‘It is said that the first step to controlling your mind and all physical actions is to first control your breathing.’
Ancient breathing exercises act as a guided exercise that helps balance the body, mind, and soul. These exercises assist in helping us free our minds and heal ourselves at a spiritual level. Many of these practices and exercises are old and have been part of spiritual traditions adopted by the Yogis, the Sufis, and Zen Buddhist monks, as well as martial arts masters. The importance of breathing is to help channel internal energy and focus it upon daily actions for self-improvement.
Ancient Yoga texts suggest that subtle energy known as prana runs through our body, it is not physical energy, but it flows through our body in the form of our breathing. By controlling our breathing, we can learn to channel this vital energy. Both Western and Eastern medical practitioners believe that breathing is a crucial aspect of living a healthy life filled with the essence of vitality as it is an essential component of health.
By focusing on our breathing and maintaining a controlled process of breathing, we can achieve many health benefits, both physically and mentally. From a physical perspective, when we take deep breaths, we fill our bodies with oxygen which then rejuvenates and relaxes our muscles, helping us to feel less tense and more relaxed. From a mental perspective, deep and long breaths channel the oxygen to our minds, which can help reduce any difficulties such as stress and anxiety. By focusing on breathing exercises, our bodies and minds can change in many positive ways, improving our overall health.
In most monasteries, when monks focus on meditation, they mainly focus on their breathing, the movement of the air through the body. Along with the peace and tranquility, it helps to create a sense of clarity in the mind, which in turn allows one to think openly, and free from distractions.
Many spiritual cultures have adopted breathing exercises into their lifestyle, but each having its version. While the goals of these spiritual exercises stay the same, it is the step by step process that may be different.
In Western medicine, breathing exercises are an outside aspect that has been understudy to understand the way it works in the body through scientific terminology. The ideology of spirituality and science have been separated but can also be bridged as there is a certain connection between the spiritual concept of breathing exercises and their scientific healing properties on the body and the mind.
The spiritually open mind can only perceive a different and unique perspective once on a path to enlightenment, as a regular practice in meditation can help to broaden the mind to new horizons and allow the individuals to think with more creative freedom. This helps to increase the potential of an intellectual mentality that creates new opportunities for growth that can positively define us.
To understand the Taoist form of breathing exercises one must first dive into the spiritual mindset of the ancient Chinese religion of Taoism, the principles of duality in nature. To let go of previous thoughts and emotions that can become roadblocks. We can jump over such complications with the right meditational practice that puts us in a position that can be very enlightening to experience helping us to gain knowledge in all aspects of our daily life.
‘The essential principles of Tai Chi are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the balance of all things in nature with the need for spiritual as well as physical accord in all things.’
Tai Chi is an internal style of Chinese martial arts that is also included as a form of defense, spirituality, and meditation and can lead to a healthy physical and mental state. Considered as a form of martial arts, the focus is set on maintaining and regulating a construct of peace, both physically and mentally. Adopting the fundamental spiritual elements of Yin and Yang, it considers all the aspects of life and its principles of duality.
Regularly described as meditation in motion, the art of Tai Chi is also popularly acknowledged as medication in motion since the practice of this art form is said to have value in treating and preventing various health problems. Being a form of meditational exercise, not only does it vitalize the mind but it also increases muscle strength and flexibility in the entire body. As a meditational practice, Tai Chi focuses on the flow and movement of universal energy or Chi, through the body. These flowing movements of Tai Chi contain an immense inner power for both healing and wellness that can help boost the body's blood flow as well as immunity.
The practice is considered to be a means of alleviating stress and anxiety by promoting serenity and inner peace. As a form of physical exercise, it does not put stress on the body’s muscles and joints, with this, it is an exercise and form of meditation that can be done by any individual, anywhere and at any time. Considered as a way to harness positive emotion and promote peace, it is believed that the best method is to surround yourself in a situation that reflects positivity and bliss. To be in a place like nature, surrounded by organic beauty and free from any distractions can contribute to the journey of finding inner peace.
Practicing the Chinese form of movement helps to tune in and engage our body, and mind as one with nature. Another benefit of Tai Chi is that it can assist in bringing clarity to our minds and to discover a higher path in life. The connection formed between our movements and our nature allows us to channel our energy positively, thus focusing and directing it to create or assist in the growth of something prosperous.
'The mind is a complex network consisting of thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Our daily life along with our experiences can cause a psychological reflection upon the mind which in turn, can also reflect upon our daily activities.'
They say the human mind is one of the most complex biological networks in nature. Experts say that in a single day we can experience over 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts subconsciously or without our present knowledge. With a variety of activities such as our jobs, friendships, relations, hobbies, and more, indirectly generating thoughts that race through our minds, we reflect them through our actions and emotions.
According to spiritual followers, and experts, we can control our thoughts and our minds through different actions such as meditation and yoga, activities that encourage us to clear our mind of thoughts and emotions, and to focus on a certain point, generally a chakra. By having a clear mind free from negativity, you can harness your energy and focus to become more productive and benefit in daily tasks.
From a psychological perspective, it is said that we are driven by our emotions, as we reflect our emotions through our actions. By practising acts of meditation and yoga, or taking long walks in nature we can gather our thoughts and process them calmly and positively, which then helps us to keep our focus to generate a positive mindset. It is believed that spending time surrounded by nature can be therapeutic as the calmness, the silence, and the natural beauty has a very tranquil effect upon our minds.
With a lifestyle based upon a healthy diet, exercise, and being engaged in creative activities, we can kick-start our thoughts to become more productive and develop a sense towards finding innovative ideas and solutions to counter certain daily tasks that can be problematic. A healthy and positive mind, while exercising daily can become a strong and beneficial tool to utilize for the betterment of one's life.
In a materialistic world full of distractions and obstructions, it is easy to get our mind and thoughts away from the goals we seek and simply drift to a state of being unproductive. Due to this reason, yoga, exercise, and meditation can help us by providing the right inspiration and determination in a state of calmness to eradicate all thoughts leaving us in blissful tranquillity. A moment where we can reflect upon ourselves and get ourselves up the creative ladder to success.
We all hear stories about spirituality, the power of belief, internal energy, and chakras, but where does the concept originate from? With some experts believing it to be on the same lines as historical and mythological backgrounds, it could be said that the ancient philosophy from the time of religious devotion of the gods leads to the teaching of spirituality. To practice the art of meditation and concentrate or focus on a particular subject with a clear mind.
In a modern approach, spirituality has become a norm where people take up activities like meditation, and yoga to be free from worldly distractions, to release stress or anxiety, and to help keep a calm and clear mindset. While a great many people take up classes relating to spiritual activities over the weekend, others may indulge themselves in the comfort of their own home. Some may even go outside to a park, or garden as being in nature can help refresh the mind and the soul positively.
With various research and evidence at excavation sites, it is known that there have been deities or figures of worship through depictions in old paintings, sculptures, carvings, and texts or scripts. The concept behind spirituality can be traced back to historic and ancient times, but its accurate origin remains a mystery.
The roots of spirituality are said to begin in a time where gods created humanity and assisted in their growth and evolution, teaching them about the laws of the universe and how to manifest their internal energy. With this, we had constructed the concept of spiritual and dedicated worship.
Over time, spirituality itself evolved through the ages, with every civilization, religion, and culture adopting its unique point of view and perspective. With this, changes were developed in the ritualistic method of spiritual worship, the psychology behind spirituality became a goal of focus, to have a mind free of negativity, to fill it with positive energy that creates a sphere for innovation, progress, creativity, and knowledge.
Spirituality concerned itself with the progress of the mind and the soul, to learn and gain a variety of knowledge about the nature of the universe, and its laws. To understand existence and find a deeper connection and meaning between the body and the soul. A connection of an internal and external force.
Ayurveda serves as a system of medicine that has its historical roots in the Indian sub-continent. Globally and in a modern manner, Ayurveda has popularly grown to become a term of alternative medicine for healthcare. In foreign countries, Ayurvedic therapy and other such concerning practices are integrated into the general wellness applications and medical usage. It is said to be the eternal science that first existed in the universal consciousness before being passed onto the ancient mystics through meditation.
The origin of Ayurveda dates back to the Vedic era. With most of the concerning material relating to health and diseases being available in the Atharva Veda, many historians claim that Ayurveda is a part of Atharva Veda. While RigVeda, being the earliest Veda also mentions about diseases and medicinal plants. It is believed that Ayurveda was a gift given to the ancient seers of India by their Hindu gods about 5,000 years ago. According to the Vedas, ancient texts recorded ways to achieve a healthy and balanced life.
It is said that the Hindu god Brahma created Ayurveda, who then transmitted his knowledge to his son Daksha Prajapati. Daksha then passed on this knowledge to the twin Vedic gods Ashwini Kumaras. The twin gods then used this to become the physicians of the gods, and the Devas of Ayurveda. Presenting Ayurveda to Indra, the king of gods. Indra had three physicians as disciples. With this, it was said to begin the tradition of passing down the knowledge of Ayurveda from the gods, to sages.
From 3300 - 1300 BC, a civilization flourished in the Indus Valley, many of the foods, spices and other ingredients we concern with Ayurvedic cuisines including rice, mung beans, urad dal, ginger and turmeric were already being cultivated. Later the centre of this civilization shifted to the Ganges basin where people called the 'Arya' practised a positive spirituality that is encapsulated in the Vedas. Between 500 - 1000 BC, in the ancient form of Sanskrit, the Vedas were recorded to be celebrating the different elements of life, fire, wind, water and earth. Many herbs, some unknown and some still used in Ayurvedic practices were described in the Vedas.
The spiritual concept of the third eye originates from ancient times. The belief behind it is to attain a powerful and positive state of consciousness, to be awakened mentally and emotionally, or to become aware of the worldly aspects such as materialism, relations, and dreams. It is said that one who attains a state of enlightenment is much more awoken 'spiritually'. Breaking it down to the simple yet complex idea of understanding a higher truth about life, its principles and natural order regarding the cosmos.
Symbolically, religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have adopted the eye to represent greater truth, or wisdom and knowledge. Its roots can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where the eye of 'Ra' or the all-seeing eye was a great symbol that brought wealth to the people it ways of knowledge, wisdom, truth, and protection.
To reach a state of enlightenment, or to open your third eye, it is said that you must first understand the laws on which the world is built, all the way down to its basic nature. According to Tantric philosophy and other religious practices, one can unlock their third eye by regular acts of meditation. Practices such as yoga and meditation are a catalyst for helping one slow their mind down, to be in a state of peace and tranquillity. Through meditation, focusing on the spiritual energy that flows through our bodies can majorly help to be in an awakened state.
This energy or chakra, that is represented as the third eye is located on the forehead. While meditating, it is said that the focus on breathing is vital, to feel the energy flow through the body and up to the centre of the mind. In this location, you can feel the energy that is explained as a ball of light that radiates all the positive elements and emotions, to thoughts, ideas, and mental vitality. During meditation, it is in this location where the focus is set upon.
Looking at the ideology behind achieving higher knowledge or consciousness requires practice in the methods of yoga, meditation and its breathing processes, a mind free from negative emotions and troubles, to be clear and filled with peace. With no distraction from the outside world and a solid focus on what's inside the mind and soul. It is considered to be a state of connection between the human soul, and nature. As many different religious cultures originate from the same belief, they have been divided into their independent segments, with each having their perspective behind it.
A goal of humanity is to conquer illness and disease, a defect that ails us from being our very best in our day to day activities. With a variety of illnesses and diseases from viral infections to genetic or hereditary diseases as well as psychological diseases, our physical and mental capabilities to perform at our very best is contested, while some prove to be harmless and pass by naturally over time, others can be fatal.
With each day, our bodies grow older and slowly start to age, while the symptoms of ageing is a natural order of nature, it's something we try to delay as we all like to feel strong and youthful. To remedy such problems, we keep to a strict and healthy lifestyle such as a natural and organic diet, regular exercise, yoga, and more, we may even cut down on unhealthy habits such as the drinking of alcoholic beverages or smoking of tobacco.
It is a long philosophical belief that as humans, we lived a much healthier lifestyle centuries ago, as we kept to physically engaging activities and only ate naturally grown and organic substances such as fruits and vegetables, a simple plant-based diet. Other such beneficial healthcare elements such as the study and use of natural medicine, made from different plants kept a healthy balance and immunity.
Practitioners of the ayurvedic lifestyle believe that ayurvedic medicine is naturally the most efficient way to counter medical issues such as illnesses or diseases, as the properties of each ingredient are beneficial to our bodies chemistry, and physicality. Ayurvedic ingredients are known to prevent medical problems such as Arthritis, heart problems, blood pressure, cancerous growth and more while simultaneously keeping our skin and hair healthy and youthful.
Nowadays, doctors and scientists strive to achieve breakthroughs in medicine by continuously trying to come up with cures for new bacterial or viral illnesses. The developments of modern medicine, while being incredibly beneficial, is believed to also have certain side effects, while not serious, it can still prove to be problematic.
With a collaboration between ancient medicine and modern science, new drugs are created using natural and healthy ingredients such as Turmeric, Neem, Ginger, Cumin, Ashwagandha, Boswellia, Triphala and many other natural or chemical ingredients, thus bridging the gap between ancient and modern medicine.
By this collaboration in medical science, illnesses such as stomach infections, colds, coughs, and fevers can be treated quickly and boosting immunity while keeping healthy against such problems in the future.
Spirituality refers to the process of reaching an ultimate and immaterial reality. A journey or path that leads a person to discover their true essence, to explore their deepest values and meaning by which they live. Spiritual practices such as prayers, meditation intend to develop an individual's inner soul, and spiritual experience with a larger reality with nature, and the cosmos.
According to Chinese spirituality and its philosophy, the nature of the entire universe is connected through 'Chi', which translates to 'life force' or 'energy flow'.
Chi is the primordial that permeates everything in creation, without which life is not possible. It's a principle belief that everything in the universe vibrates at a frequency with the rate of chi that emanates from it. All humans emit different vibrational frequencies due to the generation of various levels of chi. Everybody has a different level of chi, which is determined by their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state.
The Chinese symbol for chi translates to 'no fire' symbolizing that when the bodies chi is mastered, the body is in perfect balance and not at an extreme due to the abundance of 'yang' or 'fire energy' that causes ageing and physical deterioration. If intelligence is combined with chi then the former can be manipulated creatively, only to transmute into finer and subtle but higher levels of frequency.
According to eastern philosophy in medicine, chi is the vital energy that flows throughout every organ and system of the body, connecting it. The energy or chi is described to be found at a molecular level. Western medicine described this energy as 'electromagnetism' which holds all the atoms in orbit around the body.
Chinese medicine revolves around the construct that when your body is sick, your chi or energy is out of its natural balance and the flow of this vital energy must be restored to its balance. Keeping the energy flow throughout the body and mind is maintained by a healthy lifestyle, primarily a good, fresh, and healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, and fish are all beneficial in maintaining a bright and healthy flow of energy. Refraining from unhealthy habits and diets can set the bodies flow of energy back into its rightful balance, assisting in mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
The belief behind Chi is that this energy, once retained and built up inside the body can assist one on a path to enlightenment, or achieving a higher state of consciousness, while simultaneously strengthening the body and mind, acting as the life force that connects all aspects of our existence, the body, the mind, and the soul.
In ancient Sanskrit, the three syllables (Nir+Va+Na) each have meanings themselves, so when combined they can be translated in different ways such as, 'To be free from entangled roots' or ' To escape the woven web'.
'Nirvana' or 'Nibbana' is explained as the goal that is attained by those who follow the path of Buddhism, a long spiritual journey of meditation and harnessing good karma. The literal meaning of the term nirvana is translated as 'blowing out', or 'quenching'. Nirvana is described as the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism, to mark the release from the cycle of rebirth, or 'Samsara'.
In Buddhist traditions, nirvana is explained as the extinction or removal of the 'three fire's'. Passion or 'Raga', aversion or 'Dvesha', and ignorance or 'Moha'. Only once these fires have been spiritually snuffed out you are said to attain a state of nirvana. It describes a state of removal from the cycle of rebirth and suffering but different traditions in Buddhism have interpreted it in different ways.
There are two different stages in the philosophy of nirvana, one in life and another in death. The former is said to be imprecise and general while the latter is precise and specific. Nirvana in life marks an individual who has attained the complete release from desire and suffering while maintaining a body, name, and life. Nirvana after death is the complete cessation of everything including consciousness and rebirth.
The Pali word 'Nibbana' and Sanskrit word 'Nirvana' is believed to be first said by The Buddha to describe the highest state of well-being a human is capable of achieving, where the mind becomes consciously awake from delusions, liberated from bondage, cleansed of defilements, and becomes entirely at peace.
In-depth, nirvana is about understanding and reaching a mental state beyond the four noble truths.
The four noble truths are principles that surround the nature of life, which states the essence of Buddha's teachings. The truth of suffering (Dukkha), the truth of the origin of suffering (Samudaya), the truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha), and the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga).
