Well-Being: Hairy Stuff (November 2017 Newsletter)

Our hair is affected by fall and winter weather, as it turns cold and dry. This causes it both to turn brittle and break easily, or fall out. Just as we nourish our skin with richer, oilier emollients through winter, we need to give hair some TLC as well. It is best to wash it less than we do in summer, and keep it well conditioned and moisturized. Between shampoos simply use a conditioner on your hair - a simple coconut oil conditioner is the best for your hair. Just moisten hair and rub a dime to nickel size amount into the scalp. Leave on a few minutes and wash off. If you have a half hour to spare, try rubbing in a cupful of coconut milk letting it penetrate for 30 minutes and then shampoo as usual. Use a light spray of nourishing Moroccan Argan oil to prevent frizzy hair and to keep it supple before drying as usual, using medium setting on your hair dryer.

For distressed hair, nails and skin try 500 mg of black current oil or evening primrose oil twice a day. They both work but it takes almost two months to see results. The benefit comes from an unusual fatty acid they contain known as GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid) that the body has to get through the diet. There are no long term adverse effects to the use of either of these oils and they also help with inflammatory problems such as arthritis and many kinds of auto-immune diseases.

Diet has a lot to do with how the hair behaves and looks. Keep your diet balanced and eat well and on a regular schedule. It will help to eat a little more fat now than you do in summer in the form of nuts, and good unsaturated oils. Especially rich in good Omega Fatty Acids for vegetarians is ground flax seed added to any of your dishes. In moderation add some cheese and butter, yogurt and milk that is not fat free. If you eat eggs and fish, it's a good thing for your hair. If you don't, all kinds of fresh vegetables, greens, nuts and beans will provide the essential vitamins and proteins you need to have well moisturized, beautiful, soft and silky hair, skin and nails throughout the year.

NewsletterChris Johnson
What is Meditation? (November 2017 Newsletter)
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What is meditation?
How is meditating beneficial?
How long does meditation last?
How do you meditate?
What is the best time to meditate?
Where are the best places to meditate?"

These are questions that a high school student emailed me and wants to use for a high-school article she is writing on meditation. These are not questions that can be answered in a few short sentences. Meditation is not a science. It is not based on facts to be analyzed, criticized and discussed. That has largely been the problem with its practice in the West where everything worth learning, comprehending and mastering is a science able to withstand a variety of testing. Standardizing results of the outcome must always be measurable and similar, if not identical. How else can you judge or justify the accuracy of the discipline? But meditation is not a science. Each of us is unique, and the ways in which we meditate and the effect we experience is quite different for each of us. 

"The things that trouble our spirits are within us already. In meditation, we must face them, accept them, and set them aside one by one." ~Christopher L. Bennett. This is the first step in meditation practice - dharana in Sanskrit, is the focused thought on one object in the mind, or physically in front of us. Practiced daily, it may take a lifetime. But meditation - dhyana, is something much more. "Meditation should not be regarded as a learning process. It should be regarded as an experiencing process. You should not try to learn from meditation but try to feel it. Meditation is an act of non-duality. The technique you are using should not be separate from you; it is you, you are the technique. Meditator and meditation are one. There is no relationship involved." ~Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Meditation is often undertaken by most earnest students to reduce stress, because they have been advised that it does so effectively. This is only a side effect of meditation. If one has never felt a longing to connect with an Energy/Entity mightier than oneself, to have that become a driving force of one's existence and direction, meditation is just another means to find a way to relax. There is nothing wrong with that, but that's not why meditation was traditionally practiced.

Austrian scholar and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, suggests what meditation is:  "When we raise ourselves through meditation to what unites us with the spirit, we quicken something within us that is eternal and unlimited by birth and death. Once we have experienced this eternal part in us, we can no longer doubt its existence. Meditation is thus the way to knowing and beholding the eternal, indestructible, essential center of our being."

There really is nothing to learn about ways to practice focus. It is more about doing it. It is an intuitive practice, an ability to connect with the deep silent space within each of us and to just rest there, till our busy thoughts start to slow down and dissipate. Many different techniques have been practiced over the ages, and one of these will surely work for you. Daily practice is the key: several times a day for just a few minutes, without busying yourself with other activities or people, practicing at the same time daily, and using the same location. Whether you sit, stand, walk or lie down, it doesn't matter, they all work.

Most of us practice 'dharana' or mental focus, rather than 'dhyana' or meditationwhich is beyond thought - it is the extended gap between any two thoughts. Try it - just watching the space and the light that fills your gaze as you close your eyes.

