Mantras vs Affirmation

The question came up in a workshop I taught yesterday: “what is the difference between an affirmation and a mantra?” and whilst I could give my own interpretation of how they differ, it prompted me to go and do some further reading so that next time I am asked the same question, I’ll be able to give a more concise answer. Read on for more on this topic.

Mantras and positive affirmations are two unique ways to cultivate self-care and nourish our mind.

In the Eastern world, it is believed that words – whether thought or stated out loud – can affect our physical vibration and over time impact our perception or circumstances in a positive way. The approach – which has been used in Buddhism for thousands of years – is to repeat “mantras” in accordance with meditation.

Mantras are words, sounds, or invocations either in Sanskrit or any other language, that aid the individual in focusing concentration and deepening meditation while also uniting him or her with a higher power. Mantras are associated with mysticism and spirituality and aim to liberate the mind from thought in order to facilitate inner peace.

Examples of mantras include single words such as “Om” or “Shanti” or Sanskrit phrases such as “Om Namah Shivaya” which can be interpreted as bowing to our true highest selves.

shanti

On the other hand, a positive affirmation is a term often used interchangeably with mantras; however, the two have vastly different origins and applications. Positive affirmations were developed in the 1970’s by neuroscientists, incorporating a modern understanding of psychotherapy and linguistics in order to consciously rewire thought patterns towards more desired outcomes. Affirmations can be stated anytime and tend to be complete sentences addressing something we wish to have or be as if we already have it in the present moment.

Examples of positive affirmations include phrases such as “I am whole and perfect the way I am,” “I am overflowing with abundance,” or “I am radiating with love and compassion.”

affirmation

While you’re likely to hear anecdotal evidence on whether one or both of these methods are effective at creating the positive results we seek, it is interesting to note that some research has been done in the realm of both mantras and affirmations, most notably indicating that results vary depending on the individual and how much he or she actually believes them and what resonates.

When they are effective, both mantras and positive affirmations can help with problem solving, reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions, improve relationships, create inner clarity and increase confidence.

It’s true these methods work better for some than others – we are all unique and should honour what feels most nourishing on an individual level. I would encourage you to give both mantras and affirmations a try and see if they impact how you feel or approach your daily life. If they help you feel better in some way then keep practicing. If they don’t and you feel like a fool muttering to yourself and don’t find any benefits from the practice, stop. It’s great to try out all different kinds of tools and eventually you should find something that really sits well with you. Happy exploring!

Source:

Don’t Ask Me About Mudras…

Victoria Mudra.jpg
… because I have a complex relationship with them.
I’ve had a number of questions about the subject of mudras, and as it’s not something I use a huge amount in my teachings or my personal practice, I’ve been doing a bit of reading up about it. The reason I don’t use mudras beyond the basics (one or two that you will all recognise, like anjali or gyan – see below for definitions) is because I don’t know enough about them to teach them with confidence or authenticity. And what I do know about them, I’m not 100% convinced that they resonate with me. I recently wrote a post on my scepticism about hand gestures and how they could possibly accelerate my rather stop-start path to enlightment (my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write that).
Before I leave you to read on (and I quote directly from Isha Sadghuru), let me end with this: I believe firmly and wholeheartedly in the power of intention, focused awareness and directing energy in a certain direction. About energy following attention. So my take home from what I’ve read about mudras is about the potential benefits any focused energy and mindfulness can bring to our practice. It is with genuine humbleness that I say I obviously have a lot more to learn about this area and I look forward to the journey, because I still need a whole lot of convincing before I can genuinely warn people not to practice a certain hand gesture on a hot day because of the potentially catastrophic consequences it may bring about, for example. I can’t teach something I’m not convinced about, so let’s see where it takes me / us moving forward.
Your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
Over now to Isha Sadghuru – a remarkable mountain mystic and teacher who has devoted his life to the study of how our human hands can transform our lives:
The word mudra literally means “a seal.” It is a certain position of the hand. Mudras are a subtle science of arranging your body in a certain way. The thinking is that the way your systems functions can be altered just by changing the positions of your palm. This is a whole subject by itself which essentially involves the geometry and the circuitry of the body, and its postulated that by holding a certain mudra, the energies tend to move in a particular way; that there are systems where you can regulate your breath in a certain way, with certain counts and proportions, and that by doing this, you can pinpoint your energy to any cell in the body if you want.