According to the Buddhist view, when ordinary people die and their physical bodies disintegrate, each person's unresolved karma passes on to new birth and thus karmic inheritance is reborn. However, when a person achieves the state of nirvana they are liberated from the cycle of rebirth or moksha.
In ayurvedic culture, 'Vata', 'Pitta', and 'Kapha' are commonly known as the three doshas or the regulating forces of nature. With the wisdom of Ayurvedic culture, it is believed that the balance of the three doshas is extremely important.
It is described as the three fundamental principles that operate in outer nature, as well as in our very own human nature regulating all physiological processes. According to ayurvedic texts, if you know a person's dosha, you know everything about them, spiritually and physically, their temperament, physical constitution, likes and dislikes, dietary needs and more.
The three doshas are comprised up of five elements, Vata comprises of air and space, Pitta comprises of fire and water, and Kapha comprises of earth. Although the three doshas are present everywhere in our physical body, ancient Vedic texts describe a home location for all of the three doshas.
Vata is mainly found below the navel, Pitta is found between the navel and the heart, and Kapha is found above the heart. According to ayurvedic literature, the importance of the balanced doshas is that the body of every living thing is always the residence of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and that one should know if they are in a balanced or unbalanced state.
A balanced Vata dosha expresses as enthusiasm, smooth function of tissue metabolism and balanced elimination. A balanced Pitta dosha is described as good digestion as well as eyesight, a balanced body temperature, abundance of charisma, happiness and intelligence. A balanced Kapha dosha is said to comprise of strength, forbearance, patience, and a lack of greed.
With a balance of the three doshas, a body is said to be healthy and produce 'Ojas', one of the three subtle forces. An ultimate energy reserve of both the body and mind as well as the purest essence that physically relates to reproductive, hormonal and cerebrospinal fluids. It brings strength, vitality, health, a good metabolism, youthfulness, and positive thoughts. A person with an abundance of Ojas feels blissful and radiates happiness or joy, externally they may display healthy skin and bright eyes.
"Ego says - Once everything falls into place, I'll feel inner peace. Spirit says - Find your inner peace and then everything will fall into place." ~ Marianne Williamson
Each day we strive to reach one step closer to our goals of happiness, love, and knowledge, a blissful adventure to understand and know ourselves better, although, it does not come by easily as we face a variety of obstacles, be it physical, emotional, or mental.
Still, we choose to face these obstacles as the thoughts of achieving our dreams and aspirations are our personal goals that constantly motivate and inspire us.
Many of us discover the hard road of facing these difficulties in prior due to past experiences that contribute to the difficulty of achieving higher goals.
Some believe that true happiness and love comes when everything works out without a flaw, while others believe that once you maintain a state of inner peace and serenity, mentally and emotionally, you will figure out the path of true positivity.
With a culture of spirituality, a positive mindset, a healthy diet, and physical activities such as yoga and meditation, you can achieve a higher state of consciousness that helps you to think with complete clarity, helping you to understand and know yourself.
By doing so, you can focus all your efforts and energy into positive changes in all aspects of life to become self-aware and conscious in a rational manner.
The historic belief of spirituality is an old one, acting as a state of higher consciousness or awareness to guide us on the path of achieving greater knowledge. Spirituality revolves around the focus of our internal energy or 'chakras' and channelling it into an external force of pure positive manifestation.
By processing your mind in the spiritual pool of creativity, patience, perseverance and inspiration, you unlock a brighter side of your mind, a different thought process where obstacles become opportunities for growth.
At times, people set themselves on spiritual journeys to discover their true selves, a journey of inner exploration and discovery to seek serenity, self-love, and peace.
Ayurveda is the practice of using natural resources to heal by calculating different Doshas and finding ways to balance them. This healing system was developed in India more than 3000 years ago, making it one of the oldest forms of medical literature and one which is still practiced. Ayurveda believes that health and wellness depend on the balance between mind, body, and spirit and aims to bring all in harmony. Ayurveda focuses on longevity and overall well-being by encompassing diet, nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, herbs, cleansing, and rejuvenating programs.
Ayurveda is vast and supports each bodily function in different ways. Here are some quick Ayurveda tips you can incorporate for different issues –
1. Immunity – When food is digested and it transforms to Ojas (form of essential energy which is formed from eating pure foods) in our bodies, it gives us strength and builds our defense system. But when the digested food creates Ama (toxins accumulated when food is not digested properly) it lowers our immunity. Some spices can play an important role in boosting immunity such as cumin, turmeric which help in detoxification and black pepper which clears the path for Ojas to reach all cells and deep tissues.
2. Glowing Skin – You can always choose to use natural ingredients to treat your skin such as Chandan or Sandalwood which are considered the best skin soothers which have a soothing and calming effect on the skin. They can be used to improve skin tone, treat acne and blemishes. You can make a mask by one teaspoon of sandalwood powder with one teaspoon of turmeric and a few drops of rose water. Iron-rich foods such as carrots, beetroot juice, pomegranate juice act as natural blood purifiers and give you a natural glow.
3. For better digestion and stomach problems – Stomach problems mostly occur when the digestive system is weak. Ayurveda suggests before your meal to consume a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger with a few drops of lime and a pinch of salt. All the ingredients help to activate salivary glands which produce the necessary digestive enzymes that help in digestion and absorb the food that you eat.
4. For hair: Ayurveda believes that hair loss is caused due to the functions of the pitta Dosha which govern the metabolism and digestion. Hormonal imbalance also cause hair loss. Nutrients help the hair follicles, you can include cool and sweet foods like coconut oil, buttermilk, cinnamon, fruits such as grapes, melons, and pomegranates. Coconut water, rich in calcium also promotes hair growth.
Ayurveda is a great way to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle by replacing chemicals with natural products.
Stress needs a release, we choose to do it through different mediums, either sports, art, adventure or yoga. Yoga has been known to have healing and therapeutic qualities, as well as a key component to psychological and emotional healing, resolving conflicts with self-confidence, relationships, family, etc. The practice of yoga helps us work with the nature of the mind, being human, how emotions run in our bodies and how they affect us and our behavior.
A study conducted by Boston University found that Yoga and controlled breathing practices can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Iyengar Yoga has specifically been found to be more beneficial than other yoga styles due to its slow and methodical movements. With 32 students included in the study from ages 18-65 with depressive disorder practiced yoga and breathing techniques for a span of 60-78hrs over the span of three months. Within a month the participants experienced better quality of sleep, less exhaustion through out the day, felt calmer, and positive over all.
4.5% of India’s population suffers from depression, a lot of people go untreated. There is a lot of stigma around mental health, Yoga can be a great way to deal with depression and should be made use of for its natural and highly beneficial nature. The aim is to live to our fullest potential and take little steps to get there.
As soon as you wake up it may not be easy to make an hour for a full yoga session, instead try this quick 5 minute yoga sequence. This yoga sequence can be done either when you cannot make time or just want to be refreshed and energized after waking up.
1. Balasana - A good night’s rest, even after just waking up can be ineffective to gather the energy for the day. Stretching your body through Balasana also known as child’s pose can be just the trick to start energizing your body. Draw arms out long in front of you and resting your forehead on the floor:
- Kneel on your yoga mat, width distance apart and your toes touching behind you. Inhale, and as you exhale, lay your torso over your thighs. Lengthen your neck and spine by drawing your ribs away from the tailbone and the crown away from your shoulders.
- Rest arms beside your legs with palms facing up.
- Do this for 10 long breaths.
2. Marjaiasana + Bitilasana - Warm up your spine with a combination of the two poses, also known as cat-cow pose. It will loosen the stiffness in your upper body maybe acquired from sleeping a certain way. Align each breath with each movement to reap most benefits out of this asana.
- Place your hands and knees on the floor, knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Begin with a neutral spine position, with back flat and abs engaged. Take a deep inhale.
- When exhaling, draw your spine towards the ceiling engaging your abs. Tuck your chin towards your chest, and release the neck. This is the cat pose.
- Inhale, arch your back and relax your belly. Life the head and tailbone towards the sky without any pressure on the next.
- Continue going back and forth from these asanas and match your breath with each movement. Repeat 10 rounds.
3. Adho Mukha Shvanasana is an inversion asana in modern yoga as exercise, releases stress in neck and legs and pumping blood to the whole body.
- Do the child’s pose, press back on your hands and get into a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
- Inhale as you tuck your toes. Exhale to lift your hips, and get into the Adho Mukha Shvansana.
- Straighten your legs and lower your heels towards the ground. Relax your head between your fingers and elbows. Relax your head between your arms and gaze through your legs.
- Hold this pose for 10 breaths.
4. Uttanasana - This asana deep stretches your hamstrings and upper back. This pose requires strength for straight legs, if it’s not easy to maintain then create a little bend for your knees. Inhale as you come up slowly.
- With your hands on the mat, slowly place one foot at a time on the mat meeting your hands. Inhale, with your back flat gaze forward.
- When you exhale, draw your abs forward with a straight back. Turn your chin towards your chest, relax the shoulders, and extend your crown towards the floor to extend the spine. Shift the weight onto your toes and straighten the legs as much as you can.
- Hold for 10 breaths.
Try this yoga sequence after you wake up to energize your body and mind.
This ancient practice is now being heavily studied by different science/psychology researchers such as fMRI and EEG, confirming the multiple benefits of meditation. The results seem to be full of neurological benefits that can actually change the structures of the brain and have a positive effect on the most important organ. Meditation also has positive effects on your psychological health through the increase of the hippocampus which promotes emotional health, improves concentration, and reduces levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Let’s go over some of the most interesting proven positive effects of meditation for our brain and mood.
1. Meditation changes the structure of our brain: A study in 2011 by Sarah Lazar from Harvard found that 8 weeks of ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus which regulates learning and memory, and in several areas of the brain that regulate self-referential processing. Meditation also decreases brain cells in the amygdala which is accountable for fear, anxiety, and stress indicating that meditation not only changes the brain but also changes our subjective perceptions and feelings. A follow-up study by the same researchers found that after meditation training, the changes in the brain were linked to arousal and improvements in the participants' psychological well-being. Overall this study proves that changes in the brains and parts of it being activated improve our mood and overall well-being which can be done through the regular practice of meditation.
2. Your decisions become more fluent: Stress leads to unclarity and can lead to bad decisions as a result. It might affect your work, the people around you because when you’re stressed, burned out, you are not your best self and if you are stressed out often then the consequences can multiply. When you are not your best self, not focused, your executive functioning skills lack. Executive function is controlled by the frontal lobe in the brain which helps functions like managing time, being organized, remembering details, and doing things based on your past experiences. All these functions are essential to get results for the goals you want to achieve. Studies have shown that meditation helps improve executive functioning skills. 78% of improvement was seen in adults with attention-deficit/ADHD when they regularly practiced Meditation
3.Reduction of activity in the ‘ME’ center of the brain: A study by Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the Default Mode Network, the part of the brain which is responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. Mind-wandering is associated with unhappiness as we tend to clutter our brain with thoughts about the past, future, and worries. Through meditation, this study proved that meditation’s effect on the DMN leads to less of the mind-wandering. If you meditate and the mind starts to wander you are easily able to snap out of it.
4. Meditation kills anxiety, is as good as antidepressants and brings peace: In India, 38million people suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder and 56million people struggle with depression. India is the most depressed country in the world according to WHO. Anxiety can range from severe to general, it can start of general which can be just worrying, eventually being a part of your everyday life which can take a toll on anyone, from losing sleep, being tense all the time and having a racing mind. Meditation has been associated as an antidote for anxiety for a very long time. Wake Forest Baptist conducted research through 15 volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety and no previous meditation experience. The 15 people took part in 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation and there was a reduction of anxiety after every session of meditation. The brain scans indicated the relief of anxiety through the activation of the anterior cingulate cortex which helps control worry.
Another John Hopkins study found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3, which is the same as an antidepressant. Researcher Madhav Goyal says “A lot of people have this idea that meditation is just sitting down and doing nothing but that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind increasing awareness” Meditation does not cure depression but it helps you deal with it better and shows a gradual improvement in our state of mind.
5. The brain stays young: Our brain contains neurons that contain a portion known as grey matter. It is responsible for essential things such as emotions, speech, memory, decision making, and self-control. At the age of 30, our brains begin to shrink, but now there is evidence that regular meditation keeps the brain in shape and prevents shrinking of the brain. A study from UCLA showed that people who had been long term meditators, for an average of 20 years had a lot more grey matter volume throughout their brain compared to people who don't meditate.
6. An overall sense of happiness: When endorphins are released in our brain, it’s used as a natural painkiller but it’s also responsible for the overall sense of happiness you feel. A runners' high is when endorphins are released. A study compared 11 elite runner and 12 highly trained meditators and revealed that both had an endorphin release after running and meditation. But something to note was, the pleasurable effects of endorphin was higher within meditators than runners.
We all are trying to cope up with the hustle every day, trying to create a better life for ourselves through working hard. Challenges pop up every day and sometimes there can be a lot on our plate. If we don't figure out how to deal with all the challenges and be the best versions of ourselves, mentally and physically there can be long term consequences. Meditation has been proven to be a great way to deal with the world as it is today. Try meditation and see the benefits unfold themselves.
Mindfulness and Meditation are words that are commonly used and interchanged as it’s assumed they are one due to their similarities. Meditation and Mindfulness do differ from each other and it will be better for us to understand the differences.
Meditation is a practice where you focus inward to enhance concentration, calmness and emotional balance. We try to train our mind and thoughts because it is easily distracted, with the past or the future, worrying, and stressing. Through meditation, we find the tools to be more centered, less stressed, calmer, focus on the present and in general have more control over our emotions. Meditation is a seated practice where depending on your intention (expanding awareness, experiencing inner peace or calming your mind) you steer the session. It can range from breathing-awareness meditations to mantra-based mediations, or visualization or guided meditations. These sessions begin with deep breathing in a comfortable position and through inhaling and exhaling it brings awareness to your breathing and directing the mind to a single point of focus. Meditation is when you tune inward and be in the present with balance and clarity.
Mindfulness is the practice of meditation continued, it simply means being aware and paying attention to anything you do. You are actively mindful by paying attention to all your thoughts, behaviors, movements and how it affects those around you. Practicing mindfulness can be done anywhere, with anyone by showing your engagement and awareness of being in the present. Usually, our thoughts wander to 1000 different places but if you’re mindful all the senses and focus are directed to the activity you’re involved in and the mind does not wander. It’s been proved by a Harvard found that 47% of people spend their time thinking about something rather than focusing on the current activity. Researchers also said that “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind” as we keep worrying or stressing and simply not focusing.
Meditation is the practice through which you gain the skills of being more aware and mindfulness is applying this practice in real life. Mindfulness and meditation will have a positive effect on you and everyone around you.
Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation cause cellular, genetic damage and chronic stress is linked to our bodies aging faster. In today’s world stress has become a presumed emotion we all have to deal with which ultimately weakens our health. Yoga, one of the oldest spiritual practices recently proved to show a slowdown of the aging and healing process.
Low-grade Inflammation in the body is so prevalent today. It leads to aging and is associated with stress, heart disease, diabetes, and depression which all lead to a weakened immune system. We cannot avoid aging but through yoga, as new studies suggest the process of reaching the old age with aches and pains can be reduced. Regular yoga will have long term effects on your body which will go a long way and keep you feeling healthier and younger. Yoga slows down the harmful physical effects caused due to stress or inflammaging ( a new term by scientists which represents inflammation eventually leading to aging) at the cellular and DNA level. A study by Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity measured biomarkers of cellular aging before and after regular Yoga for 12 weeks. 12 weeks consisted of yoga which included physical postures, meditation, and breathing, 5 days a week. The after results showed slowed down markers of cellular aging and lowered inflammation in the body. Since then the researchers are also working towards studies that might suggest that yoga can reverse the harmful effects of depression in the body.
Biomarkers basically measure the level of inflammation in the body, and there are different kinds of biomarkers in the blood. The brain derived important biomarker neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which promotes brain development is usually lower in people with anxiety, Alzheimer's and depression. In a Frontiers in Human study, it was found that a ninety-day yoga retreat which included controlled breathing practices, two hours meditation and chanting, the biomarkers which are less in people with anxiety and depression, tripled. Protective anti-inflammatory markers increased and pro-inflammatory markers decreased. People also felt less depressed and anxious.
All these studies continue to prove that this ancient spiritual practice is packed with wonderful fruits is made for us to last longer and that as humans we should worry about our physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress and inflammation has become a common issue and which should not be. 2-3 hours of regular yoga a week can be wonderous for the body.
Yoga has multiples of variations in its philosophies, some are physical, more like a workout and some more focused on meditative Yoga. Kundalini is a mix of both - activating energies which flow through the body. To understand Kundalini we need to understand that working with Kundalini means working with something mystical and intangible. The objective of Kundalini is to actualize the higher self and act as a tool for personal discovery or liberation.
