The dark days of winter are here. You probably noticed.
In the midst of darkness, we need reminders of the light. Perhaps that’s why so many of the world’s religions have a celebration of light scheduled in the darkness of winter: Diwali, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Hanukkah spring to mind. Perhaps you can think of others?
Themes of light and luminosity are sprinkled throughout the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (the book that lays out the classical path of yoga practice). The Sutras define yoga as ‘the stilling of the mind’s fluctuations’ and remind us that when we bring the mind to stillness, our true self can ‘shine forth,’ transparent and luminous. When our inner light is revealed, we become a source of warmth and comfort for ourselves and others. But how do we still our minds so that our true self can shine? Patanjali suggests
“….focusing on the light within which is free from all suffering and sorrow.” Sutra 1.36
Screeech. Stop the bus. That’s an actual place? Free from suffering and sorrow? And it’s inside me?
The ancient mystic yogis would say, “Yep, it sure is.” They believed that there is a divine light of awareness seated in each of our hearts. This inner light radiates love and compassion, it illuminates the truth, and it connects us to one another. And the bonus — it’s always there — constant and unwavering, like the light of the sun. Yet, we can get so caught up in the drama of everyday life we fail to remember it’s shining there.
Here are 5 practices to help you still the mind’s fluctuations (vrittis) so you can reconnect with your most radiant self and get your inner glow on.
1. SET AN INTENTION – Remember your why!
Quick refresher: What is the purpose of yoga? The purpose of yoga is to still the mind’s vrittis so your true self can shine through. How can you do this? Set an intention to re-connect with your inner light, and repeat positive, light-affirming phrases that will guide you to stillness.
Be of service.
Share my gifts and talents with the world.
Let my inner light shine – for the benefit of everyone.
Repeat these phrases often — upon waking, before bed and anytime you feel unsure of yourself. Write these phrases on a sticky note and place one on your mirror, your laptop, the fridge, heck, anywhere —to remind yourself of your unique talents and innate goodness at every opportunity. Then shine them all over everyone. Completely indiscriminately. Like the rays of the sun that shine down on everyone.
An alternate practice: play the song 'This Little Light of Mine' (below). And sing it like you mean it!
This is your why!
2. SAYING NAMASTE
In modern India, ‘namaste’ is commonly said as an everyday ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Here in the west, you’re likely to hear it at the end of a yoga class. But it means more than Class is over. You can pack up and go home now. ‘Namaste’ literally means ‘I bow to you.’
The ancient mystic yogis believed that there’s divinity in everyone and everything. When you say ‘namaste’ to someone in the context of a yoga class, it’s more than a casual greeting/parting. It means you recognize and honour the light of divinity in their hearts. It’s the same spark of divinity that resides in your heart. When you say ‘namaste,’ think of it as a practice in acknowledging that deep down, we’re all the same. ‘Namaste’ encourages us to look past superficial differences and connect with our universal heart. We ALL share the inner light of divine awareness. When we remember that, it guides us to act towards others with compassion and kindness, however different we may seem on the surface.
Using Sanskrit terms is also a way to connect with, acknowledge and show reverence for yoga’s roots
In Sanskrit, mudra means ‘sign’ or ‘seal. A hand mudra is a gesture used in yoga and meditation meant to illicit a particular state of being (seal) or to symbolize a particular meaning (sign). It deepens one’s practice.
In Anjali Mudra, the hands press together, fingers touching and pointed up, with the thumbs at the heart centre. It’s a symbolic representation of our interconnectedness and an acknowledgment that we see the divine light in one another.
Anjali mudra is also used throughout a yoga class — at the start of each Sun Salutation and in poses like Tree and Prayer Lunge Twist — bringing the heart centre into the practice.
In the yogic view of the body, the spiritual heart center is hidden deep inside the chest in a space known as the cave of the heart. Anjali mudra nourishes this awareness, gently encouraging you to contemplate your inner light and bask in the radiant glow of your heart.
4. CONTEMPLATE YOUR CONNECTION WITH OTHERS.
We may disagree with each other — we all know discussing religion or politics at the dinner table is risky business. Those conversations are loaded with the potential to create lots of friction and highlight our differences. But, even when our loved ones tell us about their bizarre food choices (Keto, Vegetarian, Meat Eater, or pineapple on pizza), it’s good practice to remember that in our hearts, we all essentially want the same things. We want to be happy, to be healthy, to feel loved, and to feel safe.
One of my favourite practices for acknowledging this simple truth is the ‘Just Like Me’ compassion practice. You can do it as a formal seated meditation, but it’s also the perfect thing to do when you’re right in the moment with someone that’s irritating you. Say, when you’re grocery shopping, and the cart in front of you has twenty items for the express check-out, or honestly, I’m just trying to merge on the highway, repeating ‘Just Like Me’ is a total game-changer! This practice reminds you to look beneath the superficial layer of the difficulty you’re having with someone and to see that we are the same in our hearts.
