Yoga

#40: The Unraveling of the American Left with Carol Horton PhD

This week I sit down with Carol Horton, PhD to discuss the reactivity and outrage defining our current cultural moment and the unraveling of the American Left in the Age of Trump. Carol specializes in the intersection of yoga, politics and culture. We discuss some of the trends in American politics and culture and consider what contemplative practices have to offer us in this particular historical moment of outrage and reactivity.
Guest Bio:
Carol Horton, Ph.D., is a writer, educator, and activist working at the intersection of mindful yoga, social science, and healing justice. Carol is the author or editor of five books:
  • Yoga PhD: Integrating the Life of the Mind & the Wisdom of the Body (author)
  • 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, & Practice (co-editor, with Roseanne Harvey)
  • Best Practices for Yoga with Veterans (editor)
  • Best Practices for Yoga in the Criminal Justice System (editor)
  • Race and the Making of American Liberalism (author)
Carol is vice-president of the Yoga Service Council and a co-founder of Chicago’s Socially Engaged Yoga Network. She is a member of the Ethics & Conduct Committee for the Yoga Alliance Standards Review Project. Carol serves as an associate editor of the scholarly journal Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity and as a peer reviewer for Race and Yoga. 
Carol has taught yoga in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, a drop-in center for homeless women, a residential foster care facility, a community health center, and several independent studios. An ex-political science professor and policy researcher, she holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Topics that Carol and I cover:

Making sense of ancient teachings through a contemporary lens

The Rise of Jordan Peterson

Reactivity & outrage defining current US cultural moment

Growing Intolerance on the Left

Me Too Movement and Gender Politics

Erosion of nuance and complexity in our political discourse

Role that contemplative practices can play in creating a better climate

How to Follow Carol:
Recommended written work from Carol:

#39: Yoga Mind, Yoga Body with Gernot Huber

This week I speak with Gernot Hubert, a yoga teacher and fellow expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Gernot goes in depth on yoga anatomy & physiology, along with the following other topics:

  • What draws people to practice yoga
  • How yoga can either disrupt or reinforce habitual patterns
  • Managing stress
  • Alignment issues
  • How to practice safely
  • How to create more balance in your practice and your life
  • Strengthening the mind body connection

Guest Bio:

Gernot Hubert has been practicing and studying yoga since 1996. His yoga background includes Anusara, Iyengar, Forrest, Kripalu, and Ashtanga Yoga, and he holds a 200-hour yoga teacher training certificate from a Yoga-Alliance-registered teacher training program. Born in South Africa and raised in Germany, Gernot has spent 20 years in the United States as well as significant amounts of time in Argentina and Thailand. Gernot speaks English, German, and Spanish, as well as some French and Thai. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University.

In his teachings, Gernot draws on a broad range of life experiences that includes working in Silicon Valley, traveling extensively in Asia and South America, volunteering for antiglobalization and alternative-transit non-profits, conducting biological fieldwork in California’s Sierra Nevada and Argentina’s Pampa, and teaching wildlife monitoring to inner city youth. He also loves bicycling and wilderness travel, and practices Vipasana meditation. His varied life experiences help Gernot relate to yoga students from all walks of life, and help him transmit the essential teachings of yoga in a way that makes them come alive on and off the mat.

Links:

