Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice

I mentioned last week that I read (and loved) Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Making Space, Creating a Home Meditation Practice.

This book is simple and oozing compassion. Plus, Hanh has a deft poetic hand.  Here are some gathas from the book, which I made up in a pretty font so you can download them, print them and pop them around the house (or your desk) as a reminder.

Looking through the window of your mind

I’d like to share with you a little about the workings of the mind and the way a thought is processed.

To process a thought we move through three stages. These three stages are linked to what we call the three minds:

THE THREE MINDS: Negative Mind, Positive Mind & Neutral Mind.

To process a thought, we assess information first through the Negative Mind, then the Positive Mind and then arrive at the Neutral state.

That’s the ideal mental trajectory anyway, however as we are not all master yogi meditators who have control over their crazy chattering minds at all times … we can sometimes (or often) get stuck in one of the first two stages (negative or positive) without reaching the Neutral Mind.

Getting to know the intricacies of how the three minds work can help you to navigate your way through to a neutral mind perspective.

How the three minds work:

THE NEGATIVE MIND is there to take care of us. To work out if something is dangerous, unsafe or unwelcome in your space. The Negative Mind’s rightful job is to be negative – to critically assess potential damage. When balanced the Negative Mind can spare you from unnecessary heartache or pain by bringing a critical perspective to any choice. It presents the negatives to be legitimately considered. However, when the Negative Mind is out of balance, we can be fearful without reason, overly critical, or plagued with doubt, uncertainty and worry.

THE POSITIVE MIND assesses the benefits. It sees the possibilities and the potential. It’s through the Positive Mind that we achieve things. It’s the ‘go get it’ part of the mind. It supports us to see the joy and experience delight and bliss.  If however the Positive Mind is unbalanced, it can charge ahead and commit to way too much, telling us nothing is too big - it’s all achievable! We see ourselves at the finish line and think, “can do!” Then we crash and are left overcommitted and stressed out.

Another catch with the Positive Mind is that when unbalanced, it’s job of expanding ideas can turn in on itself. We lose discernment. When the Positive Mind is not balanced it can actually attach to Negative Mind thoughts - heightening and strengthening those thoughts - latching onto subconscious fears and memories, imagining potential problems - creating dramas full of potential risks, backed up by past traumas or unwelcome situations as case study support without any real basis in reality.

In a balance thought process we don't get stuck in either one of the negative or positive minds, we assess negative and positive then move right on through to a neutral perspective.

THE NEUTRAL MIND is ultimately the mind that guides and makes decisions that are in your highest good. We arrive at a neutral perspective after travelling through the negative and positive minds first. The Negative and Positive Minds are based in the past or the potential future. The Neutral Mind is 100% in the present, uninfluenced by fears and dramas. It uses information provided by the other two minds and brings that information into the now and makes conscious choices and assessments from that place.

The Neutral Mind is the unthreatened, compassionate, big picture, non-judgemental mind. Always open to possibilities, always smiling broadly at the play of life, never fooled. It is clearly placed in the here and now.

How is this useful?

Having a map of the structure of the mind and developing awareness around what happens when we process incoming information is empowering, as it provides a method in which to observe your mental process. Observation is the key to knowing yourself and your triggers - the jumping off point to mental mastery. Ask yourself in any given situation:

  • Is my Negative Mind doing its job, what is it saying?

  • Is my Positive Mind also having a say and bringing some joy and potential? Or is my Positive Mind running away from me and imagining dramas therefore I should I take a breath and a moment to reign that in and bring myself back to the here and now?

  • What would the Neutral Mind say?

The best way to take a good look at the mind is to meditate. We move through our three minds through all meditations. It helps to know that it’s just the mind doing its thing, so we can let it ride and not attach to the thoughts, moving to a neutral space for some observation. Through the practice of meditation we become more skilled at noticing what’s happening in the mind day to day, helping us take back the reigns and have some control over the mind rather than let it control you. Sitting amidst the thoughts and knowing when it’s just the mind freaking out and not reality is very helpful.

Checkout what’s happening in your mind. Think about that neutral space perspective and try stepping back a little from your thoughts. You can spare yourself a lot of unnecessary drama.

Ref: The Mind, It’s Projections and Multiple Facets, Yogi Bhajan, PhD with Gurucharan S. Khalsa, Phd.

Yoga breathing to beat anxiety


Today's post on breathing away anxiety comes to you courtesy of Beth Wallis, who's just joined TeaMM...Yoga! as a yoga teacher & all round awesome business manager. 

