Category Archives: Visualization

Attention!

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By: Swami Suryamani Saraswati

The teenage daughter waited until her father was immersed in his newspaper. Then she said,
‘Daddy, it’s a lovely day”.
“Yes”, her father replied without looking up from his newspaper.
“Daddy, it’s raining”, she continued.
“Yes”, her father replied, still engrossed in his papers. Now convinced that her father was too absorbed in his papers to pay attention to her, she asked.
“Daddy, can I go to the movies?”
“No”, replied her father, without looking up from his newspaper.

Training the mind

Our wondrous brain is like a multiple-access computer, only much more powerful. It is capable of performing several tasks apparently at the same time However, we lose half the interest and joy of life because we have not trained our minds to concentrate and be attentive.

Attention is automatic when we are interested. When a child is not interested in studies its mind keeps wandering to more interesting things through the window – the birds swooping in the blue sky or the red butterfly dancing on the sunflower. However, we have to train this wayward mind to be attentive even in situations where we find no interest. For this, yoga is essential Yoga nidra, trataka, visualization, breath awareness, deep breathing, ajapa japa, japa and meditation are conducive to developing a keen sense of attention.

You can also add interest to your visualization practice: Imagine an expansive landscape, the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan range. Behind is the clear blue sky and the sun is making the snow glisten. Like a movie camera going for a close-up, start to zoom in on a particular scene, until you have on your mind screen a cave in which is sitting a yogi in meditation before a fire. Draw up closer and see the bhasma covering his body, his white hair and beard and the dancing, hot flames of his fire, etc.

Or try this visualization; Close your eyes and visualize a red candle. Its flame is rock still, as if it is also made out of wax. Once this visualization is steady, see another candle next to it. It is green but it’s flame is blowing about in the wind.

If you can visualize the red candle, good. If you can also visualize the green candle simultaneously, very good indeed. Now continue the practice but interchange the role of the candles. The flame of the red candle is blowing in the wind while the green candle is rock still. It you can do this then your power of visualization is superb, which means your power of concentration is excellent. You can be attentive if you wish to be.

Yoga teaches us how to control the five senses so that the mind does not get any stimulation from outside. When there is a lack of stimulation from outside, the mind starts to pickup impressions from the vast repository of memories stored within it. Through meditation and other yogic techniques, the mind gradually exhausts the storehouse of memories until the mind becomes empty of accumulated impressions: the mind has nothing else to hold on to. This is the first step to the practice of dharana or concentration. It is achieved by visualizing any object and training the mind to become concentrated like a laser beam on, for example, one’s ishta devata or guru.

No interest, no retention

You must have read many jokes about the absent-minded professor. However, what appears to us as absent-mindedness can in fact be the gift of total, one-pointed concentration found only in very rare individuals. These genius-type individuals have absolute interest in their particular field or idea to the exclusion of almost everything else, even food and sleep.

Psychologists say that we are not attentive when we are not interested in something taking place in front of us (sight); or something being said to us (sound); or some flavour to which we are exposed (smell); or something which is offered to us to feel (touch). In other words, when the mind is not interested in the kind of stimulation that is received by any one of the sense organs, the brain does not act on the stimulation, at least not at that very moment. Some time later the brain is capable of bringing the incident from its memory bank at an appropriate moment, or even at unexpected moments as in the dream state.

The manner in which our brain responds to something of interest is:

Attention – Concentration – Retention.

When it is of no interest then only an effort of concentration brings about the necessary attention and retention. In actual practice however, we do not realise the happenings in such clear-cut, water-tight compartments but as one act of ‘retention’ or ‘no retention’ in a flash.

Unconscious attention

Even when you are not paying attention, your brain is. Some years ago, a brain washing technique was used to catch the attention of the audience without it being at all aware of it. In a normal feature film, messages were incorporated between frames urging the audience to eat chips and popcorn. These messages were not visibly perceptive but were nevertheless being passed on to the brain. During the break there was such a rush on the popcorn and chip stall that it seemed the whole theatre had suddenly been overcome by mass hunger. This is referred to as ‘subliminal persuasion’.

