Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes My Mantra Is More Dr. Seuss than Durga

I was thinking a good deal about the yoga culture in the West, about travel, about illusion, about Self. Do we need to travel to far off places and exotic climes to find our true Self? As Hollywood as it was, the film Eat Pray Love did make me consider this question seriously. Ok so I do admit it was also a bit of joyous eye candy for me as I sat there in my pj's nursing my newborn daughter during my first viewing. But it made me question just the same. I was once a world traveler...South America, Europe, Mexico. I was once very active in the Integral Yoga Community nearby. My pace of life changed dramatically. I was more in my robe than my jeans. I was far less apt to brush my hair. I hardly had a minute to myself to shower, let alone consciously set my mat out or my meditation rug to fully concentrate on spiritual endeavors. So what then was my practice? Could I claim to be a practicing Yogini?

This got me thinking. Perhaps thinking isn't the word, but feeling...trusting. It took a little time. It took a little forgiveness. But it came. Back to this in a moment.

No matter how rich one's spiritual life may be or how deep one may understand the little intricacies of the Self and it's illusions, there is often in human nature the inherent quality of questioning and comparison. It may be small, it may be fleeting, but it remains still in the mind. Oh our little chattering monkey mind! We look at the person next to us on the mat and know that yes, it is their personal and very unique journey that put them there in that time in space....but oh.....look at her crow pose! Or wow, he traveled far and wide, lived blissfully on the beach for two months and ate organic fruits and other raw delectables. Should I be doing something different? Maybe that brownie I had last night is affecting my practice, my mood, my very progress. Did I even check to see what was in the brownie before I ate it? 

So that little voice came to me one day as I browsed the web catching up on some of my favorite yoga blogs. That voice came to me- the questioning one which seemed to prompt this post and a full articulation of my thoughts. 

I am not attending any far away retreats. I have not traveled far and wide to study with a famous yogi or yogini although I consider those I have studied with (loving disciples of Swami Satchidananda and Shree Ma) some of the most amazing practitioners and yogis I have ever met. I don't purchase special yoga clothes or mats or props. (Although I loooove to look at them.) I have not attended a yoga class since I gave birth to my daughter a year ago. Sometimes my mantra is more Dr. Seuss than Durga.

Instead, I pose when I can. I create malas in the precious time my daughter sleeps. I bless them and smile knowing that they will reach loving hands. Heck, I even get to meditate if my daughter remains sleeping! I kiss my babe's foot like the foot of a guru. I watch how she takes joy in the simplest tiniest of things and I make sure to learn from each precious moment. I teach her a mudra and how to say Om. I tweet and blog about Yoga and have met more great souls than I ever could have imagined out in cyber space. I chant and sing kirtan. I try and stay present. I breathe. I cultivate gratitude.

There will be a time where I will venture out again into the Yoga community. But I am left with the questions still.... and now an answer alongside it. Could I claim to be truly practicing, truly evolving in a rather insulated environment? Could I make these malas and spiritual items and be for real, be a representation of my true Self. Be contributing to the greater Consciousness?


And so my thoughts go out to the yogis and yoginis on the fringe, to the mommas who don't have much time to do their hatha, to the students who don't have the money for classes or retreats. Yoga is everyday. Yoga is life. Yoga is the way you smile at a stranger. Yoga is the way you talk to your spouse, or your mom, or your dog. Yoga is how you prepare a meal, how you bathe, how you breathe. You practice everywhere, with everything.

Yoga is now. You are Yoga. And yes, you can claim it as your own.

Peace, Love and Light-

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Malas 101 - Part 2 - How to Use Your Mala

If you have not meditated with a mala before and you would like to try, here are a few brief instructions on how to use your mala.

Hold your mala in your most comfortable or dominant hand. The mala should be held resting on your third finger and the beads "counted" with your thumb. The index finger should not touch the mala as it represents the "ego". And who wants that interfering with our practice! :) (If you would like to see some wonderfully detailed pictures illustrating this click here to visit one of my favorite yoga blogs.)

