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 

10 Reasons why we need at least 8 hugs a day

I am certainly not one of those people who would necessarily relish being hugged, unexpectedly, by a complete stranger or upon meeting someone for the first time, but I do love hugging (and being hugged by) those who I am comfortable with, especially my children. I also know a number of folk who harbour an active dislike of unsolicited hugging – including one friend in particular who has a thing about ears – and so I am not by any means endorsing the idea of abandoned hugging in general. That said, I found this article by Marcus Julian Felicetti very lovely, and thought it would be nice to share to encourage those of us who do hug, to do it more often, and for those who don’t, to consider all the benefits of the simple act (and for those of you thinking of attending a yoga class at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch, fear not: unlike Marcus, I am not known to hug my students, unless they very specifically request me to do so!).

Hugging therapy has been proven to be a powerful way of healing. Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress, and it is said that a proper deep hug, where the hearts are pressing together, can benefit you in the following ways:

1. The nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. This helps with open and honest communication.

2. Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.

3. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.

4. Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.

5. Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

6. Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.

7. Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system – parasympathetic.

8. Hugs teach us how to give and receive. There is equal value in receiving and being receptive to warmth, as to giving and sharing. Hugs educate us how love flows both ways.

9. Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs get you out of your circular thinking patterns and connect you with your heart and your feelings and your breath.

10. The energy exchange between the people hugging is an investment in the relationship. It encourages empathy and understanding. And, it’s synergistic, which means the whole is more than the sum of its parts: 1+1 = 3 or more! This synergy is more likely to result in win-win outcomes.

There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Eight or more might seem quite high, but while researching and writing this article I asked my child, “How many hugs a day do you like?” She said, “I’m not going to tell you how many I like, but it’s way more than eight.” That really made me smile and touched my heart. And, I realized how organic and deep the need for hugs is.

As a loving father, I get plenty of hugs from my little princess and her Mamma. And as a yoga therapist, I often give and receive them from my students at the end of a session. I find that love, is a miracle drug.

Published August 10, 2012 at 11:52 AM

About Marcus Julian Felicetti

Marcus became a yoga teacher soon after discovering yoga at University. His classes are fun, passionate and often intense. They offer students the chance to go deep within and connect with their breath and release their emotions. Marcus communicates his love of yoga through guiding each student with insight and compassion, weaving ancient wisdom with simplicity and an emphasis on the student’s experience. His primary objective is to teach a system of yoga that fully integrates the body, mind and spirit, and channels that energy to its highest potential and purpose. Marcus continues to grow his own yoga practice everyday while remaining passionate about helping others connect to theirs. He teaches private one-on-one yoga in Sydney. His business Bodhi Yoga provides quality corporate yoga classes to companies in Sydney. Website: bodhiyoga.net.au

Why Meditate? (Who would have thought getting jiggy would have something to do with it?!)

Why Meditate?

The Band asked me this question in recent times (although he already has a healthy meditation practice underway, started during our years in California and which has carried him through many trying times since then). Even though I feel that I can reel off a bunch of reasons without giving it too much thought, I felt that it may be enlightening to do some actual research on what is being said nowadays about this age-old practice.

Anyone who knows anything about meditation knows about how it can benefit your health, concentration, stress levels etc. etc. but what I found quite interesting whilst doing a bit of Google-ing this past weekend is how much scope it’s getting from a sexual point of view! Seems that this is something that, in our stressful days, people are getting more and more wound up about.

This information is predominantly taken from a website called http://www.bermansexualhealth.com/, and is quoted specifically from Dr. Jennifer Berman, author, educator and urological surgeon, who is the medical director of Bermans female sexual function site.

Their vision and mission are to present timely, accurate, useful education and information in the areas of male and female sexual function, prostate health, gynaecological issues, male and female incontinence and male fertility to empower the visitor with information. They do not diagnose nor prescribe but pride themselves on making every effort to inform and educate, providing powerful tools for empowering those who visit their sites. All their information is written by or reviewed by clearly identified medical and health care professionals, generally with links to information about the author.

So, not a bunch of new-age hippie-types, all chanting in tune and floating about in tie-dyed, diaphanous kaftans!  So, here I hand over to Dr. Berman:

“If you had asked me 5 years ago whether I thought that meditation was an integral component of health and wellness, I probably would have shrugged and perhaps even chuckled. Well, since then, I have learned that meditation; in particular it’s effect on stress reduction, is an integral part of health wellness and sexuality and should be incorporated into everyone’s daily routine.

Easier said than done you may say. Take it from me, a Type A, multi-tasking do-it-all woman who can’t sit still for 5 minutes, much less try to clear my mind and to still for 20 minutes.

