There are lots of intriguing words floating around in the yoga world that are worth digesting. Occasionally they can be a little confusing, and their exact translations vary, but I thought it might be worth taking a brief look at three words connected to a less physical aspect of yoga – meditation.
Meditation falls under the auspices of the 7th yoga-tree branch (yoga branches discussed in a previous post), which is called Dhyana. But because meditation has been scientifically proven time and again to be uber beneficial (even by the folks at MIT), it is always worth finding time to sit still and quieten the mind (see a few tips on how to meditate HERE).
Assembled below are three facets of the meditative side of yoga, outlined for use by those on-the-go:
1. Mantra: Mantra are words that we speak to help us meditate, and to feel ‘connected’. Everyone knows that feeling – you might call it ‘flow’ or just being ‘in the moment’ – it doesn’t really matter. The connection between the body, mind & breath is what it’s all about. Stating a mantra repeatedly is a method of controlling thoughts, and creates a peaceful state of mind. For active folks think about how often it is recommended to repeat (internally or externally) a positive statement such as, “focus, breathe, relax”. The act of vocally saying the words brings you into the moment – and prevents the mind from wandering onto something else! A typical running scenario might involve the start line of a 5km – who needs to be thinking about how fast so-and-so ran, and what so-and-so will think? Internalising a mantra reminds you it’s your 5km, your experience, and your time to run.
Interestingly Yoga Journal just published an article outlining new research that found a difference between saying mantra aloud versus internally – silently to oneself. The researchers studied groups of people reciting yogic mantras and also Catholic prayers. Findings showed that the use of mantra, or prayers, slowed breathing rates and therefore also heart rates, and also that silent recitation of mantra did not bring about the same effects as speaking out loud. The physiology of making sound was key:
“Vocal recitations engage the breath rhythms that, in turn, influence the heart rhythms via the central nervous system. Smoothing and lengthening breathing regulates heart rhythms, oxygenates the blood, and induces a feeling of calm and well-being.“
Whether you decided to speak out loud or quietly to yourself, mantra can help you connect.
2. Mala: Mala are beads used alongside mantra – in japa meditation (when you recite a mantra numerous times), as tangible means for concentration. Catholic rosary beads are used for similar reasons. Typically the beads are rotated through your fingers as you repeat a mantra, one bead at a time, and by gently pressing the fingertips on the beads certain reflex points in the nervous system are stimulated. There are 108 beads in a mala (a special number linked to the original texts that described yoga), and there are many beautiful examples of mala creations. Two favourites of LRY are mala beads created by the inspirational yogi team at Tiny Devotions: lovetinydevotions.com. The ‘Marathon Mala‘ – designed to assist with developing positive energy and endurance, and also a mala drawn up by the athletic and dedicated yoga teacher, Tiffany Cruickshank:
Ever been advised to ‘visualise the miles’ before a marathon? Let a mala provide additional help next time.
3. Mudra: Just as the soul of the foot can be mapped out and linked to certain areas of the body, so can the hand. Mudras are hand and finger positions that are said to stimulate reflex points. By taking up a mudra position with the hands, a signal can be sent to the body and mind. The typical hand position that is often associated with yoga is the Gian Mudra – first finger tip to thumb – said to cultivate wisdom, creating calmness and receptivity. An interesting mudra for active folks is the Surya Mudra – ring finger to thumb – to revitalise energy levels and creativity – awesome! By taking up either the Gian or Surya Mudra during meditation after exercise we can assist the body with developing a more more relaxed state: Mudra can help with recovery from a hard day’s training.
Mantra are possibly the most accesible method of quietening the mind when we are on-the-go, but if you find yourself at home after, or maybe preparing for a run or a session of yoga – mala and mudra are also excellent ways of focusing and bringing the mind to a state of calmness as the body and breath line up for exertion: meditation in motion.
Next time you have five minutes check out the blog of ultra runner Krissy Moehl, a runner always with great poise! In her post, ‘Run Around the Roof of Africa‘, Krissy notices the power of the voices & sounds that surround her as she takes part in a ultra run – around Kilimanjaro. Worth a read.
Namaste & Happy Trails!