As you begin your mantra, draw the beads inward with your thumb for each recitation. Keep bringing the beads inward, thus bringing your concentration inward. When you have gone completely around the mala you will come to the center bead or "guru" bead. If you wish to continue and do another full mala, do not cross over the guru, but respectfully flip the mala around and begin again. (If you have a smaller mala such as a 54 or 27 bead mala, also make sure not to cross over the guru.)

Malas are very personal items and may be used as you wish. The instructions above are the way I was introduced to meditating with a mala. I am very grateful to my teacher who has inspired me to work with these wonderful tools!

Some like to wear their malas as sacred jewelry to remind them of their intentions, others keep their mala tucked safely away in a pouch and only use it during their meditation practice. However you use your mala, I hope you enjoy it's benefits!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Malas 101 - Part 1 - Origin, Use and Variations

Recently, I have been asked many questions concerning the nature of the mala. What are they used for? How many beads are there and why? How exactly do I use it during my meditation practice? These are all wonderful questions that I thought I might address here.

Malas are believed to originate in India around 500 B.C, or perhaps earlier. They are a set of a particular number of beads used to count repetitions of a mantra during meditation. They have been called many names such as worry beads, prayer beads or rosaries and have various traditions in many cultures. The malas I enjoy creating are of the Hindu tradition and are comprised of 108, 54, or 27 beads (54 and 27 being divisions of 108). A full mala is considered 108 beads and can be a wonderful tool to keep track of your mantra during meditation and aid you in focusing. Many believe it can enhance your meditation if your mala is created from certain gemstones, seeds, or wood. 

There are many theories as to why malas have the specific number of 108, some of which are fascinating! One of my favorites is that 1 stands for the Higher Power, 0 symbolizes emptiness and 8 represents infinity. Another explanation is that 108 is a harshad number, or number meaning "great joy". A harshad number is divisible by the sum of it's digits. 

Here are some examples of malas that I have created with a varying number of beads.

108 Bead Mala

Each mala will have a "guru" bead or center bead(s). This bead actually makes the mala 109 beads and it not technically "meditated on". It signals the end of the mala and can be used as a kind of marker, or stop for the finger to feel when you have reached the end.

54 Bead Mala

This 54 bead mala will give you a compete mala after going around twice.

27 Bead Mala

This 27 bead mala, or pocket mala is easy to carry with you anywhere. Pocket malas fit exactly there, in your pocket or bag! Four times around this mala will give you a full mala.

There are as many options for malas as there are individuals! Each mala is very special to the one who uses it and it can feel like an old friend after diligent meditation. One should treat it will love, care and reverence as well enjoy it's beautiful effects!

I hope you will join me on my next post which will be a short introduction for beginners on how to use your mala.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jai Ganesha! -The Handmade Yogini - Style Guide

Ganesh has been understandably a favorite deity of many. His body is represented as half elephant, half human. Why the mix? Long story short it was cut off by Shiva (oops!) and replaced with the nearest sleeping elephant's. Thankfully he is in one peace ready to offer the removal of obstacles, be Lord of beginnings, as well as patron of the arts and sciences. Enjoy this little handmade tribute!

Shops:  celentanowoodworksshowcase66avecjasminedivineplanetblissfulturtle, ElanButik

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Give Me Hand - An Introduction to Mudras by Meredith LeBlanc

One of the biggest dilemmas for me when I started my meditation practice was what to do with my hands. Should I fold them? Hold them? wave them? Should I scratch my ankle? Having a job for the hands keeps them from getting fidgety: enter the mudra.

Mudras are yoga asana, postures, for the hands and the aid us in fine tuning the energy in the body. Connecting with certain spots of the hands help to access specific areas of the physical body and the different energy centers.

