“If we train our breathing, we can control our emotions—that is, we can cope with the happiness and pain in our lives.” Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
Ever try to hold your breath until you turned blue? OK, so you threatened your mom when you were a kid, but before you would turn blue you would just pass out so your body could take a big suck of air and get back to living. Three minutes, that’s all it takes to rob the brain of enough oxygen to put you into the deep sleep. And yet it is common for people to unconsciously hold their breath for short periods throughout the day.
In a yoga or meditation practice your breath is the key that unlocks the door to the inner Self. It is called Prana, a Sanskrit word, which translates as both breath and life. Prana is the vital energy force that pervades our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies, keeping us alive and vibrant. It also pervades the entire universe.
The practice of pranayama (breath work) allows for full control of that energizing force in ones body, providing excellent health, and a purification of the nervous system, bringing the sense-urges and cravings under the practitioners control. After maintaining a consistent practice even for a short period of time, you will find that you will automatically bring your awareness to your breath whenever you need to calm or focus your mind.
There is no amount of flexibility, strength, stamina, or concentration that can compensate for breath that is repressed in the body. If the breath is inhibited, the mind cannot free itself from limitations from past conditioning and old habits. The breath is the sherpa that leads the climber to the peak of Everest; it is the guide that lovingly takes us through the restrictions of our mind to the true nature of the Self.
The traditional practice of breath meditation is to simply sit still. Now close your eyes and center yourself to the flow of your breath.
1. Slowly begin to count to six on the inhale, then count to six on the exhale.
Do this for six rounds.
2. Take three normal breaths, and then count to six on the inhale and deepen the breath to eight on the exhale. (This takes you into a deeper state of relaxation).
Do this for another six rounds.
3. Take three normal breaths and return to a six-count inhale with a six-count exhale for six rounds. At the end of this, relax and breathe normally.
Remember that you are not the breather but rather the observer of the breath, watching the natural flow of each inhale and exhale.
Om Guhm Guh-nuh-puh-tuh-yea
Om and salutations to Ganapati (Ganesha)
The new year offers a chance to bring your deepest desires to life. But first you have to find a path around the obstacles standing in the way. Although they may manifest as external problems—you may think a lack of time prevents you from meditation every day, for example—it is often emotions or thought patterns that hold you back. Yet if your internal state is unified with your desire you can achieve anything. The mantra above is traditionally chanted to start new endeavors with positive energy and to remove obstacles.
What You’ll Need
(All of these items can be found at your local natural foods store.)
Black tea (in a tea bag)
Eucalyptus essential oil
Approximately 1 cup henna powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
What to Do
1. Boil 2 inches of water in a saucepan. Take the pan off the heat and add the black teabag to infuse for several hours.
2. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil and allow to infuse overnight.
3. Heat the mixture to a warm temperature, then slowly add it to a bowl of henna powder and ground cloves, stirring with a wooden spoon. You may not need to use all of the water. You want a thin paste, almost the consistency of yogurt.
4. Add lemon juice, then add more of the water mixture until it resembles the consistency of toothpaste.
5. Transfer the paste to a plastic bag, in which it can be stored for us to two days. Leftover paste can be frozen, though I’ve had mixed results in doing that.
Applying the Henna
There are a variety of application methods to choose from. Application bottles are available at craft supply stores, but a more available method is with an icing bag fitted with a very small metal decorating tip. If that isn’t available, you can make your own with a strong freezer bag by cutting a very small tip off one of the corners and being sure that the henna is sealed in at the top. You’ll squeeze the henna out the small tip just as you would frosting. You can also use the tip of a paintbrush to paint the paste on, but there is much less control, meaning the lines will be thicker. Once you have the henna prepared and in an applicator of some kind, it can be applied to the body as follows:
1. Wash the surface of the skin to be painted, making sure that all dirt, lotions, and oils are removed.
2. Apply a tiny amount of eucalyptus oil to the area. This will hold the art longer.
3. Using whatever method of application you’ve chosen, apply the henna to the skin.
4. The henna will dry partially in a short period of time, but try not to touch it much until it is fully dry, which can be up to a half-hour. The henna paste will fall off on its own, leaving the paint behind on your skin.
5. Once it is completely dry, after about 4 hours, the rest of the paste can be brushed off, and the skin can be washed.
6. Depending on the strength of your henna, the art can last anywhere from days to weeks. To hold the color longer, use care when washing the area, putting lotion over it when bathing or getting it wet. On the other hand, if you would like to remove the henna sooner, wash it often.