Pratyahara: Meditation and Breathwork for a Deep Inner-Journey

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I want to talk about Pratyahara and offer a helpful breathing practice to accompany it. First I feel I need to give it a little context.

Yoga 101

Yoga is old. One of the earliest mentions of yoga comes from the Rig Veda, one of the oldest vedic texts dating somewhere around 1700–1100 BC. So, OLD.

Patanjali was a yoga scholar (some say a school of thought—doesn’t matter) around 200–500 CE who wrote a generalized guide to yoga called The Yoga Sutras. Sutra is a Saskrit word meaning suture or stitch. The Yoga Sutras are therefore 196 verses “stitched” together in order to create a larger patchwork of what yoga’s main goal is and how to practice it.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali starts by defining yoga as the ability to calm the mind into stillness to arrive at a state of Oneness with all things. He outlines 8 limbs of yoga or ways to practice arriving at this Oneness. These 8 limbs are presented from gross to subtle ways to practice yoga.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

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The first limb is the Yamas or outward observances, the way we treat the world. If we’re assholes to everyone around us, we’re missing the essential point that somehow I’m everything and only hurting myself.

Second is Niyamas, or inner observances, the way I treat my inner comportment, my cleanliness, contentment, and ability for self-discovery through work and submission.

Third comes yoga Asanas, or the poses, how literally applying this knowledge to the body, mind, and spirit of my personal being and attempting to discover the unification of all of these. This is what most of us refer to when we think of yoga. That’s fine—you don’t have to start practicing at the beginning—whatever gets you onto the path.

Fourth, Pranayama refers to how this work affects one’s energy through breathwork and other energy manipulation through the chakras, or primary energy stations located along our spine.

Fifth, and this is what I want to talk about most today, come Pratyahara or gaining control over external influences and learning to withdraw from our senses as the entrance into the inner-being.

Photo by  Alex Adams

Photo by Alex Adams

Sixth is Dharana, or fixed concentration on one thing.

Seventh, Dhyana, deeper concentration where you begin to lose your sense of individuality and the object you’re observing start to merge.

Lastly the eights limb is Samadhi, or the state of Oneness.

So now you’ve got probably more information than you need about yoga philosophy and ancient texts, what does this Pratyahara business have to do with me?

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ve likely tried at least a few ways of meditating and discovered one or two ways that really help you to go deep into your meditation, where something begins to happen and we start to get that meditation hit that everyone is talking about. In part, this ability to go deeper into ourselves starts with Pratyahara.

The senses are a wonderful tools of cultivating presence. Paying attention to our senses help us wrangle in our wild and wandering mind to a state that is here and now. We’ve used our senses perhaps with the “There Is” Practice or similar practices. However, getting stuck into this mode of paying attention to what is outside maintains external attention and might prevent a deeper inner-journey. So, learning to move beyond our senses inward to a state of raw here-and-now-ness may deepen your meditation practice.

Your senses are always firing and constantly giving the brain information. In fact, there’s so much information happening all the time, that our brains have to learn to filter and select what is essential and what it can turn off. Pratyahara experiments with learning to turn ALL the senses off to find a state of deeper inner-awareness on our pathway to discover that the answers are within instead of outside of us.

To to practice Pratyahara start by listening to your senses and then go inward beyond them.


Breathing Practice to Complement Pratyahara

Here’s a breathing practice followed by a meditation that can help you with just this

Brahmari: Bumble Bee Breath

Brahmari breath is kinda weird so bear with me. What you do is sit, close your eyes, and place your hands on your face with your index fingers over your eyebrows, your middle fingers covering your eyes, fourth fingers just below your nostrils, and little fingers under your lips. Your fourth and fifth fingers therefore create a cradle around your mouth. Your thumbs gently plug your ears. This closes all the exits, except your nostrils. Now, you release your pinkies to take in a big breath through your mouth, replace your pinkies and close your mouth and let out a long hum until you have no more breath. When you’re empty, breathe in again and do another round. Continue for several rounds. Have fun with this: try high pitches, low pitches, make up little tunes— whatever. Ideally, you’ll drown out all other senses except the sound of your own humming in your head.

You may also choose to omit the crazy hands-to-face business and use earplugs and an eye mask—less adventurous but probably just as effective.

This practice will confirm to your neighbors peeping through the windows that yes, you finally have gone nuts and that they should probably look for another neighborhood. Better just to have some private space to do this.

After several minutes of this, keep your eyes closed and choose a meditation that cultivates a strong internal focus, something like mantra meditation or mindfulness meditation.

