Taking Gratitude for Granted

We all hear quite a bit about the concept of gratitude around the holidays. People ask each other at family gathering, “What are you grateful for?” and there are countless encouraging memes on social media nudging us to participate in this obligatory function of the season.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about gratitude. In my profession as a Life Coach, I give clients “gratitude assignments” often as part of their coaching. The most common one being a daily gratitude journal in which a person will write down as many things as they can think of that they feel grateful for at the end of each day. The catch to this assignment is to not only write these things down and be done with them, but to really meditate on each one and invoke the feeling of specific gratitude for that specific things. Imagining it in your mind and really allowing the feelings to unfold and grow is a very experiential way to practice gratitude rather than an intellectual exercise.

What we take for granted is that we actually know how to be grateful. This may not be as easy as one would think because of something called a “negativity bias” that is genetic. Science can tell us so much about the brain now and we know that our brains are wired to constantly seek out potential threats and create scenarios for how we would deal with them. This comes from a genetic predisposition that was prevalent ages ago when we were running from tigers in the jungle. The humans who were the most hyper vigilant were the ones who survived and passed their genetics on to the next generation.

This is just dandy for surviving but unfortunately, the part of your brain that keeps us alive doesn’t care whether we are happy or not. If living in a state of constant fear keeps you from being the one who gets eaten, our brains would have us choose that instead of a life of peace, ease and joy.

The funny thing is that for most of us, our lives are relatively safe. We could in fact live lives filled with peace and joy but our primal brains tell us otherwise. Our nervous system is keyed to detect any kind of perceived or real threat to our physical, emotional and mental survival. We spend time in our minds exploring all kinds of “just in case” scenarios about most everything that could go wrong.

When a threat is perceived, the brain signals the body to release stress hormones such as cortisol and directs the flow of blood away from the torso and into the limbs. It “turns off” the part of the brain that is involved in creative thinking, problem solving and so forth. All resources are being directed to what we need to either fight, flight or freeze.

What does this have to do with gratitude? Here’s the short answer. It is impossible to be in a state of gratitude and also be in a state of high stress. The two feelings are not compatible in your nervous system. While you might be able to understand what you “should” be grateful for, it will not be possible to maintain a state of gratitude when you are in a chronic stress pattern (which many of us are).

So what can we do about it? Science can also show how the brain is elastic and can be re-patterned. Just as you can train yourself to always see potential threats and problems, you can train your brain to recognize good things in your life and in the world. When this becomes a repeated practice, the part of the brain that can see possibilities other then ones related to survival, life becomes more than a race to win or “make it”.

When we practice gratitude in a real way with the things that are currently working well in our life or the things that are good about the world, we create more opportunities for this to be the norm in our life and grow more gratitude.

This does not mean you won’t still experience stress in your life. What it means is that you will be able to turn off the stress response once the situation or problem causing it is resolved. You will have a more balanced approach to things that would normally cause you to panic and perhaps make hasty decisions. You might even be able to see the silver lining in the cloud and know that the clouds always pass to reveal the sun.

When practicing holiday gratitude, consider making it a regular tool you use to cultivate more peace, joy and happiness in your life and in the lives of those around you.

Isn’t that the spirit of the season?

Why is the kind of music we use in Yoga important?

I’ve been to hundreds of Yoga classes in the past 18 years and I have heard every kind of music played during Yoga from new age to hip hop to hard rock! I’ve also heard many opinions from different sources about what kind of music should be played in Yoga or even if any music should be played at all.

As a composer and someone who has studied music from a classical perspective, I can comment on how the structure of music effects the human brain. There is something we take for granted in Western music which is called tonal music. This is music that has a structured melody and follows fairly predictable chord changes and transitions. Most pop music follows this format and we are very used to this music as it is in our neurology.

Our brains can actually predict what the next note in a song will be based on the information that is stored from previous experiences. This can cause the awareness to be pulled into the music and actually await the resolution of a chord progression with a bit of tension of the nervous system.

Now, I am not saying this is bad. What I will say is that this kind of music pulls on your attention. When it is played during a Yoga class, it will be a distraction even if it is subconscious.

Proponents of refraining from playing music during Yoga point out that some music feeds the EGO and should not be utilized during practice. The point of Yoga practice is to still the mind and anything that engages it can be counter productive.

I would propose that it is more simply a fact that the more things you place in your environment to distract you from being present during Yoga, the harder it is to connect with the present moment. This would include digital devices and music!

The compromise between music that pulls your attention and no music at all is actually quite easy. Here are a few guidelines for choosing music that can actually help you deepen your presence in Yoga practice.

