This is why I like rains.

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Apart from the sound of the rain drops, everything around me is very silent and calm. It’s evening, 6.55 pm. The sky appears to be faded because of the clouds but it’s sparkling brightly. The view around me is making my heart ponder. Ahhhh. The wandering clouds are trying to go back home. A sudden tinkle flows in my bloodstream and I start breathing. There are huge mystical mountains on a small distance and they are flaunting tiara of starlight. I’m sitting on my study-table, enjoying this view from my window. Everything is less visible because of the fog which is covering up my eyes.

This is the real solitude? If it is then trust me it’s an amazing feeling! But am I alone or lonely now? Are we alone? Ummm, just ask yourself. My dear I’m speaking with you and we are connected!

Now you’ll ask me, how is everything around here. Well, I’m in love. Yes. Love with nature. Hahaha what did you think? Honestly I was very scared when I first came to this place as the atmosphere around is very calm and quite. Initially I was very nervous. Foxes used to howl in the night and it would give me goosebumps all over. But then this place helped me to listen to my inner voice which is getting louder and  louder every moment.

And now when I cross the Arabian Sea, I enter paradise. Yes, you need to cross the sea to reach me. In the womb of nature. Falling in love again and again especially in the rains. There is serene greenery everywhere. Maybe Krishna played here and touched everything with his own hands.

 

But I guess that you don’t want these bright photos of this place. You want to come here and feel it all by yourself. Experience it! I’ll definitely bring out the the poet or artist within you or a beautiful songwriter, maybe, who knows? I know I know. Just as you see buildings outside your window, I see mountains who are kissing that little piece of ocean. When the rays of the sun fall on the deep blue ocean it turns into pure gold. Sometimes bright white Flamingos settle on it’s brim. They run around splashing the water around and making.

There a big mug of cappuccino besides me and it’s turning cold. So bye for now , see you soon! xoxo

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Secret of Breathing – Deepen Your Stillness (2 minutes read)

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

Recently I had a secret plan to surprise a friend of mine who is an MBA grad by visiting him after a very long time. He is currently working in a well reputed corporate firm. I didn’t inform him about my visit and went to his place in South Bombay. After he came home from his work he saw me and smiled happily but he was very tired and was not as much excited to see much as he always used to be.

I asked him, “What a cold reaction you gave after seeing me, just a small smile?”

He replied, “Hey nothing like that! I’m very happy to see you. Just had a very hectic and tiring day at work. Yeah! So a lot of things are going on in my mind. Comfort and luxury is all good but the price for this is, a lot of stress and indeed, a lot of struggle to meet the deadlines!”

He asked me to teach him meditation and after practicing he told me how rejuvenated, refreshed and energised he felt. His tiredness vanished away! This was one situation which I witnessed.

Handling the Inner Demon:

The other day, as I was researching about some of the popular ailments, I was surprised to see the results. Anxiety disorders, clinical depression, mental conflicts, insomnia and stress had topped the chart and needless to say almost 97% of the population some or the other time faces these ailments.

But folks we don’t need to worry as every problem has a solution! Here the most helpful and reliable solution is Meditation. Well, wait! wait! I know some of you get scared even to hear about the word meditation but let me make it very simple for you today! You don’t need to rush to the Himalayas, seclude yourself or go to a meditation retreat to practice Meditation.

Meditation, as mystical as it may sound, is simply one of the best way to be closer to your own Self. Yes! Your True Self!
How often do we observe our body? Now you will say that when you wear your clothes, you always do glance yourself, you look into the mirror and that is how you look at your self all the time. But do you really observe yourself or just see how your clothes are beautifying your body? Yes! You do look great in that Cooper Jeans and Hilfiger Shirt no doubt! But we do this just to glorify our external self. Do you ever turn inward and observe your inner self, feelings and emotions?

The observation!

When you close your eyes and look inside, you actually feel your body in a subtler way, you also feel some minute movements and sometimes your body’s vibration. You can also feel the pain, the discomfort, the stiffness and if you are lucky enough even the bliss in certain parts of your body.

Initially by just focusing on your breath if you sit quietly for sometime simultaneously you start feeling the stillness and steadiness in the body. Breath is very directly connected to how the mental fluctuations happen. I don’t know whether science has explored this but practically speaking in our experience it is very much there!

If you sit still the breath becomes deep and slow, the more still your body becomes, the less you breath. If you bring your whole system to a certain level of stillness, not being in a hyper ventilated state, then your perception goes on increasing. You will naturally evolve into perceiving higher and better things.

Now you’ll say, “Prarthana all this sounds great! But it’s difficult, how will I achieve this?”

Many people have told me that feeling the touch of our breath is very difficult. I don’t think it’s difficult at all. This means you have not given enough importance to your breath. Observe and feel how the touch of the air you inhale is cooler and how the touch of the air you exhale is a bit warmer inside your nostrils. Once you focus on the incoming and outgoing breath you can witness a small miracle happening in yourself. You start feeling absolute calmness inside.

Inhalation and exhalation is the very Dharma of our body.

When you are absolutely still, you can feel that the conflicts in your mind are decreasing and your body becoming absolutely blissful.

Go more inward!

Your Belly expands and contracts with each incoming breath and outgoing breath. As you are aware of each in and out going breath the pace of your breath starts slowing down gradually. Here awareness is the key. Sometimes it may happen that your mind starts wondering in different directions and thoughts. But again you have to bring your awareness on the breath. Ask yourself a few times, “Am I Here?”