Yoga Mind, Yoga Body

#38: Yoga Synergy with Simon Borg Olivier

This week I speak with Simon Borg Olivier, co-founder of Yoga Synergy in Sydney, Australia. Simon and I discuss the unique approach style of yoga that he and his business partner, Bianca Machliss, have developed: Yoga Synergy, which they describe as an adaptation of traditional hatha yoga for the modern Western body.
As someone who has completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training with Simon, I can personally attest to the quality of Simon’s gift for the craft of teaching, as well as his genuine warm and kindness. He is a wealth of knowledge and a rare combination of talents: a former lecturer in Molecular Biology at the University of Sydney who went back to do another degree in physiotherapy after discovering his passion for yoga. Simon brings a keen scientific mind to his discussion of how best to practice yoga, and also integrates his more recent love of Qi Gong and Traditional Chinese Medicine into his practice.
I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Guest Bio:
Simon Borg-Olivier MScBAppSc (Physiotherapy) is a Co-Director, with Bianca Machliss BScBAppSc (Physiotherapy) of Yoga Synergy, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected yoga schools. The Yoga Synergy style is based on a deep understanding of yoga anatomy, yoga physiology and traditional Hatha Yoga. Simon has been teaching since 1982. He is a registered physiotherapist, a research scientist and a university lecturer. Simon has been regularly invited to teach at special workshops and conferences interstate and overseas since 1990.
Simon and Bianca run international Yoga Synergy Teacher Training Courses both internationally (yearly in Goa, India) and also in their home town of Sydney Australia. The next Yoga Synergy 200 hour Teacher Training Courses will be running in (1) Sydney from May 8th 2015 to November, (2) Sydney from September 2015 to August 2016, and (3) Goa, India from March to April 2016.
Shownotes:
Coming soon.
Links:

#33: Tantra Yoga with Mark Shveima

Mark Shveima and I discuss the rich world of Tantra Yoga, specifically through the collections of lineages that has come to be known as Nondual Shaiva Tantra. Through studying Anusara Yoga with founder John Friend, Mark encountered the teachings of Tantra Yoga. It was through the Anusara scene that Mark met the man who came to be his primary meditation and yoga philosophy teacher, Tantrik scholar Paul Muller-Ortega. Mark’s journey is one familiar to many others on the path of yoga: that postural yoga can serve as an entry point into the vast richness of what the yoga tradition has to offer.
Shownotes:

0:00-14:10: Opening Remarks

14:10-18:35: Mark’s initial entry point into yoga

18:35-24:48: How Anusara Yoga introduced Mark to Tantra and to Paul Muller-Ortega

24:48-31:12: What is Nondual Shaiva Tantra? What distinguishes it from the Classical Yoga of

                       Patanjali?         

31:12-34:21: The relationship between the Bhagavad Gita and later Tantric traditions

34:21-43:05: Expansion & Contraction of Consciousness in the Shaiva Tantra Viewpoint

43:05-51:05: Practical Ways for working with the contractions of consciousness to step into a

                       Patanjali?  

51:05-1:00:00: Committing to and prioritizing your practice.

1:01:50-1:07:57: Travel abroad as practice; Mark’s reflections on life as an expat  in Japan.

1:07:57-1:14:53: Myth of the Churning of the Milky Ocean

1:14:53-1:19:16: Importance of Lineage. Integrating various traditions into a coherent path in

                            today’s globalized marketplace of ideas.

1:19:16-1:37:15: Benefits of Qi Gong vs Hatha Yoga

1:37:15-1:42:28: Role of Initiation in Tantra

1:42:28-1:46:00: Closing Remarks

Guest Bio:
Mark Shveima is currently the Yoga Director of studio BiNDU, nestled within the quiet back streets of Kyoto, Japan, where he landed after making a Hanuman leap from San Francisco in 2008. He has been immersed in the study, practice and teaching of Yoga for over two decades. Mark is an Authorized Teacher of Neelakantha Meditation, as taught by Paul Muller-Ortega, the founder of Blue Throat Yoga, a school of non-dual Shaiva Tantra practice and study.
Mark has been a dedicated and assiduous student of this path for over a decade. He is a tireless presenter of courses, intensives and workshops throughout Japan, where he is widely regarded as a deeply knowledgeable and highly experienced teacher and practitioner of asana, meditation, and Indian philosophy.
Recently, he has entered into an immersive study of Qigong and Taoism, which has opened him to new vistas of communication of the workings of the subtleties of the body, mind and emotional center.
Mark`s practice and teaching have become an ever-evolving organic expression of his heart intention to assist people in re-discovering ease in their body, stillness in their mind, and the inherent creative power and beauty of their awakened heart.
Links:
(Blue Throat Yoga is directed by Mark’s principal teacher, Paul Muller-Orega. Mark is a teacher in the Blue Throat Yoga community).

