• Yoga & Mindfulness

  • Thanks for joining us for an informal talk, workshop and interactive session on Yoga & Mindfulness on the occasion of International Yoga day! For those who missed the session we have a live meeting recording in the MindGym Youtube channel.

    We explored six levels of Yoga that (roughly) map into the eight limbs of Asthanga Yoga.

    Level One: This is the ground level of existence and spans the first two limbs of Yoga. Often time the activities at this level are set as rules. In our practice these activities will be seen as something that one would grow into. These actives are indeed important because this is the real result and fruit of the transformation enabled by Yoga.

    Level Two: The transformation process starts with postures that build awareness of the body and one can start unclutching from the thoughts by focusing on the body during the exercises, which also have a side effect of reducing physical aliments.

     Level Three:  The next level is of breathing exercises, which increases the flow of “Prana” or life force in the body. The body is energized with these exercises that go beyond just hyper oxygenating the body. And here comes an aspect that has been very cleverly obscured over the ages. The fact that there are several energy centers in our body which start to get energized in conjunction to the unboxing of thoughts. These centers then help build cognition beyond the boundaries of time and space.  

     Level Four: The next step is actually a ‘stage’ more than a step. It is a gating stage where one’s attention is drawn inside naturally.  The attention that had wandered outside starts settling down – people start feeling more peaceful and sitting quietly does not seem like a chore. All this happens naturally once the practitioner  starts a routine practice of asana and pranayama – they would cross this gate and get naturally initiated to the final steps of yoga – which, as it is known in the western world, is meditation.

    Level Five: This is the Mediation Practice - the core of Yoga.

    There are actually two steps as part of the meditation practice spanning two limbs of Yoga. The core of the practice is to build the mind muscles to not get entangled to random thoughts that arise because of five reasons that we will explore. We may not have control on the rising of these thoughts (at least not yet!), but we can practice to not get entangled in them. That is the technique these two steps teach.

    The first one is Dharna that literally means  ‘hold’, where one holds the attention on one thing. The attention can be put on another thought of a phonetic or a mantra. Or even on sensations of the body like on the nostrils during breathing.

    The practice itself includes, holding attention and then, as we can expect, the attention wanders to uncontrolled thoughts. Whenever there is a realization that the attention has wandered, it is brought back to the mantra or sensation – depending on which technique you are using. This has to be done twice a day for at least twenty minutes in each sitting.  And in these 20 minutes the attention is brought back to the ‘anchor’ – mantra or sensations, again and again whenever one realizes it has wandered”

    The practitioner  learns how to let-go the thoughts and come back to the anchor. And this is the basic practice of not engaging with the thoughts.

    The anchor itself does not matter so much as the practice of letting go of the thoughts. That practice is the key. Initially one would find mostly wandering in thoughts – with just a few of these transitions. This phase can be frustrating for many beginners where they sit in meditation thinking about random things. But what they should be aware of is that every time they let go of the thinking and moved back to the anchor (irrespective of how long they stayed with the random thoughts), that movement itself is building their ability of let go random thoughts.

    As this ability slowly builds up, two things happen. First is that the awareness that one is in a random flight of thought starts happening relatively faster. So you realize that you are in a thought story in a shorter time since you actually got pulled into the story.  The second thing that you will notice will be a ‘gap’ that appears after the anchor and before the random flight of thought. This gap feels (literally) like ‘nothing’. There are no thoughts in this gap. Whenever you feel that you are in the gap – you are actually out of it already, because feeing the gap is another thought. So we come back to the anchor whenever we realize that we are in the gap.

    The meditation process is a movement: anchor – thought –anchor or anchor-gap-thought-anchor. One has to continue this practice until one day you find that the gap is no longer lingering between thoughts. The gap is always there and the thoughts come in and out.

     Preparation for Meditation:

    Since meditation is the heart of Yoga, please give it complete focus and attention. Here are some additional tips that will help you to prep for the session. You should spend a couple of minutes going through this before the session.

    • Sit in a closed room without distractions. Outdoor meditation is not advised as part of the routine practice.
    • Be aware of your buttocks before you start. Balance your weight evenly – weather you are sitting crosses legged or on a chair.
    • Try to keep your back as straight as possible.
    • Before you start, think about a image which triggers a natural outpouring of love. Image of pets or kids (when they were small) is usually very effective.
    • Think of the time when you were a small kid when you were taken care of by your parents. Try to experience the feeling of “I am taken care of”
    • This last prep step is a bit counter intuitive but it turbo charges the session if you can do this correctly. You need to do a self-affirmation that “ I do not want anything from this session “. If done with the right spirit, this helps in settling down the thoughts about “am I getting there?” , “how am I doing ?” . ‘Is this thing working after all?” type of distracting thoughts that become difficult to let go. If more of these thoughts arise in the session – lesser thought to anchor transitions would be made. It may also lead to abandoning the session completely – “What the heck! it is not working so let me check my Facebook feed!”

    When you are in it:

    The movement between random thoughts and anchor may be a bit clunky initially but will settle down and become more natural after some time.

    Level Six: This level is related to the evolution of the ‘gap’ in the meditation practice as it evolves. We will not get too fixated with it; rather observe lightly as the transformation progresses.

    Initially the gaps are felt only during the practices. Then they spill over to the daily life. As the gap expands, the inner light will guide the practitioner to now examine the structure of the thought cloud which now float through the gap.   

    With increased gap, will come increased silence and a natural refinement of the level one observations.  It will also get you in touch with your inner intuition that will guide you to your next teachings. 

    You can also learn more about these and other techniques in the book Unbox! which is available at Amazon, worldwide.

    About MindGym
    MindGym, a nonprofit initiative, which is focused on creating awareness about Mindful thinking amongst the younger generation. It uses a contemporary narrative to demystify mindfulness practices using mobile games and brainwave-based biofeedback. 
    About the Author of Unbox!
    Prithvi Raj Banerjee is a Boston-based technologist, writer and mindfulness coach who spent many years experimenting with mindful thinking. He was lucky enough to be guided by masters from great mindfulness traditions in his effort.He was also guided by a different set of masters at MIT where he specialized in systems thinking - an approach that uses the 'big picture' view to solving complex real-world problems.
    'Unbox!' incorporates learnings from the inner and outer worlds, the spiritual and the scientific, with an independent perspective based on author’s personal experiences.
    Chelmsford Main Library
    McCarthy Meeting Room
    6:30-8:00 PM
    Thanks for attending the session and for all the thoughtful questions! 
    For those who missed the session we have a live meeting recording in the MindGym Youtube channel & here are some pictures from the event.