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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Yoga and Sound

Music and sound have an integral place in the yoga tradition called nada yoga or sound yoga. The science of mantra has long been used as a way to invoke the power of sound and vibration to transform states of consciousness and even affect reality. For example, taking on a sadhana or spiritual practice of performing a mantra 10mins a day for a month can reveal the power of mantra. The simple Ganesh mantra, Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, when recited is said to create a vibrational field which removes blocks in our lives, whether they be physical, mental or something else. Nada Yoga echoes the sentiments of most cutting edge quantum physicists, that reality is essentially an ocean of vibrations which motivate matter into particular forms. At our essence, everything is simply energy. Frequency is our identity. Yoga is a profound practice that physically changes our frequency to positive states of vibrations. How often do we leave a yoga class feeling utterly altered in a positive direction? Sound and music can also play even more direct roles in yoga. Chanting even a few OMs before one’s asana practice can help focus the mind and charge the body as our watery composition is incredibly receptive to sound (five times more than air). When our voice vibrates with sound, our whole body begins to literally vibrate on subtle, cellular levels. Moreover, when we pair the sound to an intention (such as my OM is an expression of peace, love or courage) the sound has a double-power of effect. Chanting at the end of class can also be a nice way to conclude by offering yet another soft vibrational bath of help cleanse the body further. And chanting in group creates instant resonance with one another, helping foster more and more unitive states among people. In this capacity, music really shows itself as the universal language par excellence.

Musicians themselves seem more and more keen to take on the inspiring knowledge of musical healing traditions that have ancient origins. Musicians can profoundly affect their listeners, inspiring even sacred states. It is my personal hope that more musicians start to realize that they are masters of vibration and are inspiring change on the most essential energetic levels of the world. This can help usher in a whole new paradigm of music-making to help restore the masses to more unity and harmony within and without.

May it be.

Written by Darren Austin Hall

For upcoming sound-healing events at Octopus Garden click here!

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Why Meditate?

The other day my Father asked me why I wasted my time meditating. Well, he didn’t actually phrase it that way, it was more implied, like meditation was a huge self-indulgence, a way of avoiding the world’s problems. I said, “It’s true I’m avoiding the world’s problems Dad, they are scary and lack the proper proportion of whale-sightings. But that’s not why I meditate.” “Well why do you meditate then, son?” he asked, and then, as I began to respond, he fell immediately into a deep and peaceful sleep. This is what he missed:

“Well Dad, the way I see it, there are two tiers of meditative effects, the surface effects, and the deeper effects. I’ll start with the surface effects – actually calling them “surface” is unfair, because these are also really important and it so happens that over the past dozen years or so many of them have been corroborated by excellent scientific research.

So we have research on the physiological benefits of meditation. Has been found to improve blood pressure and heart rate and even boost the functioning of the immune system. These practices reverberate through the body. On the psychological front, we see lower levels of stress, of anxiety, of depression. There are also studies showing increase in positive emotion – this actually corresponds to changes in the brain, thicker cortex, more neural connections around brain areas correlated with positive affect. And of course people report all these other benefits: more clarity, concentration, calmness, empathy, creative energy, and general happiness.

To me it’s common sense why this happens. Meditation makes space. It gives you room around your experience. Meditation interrupts the automatic looping of the racing mind, which stresses and freaks and shoots free radicals around the body and picks all the macadamia nuts out of the salad of life, leaving you with a bit of mushy leaf. Damn you mind. Why don’t you chew on this bit of emptiness. And so, you give it to the mind, by not giving to it. Of course this whole confrontational vibe will mess you right up and will have to be worked through ASAP – I’m exaggerating for the sake of contrast.

Anyway, Dad – if I may call you that, as I am your son after all, and you are snoozing happily on the couch not five feet from here – as these meditate effects settle in, something very beautiful begins to happen. You find there is a general reduction in suffering and an elevation in fulfillment. The great and beautiful Buddhist nerd Shinzen Young taught me this – he introduced me to the equanimity piece of the practice. You fight with yourself less. You let pain come and you let pain go – you feel pain more in a sense, but by not fighting with it you suffer less. Pain moves more cleanly through you. You also feel pleasant sensations more. You notice things – the world, the birds in the trees. Ordinary sensations become extraordinary. Freed from the automatic imperatives of our racing minds, we take time to notice the sparkly wonder of life. Wow: moss. Wow: the act of stapling. Wow: whatever. It all seems so cool just existing like that.

Along with this you find you also have more space around your behaviour. The compulsion to act immediately – to react – is buffered. You find you have more space to stop and think about your actions.  What’s more, from that more spacious place, you find you have more room for others – to truly know others, to accept them for who they are. As a result, one’s spirit of love and service is amplified and freed, and this despite the frequent cursing and lashing out. This has been one of the most delicious effects for me – this desire to help others by explaining meditation to them until they fall asleep.

These are all very deep benefits, but from a spiritual perspective it gets even deeper. The primary purpose of this practice is radical self-knowledge – I think of it as deep psychology. As we meditate we gain an experiential understanding of the nature of thought and awareness, and their relationship with reality. So first you learn about the different components of your mind. And the longer you practice, the more you begin to tune into what is prior to and beneath those components. In Tibetan and Zen traditions they talk about discovering the mind’s true nature.