Then focus on each and every part of your body with every inhalation and exhalation. Relax it completely as you exhale. As your awareness is steady on breath you can experience that the mind starts getting quite peaceful and there is reduction in the intensity of your thoughts. You also start feeling lightness of limbs and you experience as if you are floating above.
When you withdraw your senses from the external, you are then tuned into the internal sound and can hear the breath. If the mind wanders, let it do so. Slowly and gradually bring it back. Treat it as if you are treating a baby.

Now does that sounds difficult? I don’t think so. We all can easily do it. We just have to become aware and become a witness of our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions. And this is how you feel calm and peaceful inside.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It takes minimum 20 minutes to go in this relaxed state. I think we all deserve at least this much time for ourselves and to work on our well being, don’t we? Once you start practicing this regularly, you will automatically concentrate on the breath every moment of your life, all the time and without putting any extra effort!

You can make the body so pleasurable that just sitting here and Breathing is a million time more than anything than you have known – just to sit here and Breath

Yes! You are Breathing! Click here to read another short article on Breathing by me.

With lots of love,
-Prarthana Khot
Special thanks to Kushal Pagare and Anushka Pawar for editing this article.

Picture credits: BoodhaDoodles.com

My first experience of Vipassana meditation.

Where am I heeding? Why do some people get attached towards some things whereas others don’t? Why do some things can’t fit into the thinking of others? I had many such questions in my head. After completing my first Vipassana course I got answers to all such questions and many more questions which no books had touched before. I asked these questions to many teachers but no one satisfied me. I was longing for answers deep within. Such answers can come to you from within. From your inner experiences and wisdom. In Pali language we call it Prajnya.

I’ve always had a deep desire that I could hardly put into words. A profound longing to find “something more”. This thought of filling the void inside me brought me to this 10 days Vipassana meditation retreat.

And it’s one of the best decisions I ever made­. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I saw it as a great personal challenge and an incredible opportunity to fully focus on meditation.

While packing the bag at home, I felt that the mediation was made for me. After packing, I simply sat in my room doing nothing. Calm and Serene. I was not anxious about the train timings, how I’ll reach there, the schedule and many such questions didn’t bother me. I knew from within that I’m destined to reach there without any trouble, I simply have to ‘BE’ and the world outside will carry me to the centre.

I came to this silent, soundless place away from the crowd and chatters of the world, it offered me complete solace.

DAY 0 – ARRIVING AT VIPASSANA

Upon arriving at the Vipassana center in the afternoon, I and my parents were pleasantly welcomed by a friendly and warm atmosphere. We were allowed to talk since the official meditation begins in the evening. My parents were initially hesitant to leave me alone as it was for the first time, in 19 years, I was leaving them and staying alone.

They accompanied me in my room which I was assigned and had a small chat with me. My dad cleaned the room for me and for the first time I saw tears rolling down his eyes which he constantly kept hiding. He didn’t wanted to part. After seeing this I realized the importance of my parents whose presence I was least bothered to acknowledge in day to day activities. This was the first teaching which Vipassana offered me even before the official course began.

In the evening at around 6pm, we were reminded of the retreat rules and proceeded to the meditation hall. This is when the rules officially started to apply. All forms of communication with other students are forbidden (including eye contact). In the meditation hall a great variety of cushions were available so that everyone could sit as comfortably as possible this loving service given to me filled the vaccume created by the absence of my parents. An assistant teacher was also present and even though I was seeing him for the first time, I felt as if we knew each other since a long time.

We were given a set of simple meditation instructions like mindfully following the breath and being aware of it. When awareness wandered away, I brought it back to breathing, firmly but without anger, disappointment or commenting too much about it. The purpose of this was to sharpen our mind, to become more sensitive to the subtler realities of our creation. Any specific instructions on meditation positions was not given, but we were told to keep our spine straight. I remember that I started sitting in Adishthan right from the first day because I’ve been practicing Yoga for a long time and as a Yoga Sadhak I used to practice sitting stable for a long time.

The instructions given by Guruji were simple, but the practice itself was another different story…The rules are strict, but they are helpful and force you to fully concentrate on your meditation practice without distracting yourself when things get tough, because they went on to get tough, trust me.

DAY 1 TO 3 – THE MEDITATION BEGINS

The following morning, the current went off and it was deep dark. I woke up to a gong at 4am. and didn’t feel the need of any light as I was feeling peaceful from deep inside. The first meditation was scheduled at 4:30am and lasted two hours. I got into the meditation hall early, sat down and began meditating. As it was morning I could manage to focus my attention for long consecutive breaths. The incoming and outgoing air felt so amazing and I felt like I had no worries in the world. But these feeling lasted for a few minutes. My mind soon stared wandering in the thoughts of my parents and younger brother. It was looking for a pretext not to obey. irrelevant memories and potential future worries kept popping up. Every little thing was a good reason to wander off. At some point, I wondered how much time was left before the end of the meditation. I used to open my eyes slightly to see whether everyone was meditating and after what I thought had been at least an hour, I was just 4:39am. Oh damn…

I was discouraged. I suddenly remembered the opinion of my friend Chhaya who encouraged me to take this meditation. She told me to surrender completely. So eventually I surrendered to the idea of sitting there for a long time. From then on, meditating wasn’t as challenging, it became like a swift adventure. At 6:30, the gong rang, we headed to the dining room walking through the beautiful woods, the rays of the sun shined sparkling hope inside my heart. We had breakfast, the food was vegetarian but still, I was impressed by the variety and quality of the food offered, I felt like a Bhikshu full of love for everything that was around me.

