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We have finished the celebrations of Christmas and New year now but the Year of the Horse does not start until January 30th on a new moon. As we are still in the energy field of the Water Snake year, we need to be aware that this last month offers perfect time for cleansing, releasing, healing and renewing. We want to leave all that doesn’t serve us anymore behind in the Snake’s deep dark waters and get ready for new awakening, new inspiration, new luck that the Horse year is about to bring! Let’s use the remaining time wisely and shed some more old skins!

Happy solstice!

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How are you feeling as we approach the darkest night of the year? It’s been cold and raining pretty much non-stop here in Taipei for more than a week now. A perfect weather for looking inward and feeling the sensations of the inner darker world…
I believe that to be well we need to be in touch with our inner flow which is always influenced by Nature cycles (the theory of microcosm and macrocosm, anyone?). We are taught to resist the darkness, to deny our needs and to put on a happy face especially during this time right now as we approach Christmas. It always makes me think: why in our society, the darkest time that we need to rejuvenate and replenish ourselves is used for one of the merriest celebrations of the year? Whatever the reason is, it makes sense to get in touch with Nature and our inner self, and find more time for silence, rest and healing.
Instead of pushing through with a smile on your face, look into your inner darkness, be quiet and aware to recognize what is needed, and try to act upon these needs. Give yourself the present of staying in tune with Nature, and Nature will give you the present of keeping well.
Happy Solstice!

The Mastery of Love

Love…. There has been written so much about it. People try to express love through visual art, music, poetry… And yet it’s something no one can really explain. The reason is simple: it’s coming from the heart, no mind. Or maybe even from the soul as Rumi wrote once:

I love my friends neither with
my heart nor with my mind.
Just in case heart might stop,
Mind can forget.
I love them with my soul.
Soul never stops or forget.

Why do we love someone? Where does love come from? And what is love??? Once I wrote my thoughts on love in relationships and its different levels/stages (kama, prema, bhakti).

Today’s post is about self-love as this is a source for love we can share with others. It has nothing to do with egoism. Only when you nourish yourself you can nourish others. Without self-love we will always look for some «loving» relationship that will make us happy. Coming from the place of lack, it will be always based on negativity of lack. It will be about demanding love from a partner rather than unconditionally sharing our inner love. How can you share if you don’t have enough? What can you squeeze out if you are empty?…

illustration by Jason V Lu

Many years ago, a friend of mine gave me a little book by Don Miguel Ruiz called «The Mastery of Love». He said it helped him tremendously, and it was his everyday reading book for years. My English was quite poor back then, but I found that it was written in very simple words yet the meaning was very profound. Here comes a few pages of what the author said on self-love:

«Everyone has a price, and Life respects that price. But that price is not measured in dollars or in gold; it is measured in love. More than that, it is measured in self-love. How much you love yourself  – that is your price – and Life respects the price. When you love yourself, your price is very high, which means your tolerance for self-abuse is very low. It’s very low because you respect yourself. You like yourself the way you are, and this makes your price higher. If you don’t like things about yourself, the price is a little lower.

Sometimes the self-judgment is so strong that people need to be numb just to be with themselves. If you don’t like a person, you can walk away from that person. If you don’t like a group of people, you can walk away from those people. But if you don’t like yourself, it doesn’t matter where you go, you are right there. To avoid being with yourself, you need to take something to numb you, to take your mind away from yourself. Perhaps some alcohol is going to help. Perhaps some drugs will help. Perhaps eating – just eat, eat, eat. The self-abuse can get much worse. There are people who really feel self-hatred. They are self destructive, killing themselves little by little, because they don’t have the courage to kill themselves fast.

If you observe self-destructive people, you will see they attract people just like them. What do we do if we don’t like ourselves? We try to get numb with alcohol to forget our suffering. That’s the excuse we use. Where are we going to get alcohol? We go to a bar to drink, and guess who’s going to be there? People just like us, who try to avoid themselves also, who also try to get numb. We get numb together, we start talking about our suffering, and we understand each other very well. We even start to enjoy it. We understand each other perfectly because we vibrate in the same frequency. We are both being self-destructive. Then I hurt you, you hurt me – a perfect relationship in hell.

