Jamie Sparks
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Walking meditation

Posted by Jamie Sparks on March 4, 2012 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

So, maybe thus far, you might think meditation isn't for you, or that you don't have time to meditate, or even that meditation needs to bedone while perfectly still in full lotus with a straight spine.  Well, then here is a newsflash.  None of the above are true.  http://www.transformingourselves.com/Images/Meditation-leaf.jpg" />

Walking meditation can be done anytime, anywhere, it is easily incorporated into your life and doesn't require absolute stillness of the body (since you are in fact walking)  Walking meditation is meditation in action. When we do walking meditation, we are using the physical, mental, and emotional experiences of walking as the basis of developing greater awareness.  And it is a great way to develop awareness and inner stillness and bring it into our everyday lives.  All of us do some sort of walking every day (even if it is from the living room to the kitchen, or from the house to the car).  Any of these moments can be meditation.  And you can also walk in a circle in your living room, or in a lovely outdoor setting (my favorite!)

Many people find walking meditation to be an easier way to bring awareness into their bodies.  Some find it to be an even deeper bodily awareness when compared to sitting forms of meditation practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it.  Where as when sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and can be more challenging to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re walking, 

Walking meditation

This is a meditation I am offering to you to do prior to class.  You can walk around the edge of the yoga room.  Or you can make your walk from the car into the YMCA your meditation.  However, if you would like a longer amount of time (I suggest trying 5-20 minutes), I highly recommend a lovely park or wooded area.  The Botanical Gardens near UNCA are a great choice.  

First, start in tadasana, or mountain pose.  Become aware of your body and breath.  Notice your feet on the earth, where can you feel your feet contacting the earth.  Notice the weight of your torso over your legs and feet.  Notice your spine.  Heighten the overall awareness of your body.  This is more of a tadasana full of awareness, with a bit more of a natural everyday stance for you.  

Bring your awareness into the soles of your feet as you being to walk.  Be aware of the changes in weight as your foot leaves the ground and as your heel first makes contact with the ground, and then your weight shifts as your roll onto the ball of your foot.  Notice the travel of your foot off the ground into the air.  Be aware of all the different sensations in your feet, not just a contact in the soles of your feet but the contact between the toes, the feeling of the inside of your shoes, the fabric of your socks, and let your feet be as relaxed as you can. Become aware of your ankles, your knees, your hips.   Notice the qualities of the sensations in those joints – as your foot is on the ground, as your foot travels through the air.  If it is easier, stay with the awareness in the foot at first.  And as that becomes easier, increase your awareness throughout your body, as you walk, as you move across the earth.  Even notice how your clothing feels against your skin and how that changes with each step.  This can be done with a very slow walking rhythm or your natural cadence.  And stay relaxed. awareness increasing, tension decreasing, relaxation increasing.  

 You can notice your emotional states. How you are feeling.  What is going on in your mind.  Just notice these things with no particular judgment – just noticing.

You may then be able to being to notice the balance between your experience of the inner and the outer.  Your external experiences and your internal experiences. 

Here is another set of instructions on walking meditation in the nature of Thich Nhat Han, a wonderful Buddhist monk and teacher:  http://yogateacher.com/text/meditation/on-line/walking.html


Meditation in your daily life

Posted by Jamie Sparks on February 19, 2012 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (0)