Mirabai Bush and Ram Dass include the ‘Just Like Me’ meditation in their book, Walking Each Other Home
Let’s take a moment. Pull up a seat, get comfortable, bring a difficult person (or any person) to mind, and let’s begin. As you hold this person in your thoughts, mentally say:
This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
This person has experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person has at some time been sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, just like me.
This person has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.
This person worries and is frightened sometimes, just like me.
This person will die, just like me.
This person has longed for friendship, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
This person wants to be caring and kind to others, just like me.
This person wants to be content with what life has given them, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be safe and healthy, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
This person wishes to be loved, just like me.
Now, allow wishes for well-being to arise:
I wish this person to have the strength, resources, and social support they need to navigate the difficulties in life with ease.
I wish this person to be free from pain and suffering.
I wish this person to be peaceful and happy.
I wish this person to be loved . . . because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.
Click here for a guided audio version of this practice.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that the root cause of human suffering is feeling ‘separate’ or disconnected. So, it’s not surprising that many of yoga’s practices, designed to help us quiet our minds and uncover our light, also invite us to sense our heart’s connection to others. We are connecting to the glow, the light, the source, the unity of humanity and beyond.
5. CHANT ‘AUM’
The sacred syllable ‘AUM’ represents the sound of everything in the universe vibrating together as one. It’s an audible reminder that everything is connected and that divinity is everywhere – even inside you. Yoga Sutras 1.28 & 1.29 tell us that “when expressed with great devotion, the sacred sound reveals our Divine nature” and that “with faithful repetition, the inner light luminously shines.”
If the sound ‘AUM’ doesn’t resonate with you, chant Shalom or Amen or Salaam or Amin or Omkar or... Do you know what all of these sacred sounds have in common? They contain the root sound ‘AUM.’ Coincidence? I think not.
Here’s how to get your chanting practice off the ground:
· Sit comfortably
· Choose a sacred sound, one that fills your heart with love.
· Chant it out loud
· After chanting awhile, repeat the sound in silence. Let the sentiment come straight from your heart. Tune into the feeling of your heart beating. Allow yourself to feel the sound’s vibration moving in and out of your heart centre with each pulsation. Connect your heart’s vibration with the universal vibration.
· Bask in the afterglow.
Here’s an ‘AUM, Shalom, Amen’ chant to inspire feelings of love & connection with others.
MAKE TIME TO REMEMBER YOUR BLISSFUL INNER LIGHT.
It’s easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays – to get so stressed and distracted that we forget to carve out time to connect with our inner light - and the light in others. Remember, to take some time each day to quiet your mind, drop into your body, and re-connect with the innate wisdom and goodness in your heart. To clear away the stressors and distractions so that your inner light is revealed.
It’s 2022, and people are stressed and anxious. After a recent yoga class, some students mentioned how much they appreciated the opportunity to practice presence for 60-minutes and take a break from worrying. I won’t bother reiterating the list of troubling current events. If you’ve read the news, seen the weather reports or paid for groceries lately, you know what I’m talking about.
There’s a saying, ‘anxiety lives in the future, and depression lives in the past.’ I’m not a psychologist, but this makes a lot of sense on an intuitive level. Unproductive worrying about the future or ruminating on the past steals our ability to fully inhabit and enjoy our lives in the here and now. That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t think about your past and future. By all means, DO your estate planning, plot to save the planet and go to therapy to process your traumas, but peace cannot be found through worry and rumination.
If peace is to be found anywhere, it’s in the moment you are living NOW.
According to a 2010 Harvard Study, we spend almost half our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. That’s half the day spent with your mind and body doing different things! And participants reported less happiness when their minds and bodies weren’t aligned with the same task.
People that live in the present tend to be happier and more relaxed. It’s not a stretch to understand why. The ability to let go of heavy overthinking is a gift! Being in the here and now puts us in touch with the wonderful human qualities of openness, creativity, playfulness and positivity.
Don’t get this twisted, though. It’s perfectly natural and healthy for your mind to wander. The key is to be able to be present when your presence matters. And to ensure that you’re not living life absorbed in an imaginary alternative timeline that doesn’t exist. Here are five time-tested techniques for gifting yourself the presence of ‘here and now.’
1) Set an Intention
An intention is a force – like a magnet – that pulls your attention towards wherever you directed it. Set an intention to focus your attention, time and energy on what is happening NOW and you will be more present in the NOW.