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#32: The Life of Yogananda with Philip Goldberg

I speak with American Veda author Philip Goldberg to discuss his new book on the life of famed yogi and spiritual teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda, titled The Life of Yogananda: The Story of the Yogi Who Became the First Modern Guru. 
Guest Bio:
Philip Goldberg is the author or co-author of numerous books; a public speaker and workshop leader; a spiritual counselor, meditation teacher and ordained Interfaith Minister.  A Los Angeles resident, he cohosts the Spirit Matters podcast, leads American Veda Tours and blogs regularly on Elephant Journal and Spirituality & Health.
Philip Goldberg is the author of the now classic American Veda: From Emerson and The Beatles to Yoga and Meditation: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. His latest work is on the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, famed guru and author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi, which is a spiritual classic cherished by many, including Steve Jobs, who decreed that the book be given out to attendees at his funeral. Yogananda was a fascinating and inspiring character and Philip Goldberg takes us through the life of this great man. For anyone who enjoys learning more about yoga, meditation and how Indian religion and philosophy has impacted Western culture I’m sure that you’ll enjoy this conversation with Philip Goldberg.
Shownotes:
0:00-10:40: Opening Remarks
10:40-18:20: Phil’s background
18:20-29:50: How India Spirituality Changed the West
29:50-34:14: Why Phil decide to write his new book on Yogananda
34:14-37:33: Yogananda’s early years in America
37:33-41:37: the message that Yogananda brought to the West
41:37-52:10: Yogic Science & Pragmatic Mysticism
52:10: The Various Paths of Yoga. Yogananda’s Bhakti Bent.
1:00:30-1:10:30: Monastic vs lay orders. How Yogananda was ahead of his time.
1:10:30-1:20:27: Common misconceptions of Eastern religious concepts among Westerners
1:20:27-1:23:45: Yogananda’s later years
1:23:45-1:30:15: What Philip learned from researching the life of Yogananda
1:30:15-1:32:03: Closing Remarks. Where to find about more about Philip and his work.
Links:

#31: The Unexplainable Importance of Yoga with J Brown

This week is a special week on the Hacking the Self podcast as I get to speak with one of my favorite podcasters: J Brown, yoga teacher and host of the popular podcast “J Brown’s Yoga Talks.”

Guest Bio:

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and podcaster. He is at the forefront of a quiet yoga revolution, based in healing, that seeks to change the dialogue and direction  of yoga practice in the west. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. His podcast is internationally renowned for raising the level of conversation.

Shownotes:

0:00-17:00: Opening Remarks: How I came to yoga. Background on J.

17:00-24:00: The personal crisis that drove J to yoga

24:00-34:35: J’s early yoga injuries and a life changing trip to India

34:35-51:40: The Philosophical Underpinnings of Modern Yoga

51:40-58:20: Reconsidering our intentions for yoga & conventional wisdom

58:20-1:03:00: Yoga’s impact on the nervous system

1:03:00-1:08:00: Yoga as Science vs Yoga as Alchemy

1:08:00-1:17:40: Yoga as relationship: to our beliefs, politics & culture

Rest of shownotes to follow soon…

Links:

J Brown Yoga

“The Unexplainable Importance of Yoga”

*This is a great blog post by J that I referenced in our conversation and that I’d highly recommend reading.

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Yoga, Jung and the Journey through the Self — Why Do I Practice Yoga?

“Yoga is the journey of the Self,

Through the Self,

To the Self.”

–The Bhagavad Gita

Why do I practice yoga?

It’s a question to which I regularly return, less out of a sense of doubt than from a desire to clarify my intentions. We’ll never reach our destination if we’re unsure of what we’re aiming at.

Some Western students who come across Eastern philosophy object that the very notion of “searching” or a “destination,” is problematic, as to search or strive for some future goal would imply a state of dissatisfaction with the present moment. Western notions of the good life are usually predicated on an idea of striving towards excellence (notably, this is also true for other belief systems in different Asian cultures, Japan being one prominent example).

Yet to conclude that Buddhism or Taoism sanctions laziness and complacency couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s rather a call to live fully in the present, regardless of what arises. To resist the temptation to dwell in thoughts about the past or the future over reality, preferring, for example, some fantasy about how things might be better under alternative circumstances. We all know that game. “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “I’ll be happy when…”

Yoga asks us to shift the way we relate to our actions through having right intentions, which is also part of the eightfold path in Buddhism. In The Bhagavad Gita Krishna teaches the importance of acting without attachment to the outcome of our decisions. The Gita also states that “yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.”