So, I initially started writing these particular blog entries, to inspire my regular yoga students to come to yoga class at its normal start time, even though, for a 2 month period, I would be arriving 15 minutes later.  "What a perfect way to begin inspiring and sharing meditiation!" I thought to myself.  In a class just over an hour in a gym setting, where there are always brand new to yoga folks to a variety of years of experiences, it is challenging to create a a class that creates great foundation and also appeals to all levels.  And it seems one thing that often gets lost in a setting where you can hear the children in the adjoining room, doors are opening and closing, announcements are made over a PA system and many other distractions.....is the meditation.  And probably what would help quiet that outside noise the most, is the meditation.  As I have been writing these entries, I realized there isn't a lot I have to say about meditation.  This isn't for a lack of belief or lack of experience.  More that, I feel it is effective.  At least for me.  And feels great to bring into a daily routine.  There are only so many meditations to offer.   And personally, I like to stick with the same theme for extended amounts of time with very little deviation.  Why change what seems to work?  Is it to keep the mind from getting board?  Aha!  Meditation helps to quiet that mind that wants to reach for this thought and that thought.  Try this new thing and that new thing.  I realized the reminder in this writing is to keep it simple.  Go with what you know (or have recently learned) and just be there.  Be with the breath.  Be with observation.  Choose one of the simple meditations that I have offered throughout these blogs, or one of your one choice and resonance.  Stick with it and observe the effects.  Quiet the mind and the cravings for "more" or "new" or "broken record" or whatever it might be for you.  

Here are some interesting bits of information that I wanted to share about meditation.  None of these guidelines are hard and fast rules and they can help to fuel or inspire you as you culivate a more regular meditation routine.  

http://www.yogahealthandhealing.com/yoga-glossary/meditation-techniques-and-guidelines.html

Here I will also offer yet another simple basic meditation from yoga journal:  http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2600?page=2.  You may notice some simlarities between many of the meditations I posted.  Most of them are starting with basic techniques to quiet the mind and focus inward.  That is enough.  Give yourself that.  Even if it is 5 minutes a day.  

Enjoy the stillness!


Loving kindness

Posted by Jamie Sparks on February 19, 2012 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Loving Kindness Meditation-Mettha Bhavana

This Buddhist meditation practice is great for any of us.  How often do many of us feel separate and isolated?  How about struggling with self love?  This meditation can help us develop feelings of selfless love, while healing our confused feelings of separate-ness and cultivating a greater sense of connection.  There are 4 basic qualities to develop in this meditation practice:  loving kindness/friendliness, compassion, equanimity and empathetic joy. This practice firsts begins with a development of loving acceptance for yourself, then a respected person, then a beloved friend or family member and then a neutral person and finally someone you may struggle with.  For more on the basics of Mettha Bhavana, see http://www.wildmind.org/metta.

And how do we develop these feelings of loving kindness?  The first thing is to become aware of how we actually are feeling rightt now. This is essential groundwork.  So, I will offer these simple instructions to work with as a first part to practicing Metthaa Bhavana.  

 

Sit quietly, and take your awareness into your body.  As best you can, relax each muscle as you bring awareness to it.  Bring your awareness to your heart area, and see what emotions are present, smile, and watch what happens.  Just observe.  Remember: whatever emotions you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) are fine. You can work with those emotions, and you can only start from where you are.  Notice your heart space and what feelings and emotions arise there.  As you are ready, bring yourself back to the outside world and gently integrate.  

If you want to take this further, please see this lovely breakdown of the 4 stages on windmind.org:  http://www.wildmind.org/metta/one

To love our enemy is impossible. The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him/her, and he/she is no longer our enemy.    Thich Nhat Hanh

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  The Dalai Lama



Vipassana meditation

Posted by Jamie Sparks on February 12, 2012 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I attended my first Vipassana meditation a couple of years ago for my birthday.  This was a conscious intention to explore and observe myself more deeply and experience 10 days of an inward journey.  An amazing amount of insight can be gained in practicing nothing but meditation for 10 days.  Here is some of the basics of Vipassana style meditation.  

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living.

 

This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the result being the highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.  Through our developing awareness, we can begin to look at things as they really are, thus discovering their true nature.  