I might suggest using the Insight Timer and setting your timer for 20 minutes using an interval bell to ding after 5 minutes. Do the Brahmari breath for 5 minutes and after the interval bell dings, try a mantra or mindfulness meditation for the remaining 15 minutes.

This will be a great 20 minute practice to really cultivate inner-focus.

If you’re curious, give this a shot and let me know how it goes.

Kauai Yoga

Yoga: What I Learned Teaching in New York

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Yoga New York

Yoga Worries/Revelations

Pure Yoga New York

A year ago, I moved to New York City, having spent the previous 15 years successfully making my entire living teaching yoga in Salt Lake City. Honestly, I worried whether or not by moving to such a big town I'd drown in a sea of amazing yoga teachers and be forgotten and have to go and wait tables. 

Well, that didn't happen. On the contrary, I was able to land auditions and teaching gigs at some of the best yoga studios in New York and was completely delighted by my experience teaching yoga in New York. Even though my wife and I decided that New York isn't our forever place, my year there helped me to discover a few  essential things about teaching, things which I think you might be interested in. 

So, there are 8.5 million people in New York and it seems that every other person in New York is a yoga teacher. And while NYC has a lot of yoga teachers, I found that they aren't all good or very experienced teachers. And what I mean by a "good" teacher is one who is nuanced, ones who stands out, is original, and who has a lot of experience teaching anything other than a generic vinyasa flow class. 

Don't get me wrong, there were still a ton of extraordinary teachers in New York and one of the things that helped me stand out from other teachers and land some of those great teaching gigs was my ability to teach Yoga Nidra.
 

 

Standing Out

If you don’t know about Yoga Nidra, it’s a form of guided meditation that helps people reach profound levels of relaxation and awareness. It's very healing and illuminating. People love it because it's as profound as it is relaxing, anybody can do it, and people often get great mind-blowing results, from their very first session. 

Yoga Nidra is a bit of a niche practice but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how popular Yoga Nidra has become. Both in Salt Lake and New York, Yoga Nidra is always one of my greatest attended regular classes.

I’ve spent the last 10 years studying and teaching Yoga Nidra, and it's truly changed/revealed who I am  as a person and as a teacher. I hope you can tell how passionate I am about it. While receiving Yoga Nidra is relaxing and easy, teaching it can be very complex. I'd love to share my decade of experience teaching Yoga Nidra with you. 

 

Offerings

20-Hr. Yoga Nidra Immersion

Virtual or In-Person July 20–22 2018

While I’m in Salt Lake City for a few months, besides offering classes, privates, retreats, and trainings, I'm offering a 20-hr. Yoga Nidra Immersion (July 20–22). This Yoga Nidra immersion is a unique opportunity to learn about your own deep True Nature, as well as to learn how to teach Yoga Nidra, both to a group and in one-on-one sessions, which are conducted quite differently. You’ll get a certification with this training and it will count as continuing education hours with Yoga Alliance. Plus, you’ll be able to develop a skill that will immensely benefit your students, help you gain more students, and distinguish yourself from other yoga teachers, no matter where you teach. Yoga Nidra is also a great way to develop a robust online presence.

Besides teaching Yoga Nidra, New York taught me volumes about teaching in general and specifically my own teaching. I’m much more prepared to teach on a larger scale than before and I’m excited about new ways in which I’m growing as a teacher.

One thing I practiced and refined was how to get into some of the best yoga studios in the country. In my Yoga Teacher Mentor Program curriculum, I offer a proven strategy to get hired at the studio you want to teach at. It had been a while since I needed to "bust in" to a studio, and have never needed to audition to teach, but I followed my own strategy to get in and it worked like a charm. Of course I brought my best teaching to the audition, but with so many yoga teachers in NYC, even getting an audition is nearly impossible. My strategy to get hooked up with good studios even helped me to network with some of the best studios in the country outside of NYC, including making introductions to people who are running national yoga festivals

Even though not every NYC yoga teacher is fabulous, there are still plenty of really incredible teachers, many of whom I could learn from for the rest of my days. And there are enough great teachers in NYC such that I knew I had to bring my A-game to every class; there's no way I could phone it in.

Yoga Teacher Mentor Program

To ensure I was offering my best, I had to look at  many of the ways that my teaching had become stale or rote. Man, that's hard to do! As a teacher, I think it's hard to see the ways we've become stale because we think it's just the way we teach, or think that our way of teaching is a best practice of teaching. I was very fortunate to get some spot on feedback about my teaching from a nationally renowned teacher, feedback that helped me improve my teaching immensely. I began experimenting and tweeking small things about my teaching which made a big difference in the way my students received my teaching and what I felt of as my role as the teacher. 

