Save Your Breath

Pranayama-The practice of breath control

If it’s true what yogis say “You only have so many breaths in each lifetime” then isn’t it worth paying attention to each inhalation and exhalation for maximum effect?

How do you consciously control your breaths?

Once you explore the wonder of something that seems to happen without any effort on our part you start to wonder if there isn’t more you can bring within your control.

We use breathing exercises for so many things: 

Just breath(calm from stressful situation)

Don’t hold your breath (release tension) or hold your breath(stop hiccups, absorb intentions)

Deep breaths (build up oxygen levels)

Count your breaths ( to help with sleep, to meditate, to focus)

These are just a few reminders of how we already use our most basic instincts to help us daily.

I have been reading about the Fourth Cakra-Anahata and the practice of pranayama. I hadn’t, in the past, got very specific about the process when meditating with breath control. In the book, Kundalini Yoga For The West, Swami Radha talks about the “Triple Process”: the inhalation, suspension and exhalation. The practice is recommended to awaken the dormancy of the Kundalini energy. You are encouraged to contemplate that you only have so many breaths in a lifetime. Using those breaths on emotional outbursts or trivial endeavors could shorten your lifespan.

So next time you become aware of your breath stop and contemplate the value it has. It’s not like you can stop and save your breath for another time or opportunity. I realize I can, however, gain control over the maximum benefits of each inhalation and exhalation. Take advantage in the pauses between each to absorb the positive energy and release back into the cosmos an excess I may have stored up.

Namaste

 

W.A.I.T.

There is a badge you can get in the gift shop here at the ashram. It says Speech Awareness on it. Silence and speech awareness are part of the daily practice here. Meals are taken in silence and karma yoga is practiced with limited chatting if possible. At first, I was a bit taken back by not being encouraged to talk while we work. I then started to read the Kundalini writings.

Why do I need to talk? Is there a purpose to my words or am I enamoured with my own voice? Hmmm. The text talks about those that feel the need to fill the silence with chatter and equates the behaviour to being an infant or full of self importance.

Why Am I Talking? W.A.I.T for short. For many years I have got paid to talk it’s a hard habit to break. My daughter and I took a rode trip from Vancouver to Seattle and back one time. On the way back, she told me I talk too much. I love my daughters directness. We drove in silence for a while and then she couldn’t stand it and told me to start talking again.

I have been practicing speech awareness here and to reduce my need to contribute often to the conversation. Its a hard habit to break and yet it feels warranted. Do I really have something worth saying or do I feel the need for attention? Wow, taking a closer look at ones own ego trips is revealing. How many times have I felt the need to add in my own experiences instead of sharing in others with the gift of just listening? The more I make a conscious effort to restrain myself the more I am aware of my speech.

So where do I go from here? Just stop talking? No, I don’t think that is the point. Be comfortable in the offering of silence. Be generous with my ability to listen. Become more present and speech aware. Practice W.A.I.T. when opportunities are available.

W.A.I.T.

Feeling Blue

A Soul Gift

I practice shamanism and try to journey as much as possible. During the pandemic I am dearly missing my monthly drum circle connection. There is some contraversy over whether you should share your journeys with others or keep them to yourself. I don’t plan to share all my journeys or even all that occurs in them in my posts and yet, I do believe that inviting you to experience some of them is somehow “the right thing to do”.

I went on a shaman journey in search of my grandma Campbell. She is one of my spirit guides. In life, she was a formidable no nonsense kind of woman with a strong mind and a loving heart. I wanted to ask her some questions. What is a soul gift that I could use to help others was the first question. The second question centered around how best to use this gift. I was hoping she would demonstrate the gift for me or show me the best way to use or interpret it also.

I struggled to focus on the journey. Lots of false starts, distractions and obstacles which usually indicates the approach of deep learning and understanding for me if I can just press on.The drums had been beating for a while when I finally reached my desitination. I found myself on the back steps of my grandparents old homestead in Hillspring. I sat and looked out at the yard. The corn was nearly 6 feet tall in the garden and the bees were buzzing around grandma’s favorite geranium pots. I soaked up the sun as I waited for grandma to come. Grandpa appeared at the bottom of the steps. He was wearing a lopsided knowing grin, baseball cap, grey work clothes, checkered jacket and suspenders.