 

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

For more on Vipassana and courses in the area, see the website:  http://www.dhamma.org/

A wonderful documentary about Vipassana meditation techniques in the prison system is The Dhamma Brothers.  Here is the link to the trailer:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA8XFEyeMi8

BASICS OF VIPASSANA

The basic starting point of Vipassana meditation is to keep the attention on the natural rhythm of the every changing flow of the breath entering and leaving the body.  In your comfortable seated position, let your eyes close and begin to notice your breath.  More specifically notice the breath entering and leaving the body through the nostrils.  Connect with the sensations of the breath in the nostrils and at the upper lip.  If the mind wanders, observe and bring yourself back to the breath.  Let go of trying to control the wandering ever thinking mind, and just observe when it wanders and moves into thoughts.  Gently bring yourself back to the breath and notice the physical sensations of the breath.  With time and practice, we are able to observe our thoughts, rather than react, and more peaceful states of mind can be experienced.  

A 10 day course greatly expands on this basic meditation, guiding you into how to connect with your entire sensory essence, down to the organs.  I find this to be a very powerful meditation and is the basic one I come back to over and over again.  I highly encourage allowing yourself the opportunity to attend a course if you are able.  It can be very transormative.  


Anapanasati

Posted by Jamie Sparks on January 29, 2012 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Anapanasati is a core practice of many traditional Buddhist meditations, as well as many western mindfulness practices.  This is a practice of breath awareness, not breath manipulation. According to tradition, Anapanasati was originally taught by the Buddha in several sutras including the Ānāpānasati Sutta.   Anapanasati (Anapana-breath and sati-awareness or mindfulness)  means to feel the sensations caused by the movements of the breath in the body, as is practiced in the context of mindfulness.  This meditation is frequently used for its simplicity in instruction and understanding.  

To begin your practice of Anapanasati, find a comfortable seated position, with a long spine.  Hands resting in your lap.  Now begin by taking a few deep breaths to relax.  With your your spine lengthening out of your hips and the belly soft, being to breathe normally through your nose, bringing awareness to your inhalations and exhalations. Try to find a spot where your breath is most noticeable. This may be your chest, belly, throat, the tips of your nostrils, or elsewhere. Follow your breath as it moves in and out of you. This is not a breathing exercise in that you are manipulating the breath, but rather you are observing, feeling and noticing your natural breath.   As you observe your breath, count your breath from 1-10.  "inhale, exhale,1 ; inhale, exhale, 2 " and so on.  Each time you lose track of your count, start over.  The monkey mind likes to keep us activley thinking and during this meditation it is no different.  This is a great aid in focusing and calming the monkey mind (our active thoughts that jump around all over the place).  Use the counting ass tools to help you maintain a focus on your breathing. Do not let them become the object of your focus. Practicing anapansati can help you to be calm and clear during stressful or overwhelming times.  


 

Here is an additional link if you are interested in very specific details on Zazen, Anapanasati meditation:  

http://www.mro.org/zmm/teachings/meditation.php

Alternate nostril breathing

Posted by Jamie Sparks on January 23, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 This is not so much a medititiation, but a breathing exercise, or pranayama.  This practice can help to calm the mind, balance the body and aid in your meditation practice.  

When the energy is not balanced, one of the most visible ways in which this is seen, is in the nostrils. Most of the time, one or the other nostril is more dominant, allowing air to move more freely in that nostril. This is quite a natural process. However, when the nostrils are evenly breathing, the mind more easily quiets and likes to meditate.

 Alternate Nostril breathing, or Anuloma Viloma, is a method where you consciously work with that energy by regulating the physical breath in one or the other nostril. This in turn effects the energy and mind. It brings balance, and allows the energy to flow in the center, rather than on the left or right side.

To begin, take a comfortable seat.  First, sit with your eyes closed and begin to notice the depth of your breath and which nostril might be dominating.  Which one are you breathing out of, or breathing more fully out of.  Now, bring your right middle finger and index finger to your 3rd eye, with your thumb and ring finger available near your nostrils (to alternate closing off one nostril and then the other).  At first, close off the left nostril.  Take 5 even deep inhales and exhales through the right nostril.  Then close off the left and take 5 deep even inhales and exhales through the left nostril.  You may continue to do this for 2 more rounds.  

