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Meditation & Yoga

In House: Cyndi Lee on The Complete Package of Meditation and Yoga

By Cyndi Lee
April 10, 2018

Meditation & Yoga

 

It came without warning right at the beginning of the day trip down the river. I really don’t like water and I am a weak, underconfident swimmer at best. But people I trusted said it was fun and not scary at all. If you did fall out, you would land on a little rock and immediately be picked up in the next boat.

 

So I went and on the very first bend in the river, I slid out. There was no warning and no big inhale before plunging into icy cold, wildly churning water. And then there I was, trapped under a rubber boat in the whitewater rapids of the Pacuare River in Costa Rica.

 

No breath in my lungs and nobody can see where I am. I thought, “Wow, this is how it happens,” and I visualized a small obit in The New York Times: “Yoga Teacher Drowns Leading Retreat in Costa Rica.” My mind raced and my lungs tightened, but somehow I didn’t panic.

 

I never fully realized it before, but the yoga, breathing and meditation practices I had been doing for years had prepared me for this very moment. Practicing awareness, manipulation and retention of the breath allowed me to know intuitively that I could go without breathing for way longer than was comfortable. My daily twisting and inverting enabled me know what was up and down and to maintain a highly fluid sense of balance. Meditation had trained me to stay focused on the task at hand even while thoughts of my own death ran rampant through my head. I groped my way along the bottom of the boat and popped up into the rapids.

 

A very long minute later, a body-builder/yoga student of mine grabbed me by the collar and plopped me into his boat. My Buddhist teacher, Gelek Rinpoche, had taught me that to meet the dharma in your lifetime is as fortunate and rare as a tortoise’s head popping up into an inner tube in the middle of the ocean. In that moment I felt just like that tortoise. Sitting in the haven of boat #2, my heart hammering, my adrenaline rushing, my lungs gasping, I was as scared as I’ve ever been. But when I was under the boat I had not been scared. I was wide awake, balanced and steady. Mindfulness meditation, yoga asanas and pranayama are each powerful practices that can affect our lives deeply. But there is no doubt in my mind that in this life-threatening moment, it was the combination of the three that saved my life.

 

What do I do with this body and this mind? 

As a yoga teacher, I am passionate about yoga and have been fortunate to share this passion with many students over the past 20 years. I have been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for more than 10 years and it has been a natural evolution for the two lineages to merge in my teaching. Yoga and Buddhism offer insights and experiences that complement each other and together complete a basic homework assignment for human beings: What do I do with this body and this mind?

Back in 1972 I started taking yoga classes for an easy P.E. credit in college. The feeling of being cleansed-like taking a shower from the inside out-was unmatched any other kind of exercise I had experienced. My teachers were inspiring and I was highly motivated. It didn’t take long for me to be able to hold my breath for over a minute or to stand on my head for five minutes. I was hooked.

I got left behind, though, when it came to the “spiritual” part. I just didn’t get it when my teachers quoted Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutra, who wrote, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” They closed their eyes and somehow seemed plugged into a big bliss cloud of happiness. I tried to feel blissful, but then the class was over. Walking down the street, my body was strong, clean, juicy and open, but I felt inadequate and cranky.

 

Yoga is a mirror

It turns out that my experience wasn’t that unusual. While most people do walk out of yoga class in better physical shape than when they walked in, personal awakening may still elude them. Yoga is an unparalleled method of strengthening muscles, enhancing breathing, cleansing toxins and soothing the nervous system, but the sense of harmonious rejuvenation that arises by the end of the class may dissipate once our feet hit the pavement in front of the yoga studio door. A person’s body may change but their mind will still be jumping, their heart still buried under layers of tension and fear.

 

As a teacher I have seen again and again that if you are a Type A personality, you will do your yoga practice with the same aggression and competitiveness that shapes the rest of your life. If you are sloppy, your posture will reflect that. If you are easily frustrated, the challenges of yoga may magnify that tendency. It has been my experience that the physical practice of hatha yoga alone is not strong enough medicine to alter those patterns-particularly in the maelstrom of today’s world.

 

Awakening to Buddhist meditation as a companion for yoga

My dissatisfaction with yoga left me with a longing for something more, a sad empty feeling. Remembering that my dad’s prescription for loneliness or depression was always to do something helpful for someone else, I began to search for a way to take the focus off myself and still be myself. I read about maitri, the loving-kindness aspect of Buddhism, and was drawn to explore that. So when a friend of mine invited me to attend teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I signed on for two weeks worth of teachings.

 

The first week was slow going, what with translators explaining to us Westerners the teachings of these great lamas. Some of the teachers wore business suits, some wore elaborate robes and exotic hair-dos. I didn’t have a clue who they were or what they were saying, but I liked being there. The second week His Holiness explained what it meant to be a bodhisattva, and without hesitation I signed on with a bodhisattva vow.

 

Through a friend I met the Tibetan teacher Gelek Rinpoche. For at least the first year I studied with him I struggled to follow the teachings, and even to stay awake during his all-day talks. But although I didn’t exactly know what he was talking about, I always felt that he was talking right to me. It seemed like he always knew exactly what was problematic in my life and would frame his talks just to help me. I noticed that I was becoming more grounded, more patient and more conscious of others, and over time, inspired by the kindness of my teacher, I began to share what I learned from him with my yoga students. The teachings and techniques were a natural fit with yoga asana practice.

 

As my Buddhist practice developed I learned to watch my thoughts come and go like watching birds playing in the sky. This mindfulness training began to seep into my yoga practice. Rather than looking for bliss by dropping out, I dropped in, taking notice of my physical sensations and the thoughts that arose in connection to them. I realized I had the same thought every time the teacher said, “Let’s do backbending.” I thought I didn’t like backbends, but my relationship to backbends changed when I recognized that thinking pattern.

 

Applying Buddhist meditation instruction to how I did yoga postures slowed me down enough to feel my breath, my heart and my mind. My sense organs softened and opened, allowing me to experience each individual new backbend. I discovered that my backbends were different all the time and that was interesting to me. In fact, meditation gave me license to just let that happen, instead of trying to stifle my thoughts and become something different than who I am.

 

My Buddhist teachers said mindfulness meditation was “synchronizing body and mind” and I understood that conceptually. But after sitting on the cushion for a whole weekend I thought, “What body?” Didn’t the Buddha ever walk, stand or climb stairs? History tells us that he did engage in extreme yogic practices and ultimately found them unsatisfactory. Finally, after sitting still under the Bodhi tree he became enlightened, and then got up and began to move through the world again.

 

The Eight-Limbed Path

Patanjali is credited with writing the Yoga Sutra about 150 years later. Although yoga is often associated with Hinduism, it is most closely aligned with Sankhya, one of the six classical Indian darsanas, or “ways to see.” Sankhya is an attempt to explain the nature of all existence by dividing it into purusha, that which is unchanging, and prakrti, or matter. It tells us that the separation of these two states is the cause of our suffering and that the path to liberation is through repression of our thoughts, withdrawal of our senses, and denial of our body in order to reconnect with our true Self. This re-union is the state of yoga, from the verb yuj; to yoke or bind.

