Nadav Spiegelman

One Simple Thing

Eddie Stern and Deepak Chopra
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When we look at the thumbs or at the nose, we are not staring at that point but resting our gaze on the place that we are looking at, like placing a book on a table.
Softening the eyes, especially the outside corners of the eyes, can have a mentally calming effect, as the nerves that innervate this area are from the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system, which rules rest, relaxation, and repair.
The underlying premise of practicing yoga is quite straightforward: by moving, breathing, and concentrating in a particular way, we will bring our body, nervous system, and mind into a coherent, cooperative state.
Though bandhas are often described as muscular contractions, they should functionally be understood as an integral and subtle aspect of breathing. Engaging certain muscles of the pelvic floor and abdominal cavities supports long, smooth, and controlled inhalations, and steady, smooth exhalations, because when the breath is calm and controlled, so is the mind.
One of Patanjali’s most quoted sutras, 1.13, is on this very point: Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara sevito drdha bhumih. We become grounded in practice when it is done uninterruptedly, for a long time, with devotion.
the most recent agreed-upon dates when Patanjali wrote his text are around 200 C.E.
If I say that I want to be more meditative in my life, but I don’t make the time to practice meditation every day, then perhaps I do not really want to be meditative. The things that we actually spend time doing are the things that we want, and sometimes the goals or ideas we have are not real—they are just ideas that sound pretty good to us.
Don’t worry about not doing things you don’t really want to do. If you say that you want to meditate but you never do it, then you probably don’t want to meditate. If you accept that you don’t want to meditate, then you won’t feel bad about not doing it, and you can cross it off your list of things that you think you want to do—stuff that other people do that sounds like a good idea but, when push comes to shove, is not for you. Then you can replace it with something that you really do want to do.
Depending on where you look, you can find slightly different uses of the word vinyasa. In Pattabhi Jois’s practice, we have to adopt it in the sense that he used it, the linking of breath and movement that is used for each position leading into, and out of, every asana. It is not the flowing of one posture into another—it is the movement of breath that occurs within each discrete asana or transition position.
In Pattabhi Jois’s vinyasa, breath occurs as the body moves into, or out of, a single position, but is not concerned with flowing into the next. This is a subtle point, but an important one, because when you are concerned with flowing into the next pose, your mind is looking to the future. When you are concerned with the breath within one posture, or one movement, your mind is in the present moment, which is where yoga wants us to be. Vinyasa as a breathing-movement practice is one breath and one movement at a time. To do one thing at a time is the hallmark of attention.
We don’t have to worry too much about learning the details early on because they reveal themselves to you as you practice and as your awareness becomes more subtle. The things you pay attention to will, over time, teach you what you need to know, so that much of what we learn will be personal and unique to our needs, though some of the discoveries will overlap with other people’s experiences as well.
When we are moving and breathing, it is called vinyasa. • When we stay in a pose for a few breaths or longer, it is called sthithi, which means “to stand, place, or remain.”
Asanas are for both improving the facilities of the body and stilling the mind, because the mind and the body are a continuum. Therefore, that which brings stillness to the body and the mind is considered to be yoga. In asana sthithi, we practice stillness. In vinyasa, we practice movement. If everything were vinyasa, we would never become quiet, so therefore the vinyasa needs to move toward stillness, toward a quiet point, where the mind can become absorbed in the present.
Within the practice of postures, there are three areas that we must pay attention to: the body, the breath, and the mind. To put it very simply, postures steady the body, breathing steadies the nervous system, and gazing steadies the mind.
Ideally the inhalation and exhalation are an equal length, and the sounds of the inhalation and the exhalation are roughly the same. Further, the breath should be dirgha, which means “long,” and sukshma, which means “subtle.”
Be focused from the heart to the throat, meaning that the belly does not extend outward when you inhale
According to yoga, thinking occurs when the breath moves independent of awareness, but when breath and awareness are harmonized, discursive thinking can be controlled.
The more we enjoy what we choose to practice, the more likely we actually are to do it. Your practice should be something you are passionate about. Even if it is challenging or difficult to do at times, it should bring you joy or fulfillment or a feeling of satisfaction that you have attended not just to your body and mind but also to that invisible part of yourself that is the essence of who you are. So while yoga is a discipline, we also have to make sure that we love doing it. That love for practicing will make our efforts at being disciplined softer and kinder. And then we will become that way, too. IN
One way to think about the various nervous systems is as a massive web of connections linking every single part of your body, every action it performs, every input and output of food or information, and every thought that you have, in a bundle of processes.