Your presence is a powerful force! Your happiness and your ability to create change in the world only exist in the NOW. So, set an intention to stay present. Take any one of these statements (intentions) for a test drive for the day and see how it feels:
“I am here in the present moment. All that exists is now”
“My power to affect change is in the present.”
“My presence is powerful.”
Repeat it to yourself often to focus your attention, time and energy on what is happening in your NOW.
2) Integrate Your Body and Mind
On the most basic level, being present means your mind and body are aligned and oriented around the same task — without distraction, without wanting to be somewhere else, without being ‘in your head’ as you have an ‘out of body’ experience. Have you ever driven to a familiar destination and not remembered any of the journey? That’s an ‘out of body’ experience!
Think of your mind like an untamed puppy. Puppies are famous for getting into mischief. They’ll chew up your furniture or get into the garbage and drag it across the floor if you leave them unattended. Yet, if you give that puppy a bone it will sit quietly and chew. You can align your mind and body by using a mantra. It’s like giving your mind a bone to chew – so IT doesn’t start dragging out the garbage of your past or imagined future.
Try the mantra ‘Just this.’
Anytime you need to bring your mind back into your body and into the present, say ‘Just this… Just this breath… Just this feeling of my feet on the ground … Just this feeling of sunlight on my skin … Just this…
Just try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what it does for your mood.
3) Tune Into Your Senses
Another way to reel your awareness back into your body is with this quick mindfulness trick, known as the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. Sit quietly. Tune into your surroundings and notice:
This exercise helps to bring your awareness into THE NOW
4) Tune Into Your Breath
Follow your breath .This is a basic mindfulness meditation practice that settles your body and mind. Your breath acts like an anchor that keeps your awareness tied to the present moment. Your breath is always with you and it’s always happening, so you can tune into it anywhere, anytime you notice your mind wandering away from the NOW. When your mind wanders and internal chatter begins, return to your breath. This trains you to steer and re-focus your attention and calm your thoughts.
Here’s how to come back to the present when you get lost in thought:
1. Feel your breath moving in & out of your nose and your belly rising & falling.
2. Follow the full cycle of each breath: inhale, pause, exhale, pause.
3. Recognize when your mind wanders, and gently nudge your attention back to your breath.
4. Use the phrase “breathing in, aware that I am breathing in; breathing out, aware that I am breathing out” to help yourself stay focused.
5. Tune Into Sensations
Try a Body Scan. Body Scanning invites you to notice how your body is feeling from head to toe — and to adopt an open, welcoming attitude toward every ache, pain, or sensation you might be feeling. When you breathe into these senses, you are learning to sit in the present moment and pay attention to all the physical and emotional feelings that come to light. You’re not trying to change anything; you’re honing your ability to accept and be with things as they are — which is the first step in becoming present.
This teaches us to sit with our feelings — comfortable and uncomfortable. Over time, this helps us to work through all kinds of emotions and circumstances in everyday life. You expand your capacity to be with uncomfortable situations and even find a sense of ease in those moments.
Stay Happy in the Now
When your mind drifts unproductively into the future (worry), into the past (rumination), or into fantasy, you can always re-direct your attention to the here and now. You’re practicing presence when you:
· Tune into your senses and feel what is happening in your body right now.
· Notice your reactions, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions without being harsh and judgmental.
· Concentrate on a present-moment experience such as your breath, bodily sensations, or listening to the birds sing.
Presence is a gift you give yourself and others. When you’re present, you’re the most potent version of you. You’re engaged with life; you’re happier; you expand your ability to listen; you open up to your creativity and playfulness and are able to fully spend quality time with others.
All these practices are great ways to spend time in the here and now.
1. Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel T. Gilbert. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Science, 2010; 330 (6006): 932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439
If I asked you what your skeletal muscles do you'd probably say that they give you strength, stability and your ability to move - or something like that. And you'd be right. But that's only part of the picture. Skeletal muscles have another lesser-known and incredibly cool function.
Your skeletal muscles are also secretory organs. What does that mean? Good question. When you move, you contract your muscles. And when you contract your skeletal muscles, they produce and secrete healing proteins called myokines that travel through your bloodstream to your brain and other body organs. Myokines are naturally occurring biochemicals that play a pivotal role in protecting and enhancing your physical and mental health.
The word ‘myokine’ is derived from two Greek words, ‘myo’ and ‘kinesis.’
‘myo’ = muscle
‘kinesis’ = movement
We’ve long known that exercise protects against diseases as varied as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, to name a few. And we know that it helps with bodily processes as wildly different as immunity, digestion, bone strength, and fat metabolism. And let’s not forget the mental health benefits of exercise, particularly on memory, depression and anxiety. Our understanding that exercise is beneficial isn’t new. It’s been clear all along that when muscles contract, something good happens to every other system in the body. Myokines explain what that something good is and how it works.