If you are interested in really refining your practice of teaching, learning how to reach more students, or make a career from teaching yoga, I’d love to talk to you about my Yoga Teacher Mentor Program. This is a one-on-one mentorship where together, we develop a very personalized curriculum as we discover your talents and leverage them into helping you become an even more extraordinary teacher, making the kind of money you deserve. This mentor program pays for itself as new opportunities arise from the knowledge and experience you gain from this program. Plus, if you register for the Mentor Program, you’ll get the 20-hr. Yoga Nidra Immersion for free.

Wherever your life takes you, may you always teach yoga and may you always strive to bring your A-game. The world truly needs what only you have to offer. 

What are the ways in which you are growing as a teacher or know you need to grow as a teacher? Leave a comment!

Namaste,

Scott

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Headaches Stink!

Do you ever get headaches? Do you get regular headaches and not even know why? Did you know that headaches can sometimes be the result of unconscious tension in your hips, back, neck and shoulders?

Don't hate me, but I'm the kind of guy who almost never gets headaches. Well, not unless there's something really wrong with me. So when I do get a headache, it's an automatic red flag and I pay close attention to what's going on with me. Even having a headache is an opportunity for mindfulness.

There are a bunch of reasons for headaches, like dehydration, sinus congestions, and viruses. But like I said, sometimes, headaches are caused by unconscious tension, especially if your headaches are chronic.

Here are a few of my favorite techniques to remedy a headache. I use these myself and teach them to my students. 

First, check in and listen. Try hearing your headache as a message from your body. Close your eyes and give yourself a few slow rounds of deep ujjayi breaths. This technique is often powerful enough to remedy a headache all by itself because of the ujjayi breath's ability to calm the nervous system. 

As your breathe, bring your attention directly to your headache and see what you can learn from it. Where exactly do you feel it? What is the quality of your headache. What are the emotions, thoughts, or sensations which correspond to your headache? If your headache were a message, what might it be? 

And then try these three yoga poses to see if they help your headache.

Quick info before you do any yoga poses: remember that you are aiming for quality over quantity. You don’t get better results by doing a pose more intensely. Keep your stretches at the quality of I call “comfortably intense.” Aim for duration and feeling a solid, sustained stretch rather than a quick fix.  And always with every yoga pose maintain your ujjayi breaths.


Pose #1

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Eagle Arms: to stretch upper-trapezius, lateral deltoids, triceps

This posture stretches a few of the most pernicious muscles when it comes to tension headaches. The upper-traps, the big muscles right at the top of your shoulders which connect to your head, are particularly responsible for causing tension headaches. When these muscles get tight, they pull on the tension balance of your upper skeleton as well as the muscles in your neck and scalp resulting in headaches. These muscles, as well as the lateral deltoids and triceps, tighten if you are prone to doing repetitive actions with hands and arms such as typing on a keyboard, driving, or texting (hopefully not all at the same time. I LOVE this pose.

Try wrapping your arms and then lifting your elbows slightly above your shoulders. Do this with your deep ujjayi breaths flowing. I like to slowly turn my head side to side. Oh, and makesure you’re not clenching your jaw. Sometimes when I'm trying to release tension in my body, I clench because I'm pushing too hard and this is an unconscious tension response.

Try this pose for 10 breaths on each side.


Pose #2

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Side Neck Stretch: to stretch the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

Other muscles that sometimes contribute to headaches are the SCMs and the scalenes. These muscles run along the sides of your neck.

To stretch these muscles, put your left hand on your head and tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder. Reach your right arm toward the floor but several inches away from your hip so that your middle finger almost touches the floor but not quite. It's like you're trying to get your right jaw and right fingertips as far away from each other as possible.

Do your ujjayi breathing.

Visualize your breath moving down into your fingertips and releasing any tension that exists from your head to your fingers. I'll visualize my tension dripping out my fingers like drops of water and pooling onto the floor.

Again, don't clench your jaw.


Pose #3

Seated Twist: to stretch the paraspinal and piriformis

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Sometimes the pain you feel in your head originate from a place entirely different than your head, like your back or even your hips. The paraspinal muscles are the vertical  muscles that run along either side of your spine and the piriformis muscle run deep under your glutes and connect your legs to your sacrum. Again, when either of these muscles are tight, they add to an imbalance in the skeletal tension and can radiate tension into your head. Plus, since your spine houses our spinal chord, the primary conduit for information moving via the nerves to the brain, by gently twisting the spine, you wring out our nervous system. Twists are great to release tension!

