I went to India and was stunned by what I saw. But it's what I brought home that has made the difference.
I brought home the gift of a daily practice of yoga and meditation. And I am terrible at establishing and maintaining routine. After Indonesia, I did go to the beach and watch sunrise every day, but after 31 days, that ended. Today marks the 27th day of this new routine, and I have no intention of stopping.
Two events on our trip changed me. First, I watched a man meditating in the predawn along the River Ganges. His gentle presence, unmoving, for at least 40 minutes (as our boat passed him going downstream, then back upstream), deeply touched me, and I think of him as I enter into stillness.
Then, two other men, our guide, Sanjay, and one of our hosts in Raipur, Amul, invited us to a small hilltop in the desert to do yoga at sunrise.
As Purple Sunbirds sang and sipped, and the cool night air warmed, we followed along as each man shared his own version of yoga.
Later, when I asked Amul about his personal practice, he said he rose each morning at 5, and did yoga and meditation from 5:15 to 7:00 a.m.
Okay, that was too extreme for me. But his devotion to his practice, and the devotion I saw of people along the River Ganges made me determined to make this part of my life.
I can do this, I thought, It has value. It has importance.
My daily practice begins when I awaken, typically at dawn. I go down to a room where I am alone, light a candle, and place my new teak-carved Ganesh next to it. Ganesh is an important Hindu god who removes obstacles, plus offers new beginnings and auspiciousness. My kind of guy.
I start with poses from the Sun Salutation. I enjoy the stretch and strength and balance and focused breathing in each pose or asana. I am adding more to my routine each day, learning from others’ practices, and exploring anew what I gained from past classes and experiences.
But then, with a kind of excitement I did not expect -- me the jock who revels in the muscle work of the asanas -- I switch to the lotus position and begin the pranayama or breathing techniques. Sanjay taught us several, and here you can learn many more.
(In the YouTube video, there are a few ads to skip, and a 5 minute intro that discusses pranayama. The demo begins at 5:00 min. It is 34 minutes long, so watch all or parts, but I found it both soothing and instructional.)
My favorite pranayama is Bhramari Pranayama, the Humming Bee or bee breathing, best demonstrated here.
I started by doing the humming breathing for about a minute or so. Now I often extend to about 5 minutes. I end when I feel filled.
I focus on the reverberations, on the sound, on the feeling of enclosing all that energy inside. There are many reported benefits, from curing migraines and improving asthma, to helping memory and developing a sense of well-being.
For me, I feel a sense of delight, of every cell awakening, of the mitochondrial machines speeding up and energizing me. And I imagine the damaged myelin sheaths (from MS) on my spinal cord and brain healing.
Both Sanjay and Amul emphasized the need to end with Om breathing. I had certainly heard about this, but all my previous meditating had been done in silence, focusing on my breath.
But now, as I continue to sit in the lotus position, my forefinger and thumb touching to make a circle, the other fingers curled, the backs of my hands resting on my knees, I begin to release my breath in an Om meditation.
And the most amazing thing happens. Every time, with each drawn-out Om exhale, I feel as though I am connecting to every person in the world who has ever done or is doing this ancient practice.
Om is said to be the sound of the universe. I sense its vibrations encircling the scurry of beetle, the frolic of dolphin, the whispers of the banyan tree, of the stars, of time.
After Om chanting, I sit for a time in peaceful meditative silence. Calm for my Quaker self. Then, with palms touching each other at my breastbone, fingers skyward, I end by sending out Light and loving-kindness to those who need extra healing and care.
I am so grateful for this gift. I feel it not only nourishes me, but helps me better nourish the world.