The most common mudra is jnana mudra; jnana means knowledge. The tips of the index finger  and thumbs touch, middle, ring & pinkie extend, with the palms facing up. (The same position with the palms facing down is chin mudra.) Commonly depicted in yoga media, it is familiar and this the mudra I  introduce first to students.

The thumb is the boss; it represents our big “S” self (divinity/higher power) and the macrocosm (external world). The index finger is the little ”s” self (the ego) and our microcosm (our internal world). By joining them we’re creating a circuit to balance that which is greater than ourselves with our material self, much like syncing your computer with your cell phone or iPod.

To help newer meditation students to get to know their breath and get in touch with their hands I came up with simple 10 minute practice with jnana mudra and a knuckle breath count.
  1. Breaths per minute (BPM): using a timer set for one minute, count the breaths you take during a minute. The breaths should be natural not forced. Take an inhale and count on the exhale. (I like to repeat the process a total of 3 times and take an average of the 3 outcomes.) 
  2. Find a comfortable seat. Place the right hand on the right thigh in jnana mudra, tips of index finger and thumbs touching, remaining fingers extended. Take a few cleansing breaths: deep inhale, exhale through the mouth. 
  3. Place the left hand on the thigh palm up. Bring the tip of the thumb to the first knuckle on the index finger closest to the palm (see knuckle marked #1 in the picture). Take your breathe per minute, BPM, on #1. Move the tip of the thumb to #2 knuckle (see picture!) and repeat your BPM. Continue to move the tip of the thumb around the knuckles clockwise as numbered up to #10. 
  4. Take a nice deep inhale in gratitude. Shake out the arms and legs. Stretch any way that feels natural. 
This practice helps to train the mind to focus on the breath through counting and following the left hand knuckles, while the right hand in mudra brings balance into the body, mind, and spirit. It helps to remove the time pressure since you are acting as the timer rather than a clock you want to look at. If 10 minutes seems too much at first, try 5 ~ a few minutes is better than none.

Enjoy and breathe!

Meredith LeBlanc has been a yoga & meditation practioner since 1996. She expresses herself through The Pondering Yogini (http://www.ponderingyogini.org/) and The Scarlet Sutras (http://www.scarletssutras.org/). She works as yoga teacher and also in an office keeping things running smoothly. She shares her life with her husband Mike and her pug Scarlet. She enjoys reading, beading, and gardening. Recently Meredith started taking Kundalini yoga classes and is thoroughly enjoying being a student of something new.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Handmade Yogini - Style Guide

Welcome to the style guide portion of the blog where I share some of my favorite handmade shops and items that inspire, uplift, soothe and sanctify. Each style guide will be handpicked items creatively themed for your enjoyment. Have a handmade/local shop or just one that you love? Do share!

Today's theme....

A Yogini in Autumn. 
A crisp wind. Colors of the Earth. A perfect time to dive deep within.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet My Guru. She is Two and Half Feet Tall

I have never traveled to India. I have never intentionally saught the wisdom of a great sage. I was told that when the student is truly ready, the teacher will arrive. I waited patiently.....and she did.   Mine arrived in the form of a tiny little Buddha not even three feet tall. That little Buddha is my daughter.

The word guru can be translated as "the one who removes darkness".

She has taught me:
  • To impart wisdom, one does does need the use of words.
  • To lose all attachment to things.
  • How to discard expectation, and that just about anything may happen in a day.
  • That each lesson is presented at exactly the right time, even if I don't consider it so.
  • Compassion for all beings, no matter how small.
  • That wisdom has little to do with your time on this earth.
  • The meaning of true love through selfless devotion.
  • That wonder can be found anywhere and in anything.
  • The joy of giving all for the safety, happiness and health of another being.
  • The beauty of offering my complete Self to each task I endeavor.
  • That the past should be immediately forgotten.
  • That the present is the most blissful place to be.
  • That each day is filled with the potential of sparkling miracles, if only I choose to truly look.