Changing how we think, feel and experience

serenityIn class this week I am exploring the Apan (energy) mudra. This is a wonderful practice to help remove waste products and toxins from the body and to stimulate the energy of the liver and gallbladder. When our liver is functioning well, this in turn has a balancing effect on the mind.

When we work with the fingers and hands in yoga (hasta mudras or hand gestures), we are influencing the flow of prana (energy) in our body and minds; changing how we think, feel and experience on all levels.

With practice, qualities such as patience, serenity, confidence, inner balance and harmony may be experienced. As Apan mudra has a balancing effect on the mind, our ability to visualise, face new challenges and look to the future is enhanced.

THE PRACTICE

apan mudra

Find a comfortable lying or seated position.

With each hand, place the tips of the thumbs, middle and ring fingers together, extending the other fingers gently.

Close your eyes and feel where the fingers touch, while visualising the gesture in your mind’s eye.

Rest your awareness here softly, feeling and observing  – no expectations, or judgement, simply being with your experience as it is, from moment to moment.

You may like to simply sit with Apan mudra for anywhere from 5 – 45 minutes or include the following visualisation.

In your imagination, sit in a beautiful garden. Enjoy the colours and shapes of the plants around you – a garden that is blossoming and full of life. You appreciate the wonder of nature – how a seed germinates, how a plant grows and blooms. In an empty garden bed, plant something that you want to bear fruit, to come into being now or sometime in the near future; a conversation, a relationship, a project etc. Imagine how it sprouts, continues to develop, blossoms and bears rich fruit. See too, who will benefit from these fruits. Finish your visualisation with a sense of gratitude.

You may also like to affirm several times –

I plant my seeds, care for them and receive a rich harvest – that I thankfully accept. 

Rest quietly for a few moments and when ready open your eyes, welcome the light and world back in.

Ref: Gertrud Hirschi, Mudras: Yoga in your hands (Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC York Beach ME, 2000), p73

‘Just say thanks’ meditation

Sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, take a few moments to bring attention to your breath, mantra, or any other technique that you normally use to centre yourself. When you feel settled, ask yourself this series of questions:

What have I received today?

Be specific and reflect on as many things as you can recall. It can be something as simple as your partner’s smile, the sound of a bird singing at dawn, the driver who let you merge in crowded traffic. Remember, the motivation or attitude of those who gave you something is not the issue.

Notice which of these things you did not appreciate as they happened. Can you recall what was taking your attention when one of these acts of grace occurred? Were you stuck in problem-solving mode, thinking of your to-do list, or making judgments?

As you reflect on what you have been given today, you will likely see that, if anything, you owe the world an insurmountable debt. This insight is more than merely humbling; you may find yourself feeling a deeper sense of gratitude and a natural desire to be generous in serving others.

What have I given today?

Go through the day’s events in the same way, but this time notice what you have given to others. Be as specific and concrete as possible. As above, your motivation is irrelevant. What did you actually do? It may have been as simple as feeding your pets, washing the breakfast dishes, or sending a friend a birthday card. You may find that without great fanfare you contribute to the well-being of many people and animals—you make a positive difference to the planet.

What difficulties and troubles did I cause today?

Again, be specific. Don’t overlook the seemingly insignificant. Your list may include things like “I backed up traffic while looking for a place to park” or “I moved the kids off the lounge so I could sit there.” This question is often the hardest, but its importance cannot be overstated. It may bring up feelings of remorse, but its primary purpose is to provide a more realistic view of your life.

In general, we are all too aware of how others cause us inconvenience or difficulty, but rarely do we notice when we are the source of inconvenience. And if we do, we usually brush it aside as an accident, not that big a deal, or simply something we didn’t mean to do. We cut ourselves a huge length of slack! But seeing how you cause others difficulty can deflate your ego while reminding you again of the grace by which you live.

These questions provide the framework for reflecting on all your relationships, including those with family, friends, co-workers, partners, pets, and even objects.
Remember, what makes this a meditative practice is that you are not analyzing your motivations or intentions; you are not interpreting or judging. You are simply shifting your attention from self-centered thinking to seeing things as they are, and as all yoga traditions point out, in seeing, there is wisdom and liberation.