This famous phrase from The Gita hints at an important way of relating to yoga: as a journey to wholeness.

The Sanskrit word “yoga” derives from the root “yuj,” meaning  to “yoke,” or to “join.” That’s why yoga is often thought of as union: between the breath and movement, the mind and the body, the atman (the Self, consciousness) and the Divine. We can chose to interpret these ideas in numerous ways to suit our own beliefs, theistic or atheistic, but either way a theme of connection clearly underpins the practice of yoga.

The origin of the word “religion” also underscores this idea of connection. The English word “religion” comes from the Latin “religare,” which means “to bind.” At its essence, religion is about connection: to fellow human beings, to other forms of life, to our natural environment.

Carl Jung thought that the purpose of life for each individual was to become whole. The journey from fragmentation to wholeness requires us to face our shadow. “Our shadow is everything inside of us that we have avoided, disowned and kept in the dark. It is energy not integrated with the rest of our being, akin to pieces that have become compartmentalized, pushed aside and treated as an unwanted child” (Temple of the Way of Light).

Some ideas are so powerful that they transcend time and space. Jung believed these ideas, or archetypes, were rooted deep in the human psyche and revealed themselves time and again in myths from religious traditions cross culturally. In this view, “myth” is not a derogatory term implying falsehood but rather a narrative rich in metaphor that points to timeless wisdom.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell did much to expand the popularity of Jung’s ideas. More recently, psychologist Jordan Peterson has caused a revival in interest of a Jungian approach to Christianity with his lectures on The Bible.

Peterson has talked about Jung’s belief that “what you most need to find will be found where you least want to look” (from Peterson’s Biblical Lecture Volume 8: The Phenomenology of The Divine). This appears to be Peterson’s interpretation of a phrase Jung cites in his writings on alchemy “In sterquiliniis invenitur”—”in filth it will be found” (The Collected Works of Carl Jung: Volume 13, page 35).

Perhaps this is one facet of self transformation that The Gita alludes to when it defines yoga as “the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.” It’s yet another hint at that deeply archetypal idea that what we most need to find will be found where we least want to look.

This is the hero’s journey into the underworld (the shadow of our unconscious) that is necessary in order for us to triumph over evil, or simply to prevail over own limitations or vices. It’s the movement from darkness to light, from fragmentation to wholeness. It’s an undertaking that Jung thought was necessary for every individual in order to rise up and meet his or her own destiny.

I’m reminded of the words of the poet TS Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

While the Buddhist in me resists language about “ceaseless exploration” and the restlessness or discontent that such a state might imply I believe that the essence of Elliot’s statement and Jung’s call to confront the shadow hints at a deeper truth that’s compatible not only with Buddhism but with all of the world’s great religions and myths.

Indeed, the story of The Buddha is yet another telling of the hero’s journey: he heads off into the unknown to confront the difficult aspects of life that he has attempted to avoid at all costs. He is eager to work with all of the great teachers and practices of his time in order to attain a grand notion of liberation, until ultimately his strenuous efforts leave him in a state of exhaustion.

Siddhartha sits down and turns within, vowing not rise until he has found the way through his own inner darkness into light. The journey to his awakening requires him to face down his own demons, personified by Mara.

After moving from teacher to teaching and method to method he discovers that what he most needed to find was in the place that he least wanted to look: inside himself. Through confronting his shadow, he finds not only answers to his most pressing questions, but integration for the fragmented parts of his being.

Of course, it was the arduous nature of the journey itself that shaped Siddhartha along the way, a struggle without which he would not have had such a profound set of insights that changed not only himself but the world. This was how the Buddha walked the path of yoga: through the darkness to the light, through the self to the self. And at the end of all his exploring he was able to come to know the true nature of himself, finally, for the first time.

Upon his death bed, the Buddha gave this parting words to his distraught disciples:

“Be a light unto yourself

Betake yourself to no external refuge

Hold fast to the Truth

Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.”

–The Mahaparinibbana Sutra

We can invent concepts, stories about the future in which all of our present problems will no longer persist, a place free of pain and suffering. Heaven. Paradise. Nirvana. But the reality remains that it’s simply another story that the mind feels a need to create about the way things might or might not be.

