Archive for the ‘Spring Cleaning’ Category

Cleaning out the room, which at a glance looked so empty, turned out to be deceptive. Embedded in the two shelves of papers was a lifetime to be sorted and cleaned. Isn’t this how it is with everyone? Perhaps that is why we obstinately avoid it. Let it stay settled, along with the dust. No need to churn it up, the Pandora’s box of the mind. But it’s grip never goes then, silently hidden, guiding life with stealth.

So each paper was examined and with it each thought, incident, feeling, that bubbled up. What should stay and what should go–first in the mental space? Out-of mind would quickly allow the discarding to out-of-sight in the garbage. Definitely not recycle life. Two feet of paper gone and oh, what a relief!

Then emerged the little squares of red and yellow, the geological and chemistry society membership cards for the Michaelmas, Lent, and Summer terms for 35 new pence each. They were 38 years old and had travelled the globe, but always very discreetly, somewhere along the bottom of the suitcase or shelf. Suddenly, they were being viewed for the last time. After 38 years, it was time to let the 20-year old go. Why this sudden change? It was not apparent all these years that holding on to them was holding on to a 20-year old.

That 20-year old no longer existed and could never come back. Looking at the cards, it was time to examine what hold they had in the mind. First, it was a very easily transportable sense of familiarity and comfort when moving geographically from place to place. As time and age inevitably brought their bearings of all sorts of responsibilities, old age, death, these cards were the addictive remembrances of a carefree period of life. With it, hidden beneath many layers, almost invisible, was a yearning for what had been but could never be now.

So why now? Awareness and acceptance. The two brought fresh space to embrace the life that is lived now without the shadow of the past. To accept with open arms the maturity that a lived life has bestowed, the wisdom it has given to be free, the awareness of understanding that the 20-year old did not have.

A fond good-bye is whispered as the cards go in the chuck pile of spring cleaning.


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  Irises by Vincent van Gogh

 Source: Google Images

It is that time of the year! Time to renew and refresh the body and mind and reset both. Clearing them both out creates space for the birth of positive, virtuous cycles as we discard negative ones.

There are many ways to do this and readers are referred to the detailed past posts.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System

This post gives specific ways for gentle and moderate cleansing of the digestive system. Accompanied by a moderate reduction (15 to 20 percent) of calories for a week, if medically suitable, may help the body feel lighter, more energetic, and put a bounce in your step.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: Respiratory System

An efficient and healthy respiratory system helps create vitality in the body and mind. Lethargy is removed and the body also feels light and free. Gentle pranayamas described here will help flush out the respiratory system.

Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind

Having a clean digestive system and an efficiently flushed respiratory system helps clean out the mind. In this post readers are lead to specific, detailed practices to reset the mind.

Happy Spring!

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Historically, there is a long religious tradition of periodic reduction of calorie intake. In yoga many practices require a reduction of calories, avoidance of certain foods, or fasting. Research studies on calorie reduction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF) suggest that there are numerous benefits to these traditions, particularly in reducing oxidative damage and aging of the brain.

However, readers must be cautioned that before undertaking anything it is imperative to seek professional medical advice. The studies indicate promise in animals but sufficient data has not been compiled for humans.

  • What is a fast? 

Growing up in India, fasting was something almost all adults did. The word has different meanings and people made their own variations. The Hindu fast allows tea, coffee, milk, or juice once or twice a day. Some fruit maybe fine perhaps as a meal, or tapioca, or potatoes. Some do a salt-free, grain-free fast. A dinner is permissible. And some fast on Mondays, some Tuesdays, some Saturdays. There is the Muslim Ramadan when no food or water is allowed from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. The Jain fast permits no food for about 36 hours, nothing but water. Those who cannot do that, especially during the eight days of Paryushan, may eat just one simple meal, usually lunch, and only water is allowed during the day–no fruit, tea, coffee, milk, juice. During Lent, many give up a favorite food item and on Fridays they may not eat meat.

  • What is calorie restriction?

