Updated: Mar 19, 2020
“When a widespread difficulty like the Coronavirus pandemic grows, it becomes important to draw on our inner strength. It is the time to pause, reflect and bring wisdom, courage and care to ourselves and those around us. We human beings have survived for a thousand generations, helping one another and inspiring each other. We know how to do this. Instead of getting caught in collective fear and anxiety, we can remember to take a breath, center ourselves, and take practical precautions and protections, but calmly and in the spirit of love. Each of us can contribute to the well-being of ourselves, our communities and our world.” Jack Kornfield, March 2020
In times of global uncertainty and fear, we may be at a loss to find stability and peace within. We may begin to feel increasingly anxious and worried about how we and our loved ones will cope with suffering and how we as a society, a community, will navigate and endure hardship.
We may be worried about how we will maintain calm and routine while confined to our homes in close quarters to family members or flatmates – will we feel cabin fever, boredom, or frustration?
We are in unprecedented times as a nation, as a planet. We know that this time will pass – but how will the world be different to the one we knew yesterday or know today? Stories of extraordinary courage and civic co-operation in China, singing on balconies in Italy, fish swimming in the canals of Venice, an online choir of 500 sofa singers worldwide, restaurants preparing and delivering meals for the most vulnerable, shops opening earlier for the elderly to avoid the panicked buyers and the EU coming together to share ventilators and vital life-saving equipment inspire hope for a world ever closer.
In our own way, we can each contribute in supporting each other’s physical, mental and emotional health; take collective responsibility and radiate a prayer of love, healing and a strong sense of community spirit.
My offerings during this time are free to anyone who needs more spiritual support and physical movement through yoga and meditation. I am crafting a series of mantra, mudra, pranayama and asana – each imbued with the intention to protect, heal and strengthen. Below you will find definitions to broaden your understanding of the terms if you are less familiar with them.
What is mantra?
Mantra is composed of two Sanskrit words - manas (mind) and tra (tool) - which combined means an instrument or tool for the mind. The sound vibrations of the mantra, whether chanted loudly, whispered softly, or silently recited, (often in combinations of 3 up to 108 or 1008 times) become a powerful meditation tool for interrupting repetitive, habitual and/or negative thoughts and encourages concentration of focused attention fostering positive intent, mental calm and clarity and ultimately a state of enlightened bliss.
What is mudra?
Mudra means seal, gesture or closure. Mudras are symbolic, ritual gestures often (but not exclusively) practiced with the hands and fingers which guide the flow of prana (energy) in the subtle body. By creating an energy circuit, different parts of the brain and body are stimulated, energised or enhanced – deepening meditation practice, adding intentions to our yogasana practice and bringing balance and harmony.
What is pranayama?
Pranayama is often referred to as breath work – it is a compound of two Sanskrit words, prana and yama. Prana is life force or vital energy and yama is often translated as restraint or control. It is interpreted as breath without restraint or life force extension. Pranayama is designed to control, direct and guide prana within the body through different breathing techniques, visualisations and locks (kumbhaka – breath retention).
What is asana?
Asana is defined as a steady, comfortable seat which encompasses a description of the various physical postures held in Hatha yoga. Asana practice helps to prepare the body for meditation - but importantly at this time, it can relieve stress and tension by releasing endorphins through physical activity - maintain mobility and improve range of motion, and support balance and core strength.
Here are three mantra, mudra and pranayama practices to get you started.
Day 1: Radiate a prayer of love
Pranayama Brahmari breath
Sit comfortably and allow your eyes to close. Take a breath or two to settle in and notice the state of your mind. When you’re ready, inhale and then, for the entire length of your exhalation, make a low- to medium-pitched humming sound in the throat like a honey bee buzz. Notice how the sound waves gently vibrate your tongue, teeth, and sinuses. Imagine the sound is vibrating within your head. Do this practice for 6 rounds of breath and then, keeping your eyes closed, return to your natural rhythm of breath.
Mudra Bhramara mudra
Keep both your hands in front of your chest and place the index finger of your hand at the base of your thumb.
Do this with both your hands.
Now touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your middle finger.
Extend your ring and middle finger.
Breathe as deeply and slowly as possible and chant the mantra below.
Mantra Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
Repeat mantra 3, 9, 54 or 108 times whilst holding the mudra.
Day 2: Take positive action
Pranayama Surya Bhedana (Bhedi) breath
This is a sun-piercing breath to bring clarity and inspire positive action. You are invited to intend your breath work to positive action to protect the most vulnerable in our community and support the NHS to cope.
The right nostril represents the sun, or heat, action, and activity and the body. The left nostril represents the moon, or calmness. Surya bhedana is also associated with the syllable ‘ha’ whereas chandra bhedana relates to the syllable ‘tha.’ Together, these two syllables create ‘hatha,’ or balance in the body.
To begin, sit in a comfortable position and take 3 full breaths in through your nose and exhale through open mouth. Fold in the peace fingers (index and middle) towards your palm of your dominant hand. Keep your thumb and ring and little finger extended.
To start, depending on whether you are left or right handed, use your finger or thumb to press lightly against your left nostril, and inhale through the open right nostril. At the top of the breath, switch your fingers, so you close off the right nostril, and then exhale through the open left nostril.
At the bottom of your exhalation, alternate your fingers once more, closing off the left nostril to breathe in through the right, and then exhaling once again through the left nostril, with the right nostril closed. Breathe in through right nostril, breathe out through left nostril. Do this for at least 6 rounds.
Mudra Kartarimukha Hasta
This mudra represents ‘scissors’ to cut through confusion, fear and ignorance. It enhances the power of eyes to see the light through the darkness and gain clarity about the course of action to take. It is also said to counter fatigue and improve immunity.
Bring the thumb, ring and little fingers together.
Extend and fan into a v shape the index and middle fingers.
Do this with both hands – rest hands on your thighs or cross your arms at the wrists in front of your heart space.
Mantra Shanti mantra
Asato ma sadgamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
From what is not, lead me to what is; (from falsehood to truth)
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to what is undying
Day 3: Come home to yourself
To move towards flourishing in community love, today’s practice helps us to acknowledge and accept that our whole planet is going through changes which invoke fear and anxiety and to positively foster the feeling of being ‘at home’ within ourselves (as well as our physical homes) it is essential to let go of the holding onto old deeply ingrained patterns that keep us – and everyone else – stuck in our usual habits.
Mudra Ganesha mudra
This mudra helps to relieve stress and tension and invoke courage and confidence to face fears with an open heart and by bringing uplifting warmth to the heart.
Bring your left hand in front of your heart and turn your palm away from you (your thumb pointing down towards your solar plexus) and fingers bent.
With your right palm facing toward you hook the fingers of your right hand with the fingers of your left hand. Elbows pointing out toward the sides.
Practice the breath below. Then swap hands and practice the breath with right hand closest to your heart.
Pranayama Ganesha breath
With your mudra – on an exhale breath pull the elbows away from one another while keeping the fingers locked together.
You will feel the muscles of your chest and upper arms engage. On your inhale breath, soften and release the tension.
Repeat this breath up to 6 times - engaging and pulling on the out breath, softening and releasing on the in breath.
Mantra Om Gam Ganapatayei Namaha
This mantra invokes Ganesha to support us to dispel fears and negativity, seek protection, teach us how to overcome and remove obstacles in these difficult and challenging times and invite in new beginnings.
Ganesha is also closely associated with the root - muladhara - chakra connecting to survival, stability, and security - which are emotional senses which we all welcome for grounding in these shifting sands of time.
Repeat mantra 3, 9, 54 or 108 times whilst holding the mudra.
With peace, love and healing
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