Attempting to describe this true nature with language is a fool’s errand – it is paradoxical and sounds, to skeptical ears, like New Age baloney. Yet it lies at the center of every one of the world’s mystical traditions. Each has a different name for it – the Tao, Buddha-nature, Christ-consciousness, Turiya, God, the Ground of Being, Pure Consciousness, whatever. The more time you spend abiding in it, the less need you have to try and name or describe it. What is important is the expansion of identity that accompanies this lived intimacy. You feel connected to everything around you in a fresh and different way.

For all this, only two things are needed: regular practice and time. Nature will do the rest.

So how do you know meditation is working? The litany from teachers is always the same:  the real measure of progress is not some trippy state of consciousness or a Kundalini lighting bolt vibrating in your ass. In truth, these only happen to some folks, and they are not that important. What is important is the spillover into daily life – more ease, more empathy, and a slow erosion of the sense of alienation between inside and out.

That’s why I meditate Dad. Now I’m going to eat everything in the fridge.”

– Written by Jeff Warren

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Octopus Garden welcomes Jeff Warren, renowned author and meditation instructor, for a meditation and mindfulness class like no other. Over eight weeks, participants will dive into a full 13-technique contemplative curriculum, all with an emphasis on play and exploration.

Join Jeff in the exploration, contemplation and practice of meditation. This 8-week workshop explores many different techniques, including:

  • deconstructing thoughts and emotions,
  • anchoring attention in the external world,
  • working with states of deep relaxation and surrender,
  • and practicing “reconstructive” loving-kindness.

Dates: Thursdays, February 7, 14, 21, 28 and March 7, 14, 21, 28
Time: 5:45pm – 7:30pm

This workshop is filling up quick! Contact our desk to register (416.515.8885) or take a look at The Octopus Garden website for more information.

Start Where You Are.

Meditation 101 – Workshop with Pat Harada-Linfoot

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Start the new year by seating a meditation practice! Join Pat Harada-Linfoot for a 21-day, progressive introduction to meditation.

We will meet on four Thursdays: each class will include meditation instruction, short practice sessions, and discussion. In order to develop, restart, or nurture a home practice, on the other six days of each week, every participant will receive guided meditation instructions via email. In addition, the two drop-in meditation classes on Mondays at 7:45pm and Wednesdays at 7:00am, will be available to participants at no extra cost.

This program will focus on the experiential elements of the meditative experience and on the following questions:

  • What is meditation?
  • How does it work?
  • What are the benefits of practice?
  • How do we meditate? What are the principles and techniques?
  • How do we practice off the mat?

Preregister for this workshop which includes:

  • Thursday night meditation instruction and practice.
  • Daily emails (Fri to Wed) with guided meditation practice.
  • Optional two drop-in meditation classes per week, at no additional cost.
  • Dates: Thursdays, January 10, 17, 24, and 31
  • Time: 6:00pm to 7:30pm
  • Cost: $125 (plus HST)


All are welcome, from novice to experienced practitioner.

Workshop space is limited, so call our front desk (416-515-8885) to register!

A Reflection on the Relationship between Yoga and Knitting

Artwork by Alannah Cavanagh

Artwork by Alannah Cavanagh

I’ve been knitting and practicing yoga now for several years and the more I do of both, the more I want to do of both. Yoga is known for its healing and holistic, life enhancing properties, but knitting? That is not so obvious until you begin to experience, over time, its own unsung, holistic qualities.

Knitting is calming and relaxing. The rhythmic nature of the knits and purls coming off the needles as you practice can be almost hypnotic. Most knitters agree that knitting is like a form of meditation.  It also has a grounding quality, much like you can feel during and after a really good yoga practice.

Knitting also requires concentration. One cannot hold onto one’s ‘story’ and knit. You have to stay present and focus on your stitches. To allow yourself to be swept away with thoughts and emotions is to guarantee a mistake somewhere in your project- your moving fingers are bound to start doing something you are not expecting. Even, regular breathing helps with the evenness of the stitches.

Knitting helps develop patience. It can be frustrating at first when you are trying to learn to knit and then to master other techniques. But going back and sitting down with it, ripping out and starting over to achieve a result you want in a project is necessary. It’s also rewarding, like when after doing a hundred bow poses suddenly one day you reach back, and there are your feet to grab! It all then seems worth it and you don’t get as mad when you ‘don’t get’ a technique

Both practices help keep me humble and keep me real. No matter what I do I feel good at the end of either activity.  Even if it means I had to decide to pull back- taking out my knitting and starting all over or taking a step back in my practice to strengthen my core before trying to grab by foot in Half Moon pose- it’s for my own good, my health.

There is something very grounding and nurturing in knitting and yoga practices, a strength and a tenderness that is inherent in both things.  I read recently another article that knitting aligns well with the Yamas and the Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras.

It’s so interesting… and makes me want to learn more and share more about both knitting and yoga. To that extent, I have become a yoga teacher and immersed myself in the yoga world. I have recently also taken the dip into the knitting world: This Sunday, January 6th, 10am-12pm,  I start teaching Beginner Knitting at my favorite knit shop, Ewe Knit!   (located at 585 Markham Street in Mirvish Village, ph.416-530-4848) Looking forward to seeing you on the mat…or on the needles.

– Written by Scott Fech