Check out our meditation workshops at YWB every month on the second Sunday of the month.

Namaste,

sipra

NewsletterChris Johnson
Well-Being: Seeing Clearly (June 2017 Newsletter)
Sipra, doing well after her first cataract surgery.

Sipra, doing well after her first cataract surgery.

Wellness is a state of mind as much as it is a state of being. When we know we can take steps to make life easier and better, we should act. It is that juncture when one can foresee that it is the right time to take steps to change the dysfunction. Life sometimes jolts us into this realization through an uncomfortable incident. It could be the deception of a friend or partner, or some physical or mental discomfort that doesn't seem to be getting better but only aggravating over time. Do something! It will not go away. Walking away or a corrective action, or surgically removing the offensive cause of dis-ease may be expensive in many ways, but it's better done sooner rather than later. The hurt, the pain will soon go away, and you will come out of it stronger, better, healthier.

I have some developing cataracts in both my eyes, and I could wait a few years for them to mature enough to require surgery. Even though they are not really hindering my vision, I decided to get them removed now while I am in good health and recovery should be quick. There is always an element of risk, but one takes the pros and cons and decides on what to do. But do something we must!

I am having two cataract procedures on May 30 and June 13. I will be back to instruct classes when I get the go-ahead from my surgeon. Classes will continue with YWB instructors graciously offering to sub my classes. My daughter, Pia, trained at White Lotus, California, will be visiting Columbus for a week and will teach three classes as well.

Clarity of Vision (June 2017 Newsletter)
Credit: Chewonki, CC BY-SA

Credit: Chewonki, CC BY-SA

Summer is almost here. It is time for fun and relaxation in the sun. It is also time to shed not only the winter blues, but the indeterminate life, moving from one recreation to another, one interest to another, one diet to another. It is almost as though we are constantly in search of something new and better than what we already know and have. It creates dissatisfaction with what is and a hankering for something else, but we don't know what and how. Life goes on, and joys and sorrows come and go and nothing remains stationary. We are somewhat like a tetherball - flying around and up and down, but never quite free.

The search for the ultimate is powerfully explained in the book, Merging with Śiva by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. Read on for a sampling of his work.

The Self: you can't explain it. You can sense its existence through the refined state of your senses, but you can't explain it. To know it, you have to experience it. And the best you could say about it is that it is the depth of your Being, it's the very core of you. It is you. If you visualize above you nothing; below you nothing; to the right of you nothing; to the left of you nothing; in front of you nothing; in back of you nothing; and dissolve yourself into that nothingness, that would be the best way you could explain the realization of the Self. And yet that nothingness would not be the absence of something, like the nothingness inside an empty box, which would be like a void. That nothingness is the fullness of everything: the power, the sustaining power, of the existence of what appears to be everything.

But after you realize the Self, you see the mind for what it is - a self-created principle. That is the mind ever creating itself. The mind is form ever creating form, preserving form, creating new forms and destroying old forms. That's the mind, the illusion, the great unreality, the part of you that in your thinking mind you dare to think is real. What gives the mind that power? Does the mind have power if it is unreal? What difference whether it has power or hasn't power, or the very words that I am saying when the Self exists because of itself?

[...]

They say you must step onto the spiritual path to realize the Self. You only step on the spiritual path when you and you alone are ready, when what appears real to you loses its appearance of reality. Then and only then are you able to detach yourself enough to seek to find a new and permanent reality.

Have you ever noticed that something you think is permanent, you and you alone give permanence to that thing through your protection of it?

[...]

As the Self, your Effulgent Being, comes to life in you, joy and sorrow become a study to you. You do not have to think to tell yourself that each in its own place is unreal. You know from the inmost depth of your being that form itself is not real.

[...]

You will first think that a light is shining within you. You will seek to find that light. You will seek to hold it, like you cherish and hold a beautiful gem...

How strong you must be to find this Truth. You must become very, very strong. How do you become strong? Exercise. You must exercise every muscle and sinew of your nature by obeying the dictates of the law, of the spiritual laws. It will be very difficult. A weak muscle is very difficult to make strong, but if you exercise over a period of time and do what you should do, it will respond. Your nature will respond, too. But you must work at it. You must try. You must try. You must try very, very hard, very diligently. How often? Ten minutes a day? No. Two hours a day? No. Twenty-four hours a day! Every day! You must try very, very hard ...

