The term “Relax “gets banded around a lot especially in freediving circles, “just relax, take a deep breath” or “you just need to be more relaxed” now this is valid and all well and good unless you are like my type A personality New Yorker friend who internally screams “I’m trying to f**king relax”. This was interesting to me as she has a lot of physical yoga training yet this didn’t necessarily translate into knowing how to relax.
During our instructor course we highlight to candidates the importance of not just telling people to relax but rather giving them the tools to do so, thankfully there are a lot at our disposal and I want to focus on just one of them The Body Scan.
Chances are if you’re reading this you are either doing so on your phone or else laptop. It’s also likely that it’s during down time for you, when theoretically you should be relaxing but are you?
I’d like you to try a little exercise. Stay in the exact position you’re in now, no need to move a muscle.
Scan your body head to toe, is your face soft, jaw relaxed how are you holding your shoulders, how about your posture and your breathing? Chances are that you’re noticing a lot of tension in the body that you would have continued to be unaware of had you not taken time to pay attention.
Now adjust your body position take a couple of deep breaths and have a little shake out to loosen things up. Again scan your body, but this time see if you can let go and soften any areas of tension you come across, release muscles that are activated that don’t need to be. See if you can reach subtler levels of awareness real sensations everything from the sun or wind on your face, the touch of material on your skin , or your breath as it comes in and out of your nose. Whatever you feel in the moment, acknowledge it then move on to another part of the body. Repeat this head to toe several times.
This doesn’t have to just be a one off exercise, better to check in with yourself throughout the day, at home, work, in the car or simply whenever the thought to do so comes to mind or you need to recentre yourself.
I use the “body scan” during my freefall, the part of the dive where a freediver stops kicking, allows gravity to take over and effortlessly sleeps their way down to the bottom. I’ll often notice my shoulders are tense, my quads, stomach and I constantly move through my body letting go. This also has the added benefit of keeping my mind routed in the present and helps to dispel any negative thoughts that might creep in.
Releasing tension from the body can also help relax the mind; this is what yogis discovered centuries ago and is why we reach such deep levels of relaxation in Shavasana, the post yoga meditation. What a lot of people don’t realise though that this actually works the other way too.
A couple of years ago I was at a 3 day Vipssana retreat, usually the courses are 10 days, however, this was just a refresher for old students to help maintain practice.
Anyhow my point is I have always had chronically tight hamstrings, mainly due to years of neglect but I can also remember even as a young child struggling to touch my toes. Now prior to the retreat I was doing a lot of yoga, which was helping to gain some range of movement but what I didn’t expect was what happened after the retreat.
When I went back to my morning yoga routine I realised that I’d gained a lot of flexibility despite having suspended all yoga and stretching during the retreat. What I had been doing though was meditating for 10 hrs a day, calming my mind, scanning my body and I believe this released tension that I was holding. I would normally have brushed this off as a case of having been sitting cross legged for 3 days and maybe it helped open my hips, however, I have done 3 day and several 10 day retreats before and never experienced this from sitting alone.
What we do with the body affects the mind and calming the mind can also affect the body in a continuous feedback loop. Tapping into this awareness can give us powerful tools to help us in life. More than ever it’s important that we work with these simple techniques to counter the fast paced crazy world we’re living in.
If you’re a freediver then congratulations you’re already ahead of the curve and next time your instructor tells you to relax you’ll hopefully have a better idea of what they actually mean!
Be kind to yourself
Creating a Perfect Space for Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
Finding the right space to practice yoga can be difficult for some. But yoga is an easy way to relax and stretch your muscles, and likewise, the places you can practice it in are varied and adaptable. Here are some of our tips for what to look for in a space for your yoga routine. You should consider a place with lots of life or sunlight, choose a space you are familiar with or comfortable in and don’t worry about needing a wide or fancy place to practice.
You Don’t Need Office Space
Yoga is as much an experience as it is the workout you perform. To that end, finding a wide space isn’t as important as people think. As long as you have a space where you can spread your arms as far as they’ll go, with a space or two in all directions, you have plenty of room. Yoga shouldn’t force you to leave your home or find a gym like other practices, but you may need enough room to spread a mat and stretch yourself out fully once you get started.
Make It A Familiar Location
A lot of yoga is about relaxation and mental preparation. That’s why the best places for practicing yoga are ones you are familiar with. Choose a place that’s part of your daily life, or where you often go to when you’re relaxing. We recommend finding a relatively quiet room away from televisions or noisy areas, but some people enjoy just the opposite! Just make sure the place you choose isn’t a thoroughfare, because you don’t want people tripping over your yoga routine.
Make It Bright And Healthy
And when you’ve got a space picked out, brighten it up. An outdoor space is often the best place to practice yoga because you can enjoy it amid the sunlight and feel of nature. But wherever you choose, you should consider adding a bit of unique decoration, like a basket of flowers or a natural element such as a water installation, to tie you to the space. Practicing in an outside space in this manner can help tie you, nature, and the world as a whole together in your mind.
