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Archive for May, 2011

As we have had recent posts on Pandit Jasraj, Tagore, Kircher, it may be worth making a point regarding the importance of music in dealing with anxiety, stress, meditation, and spirituality. They are all connected as an anxious and stressed out mind cannot meditate. Meditation requires that anxiety and stress be addressed first.

Making appropriate choices is significant. Just as we make choices about what we eat, what we drink, what we feed the mind is equally important. Of all the seeds that fall on the fertile strata of the mind, what we choose to cultivate and grow and what we choose to not cultivate requires a heightened objective awareness of the mind (neutral spectator, mindfulness, witness, sakshi bhav) and its content. It also requires a sense of discrimination of desirable and undesirable qualities known as vivek.

Often religious services begin with music. A traditional yoga class may begin with chants or kirtans. For beginning meditators, soft background music may be very important. The type of music played is critical. For those who find it difficult to exert control over their breath, music may play a big role.

Our breath tends to synchronizes to the rhythm and notes of the music. For young children (as well as adults), rhythmic singing harmonizes the breath and there may be group synchronization that engenders the feeling of oneness. For religious and spiritual settings, music is also the transition of turning the mind and the senses from the external environment to the environment within. It is a form of pratyahara, sense withdrawal, the fifth stage in the eight stages of yoga. It is the stage before dharana, or focus/concentration. Dharana is the stage where the mind moves away from distractions. Meditation cannot happen without this stage.

With music it happens without effort—simply by listening, singing, mentally going over a melody. We have all experienced that some music will energize, some will slow one down, some will make the body want to move and dance, etc. In class, as soon as the Buddhist peace chants are heard, the mood alters, the bodies become quiet instantly.  The breath becomes deeper, slower, quieter, more rhythmic, and the heart beat slows down as well. The mind and body have become conditioned to become quiet in response to this music.

Music that slows the breath and quietens the mind is an important first step in a religious setting, meditation, or a yoga practice. A quiet and receptive mind and body will absorb the sermon better. The meditation will be easier as the mind will be less resistant to focus. Yoga asanas will flow better. Students will find that learning may be enhanced, memory and retention may be improved. Some people we know hear classical music on ear phones at work to cut out distractions, relax the mind, and improve focus and concentration. Work becomes a form of meditation and it does not exhaust the mind.

In medical settings, the anxious patient may start relaxing.

For most people, the choice of music will alter the breath, the mood, and the state of mind. Conscious use of appropriate music may be one effective tool in addressing anxiety, stress, and having a more effective meditation practice. Music can become a valid spiritual practice leading to spontaneous meditation.

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As requested, here are some specific recipes for vegetarians and vegans. They also happen to be gluten-free. Slow-carb seems to be an easier diet to follow as it allows unlimited amounts of beans and vegetables. The two are a big part of an Indian/vegan diet and the dishes can be as spicy or bland as one chooses. All the recipes are not Indian. These dishes can be packed for lunch as well and are good in the fridge for 3-4 days. None of them are time-consuming to prepare and they have minimal clean-up afterwards.

Goolloo’s Edamame Stew is a one-pot Parsi dish with spinach and tomatoes–everything in one bowl for a slow-carb meal.

Fava Bean Salad is a quick Middle Eastern style dish, perfect in warm weather. Pinto, kidney, and cannelini beans can also be used.

Kidney Beans in Fennel Sauce gives the option of Italian or Indian flavors.

Vegetarian Chilli is a one-pot meal with Mexican flavors and lots of different textures and colors as it uses different beans and bell peppers. Make it as spicy, or not, as you wish.

Rice and Black Beans is a quick 15-minute dish and the recipe is for canned black beans. You can just cook the beans. The flavors are Mexican but could easily be Indian as well. The two are sometimes the same!

Black Bean, Corn, Tomato Salad may not qualify for slow-carb because of the corn. But on a weekend, it can still be a great summer dish sitting in the fridge for easy nibbling all weekend.

In these recipes many different beans are used so there is a lot of variety: edamame, fava, pinto, kidney, cannelini, and black beans. More recipes are added periodically.

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There is an exquisite find for those who enjoy Western classical music that I discovered through Dr. Robert Svoboda’s website . Dr. Svoboda, a global eclectic from Texas, is renowned for ayurveda and jyotish vidya (Indian astrology). He is a well-known author in his field and lectures around the world. It had been a while since I had visited his website and was then reminded of it by an Australian reader of this blog and website. That reminder is deeply appreciated.