In moments of honesty with ourself, we can admit that our very need to ask the question–is there life after death–is because we suffer. Even for those who spend much of their lives complaining about how terrible it is, when the ego is confronted with its own demise it’s hardwired to hold on for dear life. Very few of us truly wish to go gently in that good night.

But the hard truth is that there is no easy way out. No express lane to salvation. The temptation to engage in self delusion is understandable, particularly considering the unimaginable burdens that some people have to bear in this life.

We can dare to set our sights on a goal that’s brazingly high but potentially attainable: to imagine yourself on your death bed at which you can honestly say to yourself that you’ve lived the life that you were supposed to have lived. That you didn’t run and hide from that which had to be faced. That you weren’t still haunted and devoured by the demons from your past.

That’s why the hero’s journey begins with a descent into the underworld, in order to confront the shadows of the unconscious, before it involves the arduous ascent to the summit of the mountain. This is why we cultivate attention in our practice: to begin to recognize the parts of ourselves at which we’ve avoided looking for too long. This is the Jungian sense in which I’ve come to understand yoga: to undertake the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.

Perhaps along the way we learn to forge those deeper connections: between the various parts of our fragmented Self, our body and our mind, between each other. This is the promise of yoga: to make us whole.

Be a light unto yourself. Perhaps through more conscious attention to each present moment, you can start being a light for others. Then, at the end of all your exploring, perhaps you’ll arrive where you started and finally know the place for the first time, just in time, to offer it all away, one last time.

The Morning Routine that Keeps Me Calm & Centered throughout the Day

I’m a big believer in the power of routines, especially a well structured morning routine that’s adapted to your lifestyle and temperament. As someone who’s not naturally high in orderliness routines are particularly important to give structure and coherence to my life: physically and psychologically.

The following morning routine, including breakfast, usually takes 2-3 hours. I’m an early riser, usually up at 6 am, so even if I go for 3 hours I can begin work by 9 am. I appreciate the fact that many people don’t have this kind of time in the morning; it makes a huge difference that I no longer commute to work.

However, even just two or three of these practices could significantly optimize your morning. If you take away one thing it is: you need a morning routine. No, your morning routine is not an oppressive system of rules meant to impinge on your liberty.

Rather, your morning routine is a carefully designed sequence of events that optimizes your capacities for physical, mental and emotional health. It should boost your energize and enhance your productivity. It should set you up to conquer the day.

You will find the right mix through a process of iteration. Everyone is different according to their lifestyle and temperament.

In chronological order, here’s what works for me. I think you’ll find at least some of it useful for you:

Body Scan

Before I hop out of bed I do a quick body scan meditation, noticing the sensations in different parts of my body. This is a way to start training my attention, even before I’ve gotten out of bed.

Tea

I start my morning with a cup of tea. Admittedly, I enjoy the caffeine boost, but it’s also a way to start my morning not only by hydrating myself but with a good dose of antioxidants. I rotate the teas that I use but it’s usually one of the following:

-Green Tea

-Pu-erh Tea

-Oolong Tea (preferably with Ginseng)

The process of making tea–and slowly, consciously sipping it–serves to anchor me in a mindfulness practice at the outset of my day.

Neti Pot

Using a neti pot is an excellent way to clean out any dust, pollen or other irritants and pollutants you’ve collected in your nasal passages. It’s also a wonderful precursor to practicing pranayama, or any kind of breathing technique.

You need to use a tiny amount of salt to balance out the PH in the solution. It’s a tricky balance–not enough salt, it burns; too much salt, it really burns. Just a small pinch (about half a tea spoon) goes a long way. Ideally, use pink Himalayan salt.

If you don’t want to use an actual pot, which can be a bit trickier with tilting your head, this bottle does  the trick and is good for travel. It also comes with the appropriate amount of salt to add, for which you can buy refills:

Source: Neil Med.

Morning Journal

Tip of the hat to Tim Ferris for this hack. Tim has spoken at length about the value of journaling for five minutes in the morning. It’s a form of therapy. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. It feels great. If I had a vivid dream I might write it down.

I might start my day with a gratitude exercise: stating three things for which I’m grateful, or by acknowledging what I fear most, how that might be holding me back, and how I imagine myself overcoming that obstacle. Just five minutes of writing, while I’m enjoying my tea, provides an excellent, cathartic start to my morning.