 

The practices of introverted concentration associated with this state are described in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali as an eight-limbed path: yamas (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). The limbs begin by refining our behavior in the outer world and then lead us more and more inward until we reach samadhi. Most people doing yoga today are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of immobility.

 

Buddhism begins with the premise that life is suffering but ultimately leads us outward, rather than only inward. We start the Buddhist path by sitting still and stabilizing our mind. From the spaciousness that arises during this practice of calm abiding, we naturally begin to feel our heart. Combining the practice of non-grasping wakefulness with exercises that generate compassion gives us a recipe for how to interact intelligently, soulfully and spontaneously with ourselves, each other, our family and the world.

 

These teachings invite us to open up to who we already are, rather than look elsewhere for connection, because the seed of awakened heart is within all of us already. It’s our heritage as human beings. It’s just that we can’t always feel our beautiful lotus heart blooming because we get stuck on ideas of fear, jealousy, anger, hatred, greed.

 

Remaining in the immediacy of everything

But Buddhist meditation techniques reveal that none of these emotions are solid and with practice we learn how to watch them arise and fade away and still stay steady on our seat or on our feet. We learn how to remain in the immediacy of everything, for example, backbending, rather than what we are thinking about backbending. Then loving-kindness invites us to approach our backbends with at least an inner smile and a little less crabbiness.

 

At OM Yoga Center in New York we practice a form of yoga called vinyasa, which is a series of flowing movement sequences coordinated with rhythmic breathing. We approach the vinyasa style with great attention to detail, especially regarding alignment, to ensure that students do not get injured and get the most benefit from their practice.

 

The other element of OM yoga is meditation in action, which invites the yogi to observe and become familiar with mental and physical habits, to relax the grip of thought activity, and kindly abide in the asana. All this is done while maintaining a sense of vipassana, or clear seeing, which opens the yogi to the world around them and creates a healthy balance to the refined inner vision of yoga practice. The flow, precision and mindfulness of our yoga practice are all supported by Buddhist principles.

 

The flowing form is the physical manifestation of path without a goal: each pose is connected by a transitional movement that has as much value as the pose itself. This approach relates to equanimity, not knowing when our actions will bear fruit, and helps us break through the goal-oriented mentality we know so well and which is so prevalent in our relationship to our bodies.

 

The lessons of a forward bend

This shows up a lot in forward bending. Many people have a desire to be able to bend forward and touch their toes. But guess what-I can do it and can definitely tell you that touching your toes does not make you happier. I do enjoy the lengthened feeling in the back of my legs and the openness in my spine-most of the time. But just like everything else that is transitory and conditional; sometimes it feels stressful or boring. So in our yoga practice we pay attention to how we get into the pose, what happens in our body, mind and breathing while there, and how it is to move out of the pose and on to the next thing.

 

You can try this without even bending over. The next time you decide to go from the couch to the refrigerator, feel yourself moving through space. You can go slow or at an ordinary pace, but feel the floor beneath your feet, look and really see everything along the way, feel the swinging of your arms and what your breathing is like today, right now. If you are going to the kitchen because you are hungry, feel that. If you are going because you’re thirsty, feel that. How many times have you opened the refrigerator door and realized you forgot what you went for? This time feel the coolness when you open the door, and feel the softness of the sofa cushion as you sit back down. We take lots of little journeys like this every day, driving in our car or rolling over in bed. Try to actively participate as you travel through your world, rather than making only about your end point.

 

Cultivating physical precision

Precision is a way to develop clarity of mind at the same time that we develop accuracy in our physical placement. Applying specificity to where you put your hands and feet creates a wakeful mental attitude. You simply can’t think clearly if your alignment is sloppy. For example, what is your posture right now as you are reading this? Try changing your position, or even walking around and see if you feel sleepy or clear.

 

It is also difficult to feel openhearted or uplifted if your chest is sunk and your spine is sagging. Not only are your cardiovascular functions diminished, but your body is a cage. This curling in creates dukha, suffering, which is the opposite of sukha, joy, and can relate to the physical and emotional space created through good posture. Hatha yoga aligns skin, muscles and bones so that each can support each other with more ease than effort. Proper alignment opens energetic blockages which can be caused by diet, stress, illness and emotions, or even tight belts, wristwatches and fabrics wrapped around our bodies. Physical precision extends to your clothing, environment and personal hygiene.

 

We are also attentive to how we arrange our practice space. Each person at OM Yoga has a mat and organizes their yoga props-blankets, blocks, straps-in a neat and orderly fashion, because a jumbled heap of stuff in your line of sight creates an obstacle as well. Everybody who has a messy desk knows this to be true. The spacious discipline of precision gives the yogi a sense of open heart, open mind and open agenda.

 

Opening to Prana

We apply meditation instruction to our yoga practice by using the breath as a reference point for resting the mind. But in yoga we also manipulate the breath in various ways that soothe our nervous system, cleanse our sinuses and oxygenate our entire body. Prana, which means “to bring forth mystical vibration,” exists in sunlight, water, earth and all beings. For human beings, the most direct way to feel this universal life force is through the wave-like nature of our breathing, which reminds us that even though everything is changing all the time we can still feel peaceful as long as we keep in rhythm. Whenever you feel out of sync, take a moment to lengthen and equalize your inhale and exhale, and right away you will feel more balanced.

 

Try this. Stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor with your arms down by your sides. Close your eyes. Don’t do anything. Just stand there. You will soon begin to notice quite a lot of movement within the stillness of simply standing. You will feel the movement of your body, expanding and contracting as you breathe; you will feel the pulse of your own heartbeat; you will feel your entire body swaying slightly in order to stay balanced on this big round ball we live on. In fact, if you were truly static, the earth’s movement would eventually tip you over. Can you relax and let your body, breath and heart do this dance of balance?

 

Applying Ahimsa

All of these exercises sit on a bed called ahimsa , non-violence, in yoga, or compassion in Buddhism. What’s the good of being awake if you can’t let your heart be like your lungs, giving and receiving with every pulse? Mindfulness helps us recognize when we have habits that are harsh, and creates a gap between an impulse and the action that usually follows. It creates a space for us to dip into our hearts and come back up with a pearl of kindness.

 

Since for most of us a major part of our self-identity is tied to the appearance and health of our physicality, our body is an excellent reflective surface for getting to know our habits and applying ahimsa to what comes up. In the wordless conversation between our body and our mind, everything that happens in all our relationships-frustration, aggression, love, tenderness, boredom-will arise while doing downward facing dog. Yoga and meditation help us recognize our form of effort, whether it is too tight or too loose. Either way, effort is related to goals. So instead, with sensitivity, we apply exactly the right amount of action. Right action is a balance of body, breath and mind using the ingredients of rhythm, movement, direction, energy and intention, but never aggression.