Serpent energy that the Tantric philosophy says is located at the base of the human body when utilized, it can help achieve moksa and bliss. The snake, in yogic culture, is symbolic for Kundalini; The unmanifested energy within you. If a snake is coiled up it’s only noticeable when it moves, the same is the nature of Kundalini, you do not see the coiled-up energy till it moves. When it is still, it’s non-existent, only when it moves you realize there is so much power within you. The envisioned coiled up energy lies in the body two fingers above the rectum and two below the reproductive organs - Muladhara plexus.
The energy at the spine is believed to be female and an essential aspect of the Kundalini as its regarded as Sakti manifested as the serpent energy. Kundalini is regarded as the primeval Sakti, the female principle which emits matter and graces it with colors and form also known as Prakriti (matter). This energy is known to create the material universe Maya.
Moksa through Kundalini begins with getting under the wing of a guru who has gone through the experience and process of Kundalini. The guru will be able to tell if someone can achieve moksa based on their intellectual capabilities. The path of moksa through Kundalini is complex and it has been known that one out of every thousand will succeed on this spiritual journey. Some yoga concepts that are important to understand Kundalini are the six chakras and where they are placed on the body and their operations. Above all of the chakras lies the Sahasrara on top of the cerebral part of the brain. Asanas is another important factor, 84 are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras and other different works, but there are supposedly 84,000,00 meaning only 84 known to humans. During asanas, all limbs must be pressed together for an uninterrupted flow of energy ensuring that the energy is kept in a closed circuit and not wasted. Prana another important factor in understanding the awakening of the Kundalini. Prana is the vital energy that is in everything around us, the air we breathe. It’s known as a part of the ‘Universal Breath’. if a yogi aspires to awaken the Kundalini the prana must not be let go of.
Once the Kundalini awakens it’s directed up through the nerves and conducts prana. There are fourteen main nerves but in Kundalini Yoga three matter the most - Pingala, Ida, and Susumna. The prana flows through the ida and pingala and susumna goes straight up the body through which the Kundalini flows. Pingala starts from the right side of the spinal cord and ends at the left nostril, representing our waking states and leading our actions to violent ones. Ida is a feminine nerve starting from the left side of the spinal cord to the left nostril and symbolizes the moon. As the Kundalini goes upward through the susumna it opens up the nerves at every chakra so the prana can flow through it. The Kundalini reaches the Anja Chakra which gives the yogi supernatural powers, then finally it reaches its final destination Sahasrara. It is believed that at the centre of the Sahasrara, shines the full moon in which there is a triangle of lightning containing the secret Bindu. All gods are known to have worshiped the Bindu and is the basis of moksa. Some say they maintain the energy and for some, the energy returns to its original position.
Once the Kundalini reaches Sahasrara there are many pretenses describing this experience. The simplest is where the yogi gets revealed to a full understanding of the self and gets back to normal life. The entire process of achieving moksa may sound like a simple path but there can be negative consequences if not taken the path with full understanding and under an experienced guru.
There exists a vital connection between our spiritual essence and the foods we eat, as the saying goes “You are what you eat” and if you've come across spiritual people you might have noticed they generally tend to be on a plant-based diet. The plant-based diet is gaining popularity, people have started questioning whether is it really necessary to harm animals in order to be healthy. This diet is even being recommended by doctors to those who wish to improve their health, get rid of diseases or avoid getting them.
Along with improving our physical well-being, spirituality is discovering our true inner selves, and also an extension of being empathetic and compassionate to all life created. It brings us closer to nature and leaves us with the realization that all is one. As creations of the universe and being made up of all the same particles, it’s natural for us to respect all life rather than destroy. If you are spiritual you are conscious, we automatically become connected and closer to nature, and live more gently with an understanding of respecting all creatures hence spiritual people tend to turn mostly vegetarian. Vegetarianism comes up in spirituality, ahimsa the Sanskrit word means “to do no harm” is focused on a lot in eastern religions which are more spiritual in nature such as Buddhism and Jainism. It means respecting all living.
Plants also have a very high vibration. When they are fresh and clean, plants are full of prana which the body makes the most out of. Meat, on the other hand, is not easily processed or eliminated hence it uses up the body's energy instead of giving it energy.
“In meditation, we try to raise our consciousness. Human is more conscious than animals, but if we eat non-vegetarian food then it lowers our consciousness and makes us more unconsciousness. Meditation is the path from unconscious state to super conscious state.” -Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj.
Spiritualism - a search for something higher, something sacred that everyone is on today. The world is at a much faster pace and finding something sacred like time for yourself and approaching the realm of spirituality has become an important discussion. We can try to lead a spiritual life through meditation, yoga, and personal reflection. When people call themselves spiritual we can assume that they believe there is more to the world of matter than meets the eye. Spirituality also means attending to your inner self - mental well being and discovering more about yourself and your existence hence spirituality is important. It makes you grounded and empathetic towards others around you. It brings values that open your heart and bring compassion.
To come out of emotions and thoughts which bring pain and suffering, spirituality can be key as spirituality is all about managing your thoughts. Not being controlled by evil thoughts and being able to see reality as it is. Spirituality involves a move inward, paying attention to one’s inner life. Spirituality stresses the importance of our inner life — both as a way of resisting the constant pressure our culture exerts to value what lies outside of us, as well as a means of finding a place of refuge. Societies today seem to be more focused on materialism, success, and capitalism for eg- Environmentalists believe that the major cause of climate change is economic growth which is run by capitalists. Spirituality leads to ethical behavior as we start to empathize more, become more compassionate, and act more wisely. Spirituality brings calmness, less reactive behavior and pushes us to be more authentic. Finding silence and stillness through spirituality should be the focus and with the aim to break away from the materialistic centric society we live in today.
How to be more spiritual?
Take it slow - Set realistic goals for yourself and go step by step. If you try to do a lot and are not able to, that can demotivate, so taking it step-by-step will give you the confidence to keep at it.
Meditation / Yoga - Meditation is a simple yet patience-testing exercise of which if you go through the results are fruitful. Even 15 -30 mins dedicated every day to a spiritual practice will be beneficial and lead you to the path of spirituality.
Spiritual holiday / Retreat - A holiday, even 2-3 days, where you do nothing and just be, can be so wonderful, you will know when you take one. A break refreshes you.
Spirituality is a path that can be explored if you need a new start or just need to have more focus and be aware and calm.
Slowing down, taking a break and doing something for yourself, even something small can be very beneficial for our mind. Everything starts with the state of mind affecting how you deal with everything around you, you must have heard this saying before ‘take control of your emotions before they control you.’. It is very important that we gain the ability to control our emotions and not them let be the boss of us. Our mind can be extremely chatty, sometimes to quiet it you need to pause and discover the healing powers of silence.
Quieting the mind and doing less can mean being more present and living fully. We want to focus more on slowing our pace down, with more results. Here are some things you can do -
1. Nature first thing in the morning - Every morning before you do anything, your coffee, your phone, etc, wear your sneakers instead first thing and just get out for a 20-30 mins walk. If there is a park or fresh trees on this walk even better, so you can wake up your prana (life force) and get refreshed by nature. Do this simply to wake your prana instead of stressing about finishing your 1000 steps goal. Avoid using earphones and experience the morning silence, which will sooth your mind and energize you.
2. Cook for yourself - We all know in the modern world’s pace it can be difficult to even find 10 mins for yourself, let alone cooking. Cooking for yourself, like a soup or something nourishing is a step forward in self care. You are in control of all ingredients, you feel them and make a dish for yourself which can be rewarding like a cuddle but without another person.
3. Savasana - When you step out to buy groceries in the middle of a busy day, or do something hectic, when your body is exhausted. As soon as you reach your room / office do a savasana for 10 mins. Lie down on the ground and just shut your eyes and immediately relax your body.
4. Smile - No matter what is going on around you or inside you just smile. It works on all spiritual, psychological and physical levels. Focus on the feeling a smile gives, it will spread and lift you up, as well as everyone around you.
Savasana, also sometimes known as Final Relaxation Pose or Corpse pose, usually the final pose of deep restoration in most yoga classes. Savasana is derived from two words in Sanskrit, Sava which mean corpse and asana which means pose. The terms together imply a death of release that goes beyond simple relaxation and a place you can completely let go. Although it seems like an easy pose to just lie down it can be very tough to excel in and get the desired effect. Even the greatest yogi gurus believe that it is one of the most difficult poses in Yoga. The ability to lie completely still with full awareness and detachment from the present moment requires much practice and patience. Savasana requires a conscious decision to release mental distractions and surrender fully into the present.
Savasana is considered an important yoga tradition because it allows and gives the body time to process the benefits from asanas (poses) and pranayamas (breathing exercises). It’s been known to renew the body, mind, and spirit. By being aware during the savasana, the mental distractions reduce and deepen your awareness inwards to the higher state of consciousness. The deeper you go the more ability you have to release the samskaras (patterns of tangled knots), emotions, and ideas that live in your subconscious which guide your life, freeing you to be complete in your true essence.
Savasana has been known to relieve mild depression, headache, and fatigue. It promotes composure and calms the nervous system. It relaxes tense muscles, leading to a quieter state of mind. Every time you try Savasana be sure to have a strong intention of decluttering the mind from chatter.
Yoga allows us to dig deeper into ourselves, reflect on our intentions and the reasons behind these intentions. Yoga helps us understand ourselves better and how we deal with the world. In the spirit of Yoga, understanding the commonly used word ‘Namaste’ which simplifies the nature of Yoga in just one word, will enhance our understanding of Yoga itself and give meaning to the word Namaste every time we plan on saying it in the future.
We have all heard Namaste at the beginning of our Yoga classes. This word in the Sanskrit language nuh-mas-tay defines yoga and it’s spiritual traditions in a word. Namaste represents the essence of unity, oneness and an understanding of reality. Nama means to bow, as means I, and te means you, all translating to “I bow to you”. The gesture of Namaste means a belief that there is a divine spark within all of us located at the heart chakra. Through this gesture, the soul acknowledges another soul. Namaste allows individuals to energetically be in a place of connection, free from the ego consciousness. If there is deep emotion in the heart and mind liberated, it can lead to the oneness between souls to blossom.
Namaste believes that all are one, although the outside may appear different and make us think we are all different, but we are all the same. By greeting someone Namaste you are saying that you see them as they are. Namaste means you identify with the all-are-one-consciousness rather than the ego consciousness. Ego makes you believe that you are either superior or inferior to any other person. Namaste on the basic level means respect but now we know it has a much deeper meaning. After all, if you’re truly living yoga, it’s important to be aware of your actions and words. Every time we use the word and gesture Namaste, we perform a piece of yogic wisdom.
Hatha Yoga is an ancient powerhouse of knowledge of the cleansing and purifying practices of the body still practiced today. The Vedas, one of the most ancient and influential texts today, especially for Hinduism, mainly speak of moksha (liberation) and suggest yoga as one of the vehicles to attain this goal.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, known as the father of modern yoga developed a movement ‘orientated postural system’ which is now widely used in Yoga practices. He focused on the purpose of yogabhyasa (yoga or abstract devotion) and it’s high influence on the well-being of the mind and body. He explains that Yoga’s philosophy is to draw the minds’ focus inward which helps reach deep concentration and develops mental strength believed to be higher than the amount gained from sleep or meditation. His most influential time was during his residency at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950 where he developed a more acrobatic system of asanas, most similar to Yoga today.
Traditional Vedic Yoga revolved around the idea of sacrifices to be able to connect with the spiritual world. The traditional yoga period which followed the sacrificial ideas of yoga lasted for about 2,000 years, until the 2nd century when the Upanishads (also a part of the Vedas) started teaching the unity of all things which ultimately branched out to the practice of yoga. The traditional system of yoga practices started to become outdated and was not received well by most people. Good yoga practice is one that creates focus as a way to transcend the limitation of the mind and the ability to tap into the wisdom of higher selves. Krishnamacharya set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body). To gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas. When Krishnamacharya worked with the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja was very committed to promoting the ‘Indian Physical Culture Movement”. Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings had to be greatly inspired by aerobic due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise, as a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.
Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.
Samsara, derived from Sanskrit, translates to “wander” or “to flow through,”. It is recognized within the Hindu and other Indian religions as the continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Samsara is the result of one’s karmic actions and thoughts throughout their present and pre-existing lifetimes. Samsara is a part of life based on illusion (maya) which enables a person to believe that one is autonomous instead of acknowledging one’s connection with the absolute reality (Brahman). The ignorance of believing in two separate entities leads to actions that generates Karma and then the continuous cycle of action and reincarnation. If one has a mind to understand the oneness of all things, they have the potential to break the illusion and achieve moksha from samsara. The body and senses keep the soul tied to samsara until it can realize self. Samsara is the illusion of worldly existence, constantly altering never ending or beginning. It’s contradictory to the realization of moksha, atman (soul) and the absolute reality which are eternal.
The Atman is constant which travels continuously through birth, death, and rebirth. The reincarnations of the soul can be within the widely accepted realms which are heaven, hell, or earth. According to the atman’s karmic actions it’s reborn either as an animal, plant, insect, human, or god in any of the realms. Human form is considered one of the rarest forms to be reborn into and also the most desirable, eventually it is moksa which stop the cycle of life and death.
There are three possible realms the atman can take after the physical body has perished. The ‘path of gods’ (deva yana) which leads to heaven ending the cycle of samsara, possible through meditation and the realization of atman. The second is the ‘path of ancestors’ (pitrs yana) which takes the soul to the moon, from there the soul is moved into space and then to the earth as human or any creature. The third path is when the atman travels through hell and is born as a smaller life form. With the realization of atman comes the end to all ignorance such as ego, desire, illusion, and the atman is then no longer subject to karma.
The origin of Samsara is unknown and cant be traced back. Theories of its origins amongst scholars is through Asian traditions and ancient Indian civilizations as first seen in the Upanishads. During early Buddhism and Jainism the concept of Samsara became universal, and Buddhisim Samsara picked up different views and beliefs from Hinduism.
Puruṣārtha translates to “an object of human pursuit”, derived from Sanskrit, Purusa meaning soul and Artha meaning purpose. A key concept in Hinduism inherent of universal values of Dharma (righteousness), Artha (economic values), Kama (pleasure), and Moksa (liberation). In Hinduism, these are the ideal goals a person should have as they bring out a balanced satisfaction and meaning to life at a deeper and more holistic level. These goals provide a way to determine if you are making good decisions or not and enhance your spiritual practices.
Originally the Vedas only mentioned the first three goals of life, later when the Upanishads were being developed and a search for a higher consciousness then came about the concept of Moksa. Moksa is considered to be the ultimate goal classified as one of the most important, followed by Dharma. All the goals are intertwined and require a harmonious interaction of all to be meaningful.
Dharma is about living ethically, striving to be virtuous, and being helpful to others. The Bhagavad Gita says “The greatest dereliction of Dharma is to desert the helpless in their time of need.” Dharma is fundamental for the right order of things in the world as it reflects the cosmic law that created the universe from chaos. The way to discover your Dharma is through a reflection of your actions and by listening to your deepest intuitions.
Artha means having the material comfort you need to live with ease. Artha focuses more on being content with the things you have and being able to adapt to a world of material objects. Artha is about everything that helps build social security in terms of friendships, love, skills, career, and success. It provides a foundation for Dharma and Kama because without success in a social society it can be difficult to live a moral life.
Kama is about the pleasures we desire, the passion we seek be in any form - music, art, beauty, etc. Passion helps bring inner delight and a purpose to human life. Kama is the joyful aspect of human life which should be handled with thought, care, and enthusiasm. If it becomes excessive and you lose control then it can turn into greed, addiction, and lust. Kama requires complete presence throughout your experience like in any spiritual practice. It has to be a complete sensory experience, from the discovery of the object, research, making an emotional connection, and enjoyment.
Moksa is the ultimate goal, freedom from the cycle of death and reincarnation. Moksa comes from being completely free from human suffering, having self-knowledge and discipline. When the self-knowledge is so perfect it becomes a part of the unconscious like second nature. This liberation comes when one lives a life with inner purity, intelligence and a realization that all souls are the same and none is superior.
The origins of yoga have not yet been identified but the Patanjali Yoga Sutras remains one of the most influential works of Yoga practices and philosophy today. Yoga, one of the orthodox systems within Hindu philosophy, a psycho-physical practice of attaining unification with absolute reality (Brahman). When Yoga started developing there were endless amounts of schools teaching yoga with an emphasis on different aspects of yoga. There was no streamlined structure so it began to become impractical. Patanjali realized this and decided to codify Yoga into 196 sutras. Patanjali, who was one of the 18 classical Tamil Siddhars (sages and intellects) was not only a great grammarian but also wrote texts on medicine and Yoga Sutras. Although he did not originate yoga, he distilled the essence of yoga into the Yoga Sutras and became known as the ‘father of modern yoga’.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word, yuj ‘to unite’ and implies a union of the mind, body, spirit, and the divine. Sutras are principal texts, therefore the yoga sutras act as guiding principles to liberation (moksa) through the oneness of a spiritual path to self-realization. The Yoga Sutras are divided into 4 chapters, first chapter Samadhipada (a chapter on concentration), the second Sahanapada (chapter on practices), the third Vibhutipada (chapter on supernatural powers), and the fourth pada is called the Kaivalyapada (a chapter on liberation).