OR

Move to alternate nostril breathing.  Exhale all of your air and then close off the left nostril with your right ring finger (Right middle finger and index finger is still at your 3rd eye).  Inhale deeply through the right nostril.  Retain that breath and then close the right nostril with your thumb, opening the left nostril and exhaling evenly throught the left nostril.   Pause for a moment at the bottom of the exhale.  Then begin inhaling now through the left nostril, with the right nostril still closed with the thumb.  Retain that breath, close the left nostril off with the ring finger, releasing the thumb from the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.  This is one complete cycle.  

This is a relatively simple practice that can sound a bit confusing when reading.  Basically you are keeping your inhales and exhales even and moving from one nostril to the other, generally with an inhale and exhale on both sides.  The cycle starts and ends on the right.  You may choose to count as you inhale and exhale to lengthen the breath and to aid in keeping even inhales and exhales through both nostrils.  

This has a great effect on the autonomic nervous system and helps to calm the mind and balance the body.  For more information on Anuloma Viloma (drawings to guide you and some scientific evidence of the benefits of this pranayama practice), please check out this article  http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/pranayama/basic/viloma.asp.  

Monday meditations

Posted by Jamie Sparks on January 16, 2012 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Yoga meditation 

My view as I meditated on the beach one evening in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Notice the sun and the moon. 


I promised my yoga students I would send suggestions on various meditiations, during this period of time when I will be temporarily offering Monday's classat a later time.  Rather than creating a habit of arriving there at this later time, the habit to continue to arrive at the normal arrival time (or creating that habit of arriving at that time) seems way more beneficial.  Most of us thrive out of certain aspects of routine.   I think this is especially true in our spiritual, healing and personal practices.  So yogis, continue coming to class at 7 and take that  time to center, breath, ground and connect more deeply with yourself.  If you have a meditiation you are working with, feel free to continue working with it.  Again, our bodies and minds thrive off of consistency and routine.  Especially when we are acquainting ourselves with something new.  If you don't have a meditation practice, here is the most basic of meditations to begin to work with.  Why meditate?  In yoga, one belief is that meditation helps to clear the thoughts and to help us stop identifying ourselves as our thoughts.  When we stop identifying with these fluctuations of the mind, we can then identify with the true self, with Yoga!  In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says:

Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations or whirlings of the mind.  

Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah


Here are some basic guidelines for meditation.  Meditation doesn't have to be complicated or happen for extended periods of time.  If you are new to meditiaton, a practice of 5 minutes a day is just fine.  Allow yourself to work up to 15 minutes a day.  For those of you exploring this during the first 15 minutes that would normally be yoga class, see if you can sit for that entire time.  

Take a comfortable seat that you are able to maintain for the duration of your meditation.  Indian style, lotus variation, supported virasana (kneeling while sitting on a blanket,the inside edge of the feet resting against the thighs and the bottoms of the feet resting on the mat).  In all variations of seated positions feel free to sit on a blanket, block or bolster to elevate the hips and support an elongated spine perpendicular to the earth.  Let your hands also rest in a position you can comforatably hold.  Hands can rest palm up or down on the knees or in your lap.  

Now, be still.  Allow your body to experience stillness.  Let go of creating reasons to move and allow your body to find stillness.  Bring your awareness to your breath.  Feel the breath at the tip of your nose, on your upper lip and in the rise and fall of the abdomen.  Don't follow the breath moving through the body, just watch it at these basic points.  Let go of controlling or elongating the breath.  Watch the body take on its natural breath, watching it go in and watching it go out.  Breathing in, breathing out.  Let it go in, let it go out.  

Let your thoughts move like the breath.  Don't hold the breath and don't hold the thoughts.  Let a thought come in, let a thought go out.  Letting the thoughts pass through you like the breath.  Letting go of holding a thought to where you start thinking about it.  Don't think about breathing or actively breath.  Let your body be the breath and let your body do the breathing, while you observe.  Don't think.  Let the thoughts pass through the mind like your breath is passing through the body.  Observing, watching.  Be the passive witness.  

When you feel complete, lower your eyes as you gently open them.  Slowly begin to take in your surroundings, noticing the color and textures.  



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