What happens when you change? For whatever reason, you no longer need the alcohol. It’s okay now to be with yourself, and you really enjoy it. You no longer drink, but you have the same friends, and everyone’s drinking. They get numb, they start getting happier, but you can clearly see that their happiness is not real. What they call happiness is a rebellion against their own emotional pain. In that “happiness” they are so hurt that they have fun hurting other people and hurting themselves.

You no longer fit in, and of course they resent you because you are no longer like them. “Hey, you are rejecting me because you no longer drink with me, because you don’t get high with me.” Now you have to make a choice: You can step back, or you can go to another level of frequency and meet people who finally accept themselves like you do. You find there is another realm of reality, a new way of relationship, and you no longer accept certain kinds of abuse».

illustration by Jason V Lu

And a bit more from the same chapter «The Dream Master»: «EVERY RELATIONSHIP IN YOUR LIFE CAN BE HEALED, every relationship can be wonderful, but it’s always going to begin with you. You need to have the courage to use the truth, to talk to yourself with the truth, to be completely honest with yourself. Perhaps you don’t have to be honest with the whole world, but you can be honest with yourself. Perhaps you cannot control what is going to happen around you, but you can control your own reactions. Those reactions are going to guide the dream of your life, your personal dream. It’s your reactions that make you so unhappy or make you so happy.

Your reactions are the key to having a wonderful life. If you can learn to control your own reactions, then you can change your routines, and you can change your life. You are responsible for the consequences of whatever you do, think, say, and feel. Perhaps it’s hard for you to see what actions caused the consequence – what emotions, what thoughts – but you can see the consequence because you are suffering the consequence or enjoying the consequence. You control your personal dream by making choices. You have to see if you like the consequence of your choices or not. If it’s a consequence you enjoy, then keep doing what you are doing. Perfect. But if you don’t like what is happening in your life, if you aren’t enjoying your dream, then try to find out what is causing the consequences you don’t like. This is the way to transform your dream. »

Thank you for reading it with me!

14th of Feb 2012

Zoya

http://www.zoyayoga.com

Ginger Tea to Warm up the Body and Soul

After a wonderfully sunny and unexpectedly warm (25C) weekend, in one night the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees Celsius, and it now rains cats and dogs. Yes, the weather in Taipei is notorious for being unstable («just like Taiwanese ladies» according to my local friends:)

The weather changes, things don’t necessarily happen the way we want them, nothing lasts for long or forever. That’s the law of the Universe. If we accept it, we can eliminate a lot of suffering and find balance and warmth within. And sometimes we need just a bit of an extra help – here comes my best remedy– ginger tea!!!

Buy some fresh ginger root.

Fresh Ginger by Zoya Lu

Here is sold everywhere as it is widely used in Chinese cooking. Hopefully it will be available in the produce section of your local market. The quantity of ginger you want to use will depend on its maturity (the older – the spicier), on the number of mugs required and on your taste butts. You can always experiment with it, and if it’s too spicy for you simply add more hot water into your mug. This piece in my hand was big enough for 4-5 cups of quite strong ginger tea.

ginger on Zoya's hand

Wash ginger really well with a brush to remove any soil or rough pieces of skin. Slice it. No need to peel off the skin as long as you washed it well (I like this part as peeling ginger is not easy).

ginger slices by Zoya Lu

Put ginger slices into a required quantity of water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 min. I like to keep my teapot just partially covered, so the wonderful smell of ginger fills in my kitchen and flat. Strain the tea and serve. Sometimes I like to add a bit of a lemon juice; sometimes I add some brown or palm sugar. Try what taste you like most!

Ginger tea is not just going to really warm you up from inside out. It will also boost your energy level and immune system. It’s widely used as a home remedy for nausea, indigestion, to relief menstrual cramps, heartburn and migraine, and to prevent and treat colds, flu, and sore throats. It’s even believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

my cup of ginger tea by Zoya Lu

Enjoy your cup of invigorating freshly made ginger tea and stay warm in your heart!