 

Embodying meditation

When you apply this mind/heart training to the process of doing yoga asanas it becomes a way to understand the whole world in the form of you. It provides the means for working with all of those relationships right there on the yoga mat while you become fit at the same time. And for us busy people who are both meditators and yogis it is helpful to be able to combine practices.

 

Yoga helps Buddhists embody their meditation. As the meditator’s body becomes more mobile, strong and functional, it becomes a support for meditation practice rather than the more familiar and painful distraction of creaking knees and whining spines. Similarly, the specific focus of Buddhist mindfulness and compassion helps the yogi’s mind become unbiased, wakeful and connected in whatever physical shape they assume and demonsrates the transient nature of all things, including mastery over body.

 

Sitting cross-legged at the end of yoga class, I feel elemental. My breath is the wind and my mind is a raft floating on the oceanic tide of prana. The fire in my belly radiates out and makes the sweat on my skin feel like rain and earth mixed together. My heart rests in a big, big space.

 

Then I get up off the mat and go back to running the yoga center. Hopefully, today I won’t have a life-threatening experience but still I’m grateful for my practices. Life might not be a bliss cloud, but through the wisdom and compassion of yoga and Buddhism, it has become supremely workable.

 

Join Cyndi Lee on a journey to invite your body and mind back into balance at the Yoga Body, Buddha Mind retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 18th to May 20th.

 

Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching. Founder of NYC’s OM yoga Center (1998-2012) she now teaches yoga, meditation and resiliency workshops worldwide. Cyndi is a formally trained Buddhist Chaplain, and has been teaching yoga for 40 years.

 

This article first appeared on lionsroar.com and has been republished with permission from the author.

             

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: ahimsa , balance , Buddhism , cyndi lee , in house , meditation , wisdom , yoga
Art of Living Retreat Center

In House: Why Should I Go on a Retreat?

By Sarah McLean
April 1, 2018
 

Art of Living Retreat Center

Reconnect to the deepest part of you at a meditation retreat

Being on a meditation retreat for a day or a week can be a unique opportunity to unplug, spend time exploring your own inner world, and to find more appreciation for your life.

 

A meditation retreat can be a reset button and can even create a new normal: one where you are more present to what matters to you, responsive rather than reactive, and have a deep inner peace.

 

Some of our meditation and mindfulness retreats focus on cultivating creativity, others give you the opportunity to dive deep into your meditation practice, and there are those that offer the opportunity to explore and heal a particular emotional issue.

 

Techniques, not traditions

All of the retreats that Sarah McLean facilitates are secular in nature, yet are deeply spiritual. She says she teaches techniques, not traditions.

 

Sarah creates a safe and open atmosphere designed to encourage participants to find out who they are, what they really want, and be more intimate with their lives. Each retreat includes instruction in meditation and mindfulness, deep meditation practices, interactive exercises, mindfulness experiences, time in nature, and some offer an opportunity to explore gentle yoga.

 

Meditation is an undeniably powerful practice to create more balance in the body, spaciousness in the mind, and a new appreciation for everything and everyone in your life.

 

Each retreat is designed to create a touchstone of feeling whole and good—and a new perspective. It’s a meditation vacation!

 

A sustainable practice of meditation

In a meditation retreat with Sarah McLean, you’ll discover the secrets to how and why meditation works, and whether you are new at it or are a seasoned meditator, you’ll learn a sustainable practice of meditation.

 

When you return home you can bring the practices with you, so you can create a mini-retreat every single day. You also might notice that you are experiencing some subtle changes. Perhaps you order something different on a menu, or have more patience with your children, or you are less concerned about what people think.

 

You might sleep better, feel more balanced and energized, or find more creativity or confidence. With a continued meditation practice, more profound changes might follow as you explore your relationship to your job, or where you live, or you find a renewed purpose or passion in life.

 

The Power of Attention

Join Sarah McLean for her upcoming retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center, The Power of Attention, from May 10th to May 13th. The Power of Attention retreat will take you on a journey into mindfulness and meditation to increase your understanding of the value of attention. A value Sarah calls your superpower: the most important ingredient for living a powerful, purposeful, love-filled life.

   

Sarah McLean considers herself an American Transcendentalist. She’s dedicated her life to exploring meditation: living as a resident of both a Zen Buddhist monastery and a traditional ashram in India, as well as living and working in a Transcendental Meditation center. She headed up the education programs at Deepak Chopra’s center in California and Byron Katie’s School for the Work. Sarah is a best-selling Hay House author of the books Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation and The Power of Attention: Awaken to Love and its Unlimited Potential with Meditation. She’s also a sought-after speaker who is determined to create more peace on this planet by helping people wake up to the wonder and beauty of their lives and the world around them through the practice of meditation.

 

This article first appeared on mcleanmeditation.com.

   

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: attention , in house , knowledge , meditation , presenters , retreat , Sarah McLean , wisdom
Art of Living Retreat Center

Articles We Love: Happiness in March

By Paige Reist
March 19, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center - Happiness

Spring is here, and what better time to refresh your outlook, brush the dust out of the corners of your mind and heart, and refocus yourself and your goals? The UN’s International Day of Happiness falls on March 20th this year, and we think it’s a perfect opportunity to spend some time in reflection on how to become your happiest, healthiest self.

The articles we love this month focus on digging into that inner well of happiness within yourself, and opening up the windows of the soul and letting in some fresh air.

Spring Cleaning 101: How to be a Tech Minimalist

Monique Serbu for MindBodyGreen

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be limited to your physical environment. Monique Serbu shares four great tips on how to clear out your digital life so you’re feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to leap into the new season.
“Spring is steadily approaching, and that means spring cleaning is on the horizon. While many of us dread this annual ritual, it doesn’t have to be such a pain. Think of it more like an opportunity to clear any excess from your life—an exercise in releasing that which no longer serves you.”

3 Ways to Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness

Nicola Albini for Sivana Spirit

With the International Day of Happiness on the horizon, you might be inclined to focus on external ways to find satisfaction and fulfillment in your life. In this article, Nicola Albini details a few ways in which happiness actually comes from within, and shares affirmations and strategies for a pursuit of happiness that is drawn from your own mind, body, and spirit.

“[I] could no longer blame my parents, girlfriend, teachers, friends or anyone else for my own unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Underneath my complaints about what others were “doing to me” was a need to accept myself. I needed to take full responsibility for my experience and change my life from the inside out.