The first chapter, Samadhipada, starts with the sentence “... and now, Yoga.” What Patanjali means by starting the chapter in such a way is that once you feel your desires and goals fulfilled and you are looking for another, more spiritual form of fulfillment then it's time for Yoga. The second chapter, most important for a Yoga practitioner, Sahanapada, describe the practices to follow the path of Yoga. Kriya Yoga, a self-study, discipline, and orientation towards the idea of pure awareness are also mentioned in this chapter. Patanjali speaks of the obstacles towards the path of yoga such as the ego and attachment which can be overcome by Yoga. He believed the wise see suffering in all experience, the good and the bad. The fourth chapter, Vibhutipada contains 55 Sutras and starts with the Eight-Faceted Path (Asthanga Yoga) through which one may acquire siddhi (supernatural powers). The Vibhutipada also explored the concepts of meditation (dhyana), concentration (dharana) and Samadhi (contemplative union). The third chapter can only be accessed and executed once you have completed and experienced everything in the first two chapters.
These sutras are more philosophical in nature than practical, although they do specify what does what in the system it is not be read logically. Depending on your intention of how you want to approach the system you yourself can create your own Kriya. Eventually, the mind and the body become one, conquering the techniques in the Sutra, and then liberation can be achieved.
Tantric Meditation is a dynamic form of meditation technique with a purpose to make you aware of the spiritual nature, considered a divine light, of the physical body. It awakens the consciousness and releases shakti (creative energy) inside you. Internal and meditative practices in Tantra are known as Samya Tantra, where you communicate with the creative forces of the universe. Yantra (a geometric diagram) and Mantras (vibrational sounds) create a space for these universal powers to convene in our inner and outer lives. Tantra believes that all the powers of the universe are present in every individual and that the ultimate Yantra is the body. The potential for self-realization is awakened through the techniques of asana, pranayama, bandhas, mudras, and mantra. The awakening brings an intense joy which is beyond the physical world. You will feel empowered and fulfilled.
This tantric meditation technique requires you to imagine deities or mantra in different parts of the body. It is not necessary to actually see but to feel its presence. If you are not able to it might be helpful to touch the part of the body you want to visualize in, although it is preferred to touch the parts of the body through your awareness. Through asanas, one can balance the pelvic floor, and increase flexibility in the spinal column. Pranayama energizes the solar plexus, makes the heart centre, eyebrow centre, and third eye accessible to restore the brain and nervous system. Through the blend of breathing techniques you can gain access to Turya (4th dimension), engage with the wisdom of the third eye and feel effortless awareness and clarity.
Tantric meditation is about the sorcery of transformation. To clear difficult emotions use the technique of breath, concentration, visualization of energy, and colors and transform the difficult emotions at the heart centre. Manipura, the third chakra, also known as the city of gems, holds the creative energies of determination and power. To feel empowered, connect with these forces through breathing techniques, visualization, mantra, and concentration of prana at the navel centre.
Tantra aims to apply methods which can be utilized to advance the process of transformation. It helps create a more complete, stronger, and richer life by giving the practitioner ways to grow through the ability to deal with inner emotions.
Purusa (soul) and Prakriti (matter), are two main principles of the universe according to the Samkhya philosophy. Purusa is the observer, inactive, and cannot change; While Prakriti is matter, and subject to change. Prakriti has three Gunas - Sattva (lucidity), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (inertia), when the three gunas become unbalanced, the material world folds into manifestation.
The 25 Tattvas, which are the attributes of Prakriti, are known as principles of reality in the Samkhya philosophy. These attributes unfold out of Prakriti when the gunas are imbalanced and does not affect the Purusa, it still remains neutral and unchanged, making it an observer.
Prakriti has 25 Tattvas which are as follows:-
1 - Purusa - which is the Transcendental Self
2 - The Unmanifested - Prakriti, material world
3 - Buddi - Spiritual awareness, intellect
4 - Ahamkara - the ‘i-consciousness, responsible for the ego
5 - Manas - the mind
6-10 - Cognitive instruments, such as hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling.
11-15 - Action organs, such as speaking, grasping, moving, eliminating and procreating.
16-20 - Subtle elements such as sound, touch, sight, taste and odour.
21-25 - Gross elements such as fire, water, earth, wind, vibration energy.
Tattva number 3, the Buddhi is divided into bhavas, meaning states of being. The bhavas are either sattvic (illuminating) or Tamasic (dark); Dharma (virtue), Jnana (knowledge), Viraga (non-attachment) and Aishvarya (power) are sattvic bhavas; Adharma (nonvirtue), Ajnana (ignorance), Anaishvarya (weakness) and Raga (attachment) are tamasic bhavas. These states shape one's view of the world and the kind of actions one decides to execute.
In Samkhya, all the tattvas represent the totality of the universe and of each human being. Tattvas 6-25 form a group called panch-bhutas (a group of five elements). The world of these five elements is supposed to encompass the entire world of sense perception and is referred to as the objective or the phenomenal world.
Samkhya assumes two bases for human identity - Ahamkara and Purusa. As humans, we can either identify with the infinite of purusas as self or as an individual. In the former case the human is a truly free force and in the latter, the human is a slave of the body and of its experiential nature.
The suffering and pain of human reality, Samkhya recognizes three types of pain:-
1. Adhyatmik pain is caused by harming the self which causes discord in the physical body.
2. Adhibhautik pain is caused by other beings, such as social and political injustice.
3. Adhidaivik pain is caused by things beyond one's control.
Identification of the self with the higher consciousness promises freedom from all kinds of suffering.
Samkhya philosophy is one of the first philosophical systems, or Darśana (‘view’ in Sanskrit) to be born out of Hindu Tradition. The word ‘Samkhya’ translates to ‘calculation’, which in this context means to take account of different elements of reality. It adopts the system of Dualism, unlike the Tantra school of thought which believes that matter and the soul, are the same in universal essence. Samkhya believes that Prakriti (matter) and Purusa (eternal soul) are originally two separate entities, but through evolution, the purusa has started to mistakenly identify itself with prakriti. According to this philosophy, the highest level of knowledge is being able to differentiate between prakriti and purusa.
Kapila, an ancient Vedic age, is credited as the founder of Samkhya, but not of the principal texts known as Samkhya-Karika. Samkhya-Karika was developed in the 3rd to 4th century and is considered to have given this school it’s philosophical definition. The first development of Samkhya philosophy can be found as early as the Rig Veda, in the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. Some believe that before the Samkhya Karika was written, the philosophies of Samkhya were already well developed and had its own influence. Samkhya is believed to be born out of explorations of rooted cosmic dualism and introspective practices such as Yoga and Meditation. Some modern scholars believe that the philosophy of Yoga (as formulated by Patanjali) is inspired by the Samkhya philosophy.
Samkhya philosophy believes in a permanent pain suffered by all that can only find temporary relief through medicines and fulfillment. This suffering, as a human reality, is the foundation and the beginning of the Samkhya philosophy. The method through which one may gain freedom from this suffering is through immense knowledge of the Vyakta (the Manifest/ unconsciousness), the avyakta (Prakriti / the Unmanifest), and Jna (Purusa /soul). Here we see dualism come in play, distinctively as Purusa and Prakriti. This school assumes the existence of two bodies, a temporal body, and body of subtle matter which perishes after death. The two are both eternal and independent of each other. Purusa is all-conscious, unchangeable, without desire, pervading within each individual, none superior to the other, in a physical world known as Prakriti. Prakriti is the subtle matter which is determined only by time and space.
Prakriti has 25 principles of reality, known as tattvas which are created and uncreated, unlike Purusa which just exists. According to Samkhya, all principles of reality can be explained through these tattvas, and the tattvas also justify the name Samkhya and it’s calculative nature. The methodology mentioned in the principal texts for the understanding of the Samkhya philosophy and more specifically Prakriti is through inference (meditation), perception and valid testimony, not through base physical senses i.e. sight. The philosophy explains that something cannot come from nothing, this theory of causation is called ‘Gunas’. It believes that a specific cause can only produce a specific affect. The Manifested (Prakriti) is active, dependent and non-pervasive and the Unmanifested (Purusu) is the opposite, meaning there has to be a cause for Prakriti. The distinctive nature of Prakriti is also because of the attached attributes of attva - lightness, illuminating, and enlightening knowledge, rajas - passion, energy and emotion, and tamas - dark, ignorant and sluggish. This system believes the cause of Prakriti (the Manifest) is the Purusa (Unmanifest) which conveys its power through the different gunas in the Prakriti world.
The existence of Purusa, completely separate from Prakriti, spikes the disruption of the gunas, leading to their interaction in the Manifest world. When Purusa which is pure consciousness, collides with Prakriti, it is evolved into Buddhi (spiritual awareness), then to Ahamkara (the individualized ego consciousness - I-conciousness), both imposing upon the Purusa a misunderstanding that the ego is the basis of its existence. The Purusa is considered a pure witness, inactive and neutral. It must exist because consciousness exists, and also exists as a separate entity because freedom from Prakriti exists, and if Purusa did not, then freedom and suffering would not be possible. The nature of Kaivalya (ultimate goal) is different in Samkhya than other Hindu philosophies, as it allows experience in the first place which also allows relief from suffering.
The way Samkhya decodes liberation from human suffering is by analyzing the foundations of the metaphysical world and finding the ultimate source of suffering. Creation, in this philosophy, is considered as a result of Purusa and Prakriti colliding, although intertwined, Purusa is not bound by Prakriti. Hence, liberation can be achieved by the recognition of Prakriti as a manifold creation which can be released. The realization of the difference between Purusa and Prakriti, whereby an individual loses interest in Prakriti is liberated from all bodies
The Vedas have a divine status because of its immense ancient knowledge and influence. The Sama Veda is one of the four main Vedas, which comes after the Rig Veda and Yajur Veda, making it the third Vedas. In Hindu tradition, throughout history many have believed that the Sama Veda is co-eternal with the divine. In the Bhagwat Gita, Krishna described Sama Veda as one of the most important Vedas.
The Sama Veda compromises of texts written over a large period of time. It includes Samhita (a collection of Hymns), a Brahmana which gives a critical explanation of the Hymns, as well as Upanishads which are more philosophical in nature. Majority of the Hymns are taken from the Rig Veda but altered in significant ways for their use in rituals, which is done through the singing of the hymns. It is believed that the truth of the Vedas manifest in the performance of rituals, making Sama Veda hymn, in a ritual context, extremely important in the Hindu tradition.
The role of Sama Veda has diminished significantly in contemporary Hinduism, somewhat due to the fact of extensive sacrifices which may take anywhere from a day to over a week to perform. Scholar David Frawley said if the Rig Veda is knowledge then the Sama Veda is the realization.
Also known as Vedas of Magic Formulas, the Atharva Veda is the last and 4th of the Vedas. Although it was not accepted as a Veda by scholars, but eventually, it became a part of the Vedas. This Veda is different from the rest of the Vedas as it consists charms for daily problems and diseases. The nature of the Hymns are dedicated to healing and prolonging life through various natural herbs. Some sources state that this Veda is the origin of Ayurveda, Tantra and containing one of the earliest references to breathing techniques and the practice of yoga.
Some topics that the Atharva Veda covers are:
1. Diseases and their cure
2. Rites for prolonging life
3. Rites for fulfilling one’s desires
4. Propitiatory rites
The Vedas divine status is justified as it’s contribution to the world has been immense, be it philosophical, spiritual or well being; It’s gifted us with practices such as Yoga, Meditation and inquiring the soul within. The Vedas are one of the oldest texts to still survive and be used in today's world.
It’s common to hear about Tantra in any Yoga class, mostly you will hear about Hindu Tantra. Hindu Tantra has multiple branches of schools, such as Kashmir Shaivism, Kaula School which believes that the body is a vehicle for liberation, Shakta Tradition worships the feminine, and Neo-Tantra School which focuses on love-making enhancing rituals. The commonality which lies in all these schools is the idea of Kundalini Awakening, a feminine dynamic energy present at the base of the spine. Ancient Tantric practices focused on bringing life to this energy by moving it upward through the 7 chakras.
Tantra has been widely known for its sensual nature, but only through strengthening the connection between your body and energy. Tantric practices are intimate, not only physically but also spiritually. If you are connecting so deeply with your own soul then you may experience the same connection with someone else's. The exploration of energies within the body and it’s connection with the universe help us understand the purpose of life and the principles of union better. The purpose of Tantra Yoga is emotional and physical wellbeing as well as merging the spiritual world and the material world into one.
Just like other forms of Yoga, Tantra Yoga uses elements of Kundalini, Karma, Bhakti, Raja, and Hatha practices. Tantra also includes other practices such as Astrology, Ayurveda, and Crystals to expand beyond yogic philosophy. The practice includes conscious breathing practices and pranayama, both of which enhance the relationship between the self or others. The different practicesTantra Yoga includes:
1. Peace Pose With Pranayam, Conscious Breathing
2. Surya Namaskar
3. Modified Side Plank
4. Entwined Sukhasana
With Tantra Yoga, you can increase your capacity for intimacy and emotional stability, as well as experience clarity, more joy, and fearlessness.
In the 1st millennium AD, from the Vedic Traditions, Hinduism was developed into the long-established traditions we see today. Around the same time when various Vedic Traditions were dominant in India, Tantra was developed; Inspired by the Vedic Tradition but more from its rituals such as yogic and meditative traditions which were also being developed in Buddhism and Jainism. A core part of each of these religions or traditions were sutras - principal texts. A sutra is a thread of thought, a particular line of thinking so if a sutra is a single thread of thinking, then a tantra is the whole system of thought. Tantras were teachings that could only be taught directly by a teacher to a student, but soon enough there were scriptures.
In the Kashmir Valley where the Tantras originally flourished, workings of ancient religious traditions worshipping Śiva and Śakti — Śiva as the essence of consciousness and Śakti as the essence of power, were already in place which later loomed into the Vedic Culture and Buddhism. The teachings gained popularity throughout India, especially within the strong middle class. This portion of the population was left out of the caste conscious religions of Vedic origin and monastic-male Buddhism. These were the two major religions in India at that time, Tantra offered a third alternative for those left out of the other two. A priestly class or monastic tradition had no place in this ancient tradition. These teachings honored the feminine as the heart of good teaching and considered women as the most powerful and influential teachers. All of the teachings, which influenced other religions and traditions, came to be known as Tantra. Thousands of teachers solidified into the core of Tantra and streamlined the teachings.
These teachings were spirited and taught that enlightenment was available in this life, not through reincarnations. The vague concept of nothingness in Buddhism was clarified as universal and ubiquitous consciousness. In Buddhism, the physical world is seen as an illusion, rather in this system, there is no difference between the material world and spiritual. It believes in the system of nondualism, in the sense that one’s true self (pure awareness, the Divine) exists in all particles of the universe. We perceive everything as duality around us, good and evil, boy and girl, hot and cold, this system believes that these illusions are created by our Ego, when, in fact, the opposites are considered the same in the universal consciousness. The established nature that defined tantra included: One on one student-teacher relationship, mindfulness, ritual as a means of deepening awareness, rejection of illogical religious and cultural rules, acceptance regardless of caste, nationality, language, and gender, a belief in body and the sensual experiences of the body as part of the path to the divine — not as a distraction from the divine.
THE REMAINS OF TANTRA
The original traditions of Tantra mostly died out around the 1100s, when Islam arrived in India. The influence of tantra extended to Hinduism, Buddhism, with a special and distinct survival in Vajrayana Buddhism of the Himalayas. It was preserved in a diminished form, however, in three different schools, the best-known being Vajrayana Buddhism, which was practiced in the Himalayas, and then spread to other parts of the East. The other two are the Brahmanic Sri Vidya lineage of southern India and Hatha Yoga. Tantra was seen as a spiritual practice independent of any particular religion, but adaptable to all.
You may have heard that Tantra is full of obscenities or that it has something to do with black magic. As a matter of fact, Tantra involves practices such as yoga, meditation, and the reading of sacred texts - elements that are common in other religions. Different traditions within Tantra choose to focus on different combinations of these practices, but they are certainly not focused on practicing any ‘dark arts.
Transcendental meditation was practiced by yogis thousands of years ago, an ancient form of meditation, originally known as Vedic Meditation. This wisdom understood that the state of our mind can influence the body. Both, the mind and the body are intertwined and a wonderful balance between the two can be achieved through Vedic Meditation. Science has proven, what we knew thousands of years ago to be true, that balance can be attained through meditation. Meditation offsets stress chemicals by releasing neurotransmitters which boosts mental and physical wellbeing.
Transcendental Meditation is a meditative practice which involves the repetition of a mantra, for 15-20 minutes, at least twice a day. This meditation technique seeks to help an individual to move into a state of relaxed awareness through letting the body relax, as deeply as possible. You can enter a state of relaxation which is more regenerative than sleep because of the reduced cortisol (stress hormone). The actual practice is as follows, which is very easy to do as it requires no tools:-
● you do it twice a day, for 20 minutes each session
● You sit down wherever you are somewhat comfortable and close your eyes
● you relax yourself by breathing deeply a few times
● you repeat a mantra (one short word that doesn’t have an English meaning) silently in your mind. Any time other thoughts come up, gently and non-judgmentally guide your mind back to the mantra.