 

Zoya

 

7th of Feb, 2012

 

http://www.zoyayoga.com

Change Your Life with Yoga Nidra

I was very lucky to learn yoga nidra (yogic sleep), a powerful raja (royal) yoga technique of conscious relaxation, during my first stay in India in 2004. I spent a month in a Bihar School of Yoga ashram in Bangalore where I learned yoga nidra directly from a yogacharya (yoga teacher) who was a disciple of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati for most of his life. It’s Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati, an outstanding spiritual leader and the founder of the Bihar Yoga Tradition, who adapted yoga nidra from tantric yoga and made it accessible to all of us. I am so very grateful to Guruji and my teacher for sharing this powerful technique which since then had become a permanent part of my personal yoga practice and my yoga teaching. Thanks to yoga nidra, many of my friends, students and myself personally have benefited greatly and brought essential positive changes in our lives.

Nidra is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as sleep, and yoga nidra is known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness. It is a powerful technique of inducing complete and systematic relaxation on the physical, emotional and mental levels of our being. It uniquely unwinds the nervous system, which is the foundation of the body’s well-being. One can rejuvenate in a short period of time – 30 minutes of yoga nidra is as restful as two hours of conventional sleep! Practiced lying down, it does not involve movement, just listening and relaxing, therefore it is suitable for any physical condition.

The practice of yoga nidra consists of a few different stages among which are total relaxation of the physical body, breathing techniques to promote deep mental relaxation and guided visualization to resolve suppressed memories and desires. Another very important stage of yoga nidra, which turns it into a life-changing method, is sankalpa (resolution) but it’s a vast topic I wrote about previously.

Yoga nidra practice has been investigated in many research centers around the world and showed extremely favorable results in many fields. A state of profound psychophysiological relaxation and metabolic rest which occurs during yoga nidra is characterized by decreased sympathetic and increased parasympathetic nervous activity, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, altered levels of «stress hormones» such as adrenaline and cortisol, and enhanced concentration capacity. This state was given different names such as «the hypnagogic state», «the creative surrender» and «the relaxation response».  It is in this state, the awakening and mobilization of prana (vital energy) happens naturally, and with consistent practice the ability to consciously control and direct prana throughout the body can be developed. This ability to use pranic energy at will allows a yoga nidra practitioner to access unlimited potential of inner healing power and improve any diseased condition of body-mind system.

Doctors and healers in many countries now prescribe yoga nidra as a preventive and curative therapy for stress-related diseases. Stress is a contributing factor in everything from backaches and insomnia to cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome. Some estimates say that stress is related to 40-80% of all doctor visits! Heart disease, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, arthritis, bacterial or viral infections, migraine headaches, asthma and respiratory aliments… Have you ever experienced any of these problems? Unfortunately, most of us have illnesses or conditions brought on by stress or made worse by it. Fortunately, yoga nidra has been successfully used in the management of many stress-related diseases, and is proved helpful in both acute and chronic conditions.

Yoga nidra is also a successful therapy for psychological disturbances of all kinds, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc., as it helps remove emotional imbalances and mental fatigue and tensions. In yoga nidra the subconscious mind is tapped to bring out into awareness the source of psychic pain – previously suppressed emotions, memories and desires. Self-recognition and desensitization of these painful life experiences follow spontaneously, and it can be safely relived and reintegrated into the conscious personality. When practice yoga nidra you become your own psychotherapist, you follow the instructions and not the instructor. The instructor is only a guide who doesn’t dominate your mind or will in any way. In yoga nidra you do everything yourself, and when you become familiar with the technique you will not even need an instructor anymore. Yoga nidra helps you to recognize your own personal problems and systematically alleviate them.

You can also use yoga nidra to stimulate your personal growth. The combination of alert awareness and the deepest form of relaxation helps you to dive into the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. In this «hypnagogic state» the mind is exceptionally receptive, and its nature can be easily changed: bad habits can be given up more easily, personality can be reshaped and direction in life can be chosen more wisely. In yoga nidra state you can also restore your creativity: we all have genius but we often cannot find it under the layers of tension and ever-busy mental chatters. You might find that right after yoga nidra practice, your mind is clear and still, and you feel inspired and called by your creative muse. This time is precious and can be used to write poems or music, to paint, sculpt or for any other creative process.

Applications of yoga nidra are very versatile, and one of them is to enhance the learning process by using our ability to absorb knowledge through the subconscious mind. Experiments are showing that yoga nidra is an extremely efficient mean of increasing learning capacity and memory function. Many pioneering educators now utilize yoga nidra to create the state of active and relaxed awareness in which knowledge is soaked up without effort. If you are a scholar, you might choose to use the stillness of your mind after yoga nidra practice to memorize and study.