Within the parasympathetic nervous system is the large bundle of nerves collectively called the vagus nerve. It makes up 80 percent of the parasympathetic nervous system.
It’s important to remember that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are complementary branches of the autonomic nervous system. They are not opposed to each other. The process of breathing is a good example of a complementary activity. When we breathe, we have to inhale and exhale. The sympathetic nervous system moves us toward activity. The parasympathetic nervous system moves us toward rest. When we inhale, the heart speeds up. When we exhale, the heart slows down.
If we are upset or stressed out and need to calm ourselves down, we typically focus on exhaling, quite often as a sigh or as a long breath through the mouth.
[Nadav’s note: Uhhh]
Below the diaphragm, the vagus travels to the stomach, liver, pancreas, bladder, and intestines, and it also innervates the diaphragm muscle. Above the diaphragm, the vagus travels to the soft palate, uvula, larynx, pharynx, heart, and lungs. The vagus originates in two different areas of the brain stem. The part of the vagus that arises from the dorsal motor nucleus controls functions associated with digestion and respiration. The part of the vagus that arises from the nucleus ambiguus, also in the brain stem, is associated with motion, emotion, and communication.
Because the vagus is the longest and most widespread nerve of the autonomic nervous system, its tone is an important aspect of our physiological and emotional health. Vagal tone is like the tone of a muscle. It allows the vagus to perform all the functions that it oversees. Low vagal tone is associated with inflammation in the body, high blood pressure, diabetes, digestive problems, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. High vagal tone is associated with the reduction of inflammation, better cardiovascular health, high heart rate variability, improved digestion, better sleep, and positive mood regulation.
[Nadav’s note: This is a bit "turns out"]
Vagal tone is measured through something called heart rate variability.
one of the underlying purposes of yoga is to be able to something that is challenging or uncomfortable in a calm manner, and observe how the mind and the nervous system are flexible enough to adapt to challenging situations without being thrown off.
Specific facial muscles identified with vagal influence are at the corners of the eyes and mouth, where emotions are largely expressed.
exteroception, the outward movement of the senses, uses energy of the sympathetic nervous system for the sense organs to gather information. This energetic drain is either tiring or overexciting for the mind. How can you tell that energy drains from you through your sense organs? Here’s one example. After looking at art for two or three hours in a museum, you’ll often feel yourself getting tired. Similarly, after two to three hours of binge-watching Netflix you’ll feel drained, or as my wife says, brain dead, but your mind will still be whirring about. The metabolic energy used to power the sense organs is used up by outward movement. Control of the sense organs through meditation replenishes our energy because we are not using it up in gathering, grasping, or filtering information from the outside world. Even just sitting quietly and closing your eyes for a few minutes, or for a few breaths, is calming and can replenish your energy. Withdrawal of our awareness away from the outside world through the sense organs, and directing it toward our inner world, is calming for the mind because it down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system.
If the heart does not slow down on the exhale, the vagal brake is not functioning properly, and the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, or is turned on but not turning off when it should. This can be triggered by experiencing a traumatic event, or, as in the case of many people, result from exposure to consistent low levels of stress on a daily basis.
we have built-in rhythms in our body, such as our heartbeat, pulse, the blinking of our eyes, and respiration—rhythms that we can listen to when we meditate, and rhythms by which we live.
(ocean breath is sometimes used synonymously with ujjayi, but the two are separate practices).
Breathing deserves a special mention here because of its ability to down-regulate the stress response that occurs in the sympathetic nervous system. Breathing, especially lengthened exhalations, can be both voluntary and involuntary, and has the benefit of turning on the vagal brake. All of these exercises taken together—but especially the breathing aspect on its own—bring us into the present, which is a non-defensive state. As Porges says, when we are non-defensive we are connected. When we are in sympathetic arousal and are in a defensive mode, we are disconnected, isolated, and closed or locked into survival mode.
Strengthened vagal tone leads to self-regulation, and the ability to self-regulate can lead to one’s ability to have a measure of control over the autonomic functions.
When doing resonance breathing, we consciously slow our breath down to a cycle that brings the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into equilibrium, and thereby restore balance. This rate is generally five to seven breaths per minute, with the inhalation and exhalation being completely equal, or the exhalation being just ever so slightly longer than the inhalation.