The havoc being caused by advertising and other onslaughts on the brain in a multi-media society brings home the point of how essential it is for an individual to be able to shut his mind to other stimulus and pay attention to his task. Professionals, especially surgeons, anaesthetists, pilots, judges etc., need to develop the ability to concentrate right from the beginning of their professional training and the practices of yoga will aid them a great deal. One such practice is yoga nidra, which will also keep their minds calm and relaxed between long hours of work.

Yoga nidra

Yoga nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. The term ‘yoga nidra’ is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘yoga’ meaning ‘union’ or ‘one-pointed awareness’ and ‘nidra’ which means ‘sleep’. During the practice of yoga nidra one appears to be asleep but the consciousness functions at a deeper level of awareness. For this reason yoga nidra is often referred to as psychic sleep or deep relaxation with inner awareness. In this threshold state between sleep and wakefulness, contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions occurs spontaneously.

In yoga nidra, the state of relaxation is reached by turning inwards, away from outer experiences. If the consciousness can be separated from external awareness and from sleep, it becomes very powerful and can be applied in many ways, for example, to develop memory, increase knowledge and creativity, or transform one’s nature. Through yoga nidra and the use of the sankalpa one can become a great surgeon, pilot or judge with superb concentration and a strong will, but it is better to use this gift of sankalpa for some spiritual means.

One-pointed pilgrimage

Many experts in communications agree that any message received by more than one sense organ has a better chance of retention in the brain. The rishis and munis who understood the human mind in its entirety developed techniques that catch the attention of all the senses without seeming to do so.

In certain holy places the temples are built on the top of steep hills. The very act of climbing the hills, some of which do not have steps even today, is a laborious exercise which helps to focus the concentration, and involuntarily the pilgrim begins to chant the deity’s name. The more difficult the climb, the more one-pointed the pilgrim becomes, negating all other thoughts of home and family, pleasures, comforts and responsibilities.

In the old days these pilgrimages took several months to complete and often there was no guarantee of a sate return. The pilgrim put up with all kinds of hardships – lack of proper transport and shelter, severe climatic conditions – so he developed a mind powerfully concentrated on his goal which was God in some form or other, and thus his consciousness was elevated through this one-pointed attention.

The pilgrim remained in that elevated state for several months or even years, which started to build up right from the days of planning in his home. By degree he also developed a sense of pratyahara, non-possessiveness and other attitudes which freed his mind, helping it to become one-pointed. Now of course with modern methods of travel, accommodation and reservation, this process has been lost and along with it the total commitment and involvement of consciousness. Having arrived on top of the hill, the pilgrim was enveloped by the spiritual atmosphere, generated by the fervour and shraddha of thousands of pilgrims past. He would hear the temple bells and the singing of bhajans and kirtans, along with the chanting of mantras, his ears fully attentive to these sounds. The scent of flowers and agarbatti captivated his sense of smell. Through the aarti and gazing at the murti the eyes too became attentive, and when he was offered prasad the fourth sense organ became attentive. Finally the fifth sense organ, the skin, became attentive during the holy bath, as the actual worship in the temple came as a climax to months of hardship and toil and fervent expectation. And what better way could there be to develop, concentrate and direct our attention than in the pursuit of a higher goal or God?

Visualization Techniques

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Found this great article about visualization and I wanted to share it here. Credits go to Mr. James Bone,  from the Satyananda School of Yoga in Australia.  Thank you James!

Visualize this!   By James Bone

• Visualization is a process where you create internal mental images and use this process in some positive or constructive way. For example in yoga, you may visualize a beautiful scene during relaxation to enhance relaxation of your mind; or you can visualize energy flowing up and down your spine as you breathe in and out, to enhance its free flow.

• Visualization is a tool used quite extensively in yoga, especially in the tradition of Tantra Yoga. Tantra Yoga is a form of yoga concerned with the expansion of consciousness, and its aim is to allow yoga to be accessible to all. Visualization is also used in many other areas such as psychology and sport.

• You can choose to be a victim of life and just meander here and there where it takes you, or you can decide to take charge and give it some direction. This is where the tool of visualization can be very helpful. It can be used in small and simple ways, such as improving your tennis game, to actually aiding in the healing process of a serious illness.