One version of clothes that suited him. His eyes were filling me with so much warmth that I couldn’t help but smile back. He didn’t speak. “What do you see?” I jerked a litte at the sound then realized it was grandma behind me coming out of the old screen door. The door made a WHACK as it closed and gave me some time to peer back at grandpa. What did I see? Home, love and an amazing creative man who worked hard to support his family. An interesting artist too who tended to paint with neon colors no matter his subject matter which included mostly images of the Mormon temples and nature. I had learned that my grandpa was color blind. It didn’t seem to slow him down at all. If I hadn’t been told that fact I probably would have never considered it the reason for the vibrant hues he used in his art. “How do you think he knows what the colors will look like together?” grandma nudged. I hestitated to think and was a bit puzzled. “ I am not sure” I replied. She smiled and sat down beside me still looking up at grandpa. “He feels them” she said. Still puzzled grandma I thought “What do you mean?” I replied. “Blues, purples and some reds feel cool when applied to the canvas” she explained. “Yellow, oranges, pinks and some other reds feel warm to him”. The concept wasn’t lost on me. I seemed to intuitively know that this was true. My uncles, who are also deceased,Walton and David appeared on the steps. David asked me if I wanted some raspberries. Of course I did! I took a few bites and enjoyed the sweetness. They drifted off into the yard puttering around the gardens and shed. We all had grown up eager to come to the homestead, raid the gardens, pick a few weeds and devour their rapsberry patch at every opportunity. Grandma and I enjoyed the sun and the closeness for a bit.

I almost forgot my task and the drums seemed to beating so far off in the distance it was easy to believe they were just part the universe keeping time with my experience for the moment. My uncle Blaine appeared suddenly. He had passed away in the fall of the previously year. He sat down on the steps and took my hand. I started to cry and was swallowed into his big bear hug. “Why are you here?” I asked when I could regain my composure. “You asked about soul gifts?” I nodded. “Like grandpa knowing which colors to use, you know things by associating images to how they make you and others feel”. “That gift has to do with who you are and where you came from. Within you are generations who have felt when to provide a sanctuary for others. How to open a space for comfort, relief from grief and support. Your mom fills that roll for your family and for others. Her loving reach has touched so many lives and changed the future of many a stray for the good during her lifetime. I could hear the drums calling me back from my journey. I had spend so much time getting here and now had to leave without all the answers to my questions. It figures, I thought bemused. “You have our soul gifts and those of previous generations.” “What makes this different, in you, is the combination of the sight and the feeling. Sometimes what we see doesn’t match the energy we feel is being manifested. The images that form when others talk help you to process the meaning behind their words. This is part of the soul gift and it enables you to fill in the spaces with intuition and intent”. “Our hope is that your learn to use it to help yourself, family and others you encounter”.

I had to go quickly. I waved back to my ancestral guides and followed the drums back to the present.

A few minutes of reorientation took place when I come back from the journey. I was laying on my mat on my side in the drum circle processing what I had experienced. I sat up and started trying to write in my journal what had occurred.

Even now it’s a struggle to practice the soul gifts offered by those that have come before and yet I try to honor the opportunity.

If you are interested in more blogs about my journeys or experiences please let us know by liking our posts, subscribe to our site and follow us on social platforms.

On A Path To Awareness

Moments of reestablished balance exists between steps

I have always been a fan of walking meditations. They are used in silent meditation workshops I have attended to help break up sitting for hours and hours. You walk with purpose. Usually in a small space in any pattern you choose. The point is to focus on the breath and the senses. Some points I have been given in the past are to try walking with your eyes partially closed in order for the other sense to become more tuned in.

The meditation assignment today has added a new twist. It asks to compare the motion of walking to your life and see what comes up for you.

When you stand still you feel balanced, weight evenly distributed and your equilibrium is solid. Think of your life. You are perhaps standing still, it feels solid and balanced on the surface. Trouble is, it probably isn’t possible to stand in one place forever. You get stiff, get bored, maybe grow roots that become hard to pull up or weeds grow to impair your view of what’s really going on. Your body is meant to be in motion and your body and soul want to grow outward.

