How to journey inward : Turning off the mind and living through the heart


"Journeys bring power and love back into you. If you can’t go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self. They are like shafts of light, always changing as you change when you explore them."

Rumi 


Just as Krishna explains to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, there are many paths that will lead us to spiritual fulfillment, to self-awakening and discovery of universal Truths. In the West, we are adopting many Eastern practices, like yoga and meditation, which suggest that the answers are all within. The slogan I chose for my yoga therapy business is "Journey Inward," you hear this phrase thrown around a lot in yoga/meditation communities. But what does that mean, to journey inward..what does it feel like? How do I know if I've journeyed inward before? And most importantly, who says inward is any place I want to go?!

It is true that many of us use our outer world, our social reality as an escape of sorts from whatever it is that is happening inside - emotionally, mentally or even physically. We create a schedule for our attention to be occupied every minute of the day so that we can believe we're living a life of productivity and success. It is also true that many people neglect their physical, mental and emotional health on a regular basis for the sake of maintaining this schedule whose most important function is to keep us distracted and moving forward. Where then do we find time to just BE? Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who can squeeze a yoga or meditation class in to your busy day and schedule time to focus on being present (what many people perceive as clearing your mind of all thoughts and worries). Wouldn't it be wonderful to feel stable and at peace all the time? As if the very fiber of your being were made of indestructible material...Well you can and you don't have to go anywhere to do it. It is all about where you choose to focus your attention, your energy and your effort. So let's talk about that.

Some people use meditation as a means of journeying inward. While there are many forms of meditation, in general meditation as a means of self-awakening is really an advanced practice. Traditionally yoga asana was used as a means of training the body so that it can tolerate long periods of sitting meditation and intense meditation conditions. My experience with meditation leads me to believe it mainly works through transforming the mind and the way we think and experience on this ego level. Meditation has helped me cultivate greater self-awareness through disconnecting with the "I" character and reflecting on particularly difficult or challenging experiences using my innate wisdom. Many of us get very swept up in the motions of life and rarely stop to really be present and feel the experience of now, which is what meditation is all about..stopping the mind's chatter so that we may regroup, rediscover our center point and regain our footing in life. When you have an overactive mind like I do, starting with meditation can feel unfruitful and even frustrating. For me it is very important to continually master and re-master body based practices before moving on to less tangible experiences like meditation and energy work. We are spiritual beings having a human experience and while many of us are excited to reconnect with our spiritual selves because of the bliss it provides, it is important to remember we are here to integrate the two. Going straight for meditation may create a transcendental experience for the mind that may leave us feeling like our own physical existence is a prison, holding us back from uninhibited spiritual union and causing us pain and suffering.

For those of you who are swept up in racing thoughts, perhaps feel victim to life, I identify with you and this is what works for me as I embark on my own inward journey. Journeying inward is all about finding that space within yourself where you feel 100% safe, secure and supported. It is true that no matter how damaged or broken you feel, no matter what has been done to you in life, we all have this place within us...it is the soul and is a space to which we can retreat at any time for as long as we need. You don't have to believe me when I say you have this space, this ability to be centered, whole and complete - some day, even if not in this lifetime, you will find this space and you will learn where your personal journey leads.

On to the practical advice! The two most important tangible keys I found to starting my journey of self-awareness, of living every moment from the heart are breath and movement. Starting with movement will help us to work through the excited forward moving energy in our bodies that keeps us going day after day. This is a collective energy that keeps us outwardly engaged in our day-to-day lives, social responsibilities and keeps us from connecting with ourselves. Once we work through some of this energy that often takes us along for a ride, we will have more control and centeredness to focus on subtle body and breath awareness. If you can take a yoga class, go for it! Committing financially to a class often creates a commitment within yourself to maintain some sort of physical practice. It's sad that it takes investing money in something for us to really find it's value but hey, if it works, it works! It doesn't matter what kind of movement you do, whether it be dance, yoga or tai chi...the most important aspect of the movement is that it is free of goals and striving. Striving to be better than you were yesterday is not always productive self-exploration. As you begin to establish a new routine, verbalize to yourself "I accept myself unconditionally" and this may help overcome some of that perfectionism.

Breath awareness is a good introduction to meditation and can be used alone or within your yoga postures themselves. It sounds so simple but there are many breathing techniques (called pranayama in yoga) that will create different effects. Experimenting with deep breathing and/or diaphragmatic breathing is a good place to start. Deepening the breath increases the amount of oxygen in the blood stream and better feeds the organs and tissue of the body resulting in better health and more vitality. Over time, deep breathing can result in fewer breaths per minute which physiologically induces a constant state of tranquility. As long as a steady slow pace is maintained in the breath, the mind cannot interfere with the emotional stability created by the body. Deep exhales accompanied by an audible sigh help release stress and tension - as you experiment, you will learn to breathe your stress away! You will soon discover just how powerful a tool the breath is in regulating the body, emotions and mind. 

Once we master subtle body awareness through breath awareness, we are on our way to cultivating the self-awareness necessary for conscious living - heart based living. It's pretty easy to feel like we're living from the heart when everything is good and we're not stressed out. But how about when you feel annoyed, pissed off, angry, ashamed, or offended? How do you live from the heart when you are having such negative internal experiences? The key to accessing the heart is turning off the mind chatter: the doubt, the pessimism, the attachment. When we stop identifying with our ego or sense of "I am" we can learn to respond to the situation instead of reacting  to our feelings. Cultivating presence means being the eye of the storm - the stillness in chaos. It is easy to be present when you're beachfront on an all-expenses-paid vacation but what about when you are being verbally abused or taken advantage of? What does it mean to be present and respond from the heart in those trying moments? When we cultivate self-awareness, we also cultivate self-love and appreciation. Through regular body based practices, we create and nurture a relationship with our body and our whole self, opening up a line of communication and new-found respect. When we feel this way about our self on a regular basis, that love energy radiates outward and other people feel it too. Which helps to prevent negative people from influencing you to begin with but also allows you to rise above the situation and respond with compassion and understanding when someone is throwing negative energy your way. 

It is important to note that just because you mastered a body based practice once does not mean you won't need to revisit and remaster. The assumption that my journey would be progressive without backtracking was a disappointing one to debunk. The spiritual journey is a cyclical one that works sort of like a pinball, never taking the straightest path to its destination but instead  bouncing chaotically around like a maniac on fire. Just like a pinball, it is necessary for our personal growth to bounce around between the physical body, energetic body, mental body and spirit body or else life wouldn't be the entertaining balancing act that it is!
     
Here are a few poses I use to help ground and center myself (not in any specific order):

Child's Pose


Extended Puppy Pose



Modified Hand-to-Toe Pose

Knees to Chest


Reclined Twist

Butterfly Pose


Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is a good beginner sequence


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