 

A Theory About Finding Real Happiness

Dakota Steyn for Thought Catalog

Real happiness is within your grasp. Dakota Steyn shares her thoughts on why happiness is a choice and a result of your actions, not a carrot on a stick to be chased.
“Let me share with you the secret to life: there is no “dummies guide to life,” there’s no one telling what to do or how to feel- at the end of the day life is made up of choices, the choices that you make. How your whole life goes; that’s up to you. You can choose to be negative about everything or you can make the most out of every second of what you do.

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , digital detox , happiness , knowledge , Spring , technology , wellness , wisdom , yoga
Art of Living - Articles We Love February

Articles We Love: A Love-Filled February

By Paige Reist
February 14, 2018

Art of Living - Articles We Love February

 

Ah, love. It’s one of the most powerful forces in the world, and something we all crave at a cellular level. Connecting with others and feeling loved and cherished nourishes our soul and gives us purpose. But love is so much more than something that you receive from others. It’s something that you can actively put into the world, and something that you can use to heal and grow within yourself.

 

As much as we adore love in all forms, we think that self-love is perhaps one of the most important and revolutionary practices you can cultivate. Which is why our favourite articles this month focus on how to make the choice to love yourself.

 

The Beautiful Truth About What Happens When You Choose to Fall in Love With Yourself

Kelly Douglas for Thought Catalog

Kelly Douglas shares her thoughts on learning to loving herself, and how this journey has transformed her life from a painful existence full of self-deception to one that is brimming with light.

“Amid the thick fog of my self-deception, I could vaguely make out a glimmer of the truth. I chased that spark of unconditional self-love with a sense of reckless abandon, steadfastly determined to capture it and forever hold it close. The light slowly grew more powerful, stripping my soul of self-imposed deception and filling my heart with truth. As I basked in the warmth of self-love, I resolved to never again habitually deprive myself of the love I deserve. At long last, I discovered I am always enough, despite the feverishly conniving taunts of my mind attempting to convince me otherwise.”

 

4 Yoga Practices for Self Love

Samantha Lahonen for Sivana East

Yoga isn’t just a physical practice, but a mental and emotional one as well. Samantha Lahonen guides us through four transformative yoga poses that foster self-love.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t feel so easy to love yourself, yet having a negative self-image sets you up for illnesses such as anxiety and depression. You may notice that you put the needs of others before yourself; as the “people pleaser,” you often compare yourself to others, or you avoid certain situations or opportunities for fear of failure. This is where yoga comes in. Yoga puts you in a state of meditation, helping you to let go of the thoughts that whisper you are not good enough and keep you in a state of low self-esteem. Yoga replaces them with positive thoughts such as the feelings of strength, stability, and energy that come with practicing yoga.”

 

Radical Self-Love as a Spiritual Practice

Kelly Ann Matuskiewicz for Absolute Awareness
Kelly Ann Matuskiewicz shares her thoughts on self-love as a spiritual practice, and how she incorporated self-love techniques into her own life to bring forth a more meaningful, fulfilling way of existing in the world.

“When I started to practice radical self love, my entire life experience shifted to more positive interactions and outcomes. I felt more confident, self assured, I trusted myself. Who and what I attracted into my life felt better and I was more in the flow. Unfortunately, not many of us know how to truly love ourselves. This is a key piece preventing us from manifesting our dreams and creating the lives we desire.”

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , healing , Love , self love , wellness , wisdom , yoga
Art of Living Retreat Center

The Practice: Creating a Home Meditation Space

By Alejandra Roca
February 10, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center

 

Recharging your body and mind, improving your focus, and boosting clarity are all great reasons to meditate — but what if you could improve on what you’re already doing?

 

What if you could create the perfect meditation space in your home?

Carving out a private enclave for meditation doesn’t have to be tough, whether you’re living in a studio-sized condo or a spacious estate with a dozen spare rooms you’ve never used. With a few simple tips, you can transform any space into a private nook where you can disconnect from daily stresses, internal dialogue, and negative experiences.

 

What is a meditation space?

A meditation space is a sacred spot where you can release stress, find serenity, and center yourself. Sacred doesn’t necessarily mean religious or spiritual; in this context, it means you only use the area for meditation, yoga, rest, or stillness. It’s your own personal retreat within your home, and you can designate a corner, a partitioned space, or even an entire room to it as long as you feel good about your choice.

 

Exceptional spots for a meditation space in any home

This is your space, so there isn’t a one-size-fits all spot that works for everyone. Ideally, you’ll be able to walk through each room in your home and narrow down your choices to rooms you absolutely love — those that make you smile, relax you, and give you a sense of peace. As you search for your perfect meditation space, be mindful that:

 
  • Facing a southeast corner will bathe you in early morning light, which may be perfect for dawn meditation.
    Facing a northwest corner will let you bask in the sun’s waning rays, which ould be ideal if you’re an evening meditator.
  • Facing due east emulates Buddha, who sat beneath the Bodhi tree and meditated directly toward the early morning sun.
 

Where to meditate in a small home

If you don’t have much room to spare, a terrace, patio or corner of a room in a condo or townhouse might be the perfect spot to set up your meditation space. Add a privacy screen or hang billowing curtains from a single point on the ceiling to shut out the world while you connect with your inner self, or clear out a closet for instant (and expense-free) privacy.

  • Although it’s tough to find spare square footage in a condo, apartment or studio, you can make extra room by:
  • Swapping out your sofa for comfy chairs
  • Installing a loft bed in a room with high enough ceilings
  • Storing non-essential accessories and furnishings rather than trying to cram them all into your space
  • Using wall cabinets rather than freestanding bookshelves in your decor
 

Where to meditate in a more spacious home

Create your private paradise in a quiet corner, in an enclosed room or the garden to find your inner peace. One of the keys to successful meditation is carving out a distraction-free environment where you can get comfortable.

 

Spots to avoid

Steer clear of high-traffic areas or those where distractions are likely to pull you off the path to Nirvana. Try to avoid the kitchen, the living room, or anywhere too close to the lavatory, the front door, or a space that faces the street. Your home office may drag your mind toward work, and a place that makes you want to nap rather than meditate, like your bedroom, might be a little too relaxing.

 

Meditation room ideas

The more peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful your meditation room is, the more time you’ll want to spend there. you’ll feel it pulling you in before you start your day, each time you need a break, and when you wind down for the night.

 

The perfect room decor in a meditation space

Designing your Zen meditation space for self-help and personal development requires you to stick to a few principles:

 
  • Keep your space clean and clutter-free.
  • Only include items you love and that contribute to your happiness and peace.
  • Add natural elements where possible, such as living plants and stones.
 

