Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A quiet mind

Q. My mind keeps racing, I feel overwhelmed, unproductive

This is the trick that the mind tends to play with endless chatter about how we should always be in a state of “doing” and, alternatively, with doomsday scenarios

Newsflash - we are our most productive with an uncluttered, quiet mind.

So what do we do then? It’s easier said than done to quieten the mind.

Mindfulness is constantly observing thoughts to separate the mental chatter from the actual situation. For eg, the hardship brought on by covid could be the fact, and the doomsday scenario we conjure up, the commentary aka chatter. By observing and separating the two we can actually be in the now, our most uncluttered and productive space.

Notwithstanding an attempt to constantly notice and observe, and due to our lack of trust in the above actually helping us to get to inner silence, we get reactive and frustrated.

When this happens, 5 things help.

1. Vigorous exercise - a brisk walk or run. This brings on endorphins which are natural analgesics since they activate the opiate receptors in the brain. They ease feelings of discomfort that are triggered by an agitated mind.

2. Another helpful technique, when the mind is running amok, is to bring attention to the breath and to take a few quiet long deep breaths. This helps break the downward trajectory of the spiralling thoughts.

3. A third is giving ourselves permission to completely relax the body - by sitting on a comfortable couch or seat, or even lying down and allowing ourselves to doze off.

4. A fourth - when we feel overwhelmed by our thoughts is to make a hot cup of tea and then slowly and mindfully take sips of it.

5. And maybe best of all is a structured routine where we do all of the above and also set aside time for some meditation and yoga.

This may sound counter intuitive - but those who have the most to show for themselves have a quiet mind and those the least have busy, cluttered ones!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why do we experience stress?

I talked about this in our morning yoga practice and thought I would share. This is wisdom from our Gurus and sages and by no means original. Stress is nothing but the body going off balance and losing homeostasis. It is primarily caused by the following four factors, all of which are interconnected but can also be viewed separately

Our intense likes and dislikes where we crave what we like and wish to constantly repeat experiences, based on an image or idea, that comes up short the second time and yet we persist; and we resist that which we dislike, based on conditioning, lack of openness and/or fear.

Uncontrollable desires, as when we binge eat, sleep, and indulge in sensual pleasures without discernment; these experiences are invariably followed by remorse and therefore stress

Our preoccupation with the past or the future
without the awareness that these are mental projections and thoughts which have no substantive truth but are selective and generally based on our survival instinct to project worst case scenarios

Our attachment to people, places and things as “my” home, “my” family; our ego identification with these results in feelings of pain and hurt when these are threatened in any way

In our current lockdown situation we find some folks managing much better than others. This is simply based on how much the external situation determines each one’s mental state. Obviously, the solution is not to “get rid” but to just notice. The getting rid off process is also “thinking” and is tantamount to a rejection of how we are at present based on a projection of how we should be. In other words we are placed in a state of conflict.

The solution is to strengthen our awareness of thoughts pertaining to all of the above as they arise, noticing them and letting them pass. This requires us to embrace presence, where we separate the mental chatter from the actual situation we are in, for eg the lockdown, and constantly remain in that space of non judgement, an impartial witness to everything that is arising. The importance of yoga, meditation and living mindfully cannot be overstated. Scientific studies have proven visible changes in our physiology that helps us along this path. I quote from Forbes about one such study here:

“In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.”

So here's to embracing presence and practising meditation, yoga or any activity that keeps us in the here and now.

Overall credit for above teaching: Swami Parthasarathy-