I am going to convince you about the importance of incorporating meditation into your life and daily routine and give you some simple techniques as well as recommendations. I want to hear back from you after 6 weeks of doing this and hear your thoughts and experience. I guarantee you, and I say guarantee with all sincerity, you will see changes including improvements in mood, sleep, patience, concentration, energy as well as your libido.

Though meditation is usually recognized as a largely spiritual practice, it has many health benefits. You would be surprised how meditation techniques are not only being implemented into general medical health care but also in managing serious medical conditions and chronic diseases. Research studies have demonstrated that practicing meditation can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and has eliminated the need for medications in various chronic inflammatory conditions of the skin, irritable bowel, lupus as well as arthritis. It has also proven effective in managing symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults. The bottom line is, in my mind, it has a direct effect on stress reduction, which in turn decreases inflammation.

Everything bad that happens to us in life, health wise, is related to inflammation. Alzheimer’s disease is inflammation of nerve cells in the brain; Multiple sclerosis is inflammation of the peripheral nerves in our body, cardiovascular disease is inflammation of the small vessels of the heart, cancer is basically inflammation gone out of control. Believe it or not, depression is associated with high levels of inflammation, which generally correlate with high levels of stress. When there is inflammation in your body, cells either die at an increasing rate or burst and release more inflammatory mediators called oxygen free radicals. Meditation actually decreases inflammation levels in your body, which is one of the mechanisms by which it has healing effects on your body and mind.

Additionally, during meditation the brain waves actually change from the active alpha waves to the calming theta waves. Theta waves are associated with a feeling of calm as well as increased GABA secretion, which is a neuropeptite that causes feelings of relaxation. I’ve listed below some of the main effects of meditation that have been documented in the medical literature.

It lowers oxygen consumption and decreases oxygen free radicals

Decreases cortisol, the stress hormone

It increases blood flow to the brain and increase brain chemicals such as GABA, Dopamine and Seratonin

Increases exercise tolerance and sugar metabolism

Helps with symptoms of PMS and PMDD

Lowers blood pressure and brings high blood to normal.

Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and ephingrine the fight or flight hormones

Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.

Increases your immune system and alleviates symptoms of allergies by decreasing inflammation

Improves wound healing following surgery

Effects of Stress on our Bodies

Normally, any life threatening situation triggers off the STRESS RESPONSE. In everyday life, any number of events can be triggers for stress, including work, children, our relationships, finances, family members, and many more. The stress response is designed to enable a person to act quickly and survive intense, short-term challenges, which require less brains and fast reflexes. This survival response is well suited if we are in a life threatening situation, however the same response is triggered in traffic jams, work related irritations, family squabbles and many such situations-.which results in our body preparing for a life-death situation. And then as these situations don’t come to an end, with a single confrontation, we remain in a perpetual state of stress. As such, our cortisol levels rise, which effects sugar metabolism and we gain weight. Our epinephrine and norepinephrine the fight or flight hormones, remain elevated and we become anxious and depressed and lose our interest in sex.

During stress, the heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. The blood flow is diverted from the internal organs to the muscles as well as the areas of the brain that control muscle coordination. As a result, the rain releases chemicals that help the body cope better with injuries, including those that block pain and help the blood clot faster and less of the feel good chemicals such as GABA dopamine and serotonin. All these symptoms lead to the feeling of being run down, tired, moody and basically stressed.

While meditation is not a magic bullet or quick fix, it is probably one of the most effective means for reducing if not eliminating stress in your life as well as the harmful effects that stress has on your body (not to mention your sex life). Meditation comes to the rescue in such a situation and induces ‘RELAXATION RESPONSE’. Meditation has a counter-balancing effect on the fight-or-flight response in most stress-inducing situations. Relaxation is achieved by countering the stress related activation in your brain. Meditation actual activates areas of the brain responsible for relaxation.

Unlike some medications, meditation has no potential side effects. People with physical limitations may find it easier to practice than strenuous physical exercise for stress relief, plus, no special equipment is required. Unlike enlisting the help of a professional, meditation is free. However, it does take discipline and commitment, so some people may find it more difficult to maintain as a habit than methods that enlist the help of someone or something outside themselves for added motivation. Also, some people may find it more difficult to free their minds of the thoughts of the day, and thus find it more difficult than methods like journaling that involve focusing on these events.

I hope that this has given you a brief insight as to the importance and health benefits of meditation. I urge all of you to start today, and as I mentioned earlier I want to hear back from you in 3-6 weeks. If you attempt to mediate daily, I GUARANTEE you will begin to notice dramatic differences in your life. I am speaking to you here professional as well as from my own personal experience. And as with anything good, it doesn’t come easy and does require time and effort in the beginning as well as commitment to make a change and improve your life, sexuality and health.”

So, that’s Dr. Berman’s take on meditation. Pretty convincing, no?! Seems like one of those wonderful situations where there’s nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.