naturally altered states

yoga nidra mind waves viveka gardens

Life in Beta is too constant: office work, study, busy mind, worry, stressed mind, over-stimulation from screens. Yoga techniques offer ways to change your mind – literally. Yoga slows the mind so you can access the other natural states of being that are our in our genes and our birthright long before the advent of tv and other screens, and consumerism.

The clue is in the rhythms of nature. Daytime activity goes into dusk; into night and rest, into dawn. There is also the beauty of those liminal times, dawn and dusk, when if you are in tune, you can see your mind change state. It’s no surprise that dawn and dusk are the classic times for meditation, brahmamuhurta, or the hour of God. Another clue is in the rhythm of the year as lived agriculturally: 18 or 19 hour days of work with the sun at midsummer and virtual hibernation at the winter solstice. At equinox, as we’ve just been through, a turning of the mind from harvest to storage, looking towards the hearth and inwards. Today at Viveka Gardens, there was a recognition that the doors are no longer open all day, that the logburner is lit late afternoon…woodsmoke…drifting.

Yoga is the stilling of the mindwaves, is perhaps the key definition of yoga from Patanjali in c.300BCE. In the 20th century scientists also saw the mind in terms of waves, putting them on the spectrum of Hertzian (radio) waves: beta 15 – 30 cycles per second, theta 7 – 14, alpha 3.5 – 7, delta 0.4 – 3.5, or thereabouts. Here are some of the ways in which yoga practices still the mind.

yogic breath – as the breath slows and deepens, so does the mind. It also tones the peaceful response of the nervous system away from fight-flight-freeze.

meditation – involves withdrawal of the senses – pratyahara – and focus of the mind on just one object so the ‘monkey mind’ stays still. Siva, the yogi deity, who meditates for eons, is sometimes shown seizing a darting deer.

yoga asanas – train the nervous system to be strong. Holding postures without fidgeting builds physical stillness and so a still mind.

pranayama or breathing exercises – bringing control to the inhalation, exhalation and developing breath retention bring control to the mind.

yoga nidra – guided lying down meditation leads you through mental exercises to drop the body, the motor and sensory nervous system and the emotions to access the self unconditioned by society and family, and so truly relax.

time in nature – dropping of fizzing city energy, absorption of nature’s ‘juice’ to refresh and bring us into alignment. Time at an ashram, by definition a place in the country, is part of yogic life.

selfless service or karma yoga – challenges the ego to let go of false ideas about what we should be and relax into knowledge of our true nature.

bhakti or worship to higher power – gratitude brings peace of mind and connection to divine love fills us with relaxation.

Regular practice trains your system for greater equanimity, so that you can do the brainy stuff or be in a demanding situation with a calm mind. Pretty soon with any of these practices, you will notice that you become less reactive, less prone to anger or irritation, less preyed on by fear. You notice a natural and constant happiness. The joy of yoga is that these are very simple practical techniques for higher states of awareness.

A peaceful mind beyond the stresses of living is wonderful. However, the joy is that a peaceful mind makes space for intuition and deeper understanding. There are also gamma waves, up to 42Hz, the most subtle of the brainwave frequencies. The mind has to be quiet to access gamma. So in delta state waves spikes of gamma, high perception, have been recorded in yogis and other meditators. Gamma waves have been equated with states of universal love, altruism and expanded consciousness. The knowledge of these states is accessible via glimpses, and with practice slowly infuses your being. Neuronal re-wiring is part of it, but it also comes through grace. Through simple techniques Yoga shows the way to enduring peace and self-knowledge.

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