In The End
Yoga is well known for its ease of access, but many people worry about finding adequate space to practice. A safe yoga space doesn’t need to be large, just as long as you can lay down and stretch. We suggest you find a place outside in the sun or near a garden or natural growth. The most important part is just finding a place that calms you or that you have an emotional connection with so that you’ll be compelled to come back more often to enjoy yourself.
Post written by Cassie Steele
For more information on freediving courses or yoga please get in touch.
Mindfulness Meditation And The Great Outdoors: A Winning Combination For Mental Health
If you have already booked your freediving or yoga course in Bali, chances are, you are well aware of the immense benefits the Great Outdoors can bring. One well-known study by the Loyola University Health System found that nature has a powerful effect on our physical and mental health. “When we walk in a forest or park, our levels of white blood cells increase and it also lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and level of the stress hormone cortisol,” noted Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, researcher. However, when we include mindfulness-based practices such as yoga and meditation into the experience, the results are all the more beneficial.
Mindfulness meditation vs anxiety and depression
Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental conditions faced by human beings on a global scale. A study published inJAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation improves symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. It also reduces levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and boosts quality of life. The scientists concluded that doctors “should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program can have in addressing psychological stress.” Mindfulness meditation, like other spiritual practices, boosts mental health by keeping the mind in the present moment. During a session, practitioners are encouraged to recognise and feel all emotions, even the difficult ones, yet understand that these emotions are impermanent and do not define who they are.
Mindfulness meditation and brain function
A study by scientists at Massachusetts University showed that taking part in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program fostered measurable changes in the parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. The study showed that among meditators, grey matter density was increased in the hippocampus, which is vital for learning and memory, as well as in structures that play a role in self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
Meanwhile, those who meditated had decreased grey matter in the amygdala, which is involved in anxiety and stress. The scientists said that their results demonstrate “that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an eight-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on (meditation’s) potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The vital role that nature plays
There is a reason why the world’s most highly solicited yoga and meditation retreats take place by majestic natural settings such as mountains, lakes, forests, or seas. Nature boosts the effects of meditation because simply visiting a green area or seaside setting lowers levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Various studies have been carried out on this subject, with amazing results. For instance, one study found that people who exercised by looking at natural scenery enjoyed their workout much more. Another found that when offices were filled with plants, employees improved their performance. Still, other studies have focused on the role that time in nature can help children with ADD/ADHD.
Mindfulness meditation and other types of meditation, including transcendental meditation, wields countless benefits, including greater vitality, better mood, a heightened sense of empathy, and more. However, nature experiences have similar effects. Imagine the combined power of joining these two activities. Most interestingly of all, the benefits you will receive will last for years after intensive meditation training. Of course, because meditation is so beneficial, it is a practice we should keep up for our lifetime.
Post written by Cassie Steele
‘When the doors of perception are cleansed man shall see things as they truly are, infinite’ William Blake
Why learn Vipassanna ?
In the past month 2 more of our freediving instructors have challenged themselves with the practice of Vipassana. There are different approaches to vipassana, both of them enrolled for the SN Goenka course, a particularly full on and difficult introduction.
Both of our instructors are pretty adventurous people; but what follows it is an explanation of why a ‘normal’ person might subject himself to a vipassana course.
Lets start with looking at two Buddhist practices, Mindfulness and Vipassana. Aside from Tantric Buddhism, elements of both are a part of most streams of buddhism, yet they are not religous rite or ritual.
Being in the now; mindfulness is concentrated awareness of the moment to moment.
It is a process of constant redirection of the attention, bringing awareness repeatedly back to the present moment.
We become aware of what we are thinking, feeling or doing or become aware of how mind perceives and experiences the world around us.
It is cultivation of the silent witness, acknowledgement of the present moment without judgement, letting go as the present moment changes. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Indeed it should be practised as much as possible. It requires little formal instruction but takes a lifetime to master.
Through mindfulness we become less of a slave to unconscious processes and patterns of behaviour. It can positively affect everything from motor skills to deep seated psychological issues. It is also the beginning of single pointed concentration, which is necessary for the development of insight meditation (Vipassana).
Normally practice starts with single pointed focus on the breath in the nostrils or the rise and fall of the belly, (depending on tradition). This single pointed mindfulness practice is the gateway to Vipassana.
Being in the now, deeper and deeper.
Vipassana is considered by many Buddhists to be the single most important teaching of the Historical Buddha, his other teachings essentially just support for this one practice.
This is the practice that explores at the experiential level, ‘impermanence’, ‘suffering’ and ‘non-self’, three main concepts of Buddhism. It is a technique that provides insight into the true nature of reality, freedom from suffering and according to Buddhist teaching liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Vipassana is deep mindfulness practice, such an intense entering into the present moment that over time our perception deepens and becomes more subtle and the present moment expands into something infinite.
This is NOT something that should be strived for, it is something that happens with the correct practice under guidance over time, naturally.
It is not a transcendental meditation practice, the experience is always firmly rooted in the body and the present moment. With time the body is so deeply felt that you become aware of the body as energy in flux, subtler and grosser forms of energy in flux. This energetic sheath is responsive to thought and emotions and likewise influences the thoughts and emotions.
Vipassana is direct experience of the mind/body connection as an energetic field and how the mind/body interacts with the present moment.