Calorie restriction is defined as undernutrition without malnutrition. In experimental studies, this means reducing animal diets by a certain percent of calories as compared to ad libitum but keeping the diet approximately unchanged in total protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Source: Nutritional Modulation of Aging: Effect of Caloric Restriction

Some studies state calorie restriction to be a reduction of 25 to 30 percent.

  • What is intermittent fasting?

Generally, this means fasting for 24 hours–water and low-calorie fluids are allowed–followed by normal eating for the next 24 hours. This is alternate day fasting. There are some suggestions that this type of fasting has the same effect as calorie restriction.

  • Nongenetic Calorie Restriction Increases Lifespan

Age-related accumulation of cellular damage and death has been linked to oxidative stress. Calorie restriction (CR) is the most robust, nongenetic intervention that increases lifespan and reduces the rate of aging in a variety of species. Mechanisms responsible for the antiaging effects of CR remain uncertain, but reduction of oxidative stress within mitochondria remains a major focus of research.

Source: Caloric restriction induces mitochondrial biogenesis and bioenergetic efficiency 

  • Calorie Reduction Effect on Blood Pressure, Stroke, and Insulin

Intermittent fasting Intermittent fasting (IF; reduced meal frequency) and caloric restriction (CR) extend lifespan and increase resistance to age-related diseases in rodents and monkeys and improve the health of overweight humans. Both IF and CR enhance cardiovascular and brain functions and improve several risk factors for coronary artery disease and stroke including a reduction in blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity.

Source: Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems

  • Life-span and health-span extension by caloric restriction and intermittent fasting

Health-span is the time of our lives that are free of disease. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting “are the most effective way of extending the life-span of mammals without genetically altering them.” They also indicate beneficial health effects.

Source: Life-span and health-span extension by caloric restriction and intermittent fasting

  • Caution

The above source, a National Institute of Health study, also makes it clear that this is a complex subject with no clear answers–there is still much to learn about aging. The article states that to date, there are no well-controlled studies to determine the long-term effects of CR and IF on humans. A 30 percent calorie reduction in rhesus monkeys, so far, looks promising.

The most beneficial effects of IF and CR that have been noted have been in overweight or obese animals. Results are unclear for animals with a healthy weight who exercise and also have some form of mental stimulation.

Females in particular must be cautious of excessive loss of body fat which can lead to menstrual irregularities, amenorrhea (absence of periods), bone thinning, and osteoporosis.

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The aching yearning for Spring makes the birdsong sweetly joyful. It seems like the world rejoices in the song of life with the holy week for billions–Passover, Easter, Holi.

The same sun shines over all life without distinction
The water flows with no attempt at prejudice
The earth holds us all without labels
The tree gives fruit and shade without judgement
The breath flows from one to another giving life to all
The sky covers us with the umbrella of infinite space
Rich or poor, dark or light, man or woman
No East, West, North, or South
Seeing no country or religion
Just Being
Why let the mind divide what Nature does not

Happy Holidays and Spring to all!

Here is Richard Blanco‘s gift to all in his inaugural poem “One Today” (January 2013) copied here from NPR:

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, 
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces 
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth 
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. 
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story 
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, 
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: 
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, 
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows 
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, 
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did 
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through, 

the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: 
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, 
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain 
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent 
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light 
breathing color into stained glass windows, 
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth 
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2 
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk 
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat 
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills 
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands 
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands 
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane 
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains 
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it 
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs, 
buses launching down avenues, the symphony 
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, 
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno


namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed 
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked 
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands: 
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report 
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3 
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait, 
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower 
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes 
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather 
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love 
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother 
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father 
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight 
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, 
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon 
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop 
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars 
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it, 
waiting for us to name it—together

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Adaptation to seasons, external circumstances, as well as situations is integral to yoga philosophy. As the season changes, this post is a reminder to begin the adaptation phase. Holidays become markers to remind us to clean our house–homes, bodies, minds. Here are some suggestions to start the process.

Shatkarma: These are cleansing kriyas or practices. See the blog post Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System (March 20, 2011). Cleaning the digestive system can be gentle or moderate through varied detoxification methods.  From partial fasts, to high-fiber diets, to shankhprakshalan, there are many ways.