Mudras

Mudras are easy to perform anytime, although sitting in the lotus position and focusing on the healing can be an advantage. Although mudras can be used for healing certain ailments, regular practise of mudras will contribute to your overall good health and can be used as a preventive measure. Continuous practice of the mudras will create minute changes in your body using pulse centres on parts of your hands, which trigger certain healing processes within the corresponding body part.

Hasta Mudra (Hand Mudra)

The physical body is made up of five elements namely, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Sky. A mudra is a gesture or positioning of the hands intended to direct energy flow and to connect parts of the body to the brain as life force energy flows through the body. Certain yoga mudras are believed to instigate particular energy flows and stimulate different emotions, spiritual reactions and reactions in the body. By pressing together, curling, touching or pointing different fingers or parts of the hands in different ways, you can stimulate reflexes from the hand to the brain.

Mudra Therapy: Hand Alignments for Holistic Health

Believe it or not, your health is in your hands! Our hands are particularly blessed with virtues of wellness. The four fingers and the thumb represent the five major building blocks or the ‘Panchamahabhootas’ of which the entire universe is made viz. Sky (Ether), Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

According to natural sciences, disease is nothing but a limitation that emerges in the continuity and balance of these five elements.

Philosophy of Mudra Therapy

The natural sciences of Mudra therapy believe that the five fingers correspond to the five basic elements viz. Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

  • Thumb – The fire (Agni)
  • Index finger – The air (Vayu)
  • Middle finger – The ether (Aakasha)
  • Ring finger – The earth (Prithvi)
  • Small finger – The water (Jala)

In order to bring back the balance in the five elements, there are some specific methods of touching and aligning the fingers with each other. These are referred to as ‘Hast-Mudras’ and this easy and doable therapy may be practiced anytime as an augmented relief from your malady as well as a handy tool for restoring your wellness.

Type of Mudras

The 10 important Hand Mudras are explained below:

1. Gyan Mudra or the Mudra of Knowledge

Touch the tip of the thumb and the tip of the index or 1st finger together. The other 3 fingers have to be kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. It helps in meditation and concentration and reduces negativity of the mind
  2. It improves memory and with regular practice students can improve grades and intelligence
  3. It aids in alleviating headache, insomnia and hypertension and reduces anger

2. Vayu Mudra or Mudra of Air

In this Mudra, the tip of the index or 1st finger is touched to the base of the thumb and the thumb comes over the finger with a slight pressure of the thumb being exerted. Rest of the fingers remain straight.

Benefits

By the practice of this mudra, all vayu ,that is, air related affections, like Arthritis, Gout, Sciatica, Knee pain, and Gas are relieved. It especially benefits in neck pain and spinal pain.

3. Shoonya Mudra or The Mudra of Emptiness

The tip of the middle finger is put at the base of the thumb and the thumb comes over the finger with slight pressure of the thumb being exerted on the finger. The other 3 fingers are kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. Regular practice of this Mudra helps in reducing ear pain and watering of the ears
  2. If this Mudra is done for 1 hour daily it can benefit in hardness of hearing
  3. The bones become strong and is beneficial in heart disease
  4. It strengthens gums and is helpful in throat problems and thyroid disease

4. Prithvi Mudra or the Mudra of Earth

In this Mudra, the tips of the thumb and the ring finger are touched together. The other fingers are kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. Regular practice of this Mudra is helpful in body weakness, thinness and also obesity
  2. It improves the functioning of the digestive system and reduces the deficiency of vitamins
  3. It gives energy and lustre to the body

5. Prana Mudra or the Mudra of Life

In this Mudra the tips of the thumb, ring finger and the little finger are touched together while keeping the other 2 fingers straight.