Sit down and cross one leg, bent at the knee, over the other leg, also bent at the knee. Bring opposite elbow across opposite leg. Sit up tall with your spine erect and buttocks grounded firmly on the floor. If one of your buttocks lifts, try extending your bottom leg straight. As you initiate the posture, breath in deeply and sit tall. As you exhale, gently twist to a comfortable level. Hold each side for 10-15 long breaths.


If you get headaches, try first checking in, listening to your body, and doing a few rounds of ujjayi breath. Then bust out these three poses and see if they help. If you do them regularly, you'll most likely find that your headaches will come less frequently and will be less severe when they do.

And remember, sometimes your headache is trying to tell you something so practice listening. 

Do you get headaches? Use the comment section to tell me what you do to help remedy headaches?

Mastery

In order to gain mastery, you must dismantle as much as you build.
— ~Master Sinon. The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak.

What is mastery?

Scott Moore Yoga

Author and poet David Whyte illustrates mastery with a great story about an old welsh sheepdog named Kumro. According to David Whyte, Kumro was “the Joe Montana of the canine cosmos,” despite the fact that he was ancient in dog years, limped on a gimpy leg, and was missing key visual and hearing functions.

David Whyte describes seeing the younger, spry dogs trying fruitlessly to direct the sheep by spending enormous amounts of energy all the while Kumro stood back and simply watched (with his good eye).

Finally, Kumro decided something needed to be done. He took merely two or three steps in one direction, slightly turned his body a few degrees in the direction of the sheep, and almost like magic the entire flock funneled obediently into the narrow opening in the wall where he had wanted them to go.

Kumro’s edge, his mastery, was his radical simplicity—minimal effort for maximum benefit.

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In decades past, the mantra for mastery was “Mind Over Matter.” As I’m writing this, I’m conjuring visions of high-waisted leotards, leg warmers, and headbands. It was conquer and conquest of body and nature. But to mistake body and nature as our foes unfortunately results in broken and bodies and annihilated environments.

Today we live in the Information Age. By applying correct information, we can achieve and practice mastery by doing less to get exponentially more and without the high cost of conquering ourselves. Instead of “Mind Over Matter,” the new mantra is “Mindfulness With Matter.” The information we gain for mastery doesn’t come from the internet, a course, or a book (remember those, or did they go out with the leg-warmers?). The profound and life-changing information I’m talking about comes only by learning to listen to the master within, like your own personal Yoda, the quiet and wise whispering of body, mind, and spirit. While a teacher can help, they can never substitute for that inner master. Mastery, therefore, involves learning to listen to the wisdom already inside of you.

John Coltrane had mastery. He had teachers, yes, but who taught Coltrane to be Coltrane? Coltrane did.

Learn to listen. Listen to learn.

Of course, this applies directly to our yoga practice. In my mind, there is no “achievement” by putting your foot behind your head. That mentality is so “Mind Over Matter.” In class I like joke that if there is a pose I can’t do, that pose is overrated. Sure, I’ll keep practicing it because of what I can learn in the listening, but I have no delusions that by putting my foot behind my head will make me more spiritual, more valuable, or a better person.

Instead, the achievement is all internal and mind-bogglingly more expansive than flexible hamstrings. It’s the invisible flexibility of my constant growth into Awareness, a mastery which is facilitated by the tools of my body, mind, and breath but which fundamentally isn’t body, mind, and breath. And this expansiveness can only come from a mastery of what is most subtle.


Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)
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One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.
— Bruce Lee
Mastery

So, if mastery is minimalism, what do we need to cut in order to practice it? Start by cutting everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Start by radically cutting everything but the breath.

Try this experiment:

Sit. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly in and out. Listen and feel. Visualize your breath as a color or texture and localize your breath to any place on your body you choose. You’ll soon feel a tingle, a heaviness, a lightness, or something else. If you chose a hand, it might feel as if that hand is larger or lighter than the other. This kind of attention and focus on the breath will localize Prana, the yogic term meaning life-force energy. You can feel Prana. Also, this focus brings Awareness. Now what if you could breathe this Prana, this life-force energy and Awareness in into your mind, your emotions, or hell, your finances or love life? That’s mastery.

“Dude, how did you finally let go of all of your anxiety?”

“I found my breath.”

I invite you to practice and cultivate mastery by cutting everything but the essentials. Practice breathing and meditation. Practice styles of yoga like yin, restore, and pranayama that celebrate getting much more by doing much less. There’s nothing wrong with vigorous yoga. And as you approach whatever poses or life situation, try simplifying down to the essence. Learn to breathe life into whatever you are experiencing at the moment.

Next week I’ll continue on this theme of mastery with even more practical ways of using our breath, and Prana to develop mastery in our yoga and meditation practice, our love life, and our work.


Virtual Yoga Nidra Series October 8-November 12