The last and for me personally the most important use of yoga nidra lies in its meditative nature. If you find it difficult to meditate in a sitted position, you should start with yoga nidra. Achieving deep relaxation and perfect state of pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) brings out sensory inhibition that enables you to watch your mental activity. This can be more difficult to achieve while sitting but it is a necessary prerequisite to any meditation. Once you master pratyahara and relaxation, you will be able to get to the stage of dharana (contemplation) where your inner focus on one point helps you not to get involved in your thoughts and to reduce their number.  This might eventually lead to dhyana – defocusing or effortless focusing, the state in which you keep one single thought effortlessly and are continuously present in the now. That makes meditation a meaningful experience filled with spontaneous awareness and deep insights. Knowledge of truth only comes when you are free of tension and mindful. The ultimate purpose of yoga nidra is to take you even further into the state of samadhi where your body, mind and soul are completely united and become one with all there is. This is the true goal of yoga – UNION.

Our inner Surya

Everything and everyone in this world possesses qualities of Yang and Yin, Ha and Tha, Surya (which translates as the Sun from Sanskrit) and Chandra (the Moon from Sanskrit). It’s only when these opposite forces are in balance, the perfection is achieved. The balance doesn’t mean 50/50. Thanks to all sorts of different ratios of Ha and Tha qualities in objects, animated and unanimated, we can enjoy the variety and beauty of our Universe.

But let’s look at a human being. Surya is our most fundamental life force, which is always within us. It enables our existence. It gives us that «I am» feeling which is crucial for our self-identification and survival, the understanding that «I am one and unique». The same way the Sun is constantly producing light, our inner Surya is producing awareness and projecting it into the world. This awareness allows us to control everything in our inner world, and projects it out creating our outer world. We need to spread out our awareness into all spheres of our being and life, the same way the solar light spreads out in all directions. Our awareness is our light that dispels the darkness of ignorance and gives us ability to see, to understand. It’s by becoming aware we get power to create changes. The more we pay attention to Surya, our fundamental force of existence, the more powerful we become.

Yellow And Orange Rays by David Wagner

Whatever we do in life is to feel better which can be achieved only by strengthening our force of Surya. All spiritual practices help to strengthen our Surya by connecting to this main life force within us. A meditation is always based on «centring» ourselves – coming to our centre, our Surya. Surya force is in the centre of everything just as the Sun is in the centre of our planetary system.  Imagine yourself standing in the centre of a circle or a sphere. How does it feel to you? Being in the centre, makes us feel better as we get supported by the force of Surya. Some people, however, might feel confused or shy which indicates that their Surya force is not quite awaken. Have you noticed how children love to be in the centre of attention? Their spirit is still weak, and by receiving people’s attention, they receive strengthening of their Surya. Children that will eventually get strong enough, won’t need it anymore, but those who fail to develop enough Surya strength, will always rely on others for the energy support. Egoism is a manifestation of the weak Surya.

Zoya reaching to Surya by Vladimir Dunaev

Take a minute now to feel this Surya force inside of you. Sit straight, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, breathing out all the thoughts out of your mind. Now open up your awareness and look within. Come to the centre, your centre. Feel where that most concentrated «I am» is. We usually feel it deep inside, in the centre of the chest. Stay there for some time and observe it. Something that is being observed is your Surya. Something that is observing it is also your Surya. And that expansion of «I» that is happening by this observation is of Surya nature too. Being in the state of meditation makes us stronger, warmer, more solid, more stable. It brings us experience of being united, being One with all, and gives us power to influence anything we want, as it becomes a part of our being.

Zoya

http://www.zoyayoga.com

15th of Jan 2012

The Benefits of Compassion (by Dalai Lama)

Quote

“The first beneficiary of compassion is always oneself. When compassion, or warmheartedness, arises in us and our focus shifts away from our own narrow self-interest, it is as if we open an inner door. It reduces fear, boosts confidence and brings us inner strength. By reducing distrust, it opens us to others and brings us a sense of connection to others, and sense of purpose and meaning in life”.

His Holiness Dalai Lama