The bare essentials

You don’t have to dedicate an entire room and a month’s salary to creating your meditation space. The simplest — and sometimes most effective — meditation spaces feature only bare essentials, such as:

 
  • Meditation cushions or a soft spot to sit
  • Natural light
  • Something with personal significance, like bells, crystals, or affirmation stones
  • Fresh air
 

If you can, spring for a serene color palette in the room. Neutrals, which are the most popular (think earth tones and off-whites), are what you’ll find in monasteries and professionally designed meditation spaces, but here’s where you can make it interesting. Dark colors make a room feel smaller, which is ideal if you want to feel enveloped in your space, and pastels lend an airy, open feeling to any room, which could be perfect if you prefer a sense of freedom while you meditate. Bright, glossy white that produces glare is generally off-limits, though, because it’s too harsh for the serene environment you’re trying to create.

 

Pro tip: If natural sunlight hits the wall and makes you squint, the paint color is wrong for your meditation space.

 

Zen touches

Your meditation room can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. A few carefully chosen elements can turn any space into a soul-nourishing haven. Consider adding decor such as:

 
  • Attractive incense burners
  • A fountain for the sight and sound combination
  • Singing bowls
  • Decorative cushions
  • A Zen sand table
  • Aromatherapy diffusers
  • Adjustable lighting
  • An altar
  • Candles
 

Bare wood floors can add a sense of authenticity to your meditation room, and they can make the room appear (and feel) larger – but they’re not necessary as long as you have the proper posture. A plush area rug or tatami mat on top of carpet can carve out a private space where you can meditate, practice yoga or rest without costing you a fortune.

 

The best plants for meditation spaces

The Art of Living Retreat Center

Most people find that having at least one living plant makes a huge difference in the quality of a meditation space. They’re essential for pulling volatile organic chemicals out of the air and allowing you to commune with natural, earthy elements. Plants that thrive in low light and contribute to Zen include:

  • Philodendron
  • Pothos
  • Sansevieria
  • Echeveria
  • Monstera Deliciosa
 

What not to put in your meditation space

Few things are more distracting than clutter, so your meditation room needs to be light on things that can counteract your Zen. Avoid electronics (the TV has to go!) except for music players or electronic aromatherapy diffusers, and banish toys, paperwork or other distractors that will prevent you from connecting with yourself.

 

Bonus tips for the perfect meditation room

  • Buy plug protectors in case you’re tempted to bring in electronics (other than that music player). They serve as a gentle reminder that technology is unwelcome in your space.
  • If your window has a bad view, use Japanese rice paper or privacy glass decals to shut out the world without compromising your natural light.
  • This room is your escape, so nothing that pulls you back into your everyday existence belongs there.
 

What’s your dream meditation space like?

With a little planning and a dash of inspiration, anyone can create a spectacular meditation space — and we’d love to hear about what you’ve already done. Share your story in the comments below!

 

by Alejandra Roca. This article first appeared on Redfin.com

 
 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: meditation , mindfulness , silence , wellness , wisdom , yoga , yoga practice
Yoga and Addiction

Exploring Wisdom: Nikki Myers on Overcoming Addiction

By AOLRC
December 11, 2017

Yoga and Addiction

Recent Art of Living Retreat Center retreat host Nikki Myers has created a revolutionary, holistic approach to addiction recovery that combines yoga philosophy and the tools of the traditional 12-step program. We recently spoke with Nikki about how these two philosophies work together, the role of sacred transformation, and her own road to recovery. 

 

A practice born from lived experience

Here’s the story: my life was in the thrall of addiction for many years. There’s a phrase used in 12-step programs that goes ‘jails, institutions, and death’ — well, all of those I understand, and all of those I have experience with. My inspiration to create this program comes out of my own lived experience with addiction and recovery.

I found my way into 12-step programs by the grace of something bigger than myself. The 12-step program absolutely, positively saved my life. For 8 years, I was immersed in this program, but even after 8 years clean, I relapsed, and found myself falling back into addictive behavior all over again.

After my first relapse, I was reintroduced to yoga. I’d had experience with yoga before, but coming back to it, I truly fell in love with the practice for the first time, and began to understand how closely the philosophy and practice of yoga relates to the 12-step program.

 

Working together to heal addiction

There were so many connections that I saw between yoga and the program, and after four years of studying yoga and staying clean, I decided that I didn’t need the program anymore. And you know what? I relapsed again. It was only after that second relapse that I came to realize that I was keeping these two practices in separate boxes. What I really needed to sustain recovery was a marriage between the two.

Y12SR was created out of my personal experience, and along the way, I discovered there were so many more people like me. The 12-step program deals with the cognitive aspects of addiction, but yoga helps with the somatic aspect, and together, they create a full-system set of teachings.

There is a model in yoga philosophy that comes from the yoga sutras, stating how the root of so many problems is in Avidya, which ultimately is a misconception of who we are. We think we’re separate from each other and from nature, from the universe, and even from our own bodies.

The founders of the 12-step program address the same problem, but a little differently. They call it “stinkin’ thinkin'”, but it’s the same thing as misconception. We look at things through the lens of our own subjective experience, which can lead us to misinterpretation of the world around us and ourselves.

 

‘It depends’…

One of my teachers says the answer to everything is ‘it depends’. When the pain of not doing something at all became greater than the pain of taking a step forward, then I knew it was time to take the step forward.

This step could simply be an investigation. I tell people all the time to just try some things on. One of the things I personally tried early on was giving up — if you want to see if you’re addicted to something, watch what happens when you take it away. Your mood, your attitude, even your physiology can change. If you experience these kinds of changes, it could be an indicator of a serious problem.

 

A spiritual solution to a spiritual problem

There are many avenues to combat addiction. Of course, there are 12-step programs, which are absolutely brilliant, and do tie very closely to yoga. You could try yoga, or online resources. There are many ways to begin the journey to recovery.

At its heart, the crisis of addiction is a spiritual problem, a spiritual crisis. We’ve taken a pharmaceutical approach to it, and in my experience, what I assert is that there will never be a pharmacological answer to a spiritual crisis. Both yoga and the 12-step program affirm this. Addiction is a spiritual issue that needs a spiritual remedy.

What I love about the combination of yoga and the cognitive pieces of the 12-step program is that together, they offer tools and processes to begin to support that spiritual transformation, that sacred road to recovery.

 

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: addiction , cleanse , healthy lifestyle , wellness , wisdom , yoga
Art of Living Retreat Center

Wellness, Naturally: Preparing for Winter with Ayurveda

By AOLRC
December 4, 2017

Art of Living Retreat Center

 

Winter has finally arrived. Everywhere you look, the world is going dormant. Now is the perfect time to examine and redirect your energies. One way to make winter more enjoyable is to apply the principles of Ayurveda to your daily life.

 

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine. This ancient practice originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. Ayurveda focuses on the mind-body connection, and is more than just a way of treating illness; it is a science of life.

According to Ayurvedic principles, everyone has three energetic forces of nature, or doshas — pitta is the energy of digestion, vata is the energy of movement, and kapha is the energy of lubrication. When these three doshas are out of balance, it can wreak havoc on health and wellness. The rhythmic cycle of the seasons affects the doshas, causing them to go out of whack.