● be totally okay and neutral with whatever your mind is doing during the twenty minutes
After a few practices it is possible to reach what people call ‘Transcendence’, which someone best described as a cool feeling you get between laying down to sleep and actually being asleep, which lasts for about 20 minutes. The benefits include less stress and anxiety, higher cognitive ability, creative focus, better sleep, controlled BP, and inner calmness. Some teachers of Transcendental Meditation believe that the mantras should not be published, and should be chosen personally as that is the traditional way in which the meditation is taught.
Late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, derived this technique from the Vedic Tradition and started spreading it’s knowledge in India in the 50’s. He then went onto influencing the west with Transcendental Meditation in the 60’s and developed a following due to its sophisticated, simple, and beneficiary nature. He raised awareness through multiple world tours where he spoke of his spiritual beliefs and the practice of Transcendental Meditation. In 67’ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became known as the Beatles’ spiritual adviser, although for a short time but still managed to have a big influence on the band; as well as on other western musicians. He became known as the primary source for Transcendental Meditation’s influence on the west, now a widely used technique by more than 5 million people all over the world.
The Upanishads are statements of the deep spiritual experience and a collection of Hindu philosophical texts, written entirely in prose form. It largely comments on the nature of reality and the basic identity of atman (the soul). Upanishad is derived from upa (near), ni (down) and sad (to sit). The term implies the pupils, intent of learning, sitting near the teacher to acquire knowledge and truth. The history and dates are still somewhat a debated topic. Through analyzing the linguistics used in the text, philologist Max Muller speculated that the text was written between 1000-800 BCE.
The Vedas, which the Upanishads are originally a part of, generally has two portions, Karma-Kanda (portion dealing with action or rituals) and Jnana-Kanda (portion dealing with knowledge). The Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda represent mainly the Karma-Kanda, while the Upanishads chiefly represent the Jnana-Kanda by the spirit of its content being anti-ritualistic. The Upanishads, are included majorly in the final chapter of the Yajur Veda, as well as split into the rest of the Vedas. It can be said that the Upanishads are the finest bloom of the Indian metaphysical and speculative thought. There are over 200 Upanishads but the traditional number is 108. Of them, only 10 are the principal Upanishads: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashan, Mundaka, Mandukya, Tattiriya, Aitareya, Chhandogya, and Brihadaranyaka.
The essential theme of the Upanishads is the nature of the world and God. What is this world? Who am I? What happens to me after death? Where does my soul go? – Such questions are asked and answered in these Upanishads. The Upanishads consists of dialogues between teachers and students, in an open and impartial manner. The Upanishads do not require us to convert but to understand ourselves by examining the very foundation of our own being and consciousness. They ask us to inquire in an experiential manner through introspection and meditation so that we can directly realize the truth within ourselves. They affirm that the ultimate reality is beyond speech and mind, but can be known internally when the mind is silent, detached from all thoughts and conclusions.
The Upanishads have a theistic side, recognizing a Cosmic Lord as the world creator, but that is not the summit of their views. The most used term in the Upanishads is Atman (soul), as our true Self or immortal nature, for which our bodies and minds are mere instruments. They are the first teachings that clearly explain the concepts of karma and rebirth at a rational level, which have characterized the dharmic traditions of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh, aiming at liberation from Samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
According to the Upanishad, all of us are trying to find the true Self. We are the totality of everything, but because we do not know it, we run after desires and continuously try to find a purpose and contentment. We run after desires because we do not know our eternal reality, our perfection. The goal is to know that we already are everything.
‘Yajur Veda’ (translates to “the knowledge of sacrificial formulae (yajus)”) one of the four Vedas of ancient Hinduism. ‘The word ‘Yajur’ means ‘Sacrificial Formula’ and ‘Veda’ means ‘Knowledge’. In its character, Yajurveda is quite different from the Rigveda (1st section of the vedas) & Samaveda Samhitas (melodies). It is said to have composed between circa. 1400 to 1000BC making it the 2nd oldest Veda. It is more pronouncedly a ritual Veda, essentially a guide-book for the Adhvaryu priests who have to perform all sacrificial rituals, and contains the mantras needed to perform.
There are two primary versions of the Yajur Veda: Shukla (white) and Krishna (black), the most important feature of the Yajur Veda is that it supplies the formulae for the entire sacrificial ceremony. Although we must be mindful of The Krishna Yajur Veda, which is different from the Yajur Veda and includes Brahmana prose discussions within the Samhita (a collection of mantras). The Yajur Veda is also important for its presentation of philosophical doctrines. It preaches the concept of Prana (the term is used in Hindu and Yogic philosophy to refer to all the manifest energy in the universe, present in both living beings and inanimate objects; also a form of vedic yoga) and Manas (the mind).
There are two ways of performing the yajus; one is by muttering the prayer which is called yajus and the second is by chanting the prayer out loud, which is called nigada (Alper 6). Within the formulae there are mantras associated with each ritual (Sharma 185). The Vajasaneyi-Samhita gives a vivid description of many important rituals such as – Darsha-purnamasa, Agnihotra, Somayaga, Chaturmasya, Agnihotra, Vajapeya, Ashvamedha, Sarva-medha, Brahma-yajya, Pitrimedha, Sautramani, and so on. Embedded as the final chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda (white) are the popular Ishavasya-Upanishad, the shortest of its kind, which represent a brief philosophical poem discussing the soul/self (Atman). The sacrifice, once performed, goes to the god whom it is being performed for, as a gift (Oldenberg 184). Through the rituals which humans perform, they believe, that the gods can be manoeuvred to a certain extent.
The Yajur Veda holds some of the grandest and most important mantras and rituals in the Hindu religion (Winternitz 163). For instance, the Taittiriya-Samhita contains the Gayatri mantra four times (Sharma 21). It also contains the Sarvamadha or “all-sacrifice”, which is the highest sacrifice that exists (Winternitz 163). Along with one of the grandest of all the yajna which is the asvamedha or horse-sacrifice (Rodrigues 30).
The Vedas originally were in a very ancient language full of ancient forms and words. In the course of several thousands of years there have been at least three considerable attempts, entirely differing from each other in their methods and results, to fix the sense of these ancient litanies. In the fixed tradition of thousands of years they have been revered as the origin and standard of all that can be held as true in the doctrines of great philosophical schools and in the teachings of famous saints and sages. In the previous article we covered the origins and the philosophy of the Vedas, now we will go through the Rig Veda, first set of texts in the Vedas, in detail and what the sacred texts are dedicated to.
A lot of scriptures in the history of Hindu mythology and Indian mysticism derivatives from the Rig Veda; The oldest book known to all mankind, which inspired the birth of Hinduism. The Rig Veda a body of sacrificial hymns, is divided into 10 mandalas which consist of 1028 hymns supposed to be used in rituals. Till date some of its verses are still recited at Hindu religious occasions, making it one of the oldest texts that’s still in use.
Mandala 1 consists of 191 hymns: Hymn 1.1 is addressed to Agni with his name being the first word of the Rigveda.
Mandala 2 comprises 43 hymns: Chiefly attributed to the Rishi gṛtsamada śaunahotra.
Mandala 3 comprises 62 hymns: Attributed to Agni and Indra and the Visvedevas. The verse 3.62.10 has great importance in Hinduism as the Gayatri Mantra.
Mandala 4 comprises 58 hymns: Attributed mainly to Agni and Indra as well as the Rbhus, Ashvins, Brhaspati, Vayu, Usas, etc. Most hymns in this book are attributed to vāmadeva gautama.
Mandala 5 comprises 87 hymns: Dedicated to Agni and Indra, the Viswadevas ("all the gods'), the Marutus, the twin-deity Mitra- Varuna and the Asvins.
Mandala 6 comprises 75 hymns: Primarily to all the gods, Pusan, Ashvin, Usas, etc. Most hymns in this book are attributed to the bārhaspatya family of Angirasas.
Mandala 7 comprises 104 hymns: To Agni, Indra, the Viswadevas, the Marutus, Mitra-Varuna, theAsvins, Ushas, Indra-Varuna, Varuna, Vayu (the wind), two each to Saraswathi (ancient river/goddess of learning) and Vishnu.
Mandala 8 comprises 103 hymns: Dedicated to various gods. Hymns 8.49 to 8.59 are the apocryphal vālakhilya. Hymns 1-48 and 60-66 are attributed to the kāṇva clan, the rest to other (Angirasa) poets.
Mandala 9 comprises 114 hymns: Entirely devoted to Soma Pavamana, the cleansing of the sacred potion of the Vedic religion.
Mandala 10 comprises additional 191 hymns: Frequently in later language, addressed to Agni, Indra and various other deities. It contains the Nadistuthi Sukta which is in praise of rivers and is important for the reconstruction of the geography of the Vedic civilization and the Purusha Sukta which has great significance in Hindu social tradition. It also contains the Nasadiya Sukta (10.129), probably the most celebrated hymn in the west, which deals with creation. The marriage hymns (10.85) and the death hymns (10.10-18) still are of great importance in the performance of the corresponding Grhya rituals.
The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts in Sanskrit that represent the largest body of ancient and medieval literature in the world which includes poems, prayers, mythological accounts, and formulas. The Vedic texts were first recited orally and then passed down to generations before they were formally written down, as it was considered an ‘unholy act’ to write them down. Vedas are revised at the Maha-Kumbh Mela in Haridwar every 12 years as recommended by Sankaracharya over 1200 years ago. The Vedas are in Sanskrit, an ancestor of most of the modern languages in South Asia.
The Vedas are a treasure of the best knowledge of all the Dharmic scriptures and secular knowledge (family, money management, morality, etc.) into one unified scripture. The act of modifications and updating the Vedas every 12-year creates a system that incorporates knowledge and wisdom according to current times, which can be the reason for the Vedas to be the oldest spiritual tradition that is still followed.
The Vedas were first composed sometime around 1500-1000 BCE in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent and northwest India. In Vedic tradition, the focus is more on the ideas rather than on who wrote them, which allows one to look at the message without being influenced by the messenger. Vedic literature is non-secular in nature and tends to mirror the worldview, spiritual preoccupations, and social attitudes of the priestly class of ancient India.
The basic Vedic texts are the Samhita “Collections” of the four Vedas:
● Rig-Veda “The book of Mantras” for recitation.
● Sama-Veda “The book of Chant”
● Yajur-Veda “Knowledge of the Sacrificial formulas”, for rituals.
● Atharva-Veda “Knowledge of the Magic formulas”, for spells.
The Rig-Veda is the largest and most important text of the Vedic collection, divided into ten books called mandalas which include 1028 hymns. The Sama-Veda has verses that are mostly from the Rig-Veda but arranged in a different way since they are meant for chanting. The Yajur-Veda is divided into the White and Black Yajur-Veda and contains explanatory prose on how to perform religious rituals and sacrifices. The Atharva-Veda contains charms and magical incantations in a folkloristic style.
Sanatana Dharma is an ancient spiritual tradition of almost one billion years old. It constitutes of comprehensive spiritual, sacred and yogic science dealing with all aspects of life, culture, and religion. It is the great tradition behind teachings such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic Astrology, Samkhya, Vedanta, and Tantra. These disciplines are rooted in Vedic lineages and transmissions going back to their very origins. It speaks of eternal laws which govern life and being in tune with it.
Sanatana Dharma provides its followers with an entire worldview, way of life and a rational view of reality. It is an ocean of ideas, values, practices, and beliefs which have adapted as time progressed. This spiritual path offers happiness, positive growth, fearlessness, a healthy sense of well-being, and wisdom. It is a value system which at its core is compacted with spiritual freedom, depth, and authenticity, through which one may achieve Moksha (मोक्ष - enlightenment, liberation).
Different texts give different lists of the duties, but in general Sanatana Dharma consists of virtues such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism.
Sanatana Dharma by its very essence of sectarian and ideological thinking. The earliest glimpse of Sanatana Dharma can be found in the Rig Veda which saw nature as being part of the same cosmic equation which is ruled by the higher consciousness. The word Sanatana Dharma comes from the Sanskrit language, "Sanatana" which means Anadi (beginningless), does not cease to be and is eternal and everlasting. With its rich connotations, Dharma is not translatable to any other language. Dharma is from dhri, meaning to hold together, to sustain. Sanatana Dharma’s meaning is "Natural Law," or principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe. Thus the term Sanatana Dharma can be translated to mean "the natural, ancient and eternal way."
HINDUNISM AND SANATANA DHARMA
The word Sanatana Dharma means the original or the eternal dharma. Although this word is not new, it's used as an alternative of the word Hinduism is quite new. People who realized this fact that Hinduism is not a religion and that Hinduism itself doesn't have a name, came up with the idea of calling it Sanatana Dharma.
Quest of spirituality is something that we all at some point seek. It is universal in nature and therefore it doesn't need a name to separately identify itself. Vedic literature is heavily drenched with transcendental philosophy that invokes spirituality. So, it is neither a religion and nor does it have a particular name. Similarly, dharma is also universal because righteousness and humanity are also universal.
There are thousands of books starting from the ancient Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Saama Veda, Atharva Veda), Upanishads to Puranas, all try to portray the value system as it existed in those times.
Essentially if one is interested in understanding Sanatana Dharma it is essential to look at it as a value system rather than a religion. It is a living, breathing aspect of our culture which has undergone tremendous changes as any culture should.
As we discovered in ‘The Origin of the Soul’ the soul is the great guide within, the inner voice, the conscience. Anyone before performing actions introspects and tries to gauge in perspective of their individual or social concept of right, wrong or indifferent. The concept of karma originated in ancient India and is now widely accepted and preached in different religions and cultures (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Taoism). When the deeds or actions of an individual are studied in ethics it’s addressed as Morals.
In Theravada (Buddhism) there are different systems of natural order such as the Physical Order i.e. the principles of physics that govern the changing of seasons, temperatures, and the weather. There is the Botanical Order i.e principles of botany that govern the growth of plants, so this covers the issue of leaves falling from a tree, and how they grow and so on. Then there’s the Dharmic Order i.e. laws of the universe. All these orders deal with the movements and flow of energy. Similarly, it can be said that Karma is a movement of energy. Karmic order is the principles of karma that govern the physical, verbal and mental behavior of human beings.
Karma can be explained by contrasting it with a Sanskrit word ‘kriya’ (meaning to do). The word kriya is the activity along with the steps and effort in action while Karma is the executed action as a consequence of that activity, and the intention of the individual behind the action. It can also be referred to as a principle where the actions and intent of an individual influence their future. These beliefs exist in different religions and cultures all over the world; which basically suggest that good deeds lead to good karma and happiness whereas one's bad actions and bad deeds lead to future sufferings and bad karma.
The science of karma is further complicated by different levels of karma. We have personal karma, family and ancestral karma, societal karma and so on. All of these levels of karma interact with each other. In Vedanta and Yoga teachings, there are three types of karma: Prarabdha karma – karma experienced during the present lifetime, Sancita karma – the store of karma that has not yet reached fruition, and Agami karma – karma sown in the present life that will come to fruition in future life. (Azriel ReShel)
Principles of Karma according to Theravada
When one decides to follow the Buddha’s path what’s the first advice? They take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And the first advice the Buddha gives is to stop harming others. In order to stop harming others, we have to understand what actions cause harm and what actions cause benefit to both ourselves and others. This summarises the whole concept of karma. These are the basic foundations to understand Karma and how it works:
“After death, we do not cease to exist, but we have to take rebirth. Our place of rebirth will either be happy or miserable, according to our actions, rather than our free will. Therefore, it is reasonable to try to cultivate good actions properly and avoid bad ones. This contemplation has four parts:
(1) The certainty of actions and their results - The idea here is that things are not called positive or negative karma because they’re inherently good or bad, but because of the results that they bring. So when we experience happiness, it’s always a result of constructive actions and when we experience misery, it’s always the result of destructive actions.
(2) The multiplying nature of actions or karma - If we do an action, it leaves seeds in our mindstream, these seeds intensify in strength: negative actions, ferment in our mind and increase in strength. And positive, even small meritorious, virtuous actions likewise ferment in our mind and they can produce big positive results.
(3) We only face consequences of actions we have done We only face consequences of actions we have done’ focuses on the importance to be meticulous about the karma we create. If we don’t create the causes for happiness, we won’t experience happiness.
(4) Once committed, actions do not fade away
We can not transfer our karma to somebody else or undo the actions we have set in place.”
There are 10 non-virtues (negative actions) that have been listed in Buddhism, which have been split into- body, speech, and mind; you must avoid to create a good karma. Physical non-virtues include killing, stealing, unwise and unkind sexual behavior. Verbal non-virtues include lying, disharmonious speech, harsh speech, idle talk, and mental non-virtues include coveting, malice, and wrong/distorted views. The three mental virtues are actually afflictions. If they’re in the mindstream with an intention, then that intention becomes the karma. When they arise in the mind we might have a mind that’s full of greed, that mind has a mental factor of intention which is the karma. The mental factor of greed is something that makes it non-virtuous. If you have a mental factor of love; the mental factor of love makes that whole consciousness and that intention virtuous.