• One theory behind the principle of visualization is that your world is created by what you think and believe. Certainly from a scientific point of view, we know that we only see what our minds are trained and prepared to see.

Visualization is a vast topic so today we will just consider 3 main areas of visualization usage.

Enhancing Success

This form of Visualization is used most readily in the areas of sport, performance, business and wealth creation. Basically you visualize in your mind’s eye the positive outcome you would like to see.

• In sport for example, you may visualize yourself playing the perfect golf shot.

• In performance for example, see yourself performing the perfect dance form.

• In business for example, see your business as successful as you would like.

• In wealth creation, you see yourself achieving the goals you seek.

The process is simple, but you must be very clear in your mind what you want, or you may end up getting what you don’t want!

• Healing

Martin Rossman MD was one of the first to investigate the use of visualization in medicine and found it to enhance healing. Dean Ornish MD also used a form of visualization in his “Reversing Heart Disease Program with Yoga”.

In this process of Visualization, you form some image in your mind, which symbolizes healing for you, and the area that needs healing. This image can be quite individual, and it needs to be meaningful to be effective. Sometimes in a Yoga class or with a client I will use the image of a warm healing light spreading outward from your heart or navel to the area needing healing …. feeling your body immersed and nurtured by this light. For others they have used the image of their immune system successfully tackling an illness and winning. What type of technique works best for you really comes down to what feels right in your heart and can hold your concentration effortlessly.

The problem doesn’t have to be major, as you can use this technique even for day to day aches and pains, injuries and coughs and colds.

• Transformation

This is the form of visualization most used in yoga. Transformation is a process where you make a decision in your life to develop yourself in a positive and directed way. Often the process is more an uncovering of your true nature, rather than actually improving anything, as according to yoga philosophy, we and everything else is already whole and perfect, but we just can’t see it. So there are a variety of techniques used to help with this process.

One such tool is the visualization of the chakras. These are representations of your developing consciousness, which are aligned along your spinal column and brain. There is a technique called Bhuta Shudhi where you ‘cleanse’ the Chakras and so your consciousness through visualization.

Visualization is also used in Yoga Nidra, a form of deep relaxation. You use a resolution at the start and end of your practice, focused on what you would like to transform. Visualization is also used within the practice to draw you into deeper states.

Visualization can also be used to enhance your flow of energy (called Prana). It assists the process by which you do physical yoga practice, such as lifting tall through the crown of your head by feeling your head as light as a balloon, or imagining drawing the energy from your feet up to the crown of your head, or feeling your feet connected to the earth, grounding like the roots of a tree.

In Contemplative Meditation, visualization can be used to enhance a feeling, or a feature or characteristic you would like to enhance in yourself, such as focusing on the heart to enhance compassion, concentrating on a special person you admire to develop that person’s qualities in yourself, focusing on a spiritual aspect you would like to develop, or visualizing on something – for example, a mountain if you would like to be steady, or on an elephant if you would like to be strong and graceful, etc. The scope is quite unlimited, and I’m sure you can think of many more possibilities.

There are hundreds of meditation and relaxation practices using visualization (used within the yoga and other traditions) to help direct your mind in a positive way. On the other side, visualization is also used to loosen or dissolve negative feelings so that you can become aware of them, deal with them, and unlock your hidden potential.

•  Some people can visualize extremely well and use this technique to great effect. However, not everyone has equal skill in this area. Luckily, just as the body can be trained to become stronger, so can the visualization ‘muscles’ be trained to work better with practice. I myself am not strong in visualizing and when I was younger I felt the practices quite frustrating and pointless. However, over time and with practice I have slowly improved my capacity to visualize. So practice, practice, practice!

• I suggest for those of you who struggle to visualize, start with something simple, such as a simple image during relaxation or meditation. Just keep saying the image to yourself, until an image begins to form. Don’t try too hard and be patient, as it may take a little while to happen.

• For those who can visualize well, maybe now is the time to try one of the techniques above and see if it can enhance your life in the way you would like.

• A Simple Visualization Technique used in Yoga to help calm the mind is a beautiful scene: Visualize a warm golden sunset, or a beautiful scene, or a lake of peace and tranquility, or clear blue sky with a single cloud floating by, hold your mind on the visualization… become absorbed in it…