 

Following an Ayurvedic lifestyle will help you stay healthy and vibrant. By making just a few lifestyle adjustments this winter, you can keep your energies in balance. This will help you feel vibrant all season long!

Nourish your Body

During the winter, your digestive fire is the strongest. Your body needs more fuel to stay healthy and warm during the winter months. The cold weather helps ignite your digestive capacity. Your body needs a more nutritive, substantial diet this time of year. A winter diet will help give your body warmth, comfort, and hydration. Here are our favourite tips to nourish your body this winter with Ayurveda.

 

Avoid processed foods

Although you might be tempted to eat processed foods, especially during the busy holidays, avoid doing so. Processed food can contain pesticides and chemicals that affect well-being. Choose natural foods that are closest to their natural form.

 

Choose foods higher in fat

Your body needs more fat during the winter due to greater digestive capacity. Try to choose foods high in healthy fats, like coconut and olive oils.

 

Drink warm beverages

Avoid chilled or iced drinks in the winter. They can aggravate vata and kapha energies. Instead, choose warm teas, milk, and other drinks. You can try adding ginger, cinnamon, and clove to your warm tea — this will improve circulation and heat, and help clear out your nasal passages. Combine cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger with a cup of warm milk — this soothing recipe will help you feel warm and comfortable no matter how cold it is outside. Drink warm water throughout the day to help remove toxins from your body.

 

Choose hardy vegetables

Nutrient-dense root vegetables like onions, carrots, and sweet potatoes are more dense and rich in vitamins and antioxidants — which is perfect for boosting your immunity throughout the winter.

 

Add some spice

Spices like cayenne, nutmeg, chili, black pepper, and ginger are an important part of a winter Ayurveda diet. These spices help you feel full and raise your inner temperature. They keep the body and soul warm and balanced during the bitter cold months.

 

Nourishing your body with the proper food and drink will help keep your doshas in harmony this winter. When your doshas are balanced, you’ll feel a greater sense of well-being and peace.

Sources:

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/your-winter-wellness-guide
https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/ayurvedic-treatments


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: Ayurveda , Ayurvedic diet , diet , healthy eating , healthy food , winter , winter food , wisdom

The Practice: Sarajean Rudman on the Power of Yoga and Ayurveda

By AOLRC
November 18, 2017

Yoga and Ayurveda, to the new practitioner, might seem complicated, but although both practices are deeply rooted in the traditional spiritual wisdom and practices of India, you don’t have to overhaul your entire life to make room for them. Incorporating even the smallest concepts from yoga and Ayurveda into your routine can have far-reaching effects both your health and your happiness. 

 

We sat down Sarajean Rudman, accomplished yogini and AoLRC host, to discuss how to begin to integrate yoga and Ayurveda into your routine for your healthiest, most vibrant life. 

 

Yoga and Ayurveda: The Sister Sciences

Yoga and Ayurveda are all about self-care and self-love. So much else in life takes us out of ourselves, but yoga and Ayurveda take us back into ourselves. Blending the two practices has given me permission to be kind, to love, to nourish, to rest, to refuel and to listen.

 

At the very seat of the practices of yoga and Ayurveda, there is an element of taking back authority over yourself and listening to the innate, intuitive knowledge you already possess – when you wake up in the morning and feel that something is weird or off in your body, yoga and Ayurveda empower you to know that it’s okay to feel those things, to explore them, and to try to understand why.

 

I like to think of Ayurveda as the science that heals the vessel physically, and yoga as the science that heals the vessel spiritually and emotionally. It might seem like an intimidating system, but at the end of the day, it’s the simple things that have the most profound effect on your life. Even one single element of the practice, something as simple as drinking warm water, can propel propel you into a new world of self-care.

 

So much of our lives are lived as cerebral beings – we can think ourselves into and out of any situation. Yoga connects the body and breath back to the mind, and we stop conceiving of ourselves as a ‘severed head’. We begin to notice things that are out of balance in the way we feel, and Ayurveda is a medicinal practice that we can turn to when we do notice these things.

 

The Basics of Ayurveda

Ayurveda focuses on the five elements and the three doshas, or bodily humors. These are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each of these doshas describes everything on earth, and everything on earth has a certain balance of these energies within it. The doshas, each of which encompass different qualities, rule the hours of the day, the seasons of a year, and the different phases of life we go through.

 

For example, the Kapha time of day is around 6AM – 10AM. Qualities associated with Kapha are heaviness, coldness, denseness, so it’s recommended that your practice is mobile and energetic in the morning to balance out that energy.

 

In the Vata time of day, which is anywhere from 2AM – 6AM, you might want to do a more contemplative practice, because Vata is immobile, erratic, rough, expansive, and ethereal. Timing the different elements of your practice to the appropriate hours can really work to balance the different dosha energies within yourself.

A First Step into Ayurveda

One of the most powerful ways to start balancing your own internal dosha energies is to go to bed before 10PM, because after 10PM, those fiery Pitta energies kick back in. The Pitta time of night is when you hit your second wind. It’s easy to work and work and work, when what your body really needs is rest.

 

For most people, this resets your circadian rhythms and balances your hormones, and you begin to feel more energized in the morning. You will experience less lethargy in the middle of the morning, your skin and hair will benefit, and your digestion will improve.

 

All of the cells in our body have been demonstrated to follow our circadian rhythms, even our digestive tract. There are certain times of the day when we should be eating, sleeping, moving, etc, and acting against those rhythms can be detrimental to your health.

Of course, technology and culture have a huge part to play in why we find it difficult to intuit these rhythms. My 94-year-old grandmother wasn’t up at 11PM scrolling through Facebook in 1945! Ayurveda is a great tool to help you get back to the natural cycles of the earth and your body.

 

Get Started Today!

Yoga and Ayurveda are accessible for everybody. You don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel or chant – yoga can be a walk in the woods. Yoga can by lying on your back and breathing. Ayurveda is the same! You don’t have to eat exclusively Indian food or completely give up things that you love to benefit from the principles and practices we teach. You can pick and choose what works best for you and your body.

 

The Art of Living Retreat Center is a great place to begin your journey. The Center has the most beautiful view, and there’s this undeniable spiritual potency here. When I arrived, I immediately wanted to slow down, which was pretty cool for me, because that rarely happens in a physical space.

 

There’s this settled energy here. It’s outrageously beautiful, and I find communing with nature to be epically healing for myself and others. The core of like-minded people at the Center has also been really healing and reaffirming.

 

Ayurveda has taught me to take care of myself. I’m a Vata-Pitta person, who gets very stuck in accomplishments and doing and moving and acheiving, and Ayurveda has really taught me to slow down, check in with myself, and never sacrifice my own well-being at the altar of success.