Here is the journal that Tim Ferris recommends, which I’ve been using:

Note: it’s a very nice journal, but if you travel a lot for work consider a smaller notepad. This one is bulky. Your morning journal should be pen and paper–not on any electronic device. Try to not look at a screen for one hour after waking up.

Yoga

I might practice for an hour or for ten minutes, but I always practice yoga in the morning. It’s so crucial for a number of reasons:

-it increases my alertness and energy levels

-yet at the same time it down regulates my nervous system, increasing feelings of calm and relaxation

-it continues the training of mindful attention I started from brewing my tea

-it just feels really, really good to stretch and to improve the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout my body

Note: I appreciate the fact that many people have to rush in the morning to work. I used to wake up early to beat the traffic and then get into work early to practice yoga, instead of spending that time in traffic.

But even if you just do one downward dog in the morning it can make a world of difference in terms of how you feel. Everyone has one minute for one downward dog.

Puja

In Sanskrit “puja” refers to prayer or ritual of devotional offering. Hindus perform a puja to a particular deity, Buddhists make offerings to the Buddha and Jains to Mahavira. So why on earth do you care about this if you don’t think of yourself as a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Jain–or as a theist, at all?

I think of puja as a positive psychology hack. Just as psychologists know that we can increase positive emotions through techniques designed to enhance those emotions–such as gratitude exercises or compassion training through a metta meditation–puja cultivates certainly qualities in yourself and in your life.

I have a meditation room in my house, a specific space that’s reserved for my practice. I took the advice of others to allocate a specific room in my house for my practice and it’s made a huge difference. On the altar in my meditation room, I have an arrangement of statues on my table, such as this iconic statue from Shaivate schools of Hinduism:

This is a statue of Natasja, Lord Shiva in his incarnation as The Dancer. 

Image source: http://awakeningtimes.com/nataraja-the-cosmic-dance/

While the intricacies of puja can be complicated–from the specifics of the rituals to the recitation of mantras–consider this simple principle: religious rituals can play a positive role even for people who may not consider themselves theistic.

Currently, I would consider myself religious, though not necessarily theistic. Perhaps that sounds like a paradox, but only if you assume that religious life is defined solely by adherence to particular belief systems. Religion is about much more than metaphysics or the supernatural.

What do religious rituals cultivate…even for the non believer?

  • a feeling of offering: to something larger than yourself
    • it doesn’t matter if you believe in the divine qualities of the object to which you are offering or not. It need not be an offering to the supernatural, but rather something larger than yourself (“the universe,” or “for the awakening of all beings”)
    • it’s a way to train yourself in the mindset that you offer whatever arises–your attachments, your aversions. It diminishes the sense of an author behind your actions (i.e. the ego)
  • a relationship to an archetype
    • Carl Jung wrote extensively about the pervasiveness of archetypes across human cultures. For Jung archetypes were collectively inherited patterns of behavior or symbols that spoke to timeless characteristics about the human condition: the hero, the trickster, the magician, the lover, the ruler, the rebel, the sage, and so on
    • Religious iconography reflects these primordial archetypes that are an essential part of the human condition. These figures are actors in the drama of life who reflect the roles we  have to play at various points; the mythology around these characters offers insight into how we should act in the world. This is the function of myth.
    • Puja can help us to cultivate a relationship to these primordial archetypes
  • a sense of the sacred
    • While I have plenty of issues with organized religion, I think that in our modern world we have largely lost a sense of the sacred, and not for the better. My trip to India this past winter affirmed the power of religious rituals and symbols to endow people’s lives with a sense of beauty, veneration and meaning.
      • Not only can we derive value from these rituals without committing to particular (theistic) belief systems, perhaps those of us who don’t believe in the supernatural, and who lack the ancient traditions that support these systems, are the most in need of what religious practices like puja can offer

Deliberately developing a sense of the sacred will change the way that you start your day.

