Cultivating Stillness

Travelling Across Java, Indonesia

There is too much rushing:

past myself,
in the world around me,
in my own thoughts.

I lose my centeredness:

agendas prevail,
thoughts collide,
my self becomes lost.

I must become quiet inside my soul:

stillness of body,
stillness of breath,
stillness of mind.

Only then do I begin to find my self again.

This little poem I wrote reflects a sentiment I feel frequently, in spite of the fact that I am very good about making time for myself — down time, quiet time to rejuvenate.

So when I spent a few days at the incredible Osthoff Resort on the shores of Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin this week, I was thrilled to see that their Aspira Spa not only offered amazing spa treatments but also yoga and meditation classes, along with a beautiful meditation room.

In the meditation room at Aspira Spa

I signed up for a 90-minute yoga class and a 90-minute class called “Cultivating Stillness.” Those who know me, know that I am a yoga addict and also try to meditate regularly; it really does help to keep me centered, focused and calm in the face of all that swirls around us in day to day life. I even did a project last year, during my 30 Days at a Time challenge, where I meditated every day for 30 days and really helped to develop a practice and useful habits and tools.

When I entered the gorgeous, peaceful yoga studio on Friday morning, the instructor was waiting for me. He introduced himself as Hari-Om…seriously. Now, as an aside I normally have a problem with these types of names — it just seems so pretentious, like when you come across a Western yoga instructor named “Shiva” or something. But perhaps some of these name-changers really do have such a new life, have incorporated their practices in a way that has truly changed their lives, that they feel they want to embody that with a yogi name. To each his own, and Hari-Om was clearly passionate about, and dedicated to, his practice.

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“I got into yoga about 10 years ago, but I never thought I would be able to do the full studies at an ashram,” he told me. “It was so expensive, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to afford it.” Eventually, Hari-Om began studying at several yoga and meditation ashrams, teaching the classical, traditional Indian Sivananda style. He is now the in-house instructor at Osthoff Resort.

We began with several Pranayama breathing exercises to begin cultivating stillness within our breath — the first step in quieting both the mind and the body. We continued on with a series of sun salutations and then moved onto asana yoga postures. At the end, another half hour or so of guided meditation followed.

Hari-Om shared the Five Basic Principles for Cultivating Stillness:

  • Proper Breathing: Deep, full breaths—nourishing and energizing.
  • Proper Exercise: Stretching one’s whole body every day.
  • Proper Relaxation: Staying calm and centered, mentally flexible.
  • Proper Diet: Fresh, organic and local; primarily vegetarian.
  • Positive Thinking and Meditation: Develop courage, love, contentment, focus, clarity and stillness.

For those of you who may have difficulty meditating, focusing on your breath and clearing your mind while making your body completely still, there are some specific techniques that can help. First of all, Hari-Om suggests starting small.

“Just try meditating for five minutes every day, first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. If you do that for a month and it’s working for you, you can gradually add on a minute at a time until you’ve worked up to 10 or 15 minutes a day.”

It’s also helpful to count while breathing, to prevent the mind from wandering, and focusing completely on the feel of the breath entering and leaving your body. Count to 4 or 5 as you inhale and exhale.

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Tense and then relax each muscle, one at a time, from head to toe—concentrating solely on that part of the body as you do so. Become aware of the difference as your muscles become softer and more aligned and relaxed. Use an inner guide by saying to yourself, for example, “I am relaxing my feet; my feet are completely relaxed” and onward through the body.

Finally, I will share the following from the “Four Paths of Yoga” sheet shared at the Aspira Spa:

Sadhana (individual spiritual practice) should be undertaken with keen enthusiasm and joy. Begin with an open mind. Be free of preconceived notions formed out of your own egoism. Approach spiritual life with a sincere receptive attitude, ready to learn. Be prepared to adapt yourself to the teachings, instead of foolishly wishing them to adjust themselves to suit your mental pattern.

Without this attitude, disharmony will mark the very beginning of your sadhana. You will fall into a state of dejection; this will color the entire course of sadhana, and valuable years will be wasted. Renunciation of particular ways of thinking is quite necessary, if you wish to enter and proceed on the path smoothly. Then you will understand things gradually. They will become clear to you, one by one.

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