Asana: A gradual switch to more active routines from the relatively passive summer asanas is now appropriate. Active routines counter the slowing winter metabolism and help keep the body warmer.  As the digestive system becomes more sluggish, a practice of surya namaskar/sun salutations can invigorate and improve the digestive process by toning and stimulating peristalsis.

Pranayama: The cooling summer breaths of sitali and sitakari give way to kapalbhati and bhastrika. The active breaths gently pump the belly and stimulate the heat-generating manipura chakra. The abdominal organs get a work-out. The respiratory system is flushed and strengthened.

Meditation: These practices remain steady. A greater inner focus begins.

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Once the foundation is laid and the body prepared with the practices listed in the previous two posts, the next step is balanced breathing where the breath is comfortably paced. This breath is also called equal inhalation and exhalation and samavritti pranayama. It calms the mind, making it quiet. The breath will gradually become deeper and longer.

The exercise begins by relaxing the body and making it still. Then the attention is drawn to the belly. The breath is observed as an inhalation and exhalation. The inhalation and exhalation are measured by counting 1, 2, 3, etc. from the start to end of inhalation and then the exhalation. Or if it is easier, count how long it takes for the belly to softly rise with the inhaled breath and fall with the exhaled breath. The two are then made even or equal–for instance it could be three seconds to inhale and three seconds to exhale. So there is a gentle and active control. (Kapalbhati and bhastrika are intentionally not given here as I do think that people need direct guidance from an experienced teacher to determine if it is suitable for them, and if so at what pace and rate. A teacher must also observe these two breaths to make sure the breathing is done correctly, that there is no hyperventilation and elevated blood pressure.)

All these steps help make the mind still and focused to prepare it for meditation.

Here is a free audio track for balanced, paced breathing (requires no iTunes or MP3) from Mahasri Yoga that anyone with Internet service can easily access:

Samavritti Pranayama

Samavritti means equal or uniform movement. In this breathing the flows of inhaled and exhaled breaths are of equal duration and intensity. The breathing is paced, but it is paced to your own comfort and not to a given count–usually four to six seconds. As the breath is observed with uninterrupted awareness over an extended period of time, the inhalation and exhalation spontaneously become equal. The breathing pattern becomes more rhythmic and this has a calming effect on the body and mind. This is an important step in pranayamaSamavritti pranayama is soothing and creates a feeling of equanimity. As you get more comfortable with it, you can add one more second to each inhalation and exhalation to slowly make the breath longer and deeper, gently increasing the lung capacity. Never go beyond your comfort level–there should be no shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, any discomfort. Notice the changes in your body and the mind as they change with the rhythmic, balanced breathing. Breath retention should be done under expert guidance after the initial stages are completed and is not included here.

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It is that time of the year again! With the emergence of crocuses and daffodils in the West, life renews itself from the dormancy of winter (tamas in yoga and kapha in ayurveda). The joyful colors of Spring abound everywhere as seen in this painted haveli (old-style mansion) from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

We are coming up to the Spring Equinox–equal day and night. It is the time of perfect balance in nature and the rhythms of our own bodies. The inner rhythmic balance is a joyful state.

With Spring we balance the inner and outer lives as we observe the projection of our inner consciousness (inner space) reflected in our daily lives (outer space). All major religious traditions celebrate with holidays at this time of the year. We are reminded to connect with the essence of who we are–spiritual beings undergoing the human experience.

It is the perfect time for several rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskar) for balance in the body and mind. Many have been able to achieve hormonal balance through the practice of sun salutations.  See the blog posts on surya namaskar and Q&A: How To Practice Surya Namaskar.

Full yogic breath or diaphragm breathing is a gentle and effective way to detoxify and clean the respiratory system and flush out lungs. Bumble bee or buzzing bee breath (bhramari) is another gentle method to detoxify and increase lung/breathing capacity. Skull shining (kapalbhati) and bellows breath (bhastrika) can be helpful for seasonal allergies along with neti. They can be help strengthen the respiratory and circulatory systems and are stronger methods for lung detoxification. Balanced breath (sama vritti) and alternate nostril breath (nadi shodhan) are perfect balancing breaths. Adding the mantra so ham or aum can make the pranayama a more meditative practice.