Image via.

In this modern, fast paced world we all at some point or another have felt anxious or some degree of anxiety over a life event. If you haven’t, you luckypants,  this blog post probably won't interest you much!

 *Please note that if you experience anxiety on a regular basis and if it is interfering with your daily life then it is best to seek professional help.*

Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way I can say that the practice of pranayama – or breath control – can have profound effects on your mood.

The next time you are feeling stressed, agitated or anxious stop and notice your breathing pattern.

I bet you’ll find it’s either, short, shallow, fast or in your chest. These breath patterns can activate your sympathetic nervous system, which is commonly known as your ‘fight or flight’ response, which basically means you can get your self out of danger if needed. But as you can see this is not a very relaxing mood, you’re pretty much on high alert.

So, if you are constantly feeling stressed, agitated or anxious then your sympathetic nervous system is constantly switched on and this may lead to other health problems (while is a whole other blog post!). There is science to back up the claims now that by regulating your breathing you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘calming’ nervous system, also known as rest and digest) and reduce stress and anxiety. So even though the yogis have been saying it for centuries the scientists have finally caught up!

It is important to go at your own pace and not force any of the practices.

In time yoga and all its many aspects, including asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath control) or meditation, can help us see our thoughts as transient and impermanent allowing us the realisation that our thoughts will just pass by if we let them and we do not need to react to each and every one that enters our head. Our minds like to stay busy and like to repeat our ‘stories’ over and over again. It is usually this repetition of stories that may cause anxiety. In extreme cases this anxiety can be felt as a physical response in the form of an anxiety attack (or panic attack). In times like these it is helpful to remember our thoughts will just pass if we let them and by focusing on something more tangible like our body or breath we can start to slowly feel calmer again.

In particular Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) has a calming effect on the nervous system and may help you move out of your sympathetic nervous system and activate your parasympathetic nervous system promoting a calming feeling. For a full and detailed instruction on how to perform Nadi Shodhana please click on the link to this video. You can even practice it while watching it!

Nadi Shodhana is a great breath practice to start with but if it makes you feel more anxious, or like you can't breathe, or you have a blocked nose or hay fever, there's the lovely & simple abdominal breathing. This chap reckons breathing right is the single best thing you can do for your health:

If this feels comfortable for you, you can add in a lengthened exhalation. Start by inhaling as usual, counting the breath to a number that is comfortable i.e. the inhalation is 3 or 4 counts long. Then on the exhalation add an extra 2 counts on to start. In time you may be able to double the length of your exhalation so it becomes a 1:2 breath count ratio (inhalation to exhalation). By lengthening out your exhalation you begin to move into diaphragmatic breathing which again stimulates your parasympathetic nervous to create a relaxation response. Be sure to notice that your breath is smooth, quiet and not forced in any way.

Even 2 minutes of a pranayama practice will noticeably change the way you feel. So next time you are feeling slightly anxious give one of these a go for just 2 minutes, you never know, you might just notice a difference and want to increase the following practice to 5 minutes, then to 10!

If you want to explore even more yoga breathing techniques, pop over and read this article.


beth headshot.

About the author: Beth Wallis is a yoga teacher partway to her qualification as a yoga therapist, mumma of two gorgeous girls under five, television producer, and co-owner of a first aid training business. She knows a bit about feeling anxious & overwhelmed. Luckily, she also knows about yoga.

What style of yoga do mm...Yoga! teach?

Good question. We teach what can really be best described as 'corporate yoga'. I.e. people will get challenged, but the pace isn't too fast as it's silly to expect folks to come straight out of work mode & meetings and into a very fast moving yoga class where the risk of injury exists.

 We sometimes call it 'slow power yoga' so that people know they will be doing lots of lunges, squats, and planks, but that they won't be moving as fast as in a traditional vinyasa class.

We do a lot of strength and postural work, too, so people can get through their daily lives feeling more physically comfortable and calmer.

 Here's a sample of how a mm...Yoga! class might look:

  • Start in savasana (lying on your back) with breath awareness
  • shoulder warm ups
  • cat-cow
  • down dog (where we asess what people’s shoulder girdles are doing and their hamstring mobility)
karen down dog
karen down dog
squatting is good for you ass-ana!
squatting is good for you ass-ana!
  • short rest on back, then core work, bridge pose, maybe side plank if appropriate:
  • reclining twist
reclining twist
reclining twist
  • savasana (guided relaxation)