Pranayama

After puja concludes, I’ll go into a few minutes of pranayama: yogic breathing exercises. Pranayama is a vast subject matter, which include some advanced techniques. But here are two very simple tips:

  • Emphasizing the inhalation
    • Ex: breathing in for the count of four, breathing out for the count of two
    • this activates your sympathetic nervous system
      • increases feelings of alertness
      • can be ideal for the morning, especially if you feel the need to wake up
  • Emphasising the exhalation
    • Ex: breathing out for the count of four, breathing in for the count of two
    • this activates your parasympathetic nervous system
      • induces feelings of calm and relaxation
      • promotes optimal function of your bodily systems

Pranayama is a huge subject deserving of a series of posts, but if you’re not familiar with these breathing exercises consider looking them up. A great place to start would be studying with a very knowledgeable teacher. Richard Freeman has an online introduction to pranayama course which you can purchase through Sounds True.

Disclosure: Richard Freeman is one of my yoga teachers. I do not, however, receive any commission whatsoever from the promotion of his courses. I suggest them to others only because I highly value what Richard and his wife Mary have to offer.

Pranayama is the bridge that can take you into deeper states of meditation.

Meditation

Ideally, I’ll do twenty minutes of seated meditation in the morning. However, some days I need to start my day quicker than others. Even sitting for just a few minutes in silence–especially after making a series of offering and the recitation of mantras–makes a massive difference in the rest of my day.

I’m more focused, more centered in the heart, more open to whatever will arise. Nothing is a guarantee against the difficult things in life, but this morning series of practices–puja, pranayama and meditation–makes me far more likely to respond mindfully, rather than reactively, to situations that could trigger me.

It not only helps to buffer me against the negative, it cultivates positive emotions: feelings of reverence, gratitude and serenity.

Walking

Now that I’m done with my morning mindfulness practices I’ll take my phone out of airplane mode and listen to a podcast or music as I go for a morning walk. Studies have been shown to demonstrate upticks in creativity from standing and moving, which is one reason I do so shortly before starting my work.

I also prioritize getting some form of cardiovascular exercise before I’m going to be in front of a screen for hours on end.

Cold shower

Tony Robbins jumps in a frigid plunge pool to start his day. Tim Ferris takes an ice bath. I don’t have these luxuries, though I take as cold of a shower as possible.

How cold? So cold that you should be shaking, as one advocate put it. For how long? 5-10 minutes.

Placing the shower head on the top front of your skull (prefrontal cortex area of the brain) or on the chest (near the heart) will increase the impact of the cold shower–assuming you’re not doing the full plunge like Tony or Tim, which undoubtedly is more effective.

Arguments for taking a cold shower:

  • improves mitochrondial function, boosting your immunity
  • drains your lympathic systems, removing cellular waste
  • burns brown fat at increased rate
  • increase your heart rate…and your circulation
  • can help to lower levels of stress in your body
  • increases alertness!
    • at the very least…it will do this!

Make your bed

Growing up, my parents couldn’t get me to make my bed. I didn’t see the point when I was just going to sleep it in again anyways. Funny, I know. Probably a lot of people, especially guys, who are low in orderliness still do this for many years. If you fall into this camp this is the first, small thing that you can and should change.

Finally, I relented to Jordan Peterson’s exhortations to “clean your damn room!” Cultivating orderliness in the physical aspects of your life will help you to develop more orderliness in other facets of your life, and psychologically, as well.

Tidy up anything that you can clean up, or put away, in a minute or less, as well, then move on.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem for many people, especially people living in urban environments spending all of their day in offices, and/or those living in climates that don’t see much sunlight or suffer from high levels of pollution.

Vitman D is essential for a number of reasons, ranging from calcium absorption to build strong bones to melatonin production that’s vital to a good night’s sleep.

Fortunately, I live in the tropics so there’s no shortage of sunlight. That said, because the sun is so hot I make a point of getting Vitamin D before the sun gets too high and too intense.

Wherever you live I’d highly recommend downloading the app D Minder. This app will notify you when the sun is above 30 degrees elevation–which is what you need in order to get Vitamin D from the sun.

You can select a variety of options that state the amount of skin exposure to the sun then click on a timer that will tell you how much Vitamin D your body is absorbing based on the sun’s elevation in your particular location at that time.

Download the app D Minder to track your Vitamin D levels.