1. Avoid music with lyrics. Words will always pull your attention as well as connect you with possible associations to previous experiences. (A song that played when you were a teenager and reminds you of your first love) While these might be pleasant memories or associations, they will engage your mind and set a stream of thinking in motion.

(the exception to this is chanting because it invokes the names of the Divine)

2. Avoid hard and driving rhythms. Very strong rhythms will likely engage your nervous system into a state of primal alertness.  This is why hard driving music is used in commercials for sporting events. They engage a primal drive to fight. We are striving to quiet the nervous system in Yoga so this is not a good match.

3. Use music that is intended for Yoga and meditation. Most composers of this kind of music understand how to use absence of a tonal center to create spaciousness in music. Another use of music for meditation is chanting that moves up and down one key the whole time it plays. The entire chant may stay in the key of C# while the vocalist moves within that key with the chant. This creates a hypnotic effect.

4. Try occasionally to practice with no music or perhaps naturally occurring sounds such as the waves at the beach.  We tend to get very attached to the need for external stimulus such as music so it can help our practice of presence to expreince a lack of input. While this may create resistance in the mind, it is a good chance to hear those thoughts that have been running under the gun in your subconscious.

With all this being said, if you want to practice Yoga while listening to Led Zeppelin, it does not make you less spiritual! I’m not judging what is right and wrong for your Yoga practice. This is only a guide to make your path more intentional.

Just get on the mat and practice!

Bioluminescence, Dolphins, Yoga and Meditation!

Hosted by Niko Ana Burkhardt and Edge Yoga School.

Join us for an Incredible Spiritual Retreat in Nature! Stay on Sanibel Island in beautiful Southwest Florida and experience a Nighttime Bioluminescent Kayak Tour,  a Dolphin, Manatee and Beach Meditation Excursion and lots of Yoga on the white sand beaches of the gulf of Mexico.

We will also be visiting a local Hindu Temple for a night of Kirtan Chanting and spending some time discussing spiritual practices.

Our intention is for you to leave the retreat with a spiritual practice you can take home and use in your daily life. We really are looking forward to seeing you there.

There are only 5 spots left so reserve now if you are interested. Click the link below to get to the registration page.

Tapping Your Luminescence Spiritual Retreat

Why Should I Chant as a Spiritual Practice?

Chanting is a common spiritual or devotional practice in many religions. Typically, a chant is a word, phrase or poem that describes the Divine or God as defined by that particular religion that is repeated over and over in a meditative posture. This can be done in a group or alone.

While chanting can be done within a religious structure, it can also be a very fulfilling personal spiritual practice for the solo practitioner. A person needs no experience with any religion in order to start chanting. All that is required is a willingness to give it a try.

My own background in chanting began when I was studying at a Japanese Pure Land Buddhist Temple in Hawaii. I learned many of the ancient chants that were quite long and involved. Most of these were performed during services and as ceremonies. Although they are very beautiful and I enjoy chanting them even now, they are not very accessible to those who want a daily practice that is fairly easy.

Then I found Nichiren Buddhism. What is unique about this organization is the lack of clergy. There is no hierarchy and they focus on chanting practice. The Lotus Sutra is their main doctrine and the chant is the title of that sutra.

Namyo Ho Renge Kyo

(visit http://www.sgi.org/resources/introductory-materials/ to learn more)

Roughly speaking this translates to connecting with the Buddhahood within.

When chanted over and over, this is a practice.

Let’s use this as an example.

Scientific research shows that chanting and meditating effect the brain in ways that reduce stress and activate the frontal cortex where higher ordered thinking occurs.

Some spiritual research explains that our subconscious minds are filled with many thought centers that have formed over the years. Most of these are the result of trauma and negative experiences that now cause us stress. These thought center are driving our behavior and mood when we are not consciously aware of them.

When you chant, you create a new thought center in the mind that is associated with the Divine. This creates positive feelings and when repeated for a time, will over-write or block the old negative ones.

Don’t take my word for it or any research for that matter. Just give it a chance and see what happens in your life.

I can tell you it has changed mine drastically.

 

Do You Make Your Own Luck?

This is a Lucky Cat.

I hear the word “luck” or “lucky” being used quite a bit in everyday language.

The luck of the draw……

Thank your lucky stars…..

Lady luck smiled on him…..

With that being said, this adorable little guy in the picture above is a Maneki Neko which is Japanese for Lucky Cat! I was first introduced to the Maneki Neko back in 1996 when a friend of mine brought me back one from Japan. I was enthralled with little gift as it was also a “kitty” bank. I just thought of it as a lucky cat until I was studying Buddhism at a temple in Hawaii where I lived at the time. My Sensei told me about the legend of the Maneki Neko as it has a spiritual connotation.  Continue reading “Do You Make Your Own Luck?”