Whenever you walk, dance, bike, play soccer, lift weights, run, practice yoga, roller skate, play frisbee, or work in the garden, you contract your muscles, producing and releasing healing myokines into your bloodstream. Myokines then make their way to myokine receptors located in your fat, liver, pancreas, bones, heart, brain cells, and the muscles themselves.
Your muscles act like an incredible self-replenishing medicine chest. Take that in--a self-replenishing medicine chest. I’ll wait…
As we shall see, myokines exert their influence on everything from brain function to bone formation, from muscle growth to tumour growth and more. And all you have to do to access this incredible natural resource is move! Our understanding of myokines—how they are made and how they impact our health expands and influences our understanding of the role of movement, muscle, and fitness in our lives.
THE HUMAN BODY IS DESIGNED TO MOVE!
A basic principle of biology is that structure dictates function.
If you look at the basic structure of the human body, one of the things you’ll notice is that your musculoskeletal system is the largest and most obvious thing about you. It gives you your distinctly human shape. It also gives you strength, stability, and the ability to move. Your body contains an impressive 200+ bones, 300+ joints, and 600+ skeletal muscles. Muscle is the largest tissue in your body. Skeletal muscle makes up about 30 – 40% of your total body mass. Your bones make up another 15%. This suggests that your musculoskeletal system is super important and that humans are designed to move. We rely on movement for our survival.
Even though we can meet via Tinder and Bumble, you still have to move through the world to meet and woo a potential mate to ensure the survival of our species. In the millennia before Skip the Dishes, you would have relied on movement to forage or hunt for food and to ensure that you didn’t become food for a predator, yet you still have to answer the door, reach for the dishes and clean up after yourself. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, wired you so you’d be rewarded by movement. Movement allows you to survive and satiate yourself. But you’re also rewarded for moving by flooding your body with healing myokines. Our changing landscape means that today you have to consciously seek out movement to get access to your self-replenishing medicine chest.
Friends, you were designed to move—and your body and mind function best when you do. There is healing power in movement!
YOUR INNATE HEALING POWERS!
Hundreds of different types of myokines have been identified, and there are, no doubt, more to be discovered! They go by names like BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and LIF (leukemia inhibitory factor), which clue you into their effects. But you don’t need to know any of their names or a medical degree to understand how Myokines can benefit your health. We’ve touched on their benefits, but let’s explore this topic a little more.
Myokines promote muscle growth and improve body composition. They regulate fat metabolism and change where your body stores fat—from abdomen to subcutaneous. Abdominal fat is associated with a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, breast cancer, and more.
The magic of movement and the release of Myokines is:
DON’T LET YOUR MUSCLES GO TO WASTE!
Now that you understand the pivotal role that muscle and myokines play in your overall health, it’s probably pretty clear why movement matters and why you need to maintain muscle mass. Muscle wasting can occur for many reasons, some of them controllable (how much you move) and some of them not (neurological problems). People commonly lose muscle mass because they simply don’t use their muscles enough—which is 100% fixable. It’s also true that as you age, your body composition changes. As early as your 30s or 40s, muscle mass appears to progressively decline over time. This age-related loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. Decreased strength and an increase in fatty mass go hand-in-hand with sarcopenia. Since muscle is the source of your miraculous myokines, losing muscle mass isn’t ideal. From a functional standpoint, reduced muscle mass, strength, and power result in reduced mobility, quality of life, and the capacity to recover from illness as you age. From a mental health standpoint reduced muscle mass can also give us the blues.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution. You can counteract sarcopenia with strength training. Sarcopenia is muscle wasting, and strength training is muscle building. It’s a simple enough equation. And no matter how old you are, you are never too old to start. I’ve seen clients in their 90s make gains. Yoga utilizes your body’s own weight to strengthen your body, making it cost-effective and aligned with the efficiency and effectiveness of human design. Movement is your birthright. We’ve been moving since we crawled out of the womb. You don’t need the latest clothing, shoes, or workout gadgets to get started. If you’re a yoga lover, like me, it’s also helpful to supplement your yoga habit with resistance bands, weights, and other movement styles that challenge your strength in different ways. Just make sure you get your doctor’s blessing to begin an exercise program and work with a qualified professional.
When you move, you set off a beautiful cascade of healing biochemistry that benefits your body and mind. Your muscles aren’t just there to move you from house to car to couch to bed. Muscles are your hidden healing power.
Muscle-Organ Crosstalk: The Emerging Role of Myokines
Exercise-Induced Myokinens in Health and Metabolic Diseases
Proof That The Human Body Was Made To Move
Stanford Psychologist Reveals Why Movement is Medicine
Amanda Tripp, Yoga/body nerd and woman of a 1000 opinions