Benefits:

  1. It awakens the dormant power of prana, gives energy, health. It is beneficial in diseases of the eye and improves eyesight, raises body resistance to disease, reduces deficiency of vitamins, removes tiredness
  2. During fasting it reduces hunger pangs and thirst
  3. In insomnia, doing this hand posture, along with Gyan Mudra, helps in bringing on sleep

6. Apan Mudra or the Mudra of Digestion

This mudra is made by joining the tips of the thumb, the middle finger and the ring finger keeping the other fingers straight.

Benefits:

  1. Toxins are removed from the body and the body becomes pure. It also relieves constipation, piles, diseases caused by vayu or air, is helpful in diabetes, stoppage of urine, kidney defects and dental problems
  2. It is beneficial in stomach and heart diseases and brings out perspiration

7. Apan Vayu Mudra or the Mudra of Heart.

This Mudra is a combination of Vayu Mudra and Apan Mudra. The tips of the thumbs, the middle finger and the ring finger touch each other while the index finger touches the base of the thumb with a slight pressure. The little finger remains straight.

Benefits:

It gives the benefit of Apan Mudra and Vayu Mudra as explained earlier.

  1. It is helpful in Heart and Vayu diseases and gives health. People with a weak heart should do it daily. It is very beneficial for people who have suffered a heart attack in the recent past
  2. It removes gas from the stomach, aids in asthma, headache and high blood pressure
  3. If it is performed 5 to 7 minutes before climbing stairs, it aids in easy climbing

8. Surya Mudra or Mudra of the Sun

This Mudra is performed by touching the tip of the ring finger to the base of the thumb and exerting pressure on the finger with the thumb.

Benefits:

  1. It balances the body, reduces body weight and obesity. It increases body heat and helps in digestion
  2. It reduces hypertension and cholesterol and builds strength
  3. It is beneficial in diabetes and liver defects

Precautions:

Weak persons should not perform this hand posture and DO NOT do this hand posture for a long time in hot weather.

9. Varun Mudra or Mudra of Water

This Mudra is made by touching the tips of the thumb and the little finger.

Benefits:

  1. It reduces dryness of the skin and improves skin lustre and softness
  2. It is useful in skin diseases, acne and blood defects. It improves facial beauty

Precautions:

Persons suffering from Asthma and respiratory problems should do this Mudra for a short duration only.

10. Ling Mudra or the Mudra of Heat

Clasp all fingers of both hands together keeping your right thumb erect. Put a little pressure and sit relaxed. Practice it for 20-30 minutes every day.

Benefits:

  1. This mudra increases heat in the body and can cause sweating even in winter if done for a long time
  2. It helps in cold, coryza, asthma, cough, sinus problems and low blood pressure
  3. It dries phlegm

Precautions:

When doing this Mudra please increase intake of water, fruit, fruit juices, clarified butter (Ghee) and milk.

 

Note: I would like to add Anjali mudra which is the one we all know and love – hands to heart or ‘namaste’ – read more here.

Source:Yoga JournalInternational Day of Yoga Isha Sadghuru

Image: Riverside Studio manager Victoria Albreksen as captured by Idla Photography 

Journaling, Self-study & How They Helped Me Break The Chains of Addiction

  My children, dog and husband don’t often listen to my suggestions, so I am delighted to hear that some of the yogis that joined yesterday’s chakra realignment class have started journaling! Not just because it’s quite a novel and pleasant feeling to have someone pay attention but because it indicates a willingness on your part to take this journey of self discovery to a deeper level. 

As I mentioned, you will get wonderful benefits from simply attending the classes or starting a home practice of chakra balancing, as my beautiful friend and co-teacher Victoria suggests over on her blog. However by journaling, you are consciously investing yourself more in the process of svadhyaya, or self study: the fourth niyama in the 8 limbs of yoga

In Sanskrit, sva means “self’ and adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies. I should know about this one: as someone in long term recovery from substance abuse, I am wired to sniff out dangerous territory. More about that later. 