When we meditated in the hall, instructions were often reiterated as not to leave anyone behind or in doubt. We were told to focus on our breathing for the rest of the day, which, frankly, I found interesting. My most favourite part was watching the videos by S.N Goenka, at 7pm, we watched a videotaped discourse by Guruji explaining more theoretical aspects of our practice, although there videos were recorded in the past I wonder how Guruji answered the doubts which I faced while meditating. He smoothly cleared all the inner conflicts which I faced. It was like telepathy and seemed magical. The only thing that disturbed me was that we were not allowed to practice yoga asanas and I feel very uneasy if I don’t practice daily. But the discourses strongly inspired my practice, and I couldn’t wait to be back on the cushion and meditate. I also found that the evening was the period when my meditation was the most focused. When I focused on my breath, I had no thoughts and I felt as if thoughts are just illusions which we mistaken for the real. I sometimes get too trapped in then that I couldn’t see the reality as it is.

While going to bed that night I had a strange realization. I lied on the bed completely still with my eyes open and for a moment an icy chill stole me over. I shivered inwardly like a shall animal, like a bird, when I realized that I was alone. I have not felt like this before. Now I felt it. Previously, when in deep meditation, I was still my father’s daughter, my mother’s child, a yoga teacher, a spiritual person studying the Vedas, a writer. Now I was only Prarthana and nothing else. I breathed in deeply and for a moment I shuddered. Nobody was so alone as I was. I was not a student, belonging to any school or college nor any religion. Even the most secluded person outside was not alone, he also belonged to a class of people. My friends had selected my professions for themselves, they had beliefs ansy dreams. But I, as Prarthana, where did I belong? Whose life would I share? Whose language would I speak? Did even the name Prarthana belong to me?

At that moment, when the world around me melted away, when I stood alone like the moon, I was over whelmed byba feeling of icy despair, but I was more firmly myself than ever. Immediately I went into a long, deep, dreamless sleep.

The next morning, I felt very fresh and rejuvenated and we started our next practice, a simple extension of the previous one. It consisted of being aware of the sensations produced by our breathing. I focused on the triangular nose area and gradually reduced the region. The main idea is that by concentrating on a smaller area, we notice subtler sensations and sharpen our awareness. My meditation was interesting ; I felt stuff I didn’t even know I could feel, including slight vibrations, subtle temperature fluctuations and feelings of heaviness and lightness. I felt a severe pain in the right side of my upper body. It was very gross and usually went inside my nerves and sometimes it became unbearable. Although my mind was still often wandering off, I usually noticed it quickly and came back to my practice within seconds. We were also told not to look for particular sensations but to simply acknowledge them objectively. This is so hard when you have an irritating itch and a strong pain which possess the whole side of the body!

DAY 4 TO 5 – LEARNING VIPASSANA

Waking up on the fourth day, I was eager to learn the Vipassana meditation technique. I had already gained so much from the practice of Anapan. I felt a lot of wisdom came from within me In the morning meditations though, we were given the same instructions as in the previous days: we kept watching the sensations produced by our breathing. A billboard note informed us that Vipassana meditation would be taught in the afternoon, in the meditation hall.

I asked Guruji many questions. I told him I feel uneasy if I don’t practice yoga. He told me that I’ll get all the answers. I have to maintain the balance and equanimity of my mind and not carve for anything. I just have to be a witness of everything and see as it comes and goes without judging anything and labeling as good and bad. Just a passive witness.

The Vipassana technique was surprisingly very simple. At first, we moved our awareness from the mustache area to the top of the head. The top of my head initially seemed to be a “blind region”, but I gradually felt gross and sometimes subtle sensations popping up. Eventually, we progressively moved our awareness from head to feet and watching the sensations in every part of our body. We were instructed to look at those sensations passively. The key was to observe reality without developing desire or aversion.

A new practice was also introduced: “meditation of strong determination known as Adishthan”. Oh girl, this is a tough one! But for me it was a bit easy as I started practicing it since the first day but I didn’t observe sensations along with it.

For three hours, each day (three times one hour), we had to stay absolutely still while meditating. We couldn’t move an inch of our body or even open our eyes. What a challenge! We were strongly encouraged to stay still for the whole hour, we weren’t actually punished if we didn’t succeed. At this time at first, I could barely manage to stay still after observing the sensations for half an hour; my left knee used to get a severe ache from within and the right side of my shoulder and back was killing me. I felt as if someone I holding me tightly from within.

And why were we torturing ourselves with Adishthan? I was eager to know. In the discourse, I found my answer. We were first told that nothing justifies losing our peace of mind. Guruji also told us that practicing Vipassana meditation would help us reach true peace; happiness irrespective of all the obstacles.

I understood that physical sensations arise from thoughts. I perhaps feel a tension in the upper chest, shoulder or a general feeling of uneasiness.

I label these feelings as negative and develop aversion towards them. I also associate this aversion with a person; and therefore reinforce my hate and loop the cycle again and again. This habit patter of the mind binds me and makes me suffer.