 


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , Ayurveda , Ayurveda 101 , Ayurvedic diet , doshas , healthy lifestyle , knowledge , wellness , wisdom , yoga , yoga practice , yoga retreat
The Art of Living Retreat Center

Exploring Wisdom: Annalies Richmond on Confidence and Compassion

By AOLRC
November 13, 2017

The Art of Living Retreat Center

 

There are so many benefits to the practices of meditation and mindfulness. Peace, joy, and wisdom are all natural rewards of the methods and techniques taught in the Art of Living Retreat Center’s weekly Happiness Retreat, but perhaps two of the most powerful, unexpected qualities we foster in meditation are confidence and compassion. We recently sat down with Art of Living instructor Annalies Richmond to speak about her journey to confidence, compassion, and maintaining self-worth in the face of negative interaction. 

 

Confidence & the Happiness Retreat

My first experience with Art of Living and the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar completely blew me away. I was a professional dancer, which is a high-stress and intensely focused career path, and I was always very nervous during auditions and performances. I’d practiced different kinds of meditation before, trying to overcome that nervousness, but it never quite did the trick. A friend recommended the Happiness Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center, and I felt like it brought a new element of mindfulness to my entire life.

 

After the Happiness Retreat, everything came to life. I started noticing the trees when I would walk to the subway. I started feeling more happy at work. Anything bothersome that would happen would just roll off my back, as long as I was practicing the techniques I’d learned. But the most astounding thing for me, and for my career, was that after I started practicing meditation daily, the nervousness just disappeared. Performance felt natural and normal, like I was in my living room. I remember walking on stage at the Metropolitan Opera in front of four thousand people and not feeling nervous at all.

After dealing with nerves for so long, that was an incredible experience that really demonstrated the power of all the techniques I’d learned in the Happiness Retreat. I enjoyed my career so much more after that, and I felt that the knowledge and wisdom I’d gained during the retreat gave me a much bigger perspective on my life. It made me realize that there was even more I could contribute to the world.

 

So I began teaching for Art of Living, and learning about how confidence and compassion are intertwined.

 

How to Navigate Negative Interactions

One of the key insights of yogic wisdom that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks on is how to maintain confidence and compassion when someone treats you poorly. The way someone treats you is a reflection of their character, not yours. You are always worthy and loved, no matter how you are treated. If you have self-respect, no one can ever take that away from you, and when you treat other people with respect and honor, it demonstrates the quality and integrity of your character and actually helps them break their own negative patterns.

 

If you react in a negative way to poor treatment, it’s not helpful to the other person. The way to help people out of their damaging social patterns is to maintain your own center and not get caught up in trying to diagnose or assign intention to their actions. If you approach someone in a calm, serene state, and with an attitude of love and helpfulness, people do pick up on that vibe, and they’re often willing to listen to you.

 

Building Relationships through Compassion

For instance, I’ve taught at youth correctional facilities, and I’ve really had to learn to suspend my own judgement and approach these kids from a place of understanding and compassion. Often times, many of them are in there because they had no choice, due to their upbringing or circumstances. The first day of these courses usually come with a lot of disrespect. The kids aren’t interested in anything I have to say. But I just have to keep reminidng myself that their behaviour has nothing to do with me, and that I can’t take offense to how they’re reacting to me.

 

But over two or three days of me just being willing to listen to them without reacting, without yelling back at them, they begin to actually develop a curiosity as to what I have to say. By the fourth day, I’m able to teach them breathing techniques, and by the last day, they don’t want me to leave. We build real relationships. Teaching these young people has been amazing, and has really reaffirmed in my mind that if you maintain equanimity and peace of mind during conflict, you can help with the healing process.

 

Making the World a More Loving Place

We’re very fortunate to have a teacher like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar alive on this planet. Someone of his enlightened stature, who chooses to share his wisdom with us, who can teach us how to go deeply inwards and get in touch with our true selves. He can show you how to heal yourself and serve the world at the same time. He teaches how to be at peace with ourselves and our surroundings, but also how to be dynamic and make the world more peaceful and loving.

 

The Art of Living is joy and balance. It’s harmony on the inside, and harmony with the outside. And the Art of Living Retreat Center is such a magnificent natural setting to help you along in your jouney. You wake up and look out the window, and you’re above the cloud lines sometimes, which feels completely ethereal. The combination of meditation and community and nature makes you feel like you’re truly in heaven.

 

Join Annalies for YesPlus Art of Silence from Dec 30, 2017 – Jan 2, 2018 and begin the New Year feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. 


The Happiness Retreat runs weekly. 


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: art of living , art of living retreat center , happiness , Happiness Program , knowledge , sri sri ravi shankar , wellness , wisdom
Art of Living Retreat Center

In House: Sarah McLean on the Power of Attention

By AOLRC
November 1, 2017

Art of Living Retreat Center

This autumn at the Art of Living Retreat Center, Sarah McLean, best-selling author and meditation expert, brought retreat guests through a journey to understanding the value of attention. Attention, as Sarah puts it, is your superpower: the most important ingredient for living a powerful, purposeful, love-filled life. We recently sat down with Sarah to chat about meditation, identity, and love.

 

AOLRC: What would you say your main message is? 

SM: Meditation is your birthright. You don’t have to know a secret language or take on a new religion. Everybody has the capacity and the capability of meditation.

 

My favourite benefit of meditation is the ability to turn attention inward, dive into the source of our lives, the source of our consciousness, the source of our expression and attention, and to really get to know who we are outside of our roles, responsibilities, worries, plans, histories, relationships – to just know ourselves as the center point of peace that is wise and clear and love.

 

AOLRC: So, if we were to take ourselves outside of the context of our roles and responsibilities… who are we? Who do we find there? 

 

SM: That’s such a great question. Who am I? Who is this one looking through my eyes? Who are you? You know, I wish I could give you a short answer, but I think that everyone’s journey is to discover the source of who they are. As a meditator, I’m always talking about attention, and bringing that attention back, whether it’s to your breath, to a mantra, or to a physical sensation.

But what is attention? Where does it arise from? What is the source of attention? For me, these are all similar questions to the one we’re asking – who am I? Who is this one who’s paying attention? It’s not just a though, or a personality, but who is it? What I’ve personally come to realize is that my expanded, open attention is a currency. A currency of love.

 

When I give you attention, it’s a connection and I’m loving you in this way. When you give me attention, you’re loving me. As long as the attention is very expanded, like the aperture of a camera – it’s much different than the contracted attention that can occur when people are stressed, fearful, or trapped in a self-limiting belief.

 

So, for me… who am I? The answer is that I am love. And who are you? You’re an expression in the same field of love. Everything is.

 

AOLRC: And how do you feel Ayurveda sets us up for a good meditation practice? 

 

SM: Well, in order to meditate, it’s ideal to be comfortable. Ayurveda is all about preventing stress from accumulating and masking your true nature. When we don’t see ourselves and the world clearly, we’re not comfortable, physically or otherwise.