Life is motion,development and change.

In order to move, you need to decide to upset the equilibrium. Change your situation. Change your life. That can be frightening and cause unbalance. When you shift your weight or change your direction, you become off balanced. Take another step and what do you observe? Your weight shifts, balance reestablishes itself. In that moment between two steps is an opportunity to once again find equilibrium. Moments between two steps, between two events and between two thoughts are all opportunity to connect with present. Recognize the moments exists and use them as opportunities to rest and renew.

The key is in the recognition of the moments. They can help you to unlock the door to your life. The path on the other side leads to freedom.

In the words of a great band called Shinedown, “The first step is the one you believe in. The second one might be profound”

I have loosely adapted the above from the writings of Yoga Path to Awareness. I hope you find it as meaningful and useful as I do.

Namaste

Life Seals and Life Strategies

Happy Valentines Day! Let’s celebrate by loving ourselves.

Today is a day of rest and reflection at the ashram. We have been given some homework for review next week. Since next week is looking more like addition of integration into everyday life as quarantine comes to a close, I figured I would do the homework today while I had the time and energy.

The assignment reads “to embark on a journey of finding out more about yourself, where you are now and where you want to be we are going to explore the strategies for getting there”.

Exercise 1- You need crayons, scissors, tape and timer and trust in the process.

Draw a symbol for your 5 senses. You have 15 minutes don’t think too much about it and use only the crayons that have been provided. Ok, I can think of 4 of the senses-taste, touch, sound, sight hmmm what am I missing? I don’t want to cheat so I don’t google it. I think about what I rely on for senses. Intuition comes up. Ok I have at least 5. Now draw them.

Exercise 2

2 strengths and 2 weaknesses. You have 12 minutes. Wait, wait…do I draw these or just think about them? Write it down? Doesn’t say so I draw them

Exercise 3

Draw a symbol for you Mind Chant. You have 5 minutes. Right away a symbol comes to mind. That one was surprisingly easy as the symbol has popped up in many shamanic journeys and meditations.

Exercise 4

Draw a symbol of your Essence Chant. You have 5 minutes. Hmmm this one is harder I have an idea and start to draw it. My fingers fight me and draw something completely different. Ok must be right.

Final Exercise

Cut out all the drawings and arrange them on the big canvas provided. This ends up being quite interesting and not what I expected. My unconscious mind/will has created a pattern I wasn’t aware of.

I arrange the symbols on the big sheet of brown paper provided and stand back. Adjust the order until it feels right. I had assumed that the order would stay in the same sequence as the exercises. It didn’t. As I contemplated each piece and it’s placement I realized many things. The universe was trying to tell me bits of the puzzle I had been missing. Information about myself. How I had relied on my senses, my mind and my lack of checking in with my essence to confirm my direction.

I hesitate at this point to show you and describe my outcomes just in case you decide to try this yourself. I have decided to go ahead though because part of my journey is to share my insights as they are given to me in this community. So, if you want to try this exercise stop reading now and go for it.

Stop here if you want to try the exercises…If not proceed…

For those that chose to continue here are my insights about Life Seals and Life Strategies. There is a caveat though, I haven’t been through part two of this exercise yet. That will come on Wednesday next week when the group gets together to discuss it and gain any clarity that is needed.

The exercise, for me, lead to a lighted path pretty much down the middle of the canvas. One, I noticed quite quickly, I could step onto and walk/meditate on each symbol or step that I had created. I was excited and decided to try them out.

In the direct route of the path,which ended up in bright colors subconsciously, was the Mind symbol first, then Intuition(sense), Essence symbol then finally at the top Resilience(as a strength). Those stood out as being vital to my Life Strategy.

In the meandering path the colors were black, browns and yellow and weave back and forth from the main artery. Need to control (weakness) was to the right of Mind, Taste to the left, Sound to the right, then centered back to Intuition. Next came Trust ( weakness). I was curious about my choice of symbols here. I chose a cross, why? I am not religious. I believe in energy and surrender to the universe but not necessarily a god. Yet, blind faith kept popping up in my mind. My Essence symbol is centered here with Determination (strength) to the left guided by touch and sight. At the top I decided to put Resilience(strength).