You develop craving for these sensations that you identify as positive. You associate this desire with the souvenir. Again, you loop the cycle again and again. Craving and aversion are two sides of the same coin. When I’m averse to something, I’m also craving its absence. In my opinion, the most important point is that we don’t desire things in themselves, but only the sensations we associate them with. A drug addict isn’t addicted to drug or alcohol, but to the sensations produced by it. What a trap!

By practicing Vipassana meditation, we train the mind to be more aware of subtle sensations and learn to see them with equanimity. This way, we can transcend and thus break the loop of craving and aversion as a result suffering ends.

Perhaps I now realised why the meditations of strong determination is so useful. By remaining still for a whole hour, tons and tons of unpleasant physical sensations are produced, and this forces us to practice equanimity. If you can keep your peace of mind while your whole body is tortured by horrible sensations, daily frustrations will become easy to deal with! It will be a cake walk.

That day I asked Zope Guruji a question which was troubling me since a long time. Is carving for knowledge a good thing or bad thing. He said, “Your aim should be to be a Sadhak and not a Vidhvaan.” His answer set my inner self at peace and inspired me to practice Vipassana persistently. Although the last meditation wasn’t one of the meditation in Adishthan, I stayed absolutely still for about 30 minutes and then kept meditating in my room. I felt a warm flux of vibrations across my skin and felt like unpleasant sensations were “dissolving” into subtle and pleasant ones. I felt a flow inside my left arm from the shoulders to the fingers. I was frightened at first but Guruji told me that there was nothing to worry about as this was the practice we’ll continue doing next.

The next day, we began moving our awareness from head to feet and then, from feet to head. If we wanted, we could also move our awareness continuously, as opposed to part-by-part, on the surface of our skin on inside our body. Since I easily felt subtle vibrations, I found this easy, and the rest of the day went fairly well. I started playing with it and then realized that I shouldn’t do anything against the instructions. I often had thoughts about the external world but I tried my best to ignore them and I kept practicing.

After the evening discourse (5th day), my meditation was fantastic! I experienced profound peace and happiness. I started crying. Tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt as if something is opening up from inside. Something in the middle of my chest. When I went to bed, I was feeling too ecstatic to even sleep! I had fun sitting in various uncomfortable ways and just looking at the “unpleasant” feelings passive and saying “Annichya” in my mind. I felt like I was in the Matrix, I could handle anything and everything!

This was put to the test the next day …

DAY 6 TO 9 – EQUANIMITY, BALANCE AND DETERMINATION PUT TO THE TEST

On the 6th day, I woke up sick. My right side again hurted, my head throbbed painfully and I felt difficulty in breathing. My deep breathing all of a sudden became swallow. I had to meditate through it. And on top of that I saw some black ants in my room which made me fearful. I started giving them Metta and Maitri and the fear soon diminished.

The meditations became very hard and paying to my sensations made them seem a worse. I had no trouble feeling sensations every part of my body, but I couldn’t maintain equanimity. Suddenly something used to pinch inside my throat and I used to feel like coughing loudly but controlled myself from doing so as it would have distracted others around. A strong feeling on someone stabbing a pointed needle into my throat used to make me cry. I made my mind strong and observe it and all of a sudden it used to dissolve and disappear somewhere.

I slowly made it through the day, but my condition wasn’t improving. I made it clear to myself that I will not cough. Unpleasant sensations were not going to win!

On day 7, I was feeling even worse. Despite this, I was strangely enthusiastic at the idea of meditating through my bad feelings. I went to mediate in the units provided to us also known as Shunyagaar. When I say there to meditate, I felt as if everything around me trurned into sound vibrations and after a while there were no sounds but only a single sound from which all the others were emerging. If was a fantastic feeling which world’s will fail to describe. I didn’t realize how that one hour passed. I longed for that particular feeling of nothingness.

While meditating we were also instructed to try sweeping awareness “inside” our body parts, as opposed to on the surface. After a few meditations, I could feel sensations inside most of my body parts. In fact, I felt as if I’m only the sensations. I didn’t wanted to speak to anyone. Not even a single word to myself. I just wanted to experience everything with a balanced mind. As the day progressed, I felt my equanimity gradually getting better and for brief periods of time, I was able to fully experience my “unpleasant” sensations with full acceptance and a balanced mind. They just seemed as they passively were, information sent to my brain. This didn’t last long though, either because I got excited or because a particular sensation became overwhelming.

While meditating, I gradually felt a vibration taking over my whole body. Every gross sensation dissolved ones until there was nothing left but a flux of tiny vibrations. At 9pm, it was bed time but I went for a walk on the green grass. While walking, I felt vibrations pleasantly moving through my whole body. An incredible sense of peace and joy emerged, nothing like I had ever experienced before. I’m getting shivers and chills just thinking about it!

I was feeling way too good to sleep. I meditated for what was probably a few hours, playing with vibrations and enjoying immense peace and joy. This is a bit hard to explain but I still felt my negative symptoms as clearly as before. However, the way I mentally perceived them was radically different. There was no sense of me being sick, or of me suffering because these feelings.

When I woke up the next morning, there was absolutely no trce of pain. My body became very light. I felt like floating.

As suggested by one of the evening discourses, I also strove to remain fully aware of what I was doing at all times, even when not meditating. I was standing and meditating. While walking, I tried to be aware of the sensations produced by walking and to be conscious of what I was doing. This is way harder than it may seem! When I could remain aware and concentrated, I instantly felt a subtle peace emerging from within.