The better we know ourselves, the better we are able to choose circumstances that are most harmonious and productive for us, including lifestyle, social interactions, ways of learning and growing. Ultimately, this allows us to not only experience more joy but also to find ways of contributing to the world that fit our disposition and therefore are more powerful and beneficial to all.

In addition, greater self-knowledge also helps us be more aware of our “less-than-ideal” patterns, whether part of our inherent nature or from past conditioning. The more aware we are of our challenges and issues, the more mindful we can be when they arise, allowing us to guide them in healthful directions rather than falling into unconscious patterns, such as fear and anger, which tend to prevent us from thinking clearly. 

Here’s a personal story: svadhyaya (and professional help, ultimately) helped me to recognise a very dangerous pattern of self-medicating with alcohol when I found that I was feeling unsafe emotionally. It was a coping mechanism that had gone haywire – serving me (to a point) when I was a teenager, struggling to come to terms with being raped, refusing to go to therapy and unable to make sense of anything in my world. 

What started as a desperate clutching at anything to numb the pain ended up as a full-blown addiction. That’s a story for another day, but the practice of yoga and svadhyaya shone a light on all these patterns and is one of the main reasons I am where I am today, free from the terrifying chains of addiction.

Understood this way, what might at first seem a “self-centered” practice, ultimately becomes a bridge, not only to ourselves but also to others – that is, through greater awareness of our own issues, we can reduce the likelihood of falling into them during our interactions while also increasing our compassion, realizing even those who have very different issues are at heart wrestling with the same basic challenging process of self-awareness. 

At this point, you are probably noticing many parallels between self-study and therapy, and there are many. However, there are a few significant aspects which set them apart. 

I will be exploring these in my next post, so for now would love to hear any comments on how you are finding this process of self-study, any comments or thoughts. 

Benefits of Balanced Chakras 


What are the benefits of balanced chakras?

First of all you just feel good. You feel balanced, relaxed, whole and healthy. You feel everything in your life is going well for you. All or most of your projects are flowing the way you like.
Tomorrow 8am is the first session of the 5 week chakra balancing course that I am offering. See flyer for more details. Remember to book.

Here are some more answers to frequently asked questions:

How do you know if your chakras are out of balance?

If you are out of balance, you will know it immediately! Your clues will be that you feel awful, depressed, or even that something is not right. What makes it sad is that most people don’t know why they feel this way. It can start with an empty feeling, sometimes it start in the heart or the stomach and if the “emptiness” is not addressed, the “emptiness” spreads throughout the body. There may be days you feel like you can’t get out of bed. After a long time of not knowing what it is, in some cases, health illness can develop.

What is going on?

You may be voicing your concerns to anyone who is willing to listen to you, your body, your biggest advocate has probably has been telling you for a long time what is not right. Most people don’t pick up on their own clues. In fact, most people ignore what their bodies are telling them. By continuing to ignore your body, your body decides to catch your attention by developing health issues. In many of cases, health issues start in the gastrointestinal, respiratory or in the jaw. Now the discomfort forces you to stop and look for help! You thoughts may turn to calling your doctor, a specialist or even a holistic practitioner.

What’s happening to your chakras?

They are getting blocked with negative energies! How does the blockage begin? It usually starts with how aware you are of your life style. Are you living a balanced life? Are you stressed out of your mind? Are you over-scheduled? Do you take time to breathe? What do you do you do for yourself? Are your worries overwhelming you?

Blocked Chakras – When a chakra becomes blocked, damaged, or muddied with residual energy, then our physical and emotional health is usually affected. Another way to know when your chakras are blocked, your mood announces your energy level. Are you in a bad mood often? Are the people closes to you now hiding from you or not returning your calls?

What does a balanced chakra feel like?

Calm, peaceful, less or no anxiety and balanced. Chances are good that you can handle stressful situations pretty well. If your energy is positive, the energy will flow evenly from the top of your head to your feet with ease.