I closed my eyes and walked the labyrinth a few times to test it out and see how it felt. I am confident I could do it again in meditation also. Which I am excited to try.

I encourage anyone reading this to try it and see what comes up for you. It took an hour and a half to put together. I feel changed by honoring it’s process. I would love to hear from some of you what comes up out of your unconscious mind.

We will learn on Wednesday whether the intent was anywhere near my experience. Either way it was time well spent.

Namaste

My version of Life Seals and Life Strategies by Swami Radha

Untethered Space

In this blog I am going to do something a little different. I have been on numerous hikes through the coulees that surround where I live in Southern Alberta. I have heard many times that the area is situated on a unique number of vortex’s and natural energy throughout the rivers habitat. I have found that to be the case.

I invite you into one of my shaman journeys today. I always find the practice full of useful information and guidance. I hope you do too!

Meditation in Pavan Park Lethbridge

The Healing Springs of Bali

The healing powers of Bali

Unpacking space: Past, Present and Future

I am forever grateful I have this gift of past travels. To bask in my adventures through memories, meditation and photos is priceless. To give gratitude everyday for having the presence of mind to soak up every minute of it helps me now to cope with our current present. To know that you are part of something greater than yourself and to be open to the customs and healing rituals of other cultures and beliefs enriches our humanity. It’s an amazing world and we are lucky to have it! You don’t have to travel to exotic places to enjoy and take part of wellness( I know that’s easy for me to say as I have done that many times). The wilderness by my house is full of medicine for my soul. It’s the intention to create a space for healing that counts in the long run to what we put in our “spaces”.

In a time when the world is in turmoil, the need to open a sanctuary of comfort and kindness is desperately welcomed. I was lucky to have experienced such a place in 2019. Accompanied by my neice and a mutual friend, we traveled for three glorious weeks throughout Bali. As was our way in Bali, the guide found us at the entrance to the springs. He then proceeded to spend the day giving us guidance, history and acted as our personal photographer (didn’t expect that but now I am grateful for the wonderful photos). It was an opportunity for us to reflect on our past, be fully aware of our present and to create an inviting space for our futures.

The Titra Empul Healing Springs in Bali has a rich history, sense of sacredness and truly a wonder of nature. The temple was built in 926 AD during the rule of Warmadewa. The location was chosen because of the presence of a sacred spring. The legend tells a tale of an epic battle between a magical king named Mayadenawa and a god called Indra.

Mayadenawa possessed great spiritual powers of transformation. As with any great power the temptation to exploit it caused him to use it for evil instead of good. The god, Indra, took exception to this practice and planned an attack on the king. Mayadenawa caught wind of the plan and snuck into Indra’s camp as the army slept one night. He decided to create an enticing pond where the army would drink from when they awoke in the morning.

Indra discovered many of his men had perished and many more were sick or dying. Indra, with his almighty power, pierced the ground with his staff and converted the water to a sacred spring that was thought to be holy.

Today the spring still flows and many locals, countrymen and seekers of healing line the pathways eager to immerse themselves or fill their water bottles in the ponds.There is an interesting property about how the water bubbles up to the surface. The earth in which it emerges is a combination of sand and gravel. One would think it would be cloudy or discoloured. Any yet, it comes up crystal clear. I watched as many visitors fill their jugs, canteens and water bottles. I was curious so asked the guide what the purpose of doing this is? Since the water is believed to be sacred and full of healing properties, many use it in ceremonies, blessings and personal rituals.

Before we got to the temple we had stopped at a local market to purchase a sarong as the dress code was very strict in the pools and on the grounds. The guide was very helpful in showing us the right way to tie a sarong. I was skeptical that it would cover my bits but he was an expert and in no time we were ready to make our way to the gates of the first set of pools. We purchased a small bamboo container and some flowers and incense to make an offering then made our way to the entrance.

Opening space…

Centering your being with intent and focus is part of the protocol and practice. We found a space to sit on the stone benches facing the water. Ah the energy in a place like that is mystical, thick with culture, history and balm for your soul. In silent meditation we drew on our own desires and needs. We opened our hearts and mind to the knowing support was available from these ancient spirit guides.

