something larger than that of our separate, limited selves. Practices can be formal or informal, undertaken while seated or lying down in stillness, or perhaps while walking, eating, or doing any number of daily activities. 

The formal meditation techniques we encounter in our modern lives have ancient and sacred roots. Taking time to learn about and honor the cultures and philosophical systems from which our practices (whatever those practices may be) originate is a vital part of deepening our connection to and respecting these tools, ourselves, and our local and global communities.

Meditative practices are part of every religious and spiritual tradition—Shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Yogism, Sikhism, Islam, Sufiism, Judaism, Kabballah, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and on—and the practices from those traditions branch out further, varying within religious or spiritual sects, by geography, by country and within local cultures. 

Often now we encounter secular, meaning non-religious, meditations that utilize traditional techniques and remove the religious context. For example, many are familiar with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This program consists of Buddhist and yogic practices without the inclusion of Buddhist or yogic philosophy and with emphasis on the evidence-based, neuroscientific impact of these techniques. Many other traditional meditation practices have also been secularized, adopted, and popularized. 

The process of secularization has made meditation accessible to more people because one doesn’t necessarily need to adhere to specific religious or spiritual beliefs in order to access a practice and its benefits. However, whether we regard meditation as sacred or a brain training exercise, it’s vital to make time to learn about the people, cultures, and systems from which the techniques we use have emerged. This ensures that we are honoring the wisdom shared with us. It also allows us to explore and appreciate the richness of different wisdom traditions, seeking to understand how a meditative technique works not just out in the wild but also within the ecosystem that brought it to fruition.

It can be helpful to categorize meditation techniques or styles as we try practices to see what resonates. For ease and simplicity (acknowledging that it is not necessarily easy or simple to attempt to organize meditative techniques, and that many, many frameworks could be employed), I’ll stick with a categorization provided by Western Buddhist teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield: devotional practices, contemplation practices, and concentration practices.

Devotional practices are dedicated to some kind of divine presence or universal source energy and can include techniques such as focusing on a concept like love, prayer, visualization, chanting, and singing. In contemplation practices, we reflect on something like a passage of sacred text, a prayer, words, or a more abstract concept. When engaging with concentration practices, we focus our attention on an inner or outer experience (e.g. mindfulness of breath or body; repetition of sacred sound like a mantra; focus on an inner state like compassion; gazing at or visualization of a candle or other object; and even open awareness practices, during which we notice all aspects of our experience without latching on to or pushing away any specific facet of that experience), perhaps eventually feeling a sense of merging with the object of focus. 

You might begin to notice that there is a great deal of overlap in these categories. Is the chanting of mantras and bhajans performed by Bhakti yogis a concentration practice or a devotional one? It’s both, and a contemplation practice too. Could mindfulness of the body move between concentration and contemplation? Probably. Can reading and re-reading a Sufi poem feel like an expression of concentration, contemplation, and devotion? Yep. As you can see, meditative techniques contain multitudes. 

Wondering what you’re experiencing at Chorus? We primarily use secular concentration and sometimes contemplation practices, mostly those of Buddhist and yogic origin. Teachers provide some kind of anchor or anchors for your awareness, so that you can train your mind to stay in the present moment. More time in the present means less time projecting, remembering, ruminating. More time in the present means more time experiencing the richness of life, its joys, its suffering, and everything in between with less judgement, here and now. 

Meditation can help us to find more ease, inner freedom, and connection but those benefits come with time, commitment, and effort. If we’re lucky enough to make these practices part of our lives, we can honor that privilege by cultivating respect for the practices themselves and the people and cultures that have shared them with us.

Below are some suggested resources that you might find useful as you delve into meditative practice (note: the below are focused on Buddhist and secular mindfulness and compassion, since those are the techniques most often used within a Chorus practice):

Mindfulness in Plain English (Bhante Gunaratana)

The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach)

How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life (His Holiness the Dalai Lama)

Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger (Lama Rod Owens)

Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah Ph.D.)

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

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