This experience of the mind/body as an energetic field is NOT something to seek or push for it will happen by itself with time and correct practice.
Karma in the body(samkara)
During practice the meditator may experience how most of our behaviour is unconscious, simply a response to the subtler currents of the mind/body.
In this way you realise that it is less important what is happening outside you than the patterns of energy within, which influence your response to external events.
Warm feelings when you see something that reminds you of something good from your past, etc.Patterns might be of fear, anger, craving, desire etc. These patterns have been laid down by previous interactions of behaviour and events.
This is the insight, the body and ultimately all reality as constant flux and flow (impermanence) and that our mental/physical/emotional behaviour influences the flux which then influence future behaviour.
But our everyday personality doesn’t recognise this impermanence and leads to much misguided thought and action. Craving leading to more craving, fear to further fear etc. (suffering).
By accessing deeper levels of awareness below the everyday personality(non-self)
we develop more independence from the subterranean currents of the mind/body.
With correct practice we lessen our attachment to the everyday self, leading to a lighter and more intense living of life.
Why the need to learn Vipassana in silence?
We don’t observe silence for the idea of ‘holiness’ or ‘tradition’
silence is the necessary starting point for the practice of vipassana.
With Vipassana we are going deeper than the everyday limited personality and below the language based part of the brain. We experience the body and broader reality in a deeper and more subtle way, our perception changes becoming more unified and less bound by the rational mind’s limitations.
Language based thought is based on separation and distinction. It applies values, good, bad and it defines the everyday self ‘I don’t like rap music, etc”
While we speak we continue to stay on the surface of the mind, caught up in the thought games that the personality uses to define itself.
Meditation is a challenge for the everyday mind, which is like an animal that has free run of the house and resists losing any of it’s freedom.
The mind can resist the practice of single pointed concentration and can come up with many distractions. If we are in deep practice but then start to converse, then the everyday mind can leap back to re-establish itself strongly, making subsequent practice shallower for some time.
There is nothing wrong with the ‘ego’ or the ‘everyday self’, they are necessary functions for survival and thriving in a social world. The only issue is they make accessing deeper aspects of the human experience very difficult, at least at the beginning.
All of the rules on a vipassana course are designed to minimize opportunities for the everyday mind to distract and define itself. There is no talking or interaction with others, reading, music, dancing or body adornment. There is nothing wrong with these natural human activities, just not while learning deep meditation.
Vipassana is a very intense purification of the mind and absolutely not something to enter into lightly, a silent retreat might sound relaxing but in reality for many people it is the hardest things they ever do.
(Interestingly enough as soon as they finish they forget how hard it was at times. I have experienced this repeatedly.)
The most important rule…
If start you must finish or it can leave you feeling pretty messy for some time. Don’t leave midway, talk to an assistant teacher about your difficulties and stick it out.
I recommend all people of stable mental health and certain level of willpower to try it, especially freedivers and yogis. Actually this is one of the main goals of yoga, to develop insight. On a more mundane level it can also transform your experience of freediving.
I normally recommend doing the 10 day Goenka course as an intro because the explanation is excellent and in 10 days you can go very deep.But it is also one of the more austere approaches with sitting meditation 10 hours a day, very much focused on purification of the mind. Other approaches are less intense, therefore maybe less traumatic but also taking more time to get deep. Most other traditions use walking meditation between sits.Goenkas approach involves considerable pain in the legs through so much sitting. That said the pain is a very useful tool for learning impermanence.
Here’s a few words for the lovely and very dedicated Sarah Winick, the organiser of the local Bali courses.
Just on a side note, so perhaps others aren’t discouraged when thinking about sitting for 10 hours each day, every individual is subject to their own unique experience, here’s a public webpage that may assist some with their questions.
FYI for your readers: We hold 10-Day Vipassana meditation courses, as taught by SN Goenka in Bali, please note our next course with availability (October is currently wait listed) is November 5th-16th, 2014 interested applicants may review the website as listed in your blog, and register online directly through our Indonesian site www.java.dhamma.org
Feel free to join the Bali Vipassana FB group to meet other practicing Old Students on island, and to stay up to date with all of our happenings, there will be five 10-Day Goenka courses held in Bangli (near Kintamani) in 2015, the dates will be available soon.
Check http://www.dhamma.org/ for international Goenka style courses.
Check http://www.hdamm.de/buddha/mdtctr12.htm for a guide to Thai monasteries, though some of the info may be out of date it’s a good place to start researching traditional Thai Vipassanna.
Disclaimer…. this blog is personal opinion. I’m not a meditation master, just someone has been trying to learn and practice it on and off(with more off than on) for 20 years.
Our new training space is sitting right on the beach in Jemaluk Bay, Amed. Due to it’s deep walls, warm water and lack of currents, not to mention stunning natural beauty, this bay is fast becoming recognised as the best place in Bali for recreational free-diving. But free-diving is only half of what we do here. In our beach-side Yoga sala we also offer daily classes of Asana and regular classes of Pranayama and Meditation. Here are some pics taken over the last few days by the wonderful Mr Caine Delacy.