As the 9th day came to an end, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. The Vipassana meditation was coming to an end and technically, the “heavy duty” meditations were over since only a few hours of meditation were scheduled for day 10. Moreover, on the 10th day, after the morning meditation, the prohibition to talk would be waived. But to be honest I didn’t feel it necessary to speak to anyone. I was connected to everyone even without speaking. I didn’t feel it necessary to speak. I was enjoying the silence. For a person like me it was gift to be silent as in the outer world people just keep on questiong my silence. I felt that this meditation was just meant for me.

DAY 10 – METTA DAY

Day 10 was my last chance at completing a meditation in Adishthan. To succeed, I had to stay still for a full hour. My body pain. Heaviness of my head had disappeared. It was gone and I had come up with a comfortable arrangement of cushions in the meditation hall. Moreover, my concentration had greatly improved and I easily felt subtle sensations almost everywhere in my body.

In the previous meditations with Adishthan, I usually failed around the 30 to 40 minutes mark. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t physical pain that became unbearable, it was mental distress. At some point, my mind became so agitated that I couldn’t bear not to move. It was intolerable and felt like every nerve in my brain was tightening itself painfully. The best comparison I can come up with is being highly anxious. I went into the meditation hall determined to break through these negative feelings and succeed.

The beginning of the meditation went well. About 45 minutes into the meditation though, I started getting those weird anxious feelings again. I did my best to continue practicing, trying to acknowledge the feelings without being “disturbed” by them. It felt like every cell of my body was trying to throw me off track.

As I kept meditating, there was a point where these feelings stopped overpowering me. When the recorded instructions began, I knew there was only 5 minutes left I definitely wasn’t moving. I had succeeded! After the meditation, the prohibition to talk was waived. Even though I hadn’t said a word in ten days nor did I see anyone’s face. I still felt a sense of friendship with other meditators. Human connections can form without words. I found it fascinating to share experiences with other students but still I preferred the silence more.

I came to know that many meditators had left in between but I wasn’t aware of all this. I felt good that I was totally engrossed in meditation and wasn’t interested in noticeing what others were doing.

We enjoyed a great meal and spent the rest of our day chatting. There were two other mandatory meditations, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The afternoon one went fine, but I did notice my mind being more agitated because of the chatter. The evening meditation was a different story.

There were many elders telling there wonderfull stories. It was a nice opportunity for me to learn from them and get some life lessons. We spent the rest of the evening discussing life purpose, meditation and relationships. I met fantastic people. I went to bed at about 11pm and next morning, we watched a discourse about how to continue our Vipassana practice in daily life. We were strongly encouraged to meditate at least two hours a day. This sounded like a lot but the benefits which it would gaurantee were amazing!

I was radiating love and I was finding it difficult to do anything other than just sitting silent and feeling love towards everyone and everything around me. It felt strange to finally be allowed to go back into the real world; a part of me didn’t feel ready. I was attached to the peace that the centre was emitting and the clarity it was showing me I’m every aspect.

It felt weird to re-enter the “real world”. I felt detached from the events surrounding me. I couldn’t process seeing people getting angry at the bus being a few minutes late, at traffic being jammed, the platforms being crowded or the trains being late. Complaining was totally outside of my reality. I didn’t get angry on anyone even when I knew they were wrong. I felt as if the source of my anger had disappeared.

The Awakening of Prajna.
I feel like “presence” is slowly becoming my default state of being as opposed to ceaseless thinking. My mind is also much calmer and I’m more aware of everything as it happens, including sensations in my body.

I am also much more confident about life, I feel like whatever happens on the outside, everything’s going to be fine and the problems don’t disturb me like they used to do before. I know that what truly matters is my state of mind, not external circumstances and that the outer reality is just the manifestation of the inner reality. As a result, now, I react to events in a much more detached way and can maintain peace of mind in the vast majority of situations and obstacles. This enables me to be much less reactive and to live in a much more authentic and uninfluenced way with my free will. This also causes me to be way less attached to material things and more engrossed in my work alone. I truly feel like anything I own can break or get stolen without it mattering a lot to me.

Although, in the past years, I had been progressively finding less and less value in intellectual pursuit, Vipassana enabled me to fully see that it truly doesn’t represent anything to me anymore. Although I may still enjoy it as a pleasurable activity, I have stopped believing that accumulation of intellectual knowledge is anything more than a “game” and some of us do it for pride and sometimes it is just unnecessary. This strongly contrasts with how I used to think a few years back. As of now, I just feel like it creates excessive thinking, which makes it impossible for me to stay fully present, experience reality as it is and live in the present. I feel like it’s not worth it as excessive philosophical thinking gets in the way of the strong feeling of peace which I get when I stop thinking, labeling and judging. Although “not thinking” is not a practical possibility to live in the world, I now see thinking more as a “mean” than as an “end”. I try not to identify so much with it and to use it only when necessary, and then go back to “presence” as soon as possible by focusing on the breath. As a consequence, I am not interested in discussions about “people” or how about “doing this was right” and how “this person was wrong”. Nor am I interested in any philosophical discussion, political debates, chatting, parties and gossiping. I now see all of this meaningless and a waste of time. I have developed love for everyone even when they are full of faults. When I point out someone’s faults, I feel like they are my own. I don’t like lying and exaggerating things to gain respect and honour. Such things seem useless now.

