When I was about ten one of my primary school teachers posed my class this: “Please don’t think about elephants. Just don’t think about elephants”.
What happened? Without a second thought my mind began to ask, “What elephant?”. Then it conjured ideas of a large, rotund mammal with leathery skin and enormous flapping ears. Then it told itself not to think about said elephant. My mind tied itself in knots thinking about what I wasn’t meant to be thinking about.
The point: our mind is inordinately difficult to manage. And telling it not to do something, is like a red rag to a bull.
So what can we do? One of the tools yoga gives us is mantra. Mantra helps to channel the mind’s natural busyness, to help it focus and thus relax. As we chant, we also listen and feel. In this way we regulate and contain the information passing from our senses to our mind. This in turn allows the mind to enter the present moment and become still.
Over the years I’ve been practising mantra I’ve used it in all kinds of situations: a particularly turbulent flight from Malaysia to India; as a prelude to meditation; and in the last year as a way to relax a fretful baby. In all of these situations I needed to calm my mind, reduce the messages my senses were giving it and curtail its wayward thinking. And it hasn’t failed me yet.
But what I love most about mantra is that I can practice it anywhere and anytime – there’s no yoga mat and no stretchy pants - all I need is the will and my voice.
If you’re interested in learning more about mantra and what it could do for you I’m running a workshop on Yoga, Mantra and Poetry on September 2nd. Click here for more details.
Image: Copyright Robert Pollack
What a year! After almost 12 month’s break it was great to return to teaching one of my favourite yoga classes. I’ve loved spending the last 9 months getting to know my little boy but this week helped me remember one of the other things I love doing: sharing yoga. So thank you.
My last few articles were ruminating on the concept of limits in our lives, their place in our lives and how we may, at times, place false limits upon our goals. Yoga philosophy teaches us that the one of the best ways to remove the limits we place upon ourselves is through devotion. [Read more →]
Last time I alluded to the idea that limits can be both real and imaginary. When the mind is not controlled properly it can create all manner of false limits: our memories are full of misleading information about how the world operates and how we should behave in it.
Whilst all this is true what has intrigued me most over the past couple of weeks is how limits can be both physical and mental. And, when you are listening and observing with honesty, one is an indicator of the other. [Read more →]
“Learn to go beyond your limits”. It’s a popular self-help mantra of many modern gurus. Our world seems full of people, books and billboards telling us we don’t need to live according to our limits. That instead we should push beyond them. I’m not going to deny that our mind can keep us trapped by creating false limits, but as unpopular as it is, real limits exist too. [Read more →]
“Do your work; don’t do other people’s work.”
I’ve been reading about Karma Yoga again. This precept of Karma Yoga sounded a bit uncaring and callous. Was the Bhagavad Gita telling me that I could walk through the rest of my life never helping another person?
[Read more →]
In the spirit of thinking less, I’ve been doing more. I’m not randomly filling my time with busy-ness rather I’ve begun a campaign of consciously and mindfully doing and acting.
Doing more may seem to run counter to many spiritual philosophies – doesn’t yoga advocate retreating to the Himalayas and meditating in a cave? Yes. And, no. [Read more →]
I think too much. I’ve been told this quite a few times lately. My doctor told me that my brain was working too hard. The Ayurvedic doctor I see in India flatly suggested I stop thinking. And then, the jnana yogi we visited in India confirmed that a person can definitely think too much (although this comment wasn’t intended directly at me the truth within the sentence was meant for all those who heard it).
I’m not advocating a complete shut down of my mind rather a gentle, and perhaps temporary, refocusing. To help this new direction take shape I’ve taken up a new past time. [Read more →]
In my last article I talked about jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge, and how practitioners of this form of yoga spend their life trying to understand the nature of the mind and how it works. All this sounds like an extreme sport version of intellectualisation.
But we all know that humans don’t just think and rationalise, they feel. Separating our thoughts from our emotions is virtually impossible: as adults we are very adept at rationalising our feelings, or on the other hand adding layers of emotion to our analytical thinking. [Read more →]
Our Indian Yoga Tour for Summer 2011 is now well and truly over. We all had a lovely time and I hope to be able to share a little of the magic of India with you over the coming weeks.
As I readjusted to life at home the other evening I took a walk through my garden just after sunset. On the path ahead I saw a long something stretched across it. Snake. We live right next to the bush and a couple of months ago we found the skin of a large python on our verandah. I froze, took a deep steadying breath and summed up my situation. What should I do, edge away, stand quietly, stamp my feet on the ground? My mind whirled through possibilities. Five seconds later my eyes adjusted to the dimming light and I discovered the reality of what was before me: a small smooth branch.
Our mind is very good at rapidly piecing together a story with only scraps of information. But is doesn’t always come up with the truth. [Read more →]
If we observe the world around us we can see that life is full of opposites: light and dark, hot and cold, black and white, drought and flood.
This duality is fundamental to yogic thought. These opposites are the extreme boundaries of life’s potential experiences. However, yoga does not encourage us to run headlong into them. They are life’s guiderails, there for us when all else fails to help us steer a course back towards the centre of the road. And in that centre lies balance – a balance that can only exist because there are equal amounts of left and right on each side. [Read more →]