Who can achieve balanced chakras? Everyone with practice, awareness and education.

How Do We Open Chakras?

If our chakras are opened and moving, energy runs from the top or our heads to our sacral chakra and up again (in a circle). If one of the chakras becomes blocked, this energy cannot move through it and all other chakras become affected and deprived. In time, with lack of energy, the chakra becomes weaker and eventually illness and disease can set in. When we start to feel “off,” the first thing we must do is to check in with ourselves and feel our body. We must start to be conscious of how we feel and what our body is saying to us. Time on your yoga mat is one of the best ways to listen.

For original article, click here.

Chakra Balancing Series

You’re invited: A 5 Week Class Series to Balance The Chakras

Yoga With Nicci Chakra Series

Starting on Saturday 7th November, I will be offering a five week series focused on bringing the chakras into alignment.

Classes will be repeated on Monday evenings during my 6pm class slot. They can be attended as stand-alone classes but you will experience maximum benefit from attending all five in sequence.

Regular rates apply unless you book for the series in which case you pay 10% less. Full details on the pic. Excited!

#SpeakOut this 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women

This is a cause that is extremely close to my heart. I am a rape survivor and even though I was one of the lucky ones who had the full support of my family, the opportunity to get counselling if I wanted, excellent medical attention, access to all the necessary information and resources that my heart desired to help me come to terms with what had happened to me – and for years and years genuinely thought that I had got away from the attack with little to no real damage – it’s only now at the age of 40+ that I’m realising how it bruised me to the very core. Body, mind and soul. I was 13 when it happened. And I thought I was so fine that I hardly even knew to make use of all these aforementioned resources to help me get better. So, I feel incredibly passionate about all those women with zero support from their community and family – whose rapists are very often those in their social circles – and who can only dream of getting access to the support that was so readily available to me. I am signed up to get involved with Rape Crisis CT next year and this is just a small way of getting that ball rollling in the meantime. Please show your support of this fantastic cause and the incredible and vital work they do. Read on to find out more…

Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog

Rape is prevalent in the Western Cape and in South Africa but it is also under reported because communities have no faith in a system that lacks the capacity to address their needs and allows rapists to go unpunished.  The resulting culture of impunity drives the number of rape incidents upwards which means that women’s right to live free from violence is compromised.

Rape leads to high levels of psychological trauma and when this goes untreated the social fabric, in other words the bonds between people in a community, which determine how well the community can function, is eroded. The trauma of rape can have physical, psychological and behavioural effects on the rape survivor including injury, pregnancy, HIV or other sexual transmitted infections, shock, depression, nightmares, thoughts of suicide, isolation from other people and feelings of anger, extreme anxiety and shame. Sometimes survivors turn to substance abuse as a way…

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Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll. Kind of.

Okay, not quite. But ‘rape, wine and guitar lessons’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as glibly.

Anyone who takes their interest in yoga beyond the mat and into the texts written on the subject will come across Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which refers to the ‘eightfold path’, also known as ‘ashtanga‘ which literally means ‘eight limbs’ (ashta = eight, anga = limb in Sanskrit). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life: ‘they serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health and help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature’ (I quote shamelessly from Yoga Journal’s http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158).

The limbs make sense to me in a way that a lot of other ‘moral truths’ or ‘rules’ don’t. Not every limb or even every part of every limb resonates entirely with me but as a whole I find them a very helpful guide to living a ‘good’ life.  They work for me on many levels.  The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Stick with me if your eyes are starting to glaze over – I’m getting to the point).

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. Incidentally, I don’t say grace but I do give thanks to all sentient beings who were involved in preparing the food that I am about to consume. It blows my mind every time I do it. 

Breaking it down further: the five yamas are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness) and the five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat/spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of the self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God or a higher being as you know it).