 

Getting enough sleep, digesting your food, and living in tune with nature and its rhythms are all important practices. Ayurveda really is a beautiful entry to nourishing your body and mind to be a well-tuned machine. It enhances your awareness. It’s not only about digesting your food well, but about digesting your life, being present for your experiences, being aware of your surroundings, choosing sensory inputs that are nourishing to you.

 

AOLRC: What came first for you, Ayurveda or meditation?

SM: Well, I was walking with a question, as many people do. I was 26 and working in real estate, and this question kept coming up – what’s next for me? This isn’t it. So I kept thinking about that question, and like anyone who is on a quest, if you’re present – the science, the wonders, the synchronicity started to appear to me.

 

I was reading about yoga, meditation, herbs, different ways of living in tune with nature, seasonal therapies, massage. And I picked up a book on Ayurveda. I started to get excited, because I’d been interested in all of these practices separately, and Ayurveda encapsulates all of that.

 

I met someone on the beach, and he asked me “So, what do you really want to do with your life?” And I told him that I was interested in Ayurveda, and believe it or not, his entire family practiced Ayurveda and meditation. He totally lit up when I said it, and it excited me so much that I went and started to read several books by Deepak Chopra.

 

In the back of his book Perfect Health, it said that if I wanted more information, that I should call this number. So, of course, I called it, and it was the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. I met a lovely man called Ron Pleasant, and his wife Melody Pleasant – aren’t those beautiful names? Ron asked me – “Would you like to come work here?” And, of course, I said yes.

I packed up my car and drove up to Massachusetts. I worked and lived there, immersing myself in the Ayurvedic lifestyle, meeting with vaidyas from India, learning about herbs and Panchakarma, and spending lots of time in meditation.

 

I learned that meditation supports everything, because it excavates the deepest stresses, even for people who grew up in a difficult environment. Ayurveda, accompanied with meditation, allows for that return to wholeness. For me they’re inseparable.

 

AOLRC: A lot of people conceive of meditation as something that happens in the head, not the heart. What, in your experience, is the connection between the heart, the mind, love, and meditation?

SM: For me, love is much more than a sentiment. It just is; love is. Meditation is about meeting your mind , meeting the way you think, meeting that, the one who is thinking, and merging the two. When you look deeply into anything, what you find is love.

 

Whether we’re looking deeply into a flower or deeply into a soul, deeply into a child’s eyes, or deeply into a forest – we always find this field of love that is expressed as a tree, as a child, as a flower, as you, as me.

 

When you say the word “I”, and point to yourself, you generally point to your heart. You are not pointing to the head. When you point to your heart, this is where the “I” lives: the same presence that is looking through your eyes.

 

When your awareness expands, you realize that you are that. That is what the mantra Aham Brahmasmi indicates, I am the universe, I am you, you are me, this is that. Everything and everyone (whether you believe it or not) is an expression of love. For me, “that” lives in my heart. I drop my attention to the heart, instead of the head, and walk heart-first into any situation.

 

AOLRC: What would you like to share with someone just starting on the path?

SM:  We’re all on a journey, and it all starts somewhere. I know when people come to my center in Sedona or meet me at a retreat, that many tell me that they’re in transition. They knew that their old way had ended, but they didn’t know what the new way was.

 

Quite often, people are on a quest of their own. Whether it’s a quest for health, a quest for joy, a quest for love, or a quest for peace. To acknowledge that and to be present is powerful. Mindfulness helps you be open to the ways in which you’re being pointed.

 

There’s a lot of mystery around meditation. I don’t teach that. I teach techniques. You don’t have to take on a new religion. All meditation requires is three ingredients – your willingness to do it, your gentle, non-judgmental attention, and a focus for your meditation, whether it be something you see, feel, or hear.

 

I always encourage people to realize that mediation is a practice, a training of your attention. We’re not meditating so we can have a great meditation; we’re meditating so we can have a great life, so we can live with this awareness of Self. The experience of the real Namaste.

 

AOLRC: And what is that real Namaste for you?

 

SM: It’s an awareness of the Divine living through me, as me. Whether you call it God, or love, or Source, or the unified field. I bow down to that. That is much wiser than I am in my limited scope of attention. It’s omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, infinite. Once I recognize that in myself, I can see the same in you. The same in people I don’t like. The same in every living being. The life force of love.

 

AOLRC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

 

SM: I’ve never met anyone who can’t meditate. Thoughts are natural in meditation. It’s the nature of your mind to think, be creative, to identify and judge, and label. That’s the nature of the mind. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

 

My book, The Power of Attention, is all about that. You learn to sustain your ability to pay attention to one or two things at a time. It could be your breath and the mantra. It could be japa practice. There are many ways to do it, but it’s you and that which you’re paying attention to. Subject, object. What happens over time is that the separation between the two dissipates, and all that’s left is pure awareness. Some call that transcendence. And it gets back to the question, what is it that’s looking through your eyes? Turn your attention back to the source of your attention, and you’ll just find love.

 

AOLRC: So if I’m practicing meditation, but I feel like I’m not capable of focusing my attention, what advice would you give me? 

 

SM: It’s said that we have 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s a thought every 1 to 2 seconds. That’s just the nature of your mind, to think. Attention is something that seems to be scattered – bells, whistles, phones, ads, politics. It seems like we’re at the mercy of what’s the loudest and shiniest. But when we start to value our attention, we recognize that we only have so much of it. We recognize its power, that it is love, that it does enliven that which we do, especially if it’s our open, non-judgmental attention.

 

Then we recognize that it’s something we have to train. It’s a skill set. We don’t acknowledge that in our school systems, families, or culture.

 

Being listened to – how do you feel when you’re being listened to? I had a woman in our retreat say that she felt as though her thoughts were more organized when she was being heard. What does it feel like when you’re being listened to, versus when someone keeps checking their phone, looking above your head, or watching the TV over you? There’s a certain feeling that exists or a certain exchange that happens with attention.

 

It’s not just between you and another human being, but it’s between you and everything in your life. So start to appreciate your attention, start to pay attention to how you pay attention, and what you pay attention to. Meditation is training for that. Too many thoughts? Come on back again and again and again, and start to get a handle on your own attention, because only you can train yourself.

 

AOLRC: And how was your experience of the Retreat Center?

 

SM: I feel very supported here. The food is fantastic! The housing is beautiful for everyone, whether people are here for a single room and a spa experience, or in a dorm room. Everybody in the dorm experience loved it. The meeting room was great. The environment was so peaceful, the sunrises and sunsets, the owls in the middle of the night, the crickets. It’s definitely an immersion into nature and I love it. I think it’s so important to have a community that is committed, not to commerce, but to consciousness.
 


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!

 

Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

 
TAGS: attention , meditation , mindfulness , Sarah McLean , wellness , wisdom