Finally, I find it easier to inspire myself to meditate regularly, as I see the benefits and results of my practice almost immediately. I can’t imagine going back to my old states of mind and thought processes.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.

-Prarthana Khot

(Copyrights with the author)

11 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE

The tradition of yoga holds great depth and diversity, providing us with endless opportunities to explore and grow. While improving endurance, strength and flexibility are two obvious places to focus in order to progress in yoga, there are many other, more subtle, paths and tools that can help you become more proficient in your practice. This list of 11 ways to improve your yoga practice is not meant to be tackled all at once—working on just one or two of these areas at a time will be enough for you to see improvements.

1. Be consistent

Setting and committing to a regular practice of yoga is absolutely essential if you want to make improvements. You should practice yoga at least three times per week to start to see progress in your flexibility, strength, and focus. If you can’t attend studio classes that often, definitely adopt a home yoga practice to your advantage. Also know that while frequency is vital, the quality of your practice is ultimately more important than quantity. Carelessness and distractedness will not be effective, so approach every yoga session with intention.

2. Find the right teacher, tradition, and studio

Finding a yoga teacher, style and studio will obviously be a huge boon in deepening your practice. Finding these may take years to achieve, so adopt an attitude of exploration and curiosity in your search. Trying out different classes and teachers has a benefit in itself; it lets you gain exposure and experience in all of the different ways to practice yoga.

3. Use yoga props

Using yoga straps, blocks blankets, and bolsters will allow you to achieve a broader and more diverse experience of the asanas. Yoga props can be used actively to engage targeted muscle groups or in restorative yoga poses to release deeply held tensions and melt chronic stress.

4. Practice pranayama

One of the critical aspects of hatha yoga is to embody pranayama or yogic breath. We all come to yoga with some type of dysfunctional or irregular breathing pattern, so reclaiming slow, deep, diaphragmatic breath can take about a year to establish. Once dirga Pranayama becomes your regular breathing pattern, begin to practice the other types of pranayama to connect more deeply to your energy body and experience the flow of prana through the seven chakras.

5. Buy a great yoga mat

Performing yoga asanas on a crappy mat that bunches up and slips will distract you and hinder your practice. While many yoga studios do offer mats to use during classes, having your own mat will be more sanitary. Having a high quality mat will give you a solid foundation on which to build a great practice. Plus, over time your mat will become infused with the effort, dedication, and intention of your personal practice.

6. Learn and practice meditation

While yoga can itself be a meditation-in-motion, establishing a traditional seated meditation practice will allow you to further develop and explore the mental aspect of yoga. The discipline you learn through regular meditation will help you focus and un-clutter the mind when you practice the more physical aspects of yoga: asana and pranayama.

7. Take workshops and attend yoga events

Taking a yoga class once weekly can only provide you with the fundamentals of hatha yoga, and the progression of your yoga practice will eventually reach a ceiling. To expand your knowledge and experience, you will need access to more tools, traditions, and techniques. Most yoga studios offer workshops on various topics and host traveling national teachers, or you can look into yoga festivals and yoga retreats around the world.

Workshops and events will not only help you refine your practice, but will also expose you to like-minded practitioners who can support you in deepening your practice.

8. Keep a yoga journal

Keeping a dedicated journal for your yoga practice is a great way to set and keep track of your intentions and goals. Taking a few moments before or after your yoga practice to reflect is a great ritual for developing insight into your work both on and off the yoga mat.

9. Take a private class

If you have been working with a specific teacher for a while, you may want to see if they offer private lessons. Taking one or more private lessons can help you better utilize your strengths and address weaknesses you may be unaware of. Private instruction will be particularly useful if you are in need of help with advanced poses.

10. Take yoga off the mat

As you explore and grow to understand the connections between your body, breath, heart, and mind on your yoga mat, you will naturally witness these connections in other contexts as well. Challenging yoga poses train us to approach difficult life situations with focus and strength. It may be rather easy to apply the Yamas and Niyamas while flowing through yoga poses, but applying these philosophical principles in our work lives and personal relationships is a very different experience. Learning to challenge yourself by finding opportunities to bring yoga off your mat and into your world is a fantastic way to strengthen your yoga skills.

11. Make yoga an essential part of your life

Yoga is not just another trendy exercise program—its philosophical foundations and principles were created thousands of years ago and are meant to be applied throughout your entire life. Do you regularly think about how you can bring more mindfulness, compassion, and awareness to your lifestyle, habits, relationships, diet, and work?

While you do not need to become a monk living in a cave in the Himalayas, there are many simple ways to align your life with the principles of yoga. For example, try eating less animal protein (or none!), declutter your home, be honest in all your communication, or create a daily practice of gratitude and kindness. Weaving yoga into the fabric of your life off the mat will in turn enhance your practice on the mat.

Namaste!

Humiliated? It’s alright!

My friends recently told me that one of his students left his class as the class was not entertaining her and was not giving her enough attention. Being from a prestigious family she was being humiliated by giving the same treatment like everyone else was given around. He was really shocked as it was a very small reason to take such a harsh step.

One of the major cause of suffering is Humiliation. We all face humiliation in our daily life, it may be in the form of insult done by our parents in front of our friends, by the teachers in front of the whole class, by our boss at work or even a simple thing like people not responding to our WhatsApp messages. It can spoil everything from relationships to our self esteem.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HUMILIATION ?