Chaitra Navaratri is the nine-day Spring festival (March 23 to April 1, 2012), particularly important in many states in northern India. The first three days are devoted to the removal of darkness of tamas (physical and mental inertia and negative qualities) through the worship of Durga. She is the fierce goddess who resolutely destroys the negative aspects. The destruction of undesirable clutter makes space for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. She brings in the wealth that is linked with the cultivation of positive qualities–material and spiritual wealth. She depicts rajas  (activity and movement). Lakshmi is worshiped for the next three days. This prepares the aspirant for the next stage which is the light of wisdom. Wisdom is personified by the goddess Saraswati. She is worshiped for the next three days. At this stage in meditation, divine sounds such as the lute are heard in the inner space. Aum is experienced within. Saraswati is sattwa  (absolute purity).

Our previous posts on spring cleaning also give information regarding Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Mind, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Digestive System, Yoga Spring Cleaning: The Respiratory System.

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There is a change in the air with cooler temperatures as we anticipate Fall. It is time to begin thinking about Fall clean-up of the mind and body. Fall planting will be here soon. We are gathering seeds to sow peace.

We begin with this beautiful clip of universal appeal, The Principle of Emptiness. The seed text is written by Joseph Newton, the stunning photography is by Gregory Colbert, and the exquisite music is that of Coeurs D’or Clayderman. It is a lovely meditation on peace.

How do we sow this seed? Prepare the soil by doing a breathing practice. Then watch the video clip with the music. Let the seed of message plant itself and take root.

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According to a recent report regarding colon cleanse on CNN, colon cleanse is not recommended by Dr. Michael Picco (consultant gastroenterologist) of Mayo Clinic or Dr. Ranit Mishori  (family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine). In a report released this week in the Journal of Family Practice, Dr. Mishori and her colleagues examined 20 studies published in medical literature over the last 10 years and found that there are no benefits associated with colon cleansing.

Colon cleanse products sold in health food stores and pharmacies are not necessarily tested and approved by any agency. They are often marketed and used for weight loss.  The study makes valid points about injury, nausea, bloating, cramps, kidney failures, and perforations due to inserting things in the body. The studies need to be taken seriously.

Colon cleanse is one of the shat karma kriyas (cleansing practices) of hatha yoga. In traditional yoga, it is not done for weight loss. Everyone is not a candidate for colon cleansing, and certainly not all forms of colon cleansing. Qualified supervision is recommended for those who wish to do this practice. Some people will have a tendency to overdo things. Like asanas and pranayamas, a selection of what is appropriate is the key as everything is not meant to be used by everyone.

It is important to make the point that like in any other field, there is a wide range of yoga teachers. Whereas some are dedicated and knowledgeable,  many are not. Their knowledge may not, and does not have to, extend to every aspect of yoga. Unless a teacher has experience teaching colon cleansing for many years (I personally know of only one in North America and it is not me), be wary. Often teachers find it hard to say they do not know something and will just look up the procedure in a book. You do not want that. We need to be objective and honest about the positives as well as the negatives in the business of yoga and meditation.

Like everything else, common sense and good judgment should be used. A writer-producer for CNN Showbiz,  Lisa Respers France, has done colon cleansing for years and says it “really makes her feel better.”

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This is what Mary had to say regarding the blog post Spring Cleaning:Clearing Space for Light. It seems worth pointing out.

“Thank you for these reflections. They seem so necessary to balance our frenetic lives and all the multiple distractions that tempt us away from our deep center.

A nice thing about aging is that the task of life at this time is divestiture, a form of major spring cleaning. So this blog is a gentle reminder of our task.”

Yoga meditation provides a system for this task of divestiture that many of you will know as non-attachment/aparigraha. But for many others, divestiture will pack a bigger punch of meaning.

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