The 10 virtues mentioned in the Pali tradition are:
2. Ethical Conduct
4. Cultivating humility and reverence
5. Offering services
6. Rejoicing at virtue
7. Dedicating merit
8. Listening to Dharma teachings
9. Teaching Dharma (collaboration, leading discussions, meditations)
10. Straightening our views
All these virtues are the principles of Karma, so from doing virtuous actions we’re going to get the opposite effects than we do from the non-virtuous actions. For the karmic effect to take place and bring a future effect, it has to have four factors: the object, the intention, the action, and the completion of the action.
Another thing to be mindful of is the weigh each karmic action carries. This can vary according to the strength of intention, method of action, lack of antidote, distorted views, and the object. The strength of our intention is one of the things that influence whether an action is heavy or light. If we have a very strong intention it makes it heavier. For eg:- if you kill a living being, whatever it is, if there’s a strong intention, anger, or attachment, then that makes it heavier.
We are held responsible for our actions and, more precisely, for the intention of our actions. Gravity is a law of the physical world, so is Karma a law of the spiritual world. Karma is not physical, it is spiritual, and we carry karma forward through time within a given lifetime or, as some believe, in the form of reincarnation. This deeper understanding of karma depends upon our essential identity as souls. Understanding karma can be a key to living well. The law of karma is about choice. Sometimes we can’t control what is happening in our world, but we can absolutely control how we respond to what is happening. Whether you believe in karma or not, the principles can help you live a better life.
The soul is the great guide within, the inner voice, the conscience. Its purpose is to perpetually engage in inspiring, counseling and messaging, softly, unobtrusively and without compulsion of any kind, the correct path of righteous action, our duties and responsibilities - right from wrong. The most creative and compassionate acts, like the works of art by Michel Angelo, inspirational discoveries and inventions and the humanitarian labours of Mother Teresa and other saints, take place when the 'Host' fully heeds the souls counseling. Thus, the 'Host' body hears it all, may take heed, or as is generally the case, ignore or rationalize the advice of the inner voice, to suit its ego generated compulsions and purposes or worse dismiss the inner voice as an irrelevant thought. Having stirred the conscience the souls purpose is completed. The rest is up to 'You'. The soul is therefore the compass on the corporeal boat and yet many 'ships' are lost on the high seas of life.
We now arrive at the theory of reincarnation. Though Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cosmologies are entirely different from one another, the common denominator in all three faiths is the belief in rebirth. Here of course we shall solely be examining the concept of reincarnation in the Hindu context and more particularly as expounded by the Gita.
Let us begin by asking, whose rebirth? When we say 'your' rebirth we do not mean rebirth only of the personality-ego complex which represent you in your subtle body, now modified for the next lifetime at the moment of rebirth. What is also meant is the rebirth of the entrapped soul force within you, the 'indweller', the one who during the lifetime was shrouded by your body, ego and personality. The eternal soul now sheds the deceased body/personality and assumes a new one. Here let us see what the Gita has to say:
''It (the soul) is neither born nor does it die. Coming into being and ceasing to be, do not take place in it. Unborn, eternal, constant and ancient, it is not killed when the body is slain.'' ''As a man casting off worn out garments puts on new ones, so the embodied one (the soul), casting off worn out bodies, enters others that are new.''
The analogy is aptly one of shedding an old garment and wearing a new one. But the new garment, to extend the analogy further, is not one which the soul can choose. It cannot demand an exquisite garment from a designer shop. On the contrary it lies before the soul, tailor-made according to Karmic specifications. The traces, effects and 'odours' registered in the Subtle Body ( discussed in earlier - The subtle body and the law of Karma) determine the kind of new garment the soul is obliged to 'wear' - the new body/personality which will embody the soul for the next lifetime. Thus rebirth takes place with a new modified entity as the host of the soul.
This process of rebirth can go on indefinitely until all Karmic debts and obligations are fully discharged. We may wonder what is the purpose of this exercise. The purpose is the evolution of man on the earthly plane. The Karmic law ensures, by designing a new personality and body that lessons which earlier incarnations failed to learn may well be learnt in the new life. Thus eventually, slowly but inevitably, the process of evolution begins to gather momentum after several false starts and hicups and the shroud that was a thick coarse blanket begins to refine.
The shining spark of divinity within, the soul, is the supreme standard to which the physical entity has to aspire in the course, if necessary, of hundreds of thousands of life-times. As it begins to approximate the perfection of the 'indweller and reflect in some measure the divinity within, the shroud gets refined, until in its very last incarnation the personality/body has shed all ego with its attendant grave failings and stands out as a shining, altruistic star totally reflecting the divinity and perfection of the soul within. Such a state would have been achieved by the personality/body of the Buddha in his last incarnation or innumerable other prophets, sages, ] Picture the role or function of a Buddha: to enlighten the path for other people to follow, so they too can cross the stream of samsara and reach Nirvana.
At this point of enlightenment, the 'shroud' finally slips away and there is total identity between the soul and the person in question. Karmic effects have now dissolved, there is no debt left in the subtle body ('History' in the PC now stands deleted) and at this last death, reincarnation ceases with 'Moksha;, 'Nirvana', enlightenment - whatever one calls it and the soul finds ultimate release from the cycle of reincarnation, merging back into the divine source from which it emerged, even as the drop of water that had been thrown up from the ocean by the tidal wave, falls back into the ocean and becomes one with it.
In India people are enjoined to meditate on the divinity within and seek to sense the presence of the soul, as an exercise in evolution. The purpose of life is to get to know ones 'true' nature (Svabhav in Sanskrit), which is the perfection of the indwelling soul, itself an extension of the Universal Essence. The goal is to recognize and access this divinity within. This is enabled by prayer, contemplation and meditation but above all through dispassionate, compassionate and altruistic action. However, the scriptures mention the great difficulty of sensing the soul. The Gita cautions that the soul is indeed quite inconceivable and difficult to access. It is shown as dwelling within the gross body, divine, eternal, blissful and inactive, mysterious and virtually unfathomable. The Gita speaking of the soul says for instance:
''Some look upon the Self as a marvel, as a marvel another speaks of it and as a wonder another hears of it but though all hear of it none know it.''
According to seers, the difficulty of sensing the soul, divinity within, is so great that people find it easier to objectify divinity by worshipping or admiring a prophet, an Avatar, a Guru, a saint, or even an idol as a sacred symbol.
The Hindu concept of the ubiquitous presence of the Universal Essence, as souls in every individual, generated the idea of 'Same - sightedness' (Sama Darshinah in Sanskrit) - seeing the same essence in the highest and the lowest in creation - a democracy of the spirit. The Gita underlines this concept thus:
'' Men of self-knowledge see the Eternal equally in a wise and courteous Brahmin (man of learning), a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcast.''
One then sees that the Divine essence is in all, and all are in it. This supreme egalitarianism becomes possible because the essence of the creator is present in every minute atom of his material creation.
This sense of the universal presence of divinity is further explained in the Gita in the following verses:
''He who sees me everywhere and sees all in me, he never becomes lost to me, nor do I become lost to him.''
''He who established in oneness, worships me abiding in all beings, that yogi lives in me....''
Such a mind-set creates the right attitude for engaging in the welfare of all, a humanitarianism which is concerned for the well-being not only of mankind but of the animal world as well and beyond to inanimate objects comprising nature (equally imbued with divinity) - an attitude that would encourage the environmental consciousness of today.
The placing of a vermillion dot or mark on the forehead at religious ceremonies among Hindus and by women as a cosmetic adornment, become a daily reminder of the existence of the soul within. The vermillion mark indicates the location of the seat of the soul.
The presence of the soul as a divine fragment in every individual is further highlighted through the customary Indian salutation and greeting of one another with folded hands. People often wonder why Indian culture has adopted this mode of greeting which elsewhere is reserved for prayer in places of worship. The salutation with folded hands is not to the ego-personality you happen to meet but to his soul, the divinity within him. That explains why it looks more like a gesture of prayer than a greeting.
Likewise in Hindu temples the priest after worshipping the deity on the altar with waving wicker lamps turns to the gathering of worshippers and waves the light at them in a second gesture of worship. Here he is acknowledging the divinity within the gathered congregation. God is both on his high altar as the worshipped and in the congregation as the worshippers.
Indian culture employs these varied devices, cosmetic, religious and through the mode of greeting, to underline the presence of divinity within every individual.
Mystics and saints in India have sought through song and dance to help ordinary people to sense the presence of the soul within, over the centuries. They did not utilize theological dialectic, esoteric philosophical conundrum, demanding yogic meditative practice or incomprehensible discourses to do so. They sought simply to move the heart of peasant and king alike, to feel and sense mystically what was for ordinary folk something beyond their understanding.
The Bhakti (worship through devotion and love) movement of the sixteenth century became the vehicle for passing on such difficult concepts to every hearth and home, taking the land by spiritual storm. The songs of the great mystic poet-saints of the period - Tulsi ( philosopher - poet), Sur (blind musician), Raidas (cobbler), Kabir ( weaver, muslim mystic), Mira (princess turned mendicant), Guru Nanak (founder of the Sikh faith), Bulle Shah ( Sufi poet), Shankaracharya ( Vedantic scholar and sage), Ramanujan (Philosopher poet) and a host of others, carried the concepts through poetry and devotional songs to the masses. The songs became as popular as Bollywood hits are today and are widely sung and heard morning and evening right to this day. Difficult concepts, carried on the wings of faith and emotion, became a part of popular folk music through soul-stirring renditions in verse.
A song for instance spoke of a man searching for the divine, looking everywhere in places of worship and pilgrimage centres but found Him nowhere, till he sat quietly dejected at home and suddenly found Him glowing in his heart. Another song speaks of a musk deer roaming the forest relentlessly in search of the heady aroma, wondering where it was coming from, little knowing that the musk was indeed within him. Kabir in his poem sang of his great amusement that the fish was thirsty though immersed in water. Raidas in his songs tells God that He is the sandalwood paste and Rai is the water, together fragrant or that Rai is the wick on which the lord is the flame, that Rai is the thread on which the Lord as a pearl is strung. All similes and metaphors conveying that the Universal spirit, through the soul, was within the individual and all he needed to do was to seek him there.
Like the poet saints, temple and court dancers in the classical traditions of Bharatnatyam (Tamil), Kuschpudi (Orrisa), Kathakali (Kerala), and the Mughal Kathak (entire north India) sought to convey the same message through movement, gesture (Mudra) and stylized eye movements. Folk dancers, village theatre, pantomime. puppetry and bardic couplets conveyed the same esoteric message simplified through the means of entertainment. Today Gurus, seers, yogis and Swamis address vast congregations assisted by television and the media to convey the same message of the presence of the soul within through analogy and metaphor.
From childhood we are led to believe that we are more than the physical self represented by the body - that in fact our essence is spiritual. We are told that at our core there is a Soul. This core, most faiths hold, is constant, indestructible, immortal and eternal. Most faiths underline that this core, the soul survives after the body perishes at death. Thus at funerals and at memorials we often hear people whisper 'may his soul rest in peace' or 'may his soul ascend to heaven' etc. When uttering such good wishes or blessings do we actually give any thought to what we may indeed be referring to?
While some faiths speak of the ascent of the soul to heaven or sometimes descent to hell, others speak of its reincarnation in future births in other bodies.
The soul goes by different names in different faiths, cultures and languages. Soul, for english speaking Christians, Atma for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and Rooh for Muslims. For Christians and Muslims it is not the living person but his soul or Rooh that eventually stands before the Almighty for judgement. For Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, the Atma passes from one lifetime to another getting embodied again and again before its final release from compulsive embodiment. This release from rebirth is called Moksha, Nirvana or enlightenment.
These appear to be varied interpretations and explanations of the same essential truth, depending on the cultural backdrop and metaphysical dogmas of the concerned faiths. But unless we go deeper and explore such concepts and relate them to individual experiences, we can no more understand this universal concept of soul, than when we began. So let us then commence our journey of exploration to see if we understand the soul as anything more than just a word in our language.
What is the meaning of this word we have often heard and used? There are many paths one can take to seek an answer. I can only begin by choosing one that appears familiar to me. Going along it I arrive at the august portals of Hindu thought and beliefs concerning the soul. For millennia the soul has been the subject of intensive introspection in India, a land immersed in mysticism and the spiritual quest, which produced great thinkers, sages, philosophers and prophets like Buddha and Mahavir (the last Jain prophet or 'Tirthankar' a contemporary of the Buddha).
India's quintessential scripture the Gita or Song Celestial, begins its discourse with a definition of the soul. It calls it the 'Indweller' (Antaryami), the one that dwells within. It also calls it the embodied one - one that has acquired a physical body. While the physical shell is destructible, its indweller, it asserts, is indestructible, eternal, not manifest, inconceivable and unchanging. It is neither born nor does it die. It describes it as stable, constant, invulnerable and ancient.
The question arises, where does this soul which gets embodied and becomes the 'indweller' come from. What is its source? This takes us back to the very fundamentals of Hindu metaphysics and cosmology. We cannot answer the question of the origin of the soul without first understanding the source from which it emerges. That source is obviously the Universal Essence, Universal consciousness, the Supersoul, Cosmic Being or God.
Hindu metaphysics is defined by western scholars as Transcendental Monism, a philosophical term which simply means the Oneness of everything, its indivisibility and grand unity. This is not Monotheism or the belief in a one and exclusive God without a second but indeed the oneness of both creator and creation. In other words, God is omnipresent and ubiquitous and the divine essence infiltrates every atom and particle of creation.
This divinity is present not merely at the spiritual plane but equally on the material and physical levels. Matter and Spirit are integrally conjoined and inseparable. The divine is thus universally present both as matter and spirit. Matter and Spirit, two facets of the Universal Essence or God, are not only inseparable and united but also exhibit attraction for one another by being in a state of perpetual interaction. While the material aspect is manifest, finite and perishable and recycled from creation to creation, the spiritual aspect is infinite, imperishable, constant and eternal. Matter is passionately attracted to the presence of spirit and spirit never leaves matter alone either, probing, infiltrating and combining with it.
The Oneness of the pristine Universal Essence becomes disturbed when an introspective, self consciousness stirs within it, as if it asked 'who am I' or again it asserted 'I am'. This 'I am' sounds like Aum the Hindu symbol of the sacred, the first primal sound resounding across the universe. This moment of acute self consciousness translates into what one may call the Big Bang of creation. At that moment the 'Unity' becomes splintered like our physical identity does in a dream. At that moment a tidal wave arises in the great Spirit's oceanic Oneness and with the wave, uncountable millions of drops are thrown up in a cosmic splash separating and rising up as sprays. The drops in the air are still parts of the ocean though apparently separated by the creative force of the tidal wave of the self conscious assertion of 'I Am' and destined to fall back before long, back into the ocean, to resume their unity with it.
The figurative analogy of the ocean and the drops is employed repeatedly in Hindu thought to illustrate the complex metaphysical reality of the Universal Essence and its relationship to the soul incarnate.. The separated drops poised in the air momentarily, before they fall back into the ocean of the Universal Essence are the freshly generated souls. Thus we understand the origin of the soul.
The soul is therefore an integral part of the Universal Essence or divine source - a spark of divinity with all the attributes of the original source - indestructible, eternal, unchanging, all knowing - God in miniature. Apparently separated and thrown up from the oceanic heart of the Universal Essence, it now journeys to the physical plane like a meteor entering earth space, bright and incandescent.
Matter is furiously attracted, as we observed earlier, to this magnificent spark of divinity, much like a mob is attracted to a film star, swarming him, or as iron filings are drawn to a magnet. Different combinations of matter - pure and subtle matter (Satvik), dynamic and passionate matter (Rajsik) and inert and fetid matter (Tamsik) - swarm the numerous falling star souls and envelop them in an irresistible embrace which cannot be deflected or denied. The soul is now entrapped in a material body and becomes what the Gita calls the 'embodied one'. Another analogy is that of a physical shroud covering a spiritual heart.
In the Gita, God speaks of the incarnation of the soul thus:
'' I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all beings...''
'' An eternal portion of Myself becomes the eternal soul in the living world, drawing to itself Nature's five senses and the mind '' in other words matter.
The 'shroud' or physical body has certain attributes which we call personality. There are numerous shrouds with varying textures (people with a range of personalities) covering the souls which are themselves beyond personality, being divine, pure and eternal. The physical personality,which the en-trapped soul does not share, is also called Ego. Unlike the soul's purpose, which we shall discuss later, the Ego or physical personality's purpose is defined by self-preservation - survival, success and well-being of the physical entity by overcoming any obstacles that come in its path. This compulsion to survive produces the qualities of that personality - selfishness, desire to procreate and thereby perpetuate oneself, jealousy arising from comparisons and competition, aggression to enable acquisition of something valuable that another may possess, dominance to subdue others, sorrow, pleasure etc. The shroud is made up of these materialistic qualities.