Become aware of the fact that humiliation does not weaken you — it strengthens you by bringing you closer to your real self.

When you have a sense of belongingness and Oneness with everything around you, you don’t feel humiliated. The more egotistic you are, the more you identify yourself with your body, the more humiliation you feel. When you are carefree, childlike and have a greater sense of kinship then there is no question of feeling humiliated.

The long term solution to this is, becoming aware of who you really are. When you are committed to the truth and not to your ego then you don’t feel humiliated.

If you are afraid of humiliation or even by a slightest doubt about what will people say if you try something new and fail miserably, if you hurt others by being honest to yourself and others, if go wrong while giving answers in the class whose accuracy is uncertain, you can neither make progress in your material life nor in your spiritual life. When you stand above humiliation, you get closer to the Self – to the God. When you are steeped in love, with the Existence, with the Divine, nothing whatsoever can humiliate you.

So, the way out of humiliation is:

Get humiliated!

Be childlike

Be crazy

Get steeped in love with the Divine

And be totally committed to the truth.

And most importantly,

Be Yourself!

What a Bird Thought

I lived first in a little house,

And lived there very well ;

The world to me was small and round

And made of pale-blue shell.

I lived next in a little nest,

Nor needed any other ;

I thought the world was made of straw,

And covered by my mother.

One day I fluttered from the nest,

To see what I could find.

I said, “The word is made of leaves;

I have been very blind.”

At last I flew beyond the tree,

And saw the sky so blue;

Now, how the world is really made

I cannot tell – can you?

Some Misconceptions regarding Yoga

Myth 1: Yoga comes from Hinduism.

Yoga is Hindu just the way gravity is Christian. Just because the law of gravity was propounded by Isaac Newton, who lived in a Christian culture, does it make gravity Christian? Yoga is a technology. Anybody who is willing to make use of it can make use of it.
Why the yogic sciences have gotten labeled as Hindu by a few ignorant people is because this science and technology grew and prospered in this culture, so naturally it has gotten associated with the Hindu way of life. The word Hindu has come from the word Sindhu, which is a river. Because this culture grew from the banks of the river Sindhu or Indus, this culture got labeled as Hindu. Hindu is not an ism, it is not a religion. It is a geographical and cultural identity.

Myth 2: Why be a human when you can be a pretzel? Yoga is all about impossible postures.

When we utter the word yoga, most people on the planet only think of asanas. Of all the different things that the science of yoga explores just about every aspect of life todays world has chosen to represent yoga with only the physical aspect. In the yogic system, there is very little significance given to asanas. For a little over two hundred Yoga Sutras, only one sutra is dedicated to asanas. But somehow, in modern times, this one sutra has gained significance over everything else.
The practice as you see it, the mechanics of it, is simply of the body. You have to breathe life into it; otherwise it will not become alive.
The yogic system is a subtle manipulation of your system to allow it to rise to a different level. Yoga means that which allows you to attain to your higher nature. Every asana, every mudra, every way of breathing everything is focused towards this.

Myth 3: Want six-pack abs? Yoga is a great exercise regime.

If fitness is what you are seeking, if you want six-pack abs or whatever number, I would say go and play tennis or hike in the mountains. Yoga is not an exercise; it has other dimensions attached to it. A different dimension of fitness yes you get health out of it, but not six-pack abs. If you are doing yoga to burn calories or tone up your muscle, obviously you are doing improper yoga; there is no question about that. For abs, you can go to the gym. Yoga needs to be practiced in a very subtle, gentle way, not in a forceful muscle-building way, because this is not about exercise.

Myth 4: Find your groove. Yoga & music go well.

There should never be a mirror or music when you practice asanas. Hatha yoga demands a certain involvement of your body, mind, energy and the innermost core. If you want to get the involvement of that which is the source of creation within you, your body, your mind, your energy must be absolutely involved. You should approach it with a certain reverence and certain focus. Not just going, playing music and doing something. One of the biggest problems in yoga studios is, the teacher is doing asanas and speaking. This is a sure way to cause damage to you.
No talking in the asana is not just a norm, it is a rule. You never ever speak in postures. The breath, the mental focus and the stability of energy is most important when you are doing the asana. If you speak, you will destroy all that.

Myth 5: Yoga is only a Post Retirement Plan.

It is believed that yoga is for old and not the young. Don’t the young live their life? Don’t the young people have any tension; don’t they fall and get hurt, or catch cold and cough? Then how can we say it is not for the young? Yoga starts from the womb itself.

Myth 6: Yoga is the last respite for the sick and the ailing.

People come to yoga only when all other avenues are closed. When you have a heart problem and the doctors say nothing can be done, then you come to yoga. If you could have come to yoga earlier, things would have been very different. You would not fall sick and if you do, you would have been able to handle it yourself

Myth 7: Yoga is for the Recluse living in the Himalayas.

Earlier people used to think only Yogis, Sanyasis, etc. practiced yoga. But yoga is for every human. A recluse would use different techniques whereas householders would use a different technology. But yoga is definitely a science of living.

10 Benefits of Meditation for Youngsters.

Students struggling to keep up with studies and school or college, life can be easier with regular practice (at least once or twice a day) of meditation where you can see improvements in health and well-being and a sharp betterment in their academic performance.