Saying “goodbye” to the past…

The guide instructed us that there were 3 sets of fountains in the maze of pools. They represented the past, the present and the future. As you approach each flowing tap, meditate on what you want most then fullfill the actions as directed. 

My heart was beating out of my chest as I worried about remembering all of the instructions. I wanted to do it right! It was my turn. The past, what wrong doings did I want to let go of? Who did I need to forgive, forget and release? I cupped the water as instructed and with a downward motion washed away my past three times in quick succession. To seal the deal, I then dunked my head under the spigot to get rid of any lingering negative energy. Even as I write this now, I still feel the release and a sense of being lighter somehow.

Bring awareness to the present…

We navigated out of the first pool and made our way to the second set.

In this meditative labyrinth we contemplated the present and future. Invited positive energy to fill our hearts and minds. I cupped the water and let it flow from the back of my head this time to the front. Welcoming the exchange of energy instead of pushing it away. An invitation to heal within my being.

By this time I am feeling pretty wonderful. Almost like the water is full of happy juice. I start to notice the people around us clearer. I can see the generations of families that are here together from newborn babies to great grandmas. I am in awe and a bit jealous of the bond they must be feeling. As we make our way to the stairs, one of the families is right in front of me. Great grandma is making her way up the stairs to rise up out of the water. I reach to help and all of the sudden there are numerous relatives surrounding us. She smiles at me, my heart clenches. Can she see into my soul? I think she can as the joy is reflected back at me through her generational eyes.

A drink to the future…

Our final wade leads us towards the future. The ritual changes slightly. We dip our heads three times under the fountain and then take a sip from the spring. This will ensure any lingering negative energy or toxins are released and we ingest positive energy for our future.

We came away from the springs refreshed. Each of us wanting to find a quiet space to savor and take in all we had been blessed to be part of. 

My heart was full. My mind was sharp and clear and my soul? It was soaring!!

The Karmic Carrot

I have been curious about ashrams for years. Yes, in part, because of the movie “Eat, Pray, Love.” Beyond that though, I had a yearning for the experience. I found one close enough to visit in the Kootenays of BC. One of my nieces is usually game to come along with me as I explore things that are “off the beaten path”. So, off we went. The place is wonderful. A big central compound with communal kitchen and dining. A yoga studio with natural light coming in all directions. A bit of paradise nestled on the lakeshore. At orientation there was the opportunity to choose various practices and sessions to attend to enhance the stay. We both decided we definitely wanted to try something called “Karmic Yoga”.

Cell phone service is discouraged during your stay so I didn’t Google exactly what kind of yoga “karmic” was. My niece and I settled in to a routine of morning flow, community vegan eating and ample time to partake in meditation and chanting in the lotus temple. The place was designed with tranquility in mind. Coves, wooded glens, nature walks and small cabins facing the lake that are filled with cushions and collective ornaments. All the ingredients present for you to relax, take the pressure off and sink into “just being”.

On the second day, we reported bright and early to the front office dressed in our yoga outfits and ready to practice Karmic Yoga. We soon figured out that it wasn’t what we thought it was. My niece is assigned to help clear a section of beach for an upcoming retreat. I was directed towards one of the garden patches. Right, well ok, at least it’s kind of like exercise. I am game to pull some weeds. One of the volunteers points me towards a couple of rows of what appears to be over grown with everything but vegetables. She assures me that there are carrots somewhere in the mix. I am determined to demonstrate my thoroughness and kneel down in what I think is the outside of the rows of plants. “Who sowed these seeds?”, I contemplate while I meticulously pluck at the foreign bodies that have been allowed to grow. It appeared that someone just scattered them everywhere without making an effort to keep them in lines. I spend a good solid hour creating order in the the carrot patch and I am only half way up the rows when the worker is back to tell me my time is up.