On his website which is worth a visit, Dr. Svoboda posts a link for music lovers that is being shared here. This link http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/nov2002.html is to the Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department, Book of the Month for November 2002. Here is the description from the website with this exquisitely illustrated book you can view there:

“The quater-centenary of the birth of the Jesuit polymath, Father Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), seemed an appropriate moment to examine one of the most famous volumes of his works in Special Collections – the Musurgia Universalis published in two volumes in Rome in 1650. Our copy is outstanding for its finely hand coloured illustrations.

The book is one of the seminal works of musicology and was hugely influential in the development of Western music – in particular on J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and Beethoven (1770-1827). “

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Aruna Narang has forwarded two excellent links to share on the blog and I deeply appreciate it.

The first is a special treat for those of you who enjoy Indian classical music as it is a concert by Pandit Jasraj, Aum Shanti:A Peace Concert, at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian. The concert can be heard at this link http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/7340802

The second from Aruna is also from the Smithsonian: Santiniketan to Smithsonian–A Tribute to Tagore. The two-day symposium will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary and honor “the life and work of poet, playwright, painter, composer, educator, and humanist Rabindranath Tagore, the Renaissance man, the leading light of modern India and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1913).”

The program will include a film on Tagore by Satyajit Ray and music and dances based on compositions by Tagore.

Location:National Museum of the American Indian
Fourth Street & Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C.
Saturday, May 28–Sunday, May 29, 2011: 1:00pm
Webcast available live on this webpage http://museumstudies.si.edu/tagore.html

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There have been several additions to www.mahasriyoga.com.

Pranayama: There are now three audio tracks on introduction to pranayama in Gujarati. I hope this is helpful for all the Gujarati seniors. Please do send your feedback as it will so helpful for future tracks.

Meditation: Yoga Nidra with Chakras and Bija Mantras. This guided meditation should be helpful in locating chakras and becoming more aware of them. Using the bija mantras increases sensitivity and purifies the chakras, making it a purification practice. This practice is familiar to some of you as we have done it together several times in our detailed introduction to chakras. Seniors can do this meditation as we have also done a simple, modified version without the names of the chakras–we focused on the specific areas in the spine.

Book Reviews: Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda is an outstanding essential read for serious yogis. Light on Yoga by Iyengar is a classic for 200 asanas, given in great detail by the master hatha yogi himself. The reviews also try to clarify the confusion and rivalry between hatha and raja yoga.

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Tim Ferriss seems to have made the slow-carb diet popular with vegetarians. But many have been wondering about vegetarian recipes for a slow-carb diet thinking that perhaps they are limited. There are so many vegetarian and vegan options for everyone.

To start off, there are several recipes on mahasriyoga.com/recipes.  Most of the dal (split and often hulled beans which are easier to digest than whole beans), beans, and vegetable recipes are slow-carb. The new additions are  colorful Vegetarian Chilli and Moroccan Vegetables. Indian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern cuisines can work really well for vegetarians. Indian crepes made with yellow gram dal or pureed beans  and dals are good slow-carb “breads.”  We made many variations when our home was gluten-free for a few years.

If you have a favorite recipe to share, please do share it. I know some of you are amazing but shy cooks! The New York Times often has creative recipes and I really enjoy looking at the ones on the BBC website as well as The Guardian at guardian.co.uk.

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A  study written up in US News on April 2, 2011 (and Huffington Post) indicates that a combination of asana, pranyama, and some form of meditation may be helpful in reducing the incidence of irregular heart or atrial fibrillation.

For gentle physical movements of asana, readers can refer to www.mahasriyoga.com/asana. Chair yoga is particularly beneficial for seniors. Gentle breathing practices of pranayama to reduce anxiety and help reduce blood pressure are under www.mahasriyoga.com/pranayama (click on Download Practice Tracks). The website also has guided meditation tracks for Yoga Nidra and Candle Flame Trataka under www.mahasriyoga.com/meditation (click on Download Yoga Nidra and Meditation tracks).

Everything you need from yoga, as one of many tools, toward heart health is available on the website. Always keep in mind that yoga is never a substitute for medical care.

So many of you have already experienced first-hand the benefits of a balanced yoga practice (that includes asana, pranayama, and meditation) toward lowering blood pressure.

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