Some shrouds are thick, coarse and rough. Others are of fine texture and some are so refined as to be transparent. The soul is not visible through some shrouds that are thick like blankets. But as the shrouds improve and evolve its light begins to show through and finally when the shroud becomes transparent, the soul shines forth.
The personalities of people like Gandhi or the Buddha would have been such refined shrouds and the soul would then shine brightly through their eyes, their actions and their deeds.
The material shroud that covers the soul or the human body that embodies it, basically are quite independent of the soul, neither being governed, dominated or directed by it. The body or person is in fact governed, directed and dominated only by the personality-ego - mind complex, which is entirely physical. The ego goes about urging the physical person to do its bidding in enhancing pride and prestige, acquiring wealth, satisfying desire, rising above others, imposing one’s will, exercising power, dominating others, preserving, protecting and enhancing its level of existence by obsessively grasping every opportunity. What role the soul plays we shall see later.
We learnt that it is the Ego and not the soul that dictates to the physical self what it needs to do to survive in the world of senses. The actions that the physical self performs to satisfy the ego's demands produce Karmic effects. Here the law of Karma comes into play. The nature of actions, good, bad or indifferent create Karmic results and effects which inexorably get registered as marks, scars, or odours (called Sanskars in Sanskrit) left by previous and present actions, inclinations, desires and acquired potential. Where are these marks registered? This brings us to the nature of the physical self as understood by Indian philosophical traditions.
These traditions hold that the physical 'body' is not merely what appears to the eye. What is visible is merely the gross body, but enveloping it are other layers of physicality, even though not visible to the naked eye of an ordinary person. That is what in the West has been termed as Auric phenomenon. These are pulsating fields of energy falling within the definition of the physical, which hover around the gross body and are an integral part of that body. We need not here go into details but briefly these sheaths are those of the vital force ( Prana- the harmonized bodily functions that allow the body to function in good health ), the mind and the understanding. Even though the other sheaths are not clearly manifest and tangible, like the gross body is, they are essentially a physical category as opposed to the spiritual one and are known in India and elsewhere in mystical circles as the subtle body.
It is in this subtle body that the 'History' of every act and its effects are registered indelibly (much like history is in present day Personal Computers) and which sets in motion the dynamics of the Law of Karmic effects - 'as you sow, so shall you reap'. While the subtle body is marked by all the traces and effects and 'odours', its 'Indweller', the soul is not.
The subtle body incurs the effects of action under the law of Karma but the soul, though dwelling within it (Indweller - Sanskrit: Antaryami) does not. Through all the actions generated by the ego - personality-body, the soul remains untouched, pure, eternal and uncontaminated by these actions of the 'shell' or 'shroud', standing aside as it were, observing but not participating. We must remember that it is indeed a part of the Universal Essence, the Supersoul. It is after all, God in miniature within your body even if that body or personality is immersed in sinful activity. Just as God is not responsible for your good or bad deeds neither is the soul. The Gita explains that the soul incurs no sins committed by the body it inhabits and forever remains untainted. Why so is the obvious question. The answer lies in several verses/cantos of the scripture:
'' he truly sees who knows that all actions are done by Prakriti (nature or the acting body's inherent characteristics and impulsions ) alone and the Atma (soul) does not act''
and again''....he who in imperfect understanding looks upon the Self (soul) as the agent (of action) - he does not see at all. and again any circumstances. The soul is within the host but distinct Having mentally renounced all actions, the self disciplined indweller (soul) rests in the city of nine gates (the body and the senses), neither acting nor causing action.''
The 'agent' often spoken of in the Gita is the ego-body complex. It is free to act the way it wishes. This is not a deterministic puppet show with human puppets on a string controlled by an inexorable fate or divine command. The human entity, the body-ego-personality, is free as was Hitler to commit the gravest atrocities based on free will while of course, accumulating negative Karmic effects with dire consequences in this and future incarnations. On the physical plane there is total freedom and free unhampered will to act for good or ill. Thus the Gita explains:
''The Lord (God) does not create an agency or actions for the world. He does not create fruitful consequences for actions. Nature ( the ego- personality complex as doer and the Law of Karma meting out consequences) does all this.''
The law of Karma (like the law of gravity) is the inexorable natural law at play on the earthly plane and like any body of law strictly applies measured consequences for actions committed. The soul merely councils prudence but does not dictate - it is the voice of your conscience which you are free to ignore.
Thus we see that the soul is not the agent of action, the ego is. We also see that it does not dictate terms to the ego. We are also familiar with the idea that the soul is a fragment of the Divine Essence and the 'indweller'' in the body. Often in India the devout call God the indweller (Antaryami) and when in prayer or meditation they look inwards to the God within. Does the fact that divinity resides within us make us divine? No it does not. The content is divine not the container. There is divinity within you but you are not divine.
As this is so, the question arises whether a person can identify himself with his soul. When he says 'I', whom is he referring to? The 'I' of a person is his personality and ego, his actions, acts of omission and commission, in the present and in past lives, which have registered in his subtle body and which produce the Karmic dynamics for shaping his future incarnations. Like the DNA of a cell, his actions past and present are the determinants of his future form and incarnation. The 'I' is therefore not his soul under any circumstances.
We saw that the soul does not act nor is it an agent of action. Actions arise from the free will of the ego and the personality - ego - body which then faces the consequences. As the soul does not engage in action it is not tainted by it, though it continues to inhabit the body that commits those actions. If the soul is not tainted by the actions of the body, urged by the ego (neither participating nor taking responsibility for them) and cannot control or direct those actions, we may as well ask what is the purpose of the soul inhabiting that body! What indeed is the role or utility of this apparently passive, non- acting soul as 'indweller'.
Humans are programmed to assess environment, people, situations so we can create our model of the world. Depending on our conditioning and belief systems, we compare ourselves to others either unconsciously or consciously. Imagine what happens when we compare our lives to others, our kids to other kids, our cars to other cars, our bank accounts to other people’s bank accounts. Comparison can bring a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure in our already pressured lives by not making us feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments.
In some cases, you may compare yourself to others to feel superior and feed your ego. Or maybe you compare yourself to others and feel inferior. Even highly accomplished people carry the parasite of comparison that eats away at their contentment. Comparison can even get into our unconscious minds, stopping us from having fulfilled lives. So no matter what you accomplish, grass always seems greener on the other side.
I invite you to take a moment and think for yourself. Are you comparing yourself to others consciously or unconsciously? How does it show up in your life? Do you feel superior or inferior?
Due to our tendency to compare, wanting to be like someone else and achieve so called perfection, the plastic surgery industry has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Perfection is a funny word because nothing is perfect and still everything is perfect just the way it is. We all have our own preconceived image of perfection that comes from our understanding of the world. That’s why on the yogic path, it’s said that “our conditioning is Maya,” which means “illusion.” We all see what we want to see. There are no perfect jobs, bodies, or people. It’s an illusion, but we believe that there’s some perfect person out there and compare ourselves to it. Perfection is just a projection of an image in our minds and that’s why perfect means different things to different people. It depends on our culture, country, religion, society, social circle, and our programming/conditioning.
In China, until the turn of the 20th century (and for 1,000 years before) having small feet made women desirable to men, so mothers broke and bound their daughters’ feet to make them perfect— which is just one example of how far humanity will go in search of perfection. And still we believe our lives won’t be perfect without that perfect Lexus, our body won’t be perfect without a boob job or Botox, and our kids won’t be perfect without straight A’s.
In order to stop this cycle and love and accept ourselves completely, fully, and unconditionally, we need to observe our thoughts and behaviors and become aware as awareness is the first step before change. Once there is awareness, now you can take action. Whenever you notice yourself comparing your body, hair, face, life, money, etc. with another person’s; interrupt this comparison by making a funny gesture or sound that’s unique to you. You could burst into laughter, and say, “I did it again.” Practice saying to yourself, “I’m exactly as I need to be.” or “I am enough, I have enough.”
My invitation to you is to work on becoming a better version of yourself instead of trying to become like someone else. Anytime you catch yourself comparing any parts of your body or life to someone else’s, bring your attention back to yourself. Count the blessings in your life, admire your unique qualities, and consider the following questions
What can I learn from this person?
What qualities of this person do I want to cultivate in myself?
How can I integrate these qualities in my life?
Either make them a role model or drop the comparison. The more you accept yourself and your life for what it is, you will notice less stress in your life. You may find that it takes some time to train yourself to stop the comparison and self-judgment, but over time bringing awareness to your thoughts is an effective way to rewiring your brain.
So from this moment onwards, become aware every time you feel jealousy, envy or comparison arising and see if you can break the pattern by becoming fully accepting of yourself and your life. Remember - Everything is perfect just the way it is...
Find out more about Anshu Singh’s Book and her work at: www.thepleasurerevolution.com
“The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all” (55-56).
In his wonderful book, “The Art of Loving,” Erich Fromm believes that love is an art, an attitude or set of capacities that need to be cultivated in order to live a flourishing life. According to him, love is the solution to the existential problem that we are inherently separate and isolated individuals. To overcome our isolation, and the anxieties that follow from it, we yearn to connect and fuse with other people. Fromm discusses the unsuccessful ways we try to fuse with others, and develops a theory and practice on how we can love successfully.
Fromm argues that a key component in loving others, is the ability to love yourself. Moreover, loving yourself is vital for living a flourishing life. Self-love is the opposite of selfishness. For Fromm, selfishness is the result of not loving ourselves. The selfish person “can see nothing but himself; he judges everyone and everything from its usefulness to him” (56). He takes rather than gives, uses people instrumentally and does not see them as “ends,” that is, as unique, independent human beings that deserve care and respect. Self-love is the opposite. It’s the capacity to treat yourself and others as ends, not means.
For Fromm, the capacity for self-love is grounded in the same four capacities for productively loving others: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. Fromm discusses these four capacities in terms of loving others, but does not spend enough time, I believe, discussing them in terms of loving ourselves. Nonetheless, I think he gives us enough information to do this.
Care “is the active concern for the life and growth of that which we love” (25). This requires the active participation in the well-being of others as well as ourselves. This reminds me of what Montaigne said to his friend when he told him that he did nothing that day. “What did you not live? That is not only the most fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations” (Essays, III, 13). We must take time for ourselves. We are constantly trying to meet the demands of our hectic lives, and rarely take the time to care for ourselves. Going for a walk, listening to the music you love, or reading a good book are not frivolous enterprises or a waste of time. It is vital for your well-being. If you do not take care of yourself, how can you possibly care for others? Just as you should not treat others instrumentally, you should not treat yourself like that either.
Responsibility “means to be able to respond” (26). Loving entails being able to respond to the needs of others as if they were your own. Sadly, we sometimes do not even respond to our own needs. In this day and age, we tend to spend most of our time looking outward, seeing ourselves through others, and defining our needs according to them. We need to take responsibility for our own lives, and look inward so that we can listen to ourselves. “Trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string” (Emerson, Self-Reliance). We must feel the unique vibration of our soul. By doing this, we will then discover who we are and what we need to live a vital, flourishing life. This takes time and patience.
Respect is “the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is” (26). For Fromm, the only way for this to happen is for you to achieve freedom and independence so that you do not use people as a means to your own end. Freeing yourself from depending too much on others is critical for living well. On the one hand, I agree with Martha Nussbaum that we are fragile creatures who necessarily live lives of contingency. That is, we must rely on things outside of our control that can potentially cause us anxiety, pain, and sorrow, as well as excitement, joy and happiness. If we try to eliminate anxiety, pain and sorrow from our lives by only concerning ourselves with what we can control and rejecting things outside our control, we also will necessarily eliminate the joys of life, essentially losing the experience of being fully alive (see Fragility of Goodness). But, on the other hand, if we depend on others too much, we can lose our integrity and sense of self. We need to carve out an independent space for ourselves so that we can be resourceful and help nourish and cultivate our own growth as well as others. We need to tend our own garden so that we can feed ourselves and others.
Knowledge of yourself and others, for Fromm, is found only through love. “In the act of loving, of giving myself, in the act of penetrating the other person, I find myself, I discover myself I discover us both, I discover man” (29). Montaigne speaks of this when he talks about his friendship with Etienne de la Boetie.
“Our souls travelled so unitedly together, they felt so strong an affection for one another, and with this same affection saw into the very depths of each other’s hearts, that not only did I know his as well as my own, but I should certainly have trusted myself more freely to him than to myself'” (Essays 1, 27).
Our desire to know other people is braided together with our desire to know ourselves. By connecting with another person through conversation and shared experiences, we find ourselves responding in ways that baffle us and question the basic assumptions we have about ourselves. This is exactly how Socrates used conversation and social interaction to help us examine our lives. So sitting down with a friend or a new acquaintance and having a deep, genuine conversation is an important way to discover who you really are. Take the time to do it. If you do not do it now, when will you do it?
To begin, write down the ways in which you can exercise and develop these four elements. Then, start forming habits of self-love by actively engaging with yourself and others. You will find that by working on one, you will be working on the others. Get started. You won’t regret it.
Self-Love by Philosophical Living
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (HarperCollins, 1956, 2006)
Discovered in the late 19th Century, in Texas, Marfa Lights are yellow orbs seen floating over the high- dessert grounds near the Chinati Mountains. Since these orbs are seen in the vicinity of the region of Marfa (14 km East), they are called The Marfa Lights. Most often they are also described as twinkly, yellowish-white lights that glow, fade, disappear and reappear at a different place and most often look like lit basketballs floating above the ground. Witnesses have said that the ball of light also often changes colour and at times, spilts apart to make two different orbs. However, there have been reports which state that on moving closer to the site, the lights tend to disappear.
Marfa a small town, in Texas, was only found in the 1880’s, as a water stop andin WWII it become a training hub for the Marfa Army Airfield. It is this private land where the sighting appears. WWII pilots havealso reported seeing these lights. The lights have been spoke off by a few visitors in the 1880’s, however, the first written record is only from 1945. Since then The Marfa Lights have become a tourist attraction. The most important question is, why and how do these lights appear? A number of speculations have been made, some of them being extremely bizzare. Some of the earlier speculations include- the ghost of Apache Chief Alaste haunts the area, it’s the aliens trying to contact us and some others speculate that these lights are from a flashlight tied to jackrabbits. Surprisingly, no jackrabbits with flashlight have been found in the region! Some of the later and more scientific speculations suggest that the lights appear due to refraction of light that occurs due to the presence of layers of air of different temperatures. This is known as Fata Morgana; basically, a mirage.
A comparatively recent study carried out in 2011, formulated a conclusion suggesting that these were only car headlights on the U.S 67, that appeared warped, as the cars travelled 32km of flatland. However, as mentioned earlier, some of them saw the lights in early 1880’s, when automobiles were not driven in the region. Nevertheless, due to a lack of written records from the time, these claims cannot be supported. Local historian Lonn Taylor, says, “Most people who think they are seeing The Marfa Lights are undoubtedly looking at automobile headlights or ranch lights, but it is clear that there were other lights out there before there were either automobiles or electricity, and they are still out there." No research has been able to come to a clear conclusion, so The Marfa Lights could be an optical illusion, a mirage or could just be headlights! It is this mysterious element that makes the sighting all the more attractive.
According to Ayurveda, our mental attitude and health is impacted by the type of food we consume. Under Ayurveda food is categorized into tamas, rajas and sattva. Food is categorized based on the foods’ quality.Tamasic products (like meat, processed food or alcohol) dull the mind, while rajasic foods (like hot sauce and coffee) overwhelm and overstimulate.A sattvic diet is ideal for both, mental and physical well-being, since, it is considered to be pure and non-harmful (to oneself and others).
It is advised to not mediate prior to 2 hours after eating.
A sattvic diet would include:
1. Ripe fruits and vegetables
Some fruits have a high sugar content while others are low on sugar. One must have a balanced intake of both. The body produces glucose when it consumes fruits, which while meditation helps in boosting focus and alertness. Out of season vegetables must not be consumed.
Nuts are a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates and protein. They are the healthiest snack that provide the body with energy and also curb hunger. Therefore, they are the best go-to snack whether it’s a physical or a mental workout.
3. Dark Chocolate
Yes, dark chocolate if consumed in moderation can actually boost memory, enhance learning and help increase focus. However, excess chocolate may lead to an increase in fat content and calories.
One can also intake greens in the form of a smoothie. Fruits can work as a sweetener. Green vegetables are a rich source of antioxidants that help in boosting the brain. Addition of Avocados, flaxseed, and coconut oil is suggested, since they are a source of healthy fat.
A glass of water in the morning after you wake up is a good way to wake up your brain and rehydrate your body. Some people believe that meditating empty stomach helps, however, aim to have a glass of water.
What to Avoid?
Caffeine whether in the form of coffee, tea or soda; make it more difficult for the body and mind to calm down and enter a deeper meditative state. Some individuals may intake caffeine in order to stay awake during meditation, however, a glass of water could be consumed instead.
2. Simple Carbohydrates
Food and beverages such as fruit juices, pastries, white breadand processed foods cause the blood sugar to spike which makes us lethargic and tired.