I look at her skeptically, then peer down the still wild vegetation rows and shake my head. I have learned some things about myself over the years. I have a compelling desire to see a tasks or project to fruition. Now, career-wise, it has come in handy. They call me “the finisher”. Want something done ? Work with Vanessa. I pride myself on tasks completed well and thoroughly. In this case, though, I had missed an opportunity. I was clueless to the purpose of the time. I forgot where I was and couldn’t see the carrots through the weeds. I told the worker that I wanted to stay and finish the job. I was compelled to make sure the rows were a reflection of order and tidiness. To her credit, she didn’t roll her eyes at me. She smiled and said. “Why would you deprive the next person the opportunity to uncover what they need to experience as they take their turn in the garden?”

I stumbled away confused and not sure that the women didn’t have sun stroke or something. Deprive someone else from weeding carrots? I decided to go sit in one of the meditation chairs in the lake cabins. I was staring out the windows trying to grasp the conversation purpose. I was missing the point. At least I knew that much. As I reflected on the garden task I started to contemplate my behaviour. When did I become so rigid? Since when was I that person who only felt satisfied when I could see straight rows of carrots? It wasn’t lost on me that the worker had cringed when she noticed I had pulled out all of the vegetation that had grown outside the rows. I chastised myself for being so brutal with the destruction. There are all sorts of yoga and variations of practice. My favourite ones are combination packs where you can meditate and connect a flow at the same time. A similar practice is labyrinth or mediation walking. Combining spirit, body and mind to synch up and tune in to what’s happening. It’s a bonus when you can give back to a community while honouring your practice.

I have had plenty of time now to reflect back on this experience and start to understand the point of the practice. It’s not about the weeds unless you get stuck in them and become obsessed with eradicating their existence. I have meditated with plants since then on other workshops, as well as in nature, and have grasped profound insights into myself through their gentle energies. My gardens around my home are natural and intermixed with chaos and spots of structure. I have let go of some of the need for rigid order and embraced the opportunity to just be present. To practice Karmic Yoga is to embrace connecting to, in this case, nature’s lessons given freely when I am ready to acknowledge their presence. I was forever altered in that patch and I am grateful for the carrot.

Yasodhara Ashram

It’s more a Life guide than a religion…

Life long discipline of practice

I grew up in an extensive Mormon family with a mom deep-rooted in the beliefs and a dad willing to go with the flow as long as he could research genealogy. The religion is fine and does teach some useful values on how to raise kids and stay humble. What rubbed me was the definitive roles of men and women. I am not going to explain this deeper right now (maybe in another post) as it doesn’t pertain to this conversation. I would call myself agnostic as I believe in energies, karma and connections to the universe. Through my searching, I came across Shamanism and signed up for a weekend workshop. As I sat in the opening circle with 13 other people, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. The workshop was being hosted in an annex connected to a Catholic church. There were pictures of popes lined up on the walls. Here I was an ex-Mormon in a Catholic church about to experience journeying with a shaman practice that predates Christianity. Hah! The universe has one hell of a sense of humour and the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I love the fact the word ‘shaman’ some say means ‘he or she who knows’. It’s actually a practiced discipline instead of a religion and has many variations depending on the culture and country. The workshop I first attended was a contemporary western version. Which, in short, is a type that tries not to be too specific about meanings or practice. That way, you can experience the discipline before getting detailed protocols based on culture and beliefs. Our first journey involved a quest to find our spirit animal. For non-believers it seems a bit strange to lay down on the floor, cover your eyes, listen to the sound of the drums and focus in on your cleverly crafted question of what animal will guide you as you start this trek. I consider myself an intuitive person. I meditate on occasion and sign up for workshops that will push me into all sorts of uncomfortable situations.

This was different for me though. As I took some slow, easy breaths and listened to the instructions, I had the feelings of rightness. The spirit animal was waiting for me as I opened my mind and the animal was not what I expected. I always assumed I was a deer or grizzly kind of being. Nope.

Spirit allies in animal form (The Shamanism Bible by John Matthews). I like that explanation of what a spirit animal is. As I grow in my practice and partake in many journeys, I have gathered quite a collection of -not only animals – but guides that help me with various challenges and questions I can’t seem to figure out on my own. It’s been a life saver for me in many ways and has helped me get through some very dark moments in my life.

If you are curious about learning more on the practice or the subject, here are some suggestions to explore:

The Foundation of Shamanic Studies -Calgary Chapter

The Foundation of Shamanic Studies -Main site