Grounding  (Earthing)

While I’m getting sunlight I stand barefoot on grass. “Grounding” or “Earthing” allegedly helps our bodies to reconnect to the natural, electrical charge of the earth’s energy. While studies on grounding are still seeking to verify the extent of the alleged benefits that advocates claim studies suggest it can decrease cortisol levels and inflammation. It also feels really good, and natural, just to stand in the grass!

Summary:

As I mentioned at the outset, I totally appreciate the fact that many people don’t have time for such an exhaustive routine, whether it’s because you’re commuting in traffic or getting your kids ready for school. But incorporating just two or three of these routines could make a big difference in enhancing the quality of your morning.

Start small and go from there.

I sincerely hope that some of you will find benefit in these morning routines. They have certainly had a profoundly positive impact on my morning and I hope they prove to be a game changer for you as well.

Adrian

#021: Bhakti Yoga with Raghu Markus

On this episode Raghu Markus shares his deep knowledge of the Bhakti Yoga tradition. He talks about what he learned from his own teacher, the legendary Neem Karoli Baba, and how we can all learn to live with more wisdom, compassion and trust.
Guest Bio:
Raghu Markus is the Executive Director of the Love Serve Remember Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and continuing the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass.
As a young man, Raghu spent two years in India with Maharaji and Ram Dass. He has been involved in music and transformational media since the early 1970s when he was program director of CKGM-FM in Montreal. In 1974 he collaborated with Ram Dass on the box set Love Serve Remember.
In 1990 he launched Triloka Records and Karuna Music in Los Angeles, California. Triloka established itself as a critical leader in the development of world music and for 17 years was home to such artists as Krishna Das, Hugh Masekela, Walela, Jai Uttal and transformational media projects that featured Ram Dass, Deepak Chopra, and Les Nubians.
Raghu owns Yatra Media and lives with his wife in Asheville, NC.
Topics discussed:
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Teachings of Neem Karoli Baba
  • Similarities and differences between the Bhakti and Buddhist paths
  • Dualist vs. Nondualist schools of Indian thought
  • How to interpret accounts of “miracles,” paranormal events
  • Trust and Faith: the importance of these qualities and the distinction between them

Links:

Mentions:
a. Opening monologue: Jordan Peterson, Mikey Siegel, Mary Taylor, Richard Freeman, Pattabhi Jois
b. Conversation with Raghu: Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass, Swami Muktananda, Duncan Trussell, Krishna Das, Roshi Joan Halifax, Sally Kempton

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#020: The Paths of Yoga through the Bhagavad Gita with Ashtanga Yoga teacher Richard Freeman

Show Overview:

In this conversation, legendary Ashtanga Yoga teacher Richard Freeman walks us through the various paths of yoga as described in The Bhagavad Gita. Richard is an exceptional teacher of yoga philosophy. Undoubtedly, this conversation will have much to offer for those both new and familiar with this classic text of the yoga tradition.

Guest bio: Richard Freeman is one of the most celebrated Ashtanga Yoga teachers of our time. Richard Freeman has been a student of yoga since 1968. He began his yoga journey with one simple sitting posture in the Zen tradition. Richard spent nine years in Asia studying yoga asana, Sufism, Sanskrit language, and Indian philosophical texts.

In 1974 Richard began working with B.K.S. Iyengar. With Iyengar Richard studied precise alignment principles, applying them to his own internally rooted experience of the forms. Drawing from this variety of contemplative traditions, Richard teaches the Ashtanga Vinyasa method of yoga as taught by his principal teacher, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India.

Richard’s metaphorical, humorous, teaching style appeals to students of many backgrounds and nationalities. He teaches workshops and trainings throughout the world, and remains an avid student fascinated by the linking points between different traditions and cultures.

He is the co-founder, with Mary, of the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado; has produced a number of highly regarded yoga audio and video recordings; and is the author of The Mirror of Yoga and co-author of The Art of Vinyasa (Shambhala Publications).

Links:

Richard Freeman Yoga

Mentions: Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Please help to make Hacking the Self a sustainable project by:

  • Making a donation at https://www.patreon.com/hackingtheself

You can also help us to get the word out by:

  • Sharing this interview with friends and on your social media platforms
  • Writing a review for the podcast on iTunes, Sticher or the Google Music Store