3. Fat, sugar, starch rich and cheesy foods
Food heavy in fat, sugar, starch or cheese use up the bodies energy resource, making us drowsy and sleepy. You definitely don’t want to feel sleepy while meditating.
The nucleus which contains genes has traditionally been viewed as the control center—the brain of the cell. Nevertheless, research suggests that cells without the nucleus still continue with their functioning. Therefore, we no more need to believe that we are victims of our heredity, i.e. our genes or DNA. DNA is coated in a protective sleeve of protein; proteins are the building blocks of life and thought to be controlled by our DNA. However, scientists are now suggesting that it is the perception of environment by the receptor protein in the cell membrane that selects the genes which are specifically needed to react to the current situation. This means, the receptor protein selects the gene. The DNA is inactive if there is no perception. Furthermore, perception of the environment is not necessarily the reality of the environment. Therefore, it is not the environment but our perception of the environment which determines our biological reaction, and is also capable of rewriting our genes.
We generally perceive the environment either as positive or negative. When the perception is positive growth genes are activated. Negative perception activates protective genes, which then puts the body into a ‘fight or flight’ situation. In a ‘fight or flight’ situation the blood flow is directed away from the vital organs to limbs; giving less importance to the immune system. Our reflex functions are strengthened, whereas, mental and memory functions are hampered. Therefore, stress also makes us less intelligent and less clear-minded.
Your belief systems most often impact your perceptions and act as a filter between the real environment and your biology. Spiritual discourses largely shape our belief systems and therefore our perception. They are focused on developing an optimistic perspective to life which leads us to look at brighter side of situations and reduces stress, leading to a healthy lifestyle.
Ground-breaking research in the field of new biology that focuses on the impact of religion, spirituality and faith on health is here to radically change our understanding of life.
The thalamus, parietal and frontal lobe are the regions of the brain that are involved in matters concerning religion, spirituality and faith. The frontal lobe is responsible for the functions of focus and concentration and therefore when people engage in prayer and meditation the frontal lobe takes lead. Your parietal lobe processes sensory input and powers down during deep prayer, leading us to experience that sense of having loosed our earthly moorings. Frequent indulgence in prayer and meditation leads to permanent changes in the brain, example, having a thicker frontal lobe and an asymmetrical thalamus. Bulked up frontal lobes have indicated improved memory, eventually leading to a lower incidence of Alzheimer's at an older age. This is just one such example of the benefits of indulgence in spiritual activities like meditation.
Mindfulness as a means to enhance perception is an intervention that is gaining popularity and recognition. The word mindfulness originally comes from the Pali word ‘sati’, which means having the ability to be aware and attentive. In other words, mindfulness can be defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness techniques are rapidly taking form of therapeutic techniques.
Many researchers have focused on the following two factors of mindfulness-
1. Non-Judgemental Nature of Mindfulness
2. Present Centred Nature of Mindfulness
Non-judgemental nature of mindfulness enables individuals to make observations without over-identifying situations. This helps develop an attitude of acceptance which further leads to greater curiosity as well as better self-understanding. Moreover mindfulness results in disengaging individuals from habitual patterns and therefore helps in providing a more reflective response to problematic or difficult circumstances.
Present Centred Nature of Mindfulness aims at the de-automatization of habitual judgemental tendencies that limits us from attending to what is happening in the moment.
Researchers have characterized mindfulness as creation of new categories; openness to new information; and awareness of more than one perspective. In other words, mindfulness can be understood as the process of drawing novel distinctions; the distinction will be called novel as far as what is noticed is new to the viewer. As a result of indulgence in this process an individual does not rely on categories and distinctions made in the past (such as biases and stereotypes), but individuals take an action based on the present context. Therefore, mindfulness is predominantly characterized by dwelling in the present.
1. Reduces mental rumination
2. Improves working memory capacity
3. Helps sustain attention and suppress distracting information: improves academic performance and efficiency at work.
4. Individuals experience fewer depressive symptoms. Mindfulness- based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helps in treatment of depression.
5. Increases cognitive flexibility, e.g. Helps develop the skill of self-observation.
6. Reduces stress, anxiety and somatic distress: enhances intuition and helps in fear modulation.
7. Leads to brain changes that protect it against mental illness by increasing axonal density and producing protective tissue (myelin) around the axons.
8. Improves ability to use emotion regulation strategies (experience emotion selectively)
9. Relationship satisfaction: improves an individual's ability to respond well to relationship stress and improves the skill to communicate emotions to your partner.
10. Makes the immune system stronger, therefore ensuring physical well-being.
11. Reduces psychological distress and disorders like OCD, addiction, insomnia, recovery with cancer, etc.
12. Reduces age and race related implicit biases.
13. Increases self- compassion and body appreciation.
14. Let’s you know your true-self: helps you see yourself beyond those rose coloured glasses.
15. Among the elderly, mindfulness helps boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation and also helps decrease feelings of loneliness.
We already posses the ability to be mindful. Bringing attention to your direct experience (via your senses) and being aware of your state of mind (via thoughts and emotions) is the foundation of mindfulness. Research indicates when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.
Meditation as a practice provides an anchor to the present moment, therefore is a good technique to develop the skill of mindfulness. Following are the steps to practice meditation:
1. Sit comfortably; cross-legged or on a chair.
2. Straighten your upper body but do not stiffen it.
3. Rest your palms on your legs, where you find them comfortable.
4. Relax your neck and it’s not necessary to close your eyes.
5. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
6. When you find your mind wandering try to bring your attention to your breath.
7. It is not possible to completely eliminate thoughts, hence, instead of wrestling with them observe them and avoid reacting to them. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
8. At the end of the process, be aware of your emotions, thoughts and how your body feels.
In addition to meditation the following should also be practiced in order to be a mindful being:
1. Consciously be aware of where you focus, on your action and importantly on your intentions.
2. Don’t slip into the past, excessively worry about the future or constantly watch the clock. Allow yourself to do nothing at times.
3. Avoid passing judgements and negative emotions.Also don’t compare your present happy moments to previous ones.
4. Emotions and feelings are momentary, learn to let go and avoid ruminating over them.
5. Most importantly treat yourself and others with kindness and compassion.
The word “Chakra” in Sanskrit corresponds to a wheel. According to the Eastern spiritual philosophy there are seven chakras aligned along the human spine. Chakras can be visualised as the nerve centres across your body which necessitates smooth flow of energy.
All of these chakras are connected just as much as all the body organs are connected. It is very important to open the chakras and make them fluid. Awareness about balance and imbalance of these main chakras can contribute to physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well being.
Let’s go through this quick summary about chakras.
Root chakra (Muladhara)
Location: base of the spine
It is the chakra of basic necessities, stability and security. This chakra is about grounding and discovering aspects of self. A blocked root chakra may turn into behaviours ruled mainly by fear.On the same line, when the root chakra is overactive, fear might turn into greed and paranoia. Issues with control over food intake and diet are related to it.
Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana)
Location: above the pubic bone, below the navel
It is associated with the emotional body, sensuality, and creativity. This chakra is motivated by pleasure and enjoyment of life through senses. Opening your sacral chakra allows you to feel the world around and in us. This chakra is instrumental in developing flexibility in our life. Associated with the water element, it’s fluid and represents movement of emotions.
Navel chakra (Manipura)
Location: Upper abdomen
It deals with issues of self confidence and self esteem. It controls how you assert your identity in a societal structure. When it is open, you feel in control of your life, when under-active, you tend to be passive and indecisive. You’ would probably be timid and annoyed about not getting what you want.
Heart chakra (Anahata)
Location: centre of the chest
You have an ability to love, find beauty and compassion in smallest things in the world. When the heart chakra is open, you may feel being deeply connected and if there’s a blockage in the heart chakra, you may experience difficulties in your relation with others, such as excessive jealousy and cold heartedness.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)
Self expression is an important part of communication and lot of your social relations are based on your ability of communication. A proper balanced throat chakra will enable to voice out your thoughts in adequate way.
Third eye chakra (Ajna)
Location: between your eyebrows
The function of the third eye chakra is driven by the principle of openness and imagination. This is the chakra which brings forth the dual concept of “self” and “other” in existence. You see your “aatma” as different from “prakriti”. Bhagat Gita elaborates more in this relation between “aatma", “dehi" and “prakriti”.Awakening your third eye allows you to open up to an intuitive sensibility and inner perception.
Crown chakra (Sahasrara)
Location: top of the head
This chakra awakening is about consciousness, awareness, connection with formless. If this chakra is opened, it can lead you to touch the higher most consciousness and transcend all our limitations. It can also be equated with the concept of becoming divine self and universal consciousness.
There is continuous network of balance and imbalance of chakras in our bodies, that is how our emotional self is defined. A proper awakening of chakras can lead to the overall balance and proper functioning of “aatma" and “dehi”.
Blood pressure can be a silent killer if not in control it can cause many complications to your body. If you have high blood pressure here are a 6 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally with these herbs and plants. A quarter of all prescribed medications are for high blood pressure, and yet, long-term use can cause heart failure and heart attacks. If you are thinking of turning to natural treatments to lower your blood pressure, you have many herbal options.
According to people, peace is sitting on a mountain and meditating. Whenever your ego is satisfied, you are peaceful. Only in those places where your ego takes a hit, that is where you are not peaceful. If you have to go and sit on a mountain to be peaceful, that peace is not yours.When you come down you will have the same problems again.
Generally, in the world, when people talk about peace of mind, it is only about somehow making their ego comfortable.The more a person tries to be peaceful; he only loses his peace and goes off track. A person who is trying to be peaceful will never actually be peaceful. Generally, the peace that you achieve is only about making yourself comfortable. Peace can also come out of achievement. When you have achieved something, you feel very satisfied. This lasts just for a moment. But this peace is not peace. Peace means nothingness. Peace is not something that you create; peace is not something that happens. Peace is something that always is. What happens on the surface is disturbance.
Right now, most human beings think that having peace of mind is the highest goal in their life. Peace is not the highest goal. Peace is the “A” of life, not the “Z” of life. It is the most fundamental thing. If you don’t have anything else, at least you must have peace.
To be peaceful is definitely not the ultimate goal, because only if you are peaceful and joyful will your body and mind work at their best. Your capability is impaired when you are in some state of unhappiness, frustration or depression.
The famous philosopher Descartes described the pineal gland as the “principal seat of the soul.” You’ve probably heard of this gland being the “third eye,” a mystical chakra point residing right in the middle of your eyebrows. It turns out these ideas aren’t too far off. The small, rice-sized, pinecone-shaped endocrine organ known as the pineal gland sits alone in the middle of the brain and at the same level as the eyes.
How you think and feel every day depends on the pineal gland. As the producer of the hormone melatonin, the quality and duration of your sleep relies on how well it produces this hormone. This tiny organ regulates your daily and seasonal circadian rhythms, the sleep-wake patterns that determine your hormone levels, stress levels, and physical performance.
Of all of the countless foods, exercises and techniques used to help awaken and activate the pineal gland, perhaps none exist with as much power to take you to the highest levels of human consciousness than the following 3 tools. Since there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to activating and strengthening the pineal gland, the following techniques mentioned require self-discipline, dedication and a burning desire for ascended health and consciousness.
The pineal gland responds to the bioelectric signals of light and dark, and meditation activates this bioelectric energy. With practice, you can learn to direct energy to this highly-sensitive organ. It also helps to sleep in complete darkness and get lots of sunlight - especially as it rises and sets. The Pineal Gland is highly sensitive to the Circadian rhythms.
Drinking Pure Filtered Water
Calcification is the biggest problem for the Pineal Gland. Fluoride accumulates in the Pineal Gland more than any other organ and this leads to the formation of phosphate crystals. Eliminating fluoride may be the best first step for reducing health concerns. Use fluoride-free toothpaste, avoid tap water, and drink filtered water. For the best filtered water, use a reverse osmosis water filter.
The biggest brain benefit from fasting is the result of the detoxification that occurs during a fast. Since the body no longer has to work to eliminate new toxins, it is permitted to backtrack and clean up older stored toxins that have compiled in the brain and body throughout the course of a persons life. As a fast progresses the body is enabled to consume everything that is not essential to its proper functioning. This includes bacteria, viruses, fibroid tumors, accumulated waste such as chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, fluoride and other toxins are allowed to be further eliminated from the body as a result.
An affirmation is usually a sentence or phrase that you repeat regularly to make a formal declaration to yourself and the universe of your intention for it to be the truth. Affirmations refer primarily to the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that "a positive mental attitude”, supported by affirmations, will achieve success in anything. Careful how you frame your affirmations, they need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific.
So what makes up an effective affirmation? First, determine what kind of transformation you want to bring about in yourself—a goal or intention. Or determine what quality, attitude, value, or characteristic you want to remind yourself of or develop in yourself. Second, if it fits, add an emotion to the mix or a word that qualifies the statement.
Some say it takes 21 days of repetition for an affirmation make its mark on your psyche, so aim to keep your affirmation going for at least a month. In the beginning you will have to consciously choose to repeat your affirmations. If you repeat them at every opportunity they will begin to replace the negative mind banter that takes over when we are not monitoring our thoughts. See if you can make that dynamic tension go away by making your words and reality match.
Here are a few positive affirmations you could start your practice with:
~ I am peaceful in my body, mind and soul.
~ I am authentic and present
~ I see the best in everyone and they in me.
Getting up early in the morning and practising Surya Namaskar has many health benefits. Also known as the sun salutation, Surya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 yoga poses that flow one into the other with rhythmic breathing. The sequence can boost your cardiovascular health, improve your blood circulation, help you beat stress and detox your body along with offering several other benefits. Each of the steps has a benefit.
It has been said (by the ancient Rishis of India) that the different parts of the body are governed by different Devas (divine impulses or divine light). The solar plexus (located behind the navel, which is the central point of the human body) is said to be connected with the Sun. This is the main reason why the ancient Rishis recommended the practice of Surya Namaskar, because the regular practice of this technique enhances the solar plexus, which increases one's creativity and intuitive abilities.
The sequence offers you a good way to stretch and strengthen your muscles, joints, ligament as well as the skeletal system. The movements also help improve the flexibility of your spine.Due to the active inhalation and exhalation process, the lungs are thoroughly ventilated and the blood remains oxygenated. This also helps in detoxifying one’s body by getting rid of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases. The asanas performed in Surya Namaskar workout your entire body, making you more flexible and agile.
Sumer or the ‘land of civilised kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilisation with its own system of elaborate language and writing, architecture and arts, astronomy and mathematics. Their religious system was a complex one and comprised of hundreds of gods. According to the ancient texts, each Sumerian city was guarded by its own god; and while humans and gods used to live together, the humans were servants to the gods.
In 1849, Sir Austen Henry Layard, English Archaeologist and global explorer, found himself among the ruins of ancient Bablyon in southern Mesopotamia. It was there he discovered the first pieces of what would eventually become one of Archaeology’s most controversial puzzles: Cuneiform Tablets. Within these incredible ancient texts, are stories that have an uncanny resemblance to the Biblical stories of creation, deities, and even a reference to a great flood and a giant ark that survived it.
Sumerian Mythology suggests that reality is a biogenetic experiment created by their Gods and Goddesses in which humans would experience in the cycles of time. These deities would return at the end of time, not for the gold, but to restore the golden alchemy of consciousness back to its rightful state of light.
Atlantis is a legendary "lost" island subcontinent often idealised as an advanced, utopian society. The idea of Atlantis has captivated dreamers, occultists and New Agers for generations.
Unlike many legends whose origins have been lost in the mists of time, we know exactly when and where the story of Atlantis first appeared. Plato wrote about this in around 330 BC. Though today Atlantis is often thought of as a peaceful utopia, the Atlantis that Plato described in his fable was very different.
For most of the past two millennia, no one thought much about Atlantis; it was just what it appeared to be: a fictional place mentioned in a fable by the ancient Greek philosopher. Despite Atlantis' clear origin in fiction, many people over the centuries have claimed that there must be some truth behind the myths, and have speculated about where Atlantis would be found. Countless Atlantis "experts" have located the lost continent all around the world, based on the same set of facts. No trace of Atlantis has ever been found, despite advances in oceanography and ocean floor mapping in past decades.
Many of the bioactive compounds in the tea leaves do make it into the final drink, which contains large amounts of important nutrients. It is loaded with polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins, which function as powerful antioxidants. These substances can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, protecting cells and molecules from damage. These free radicals are known to play a role in aging and all sorts of diseases.
One of the more powerful compounds in green tea is the antioxidant Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), which has been studied to treat various diseases and may be one of the main reasons green tea has such powerful medicinal properties. Green tea also has small amounts of minerals that are important for health.Try to choose a higher quality brand of green tea, because some of the lower quality brands can contain excessive levels of fluoride. That being said, even if you choose a lower quality brand, the benefits still far outweigh any risk!
Green tea is loaded with bioactive compounds that can have various beneficial effects on health. In order to feel better, lose weight and lower your risk of chronic diseases, you might want to consider making green tea a regular part of your life.