You may notice the similarities with our recent weekly explorations of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras on Facebook. You can explore more there each week.

Namaste,

sipra

Chris Johnson
Well-Being: Snacking (May 2017 Newsletter)

Everyone is always talking about diet and eating right. Actually it's simple. Just remember to think carefully before consuming anything. Eat well at mealtimes and have a filling meal. Snacking becomes unnecessary. Most snacks like pretzels, crackers and cheese, chips etc. are best avoided.

If you eat well at mealtimes, you don't need to snack. Don't buy snacks that are not so good for you. You will not have them around when you feel you have to snack on something. Don't add additional salt, sugar, butter, cream, or hard cheeses except to season your food.

With fresh food seasons coming up, enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables even for a snack. Still feel like you want to munch on something? Try a few nuts.

Drink plenty of water flavored with lemon or fruit flavors, if you don't like it plain. Avoid pop during, after, or between meals.

You have heard this before. Now just do it. Consistently.

NewsletterChris Johnson
A Calm Mind (May 2017 Newsletter)
Patanjali statue in Haridwar Credit: Alokprasad, Wikimedia Commons

Patanjali statue in Haridwar
Credit: Alokprasad, Wikimedia Commons

Yoga in its ancient and infinite wisdom (truly!) directs us step by step on how to conquer life and conquer death. Whatever our belief system may be, take what wisdom you can from it. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which we discuss every Wednesday in the Fundamentals Class (now moving to 6 PM), make us question what we think we know and what we believe through simple mind-opening aphorisms or brief sayings. Much of it is advice for practical behavior that we can model and use in our daily lives. We are currently working on Sutra 1.38, or the 38th thought in Chapter 1; several maxims prior to it help us learn to focus and silence our uncontrollable minds.

We are all familiar with the uncontrollable ruminating over a single negative experience or fear. At other times, many, many thoughts pour through our minds without direction or limit. Suggestions from Patanjali deal with both the problems and resolutions for the fickleness of the human mind.

All of the methods used are meditations. First, there are our attitudes towards others - staying consciously away from negativity. Keep them always loving and kind, compassionate, full of good wishes, and neutral when we can't quite get to feeling positive about another. (Sutra 1.33)

In the following five thoughts, the Yoga Sutras provide specific focal points for controlling the mind: awareness of the breath and awareness of the rising and dropping away of physical sensations, locating 'inner luminosity' or focusing on a point of brightness in the center of the chest, seeing the mind as rock steady, and, finally, just following where the mind leads you, one thought at a time to its conclusion. Finally, it suggests contemplating on one pleasant thought. Such simple advice, but not so easy to do.

My personal practice of mantra meditation has helped me calm the mind. It is a practice to be done daily, and often. It is never omitted and never abbreviated. Relentless and constant till the mind bows and bends to your impersonal, superior Self.

Join our Mantra Meditation on Mother's Day, May 12. Bring your mother or your child for free.

Namaste,

sipra

Chris Johnson
NIYAMA: COMMITMENT TO ONESELF

Niyama: Commitment to Oneself

In the October newsletter we considered commitment as a philosophical concept according to Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutra'. Life is all about commitment and surrender. 'Commitment to the cause and surrender to the result.'

In a practical sense, our commitments make us who we truly are. Do we value our own word? Often we will do all we can to follow through on what we have promised others, but just as often we drop the commitment to ourselves. How can we do our best for others if we don't practice it on ourselves first? How can we feed the hungry when we ourselves are starved? 

Start by being your best self! In the study of yoga one learns that it starts with Niyama in Ashtanga (or the Eight Limbs of Yoga) which is the second step in physical, mental and spiritual growth. Niyama (the commitment to daily observances relating to oneself) consists of keeping oneself morally pure in body, mind and spirit (shaucha); being content (santosha); persistently practicing self-discipline (Tapas); self-study/self reflection (Svadhyaya); and focus on the Ultimate Reality or spiritual transformation (Ishwarapranidhana).

Commitment is a conscious decision made by us to/for ourselves. It is made with full awareness of the goal in mind - to be better, and to ultimately be the best we can be in this lifetime. It is a commitment to connect with our better Self, and connect to the world around us in loving and giving ways. It is not at all about how we look or how we present ourselves to the world. Nevertheless, self-care is very much a commitment to ourselves.

Hold your head up high, friend, and breathe deep. Make heads turn in wonder at the majesty of your Being.

Namaste,

sipra

NewsletterChris Johnson