1. Less Fear: Most parents associate the absence of good academic performance of their child with inability or lack of talent. This could not have been far from the truth. What restrains children is the fear of the exact same thing!! They do not want others (least of all their parents) to judge them or brand them. This fear creates a cloud of negativity and hence increases bad performance, which in reality has nothing to do with any form of incapability at all. Meditation can help relax such fears and phobias. Since children are at an impressionable age, if they do not practice meditation, this can associate such negativity into perpetual failure in the long run. This alone should be a very important reason to propagate meditation amidst students.

2. Increasing IQ: Meditation leads to major changes in brain waves enabling creative positive thinking, practical intelligence and IQ. It helps in increased amounts of productivity and brain functions thereby improving the ability to reason and make sound decisions in novel situations.

3. Increased Memory: Many students face issues when they are able to grasp concepts but not being able to retain certain important things for an examination. Meditation helps overcome this issue to a very large extent by improving memory and overall brain functioning. There are numerous easy techniques you can learn to improve your memory!

4. Improved Concentration: With reduced levels of stress and high level of peace of mind, meditation provides calm to anxiety levels and ADHD symptoms that students are most commonly prone to. It helps in better concentration and gives a very positive outlook to tasks at hand resulting in increased brain processing and language-based skills.

5. Better Achievements: Students who practice meditation have seen to be performing a lot better academically than the rest. This is because meditation helps in garnering a lot of control over unproductive thoughts, increases focus and provides an impeccable mental clarity.

6. Improved Self-Confidence: Self-esteem and confidence take a boost with practiced meditation. It ensures a sharper brain and results in harmonious intellectual performance thereby helping students to only constantly improve and get out of their comfort zones when required to present themselves with confidence and developing an enhanced personality.

7. Reduction in Depression and Anxiety:Meditation helps in many phobias and fears. A lot of students who are probably great at being able to perceive academically are still unable to show results due to their anxiety levels during an examination. Also, such anxiety can lead to a poor performance thereby depriving them of their desired results. Such a continuous feat can also lead to a very early depression amongst students. Hence meditation garners a positive outlook and also helps them to not give in to any extreme behavioral pattern like alcoholism or addiction to drugs or even suicidal tendencies etc.

8. Increased Emotional Well-Being: Meditation helps in focusing on the present without letting the fear of the unknown future taking over. It enables emotional well-being amongst students thereby improving their levels of happiness irrespective of having the world to dictate their judgment upon them. It can provide clarity for decision making about their careers by carefully weighing their strengths, weaknesses and other pros and cons.

9. Helps To Persevere: When something as positive as meditation happens at an early stage in your life, one automatically learns to persevere and look at the brighter side of life to move on and achieve his/her goals despite despair. Hard work can also lead to failures sometimes, but not wanting to give up can only be achieved by positive affirmations and perseverance as promoted through active meditation.

10. Improved Sleep: In a sleep-deprived world, meditation can help students to sleep well and in moments of stress, to sleep less yet have the same refreshed attitude to be able to perform longer lengths of mental activities without feeling self-deprecating and exhausted.

The road less travelled

Robert Frost is my favorite poet. Although I love many of his poems, my favorite is “The Road Not Taken.” I use its lesson almost daily.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads onto way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence;

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And that has made all the difference.

Ego And Self From A Different Angle

Ego is that something, which has two aspects – the positive and the negative. The creativity in you – are the results of ego. At the same time, when you break down communication, when you isolate yourself, when you’re in tears, when you’re stressed – that is also ego. We do not know about the ego, and so we don’t pay much attention to it. But just 2-3 facts, awareness of how ego works !

The self – the basis of life! You can call it the spirit, the soul, consciousness, the source of the mind – anything. It is that something, which doesn’t change in one’s whole life. After discovering about all these levels, what is left is the Self.

Everything is changing, isn’t it? Do you notice this?

Just look at yourself in the mirror and then look at your picture taken a few months or a few years ago. Isn’t there a big difference?

Your body is changing, your thoughts are changing, the mind is changing, emotions are changing, situations are changing… But still you feel there is something in me which is not changing. So that something which is the basis of all change, that something through which you notice the change is the self – the atma, the spirit. It is the most amazing aspect of our lives. Just a glimpse of it, a dip into your spirit energizes our whole system – and that is what meditation is.

Spirituality is the skill of nurturing, purifying and blossoming one’s all levels of existence.

Is Prestige and Honor, Your Golden Cage?

Honor reduces the freedom. Your fame, honor and virtue can limit your freedom. Nobody expects a good person to make a mistake. So the better person you are, the higher the expectations people have of you. It is then that you lose your freedom. Your virtues and good actions are like a golden cage. You are trapped by your own good actions, for everyone expects more from a good person. Nobody expects anything from a bad person.

Most of the people are stuck in this cage of prestige and honor. They can not smile. They are constantly worried about keeping up their prestige and their honor. It becomes more important than their own life. Just being good or doing good to keep the prestige and honor is worthless. Prestige and honor can bring more misery in life than poverty.

Many desire fame, but little do they know that they are looking for a cage. It is an art to be dignified, and yet not be suffocated by it. Only the wise would know this. For the wise one it is natural to be in honor, and he has no concerns even if it falls apart. Despite having fame or prestige, he will live as though he has none. A wise person can handle any fame without feeling suffocated, for he is crazy too! By doing good in the society one gains prestige, then enjoying the prestige and honor, one loses their freedom.

But then how do you keep your freedom?

By being like a child, considering the world as a burden a joke or a dream.