Now svadyaya is where the rape, wine and guitar lessons fit in. Svadhyaya or self-inquiry ‘encompasses all learning, reflection and experience which is said to result in a greater understanding of our own fundamental nature. Self-study is perhaps the most crucial of the niyamas because at some point we must all reconcile to the fact that although higher consciousness is within everyone’s grasp, no guru, priest or other person can do the work for us’. Or, in  my case, no psychologist, marriage therapist, trauma counsellor, friend, parent, sibling or social worker.

I’ve never kept it a secret that I was raped when I was 14. Ten days after my 14th birthday, to be precise, in my own bed, in  my own house with my parents and sister sleeping soundly in their own rooms. It goes without saying that it was a terrifying and traumatic event in my life and affected each and every one of us in all sorts of ways. We all went through our own processes of dealing with it and the fall-0ut that ensued, and as I found myself heading towards my mid-thirties, I remember feeling quite good about how well I’d handled it and assimilated the experience into the rich tapestry of my life. Ha! How I smile fondly at my younger self when I think back on that now. As it turns out, it took me having my own two children and deepening my 20-odd years of precious yoga practice before I really started seeing things the way they actually were, and that what I thought was me finally coming out of the wilderness was actually me just starting to enter a dark and very convoluted path through a very dense forest with lots of scary beasts lurking around every ominous corner.

They say that the teacher appears when the student is ready. I give thanks on a daily basis – (literally, every night when I write in my gratitude journal) – that a kick-butt band of phenomenal teachers appeared at the very moment that my walls truly started crumbling and my eyes started opening to what a catastrophe my emotional life had actually become.

The last number of years have been a massive, massive growth curve for me. With the help of these incredible people and the svadhyaya that I speak of above, I came to see how what had been a coping mechanism for years (drinking wine to make the bad times bearable and the good times better) had gone completely haywire and was starting to badly affect not just me but some of the people closest to me. I came to admit for the first time how utterly horrific, sad, heartbreakingly awful the rape was. How it had affected our whole family. How a mask that I had learnt to put on as a confused and hormonal teenager became a permanent feature that eventually I didn’t even realise that I could take it off if I wanted to. I had no idea how to.

The Yoga Sutra says that as we progress on our path of self-study ‘we develop a connection to the universal Divine laws and the spiritual masters who revealed them. It is not only meant for those dedicated to matters of the spirit however but has great practical meaning for anyone who recognize there is room for improvement in our lives’ – and frankly, who doesn’t! ‘Svadhyaya represents an ongoing process through which we can assess where we are at a given moment. It is like attuning our inner navigator and finding meaningful answers to questions: Where am I now, and where am I going? What is my direction, and what are my aspirations? What are my responsibilities? What are my priorities?’

We often find ourselves on cruise control, acting habitually and being so swept up in the momentum of our daily lives that we don’t take the time to check where we are or where we are headed. It’s  not been painless to stop and take stock of all that I was doing that was entirely automatic and unintentional and downright destructive at times, but it’s been worth it and it can surely only continue to be worth any discomfort or work. I’m told that that uncomfortable space is exactly where transformation happens. The mantras and textual studies offered by the classical tradition function as references from which we can measure where we are. To take the forest analogy a bit further (bear with me, I know it’s tenuous): I am not out of it yet but it’s no longer a tunnel at the end of the light that I see, rather the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s hard to look away from that gorgeous light because it’s finally straight ahead rather than winking at me from around yet another corner. I feel like I’m walking into the light. It’s warm, it’s safe, it’s beautiful and it’s so welcome in my life.

Oh, the guitar lessons (aka rock ‘n roll): in the process of embracing the bruised 14 year old who is and always will be very much a part of me, I’ve dusted off my old guitar and started to take lessons again – after almost 30 years, at the ripe old age of 40. My teacher is an uber-cool musical whizz-kid who is young enough to be my child, but we seem to get on well and share a love for all things jazz and blues so it’s surely a matter of time before I’m carving out a career as a rock chick.

On second thoughts, I’ll stick to teaching yoga.

For more about the eightfold path and to see where a lot of this post stems from, visit http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158.