By Greg Stein (Poornamurti)
In our fast-paced modern society, calmness of mind can sometimes seem like a rare achievement or even a distant dream. However, a calm and cool mind is perhaps one of the most precious “things” a person could ever have. In addition, calmness or peace of mind is one of the central goals of yoga. We affirm this every time we chant “Om Shānti Shānti Shānti” at the end of a practice or class (‘Shānti’ means peace in Sanskrit).
I have thought to myself before, “Why do we repeat Shānti three times?”. While there may be a more technical answer to this question, perhaps one response could be that we need the reminder! (1) Even in ancient times, it seems to suggest, practitioners of yoga experienced the stresses and strains of daily life and sought peace.
What follows are simple suggestions from Yoga and Ayurveda that are said to be useful for calming the mind. Ayurvedically, this mostly involves pacifying Vāta dosha. (2) This is especially important because excess Vāta is said in Ayurveda to be one of the most common causes of disease. (3) Much of these suggestions come from the book Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad. The first three are perhaps especially important ones for anyone ‘serious’ about calming the mind in their daily life. The others may be worth experimenting with if you feel so inclined.
- Establish a daily routine. For example, try to go to sleep and wake up around the same times daily, while trying to take meals at the same times each day as well. (4) Of course, this is not always possible to follow exactly and life requires us to be flexible as well.
- Practice breath awareness & meditation regularly. If you aren’t familiar with some of these practices already, a competent yoga teacher can show you some techniques that might suit you. Otherwise a number of recordings are available.
- Reduce clutter in your environment, including your home, workspace and car. This is part of the niyama called Saucha (cleanliness). It is said that there is a relationship between our outer environment and our inner environment: when one in is harmony, it will encourage the other to become more harmonious and balanced as well. (5)
- Lie in Shavasana for 15 minutes. This “calms the mind and relaxes the body”. (6) A great time to do this is at some point in the afternoon (from about 2 – 6PM), which is considered one of the Vāta times of the day. While in Shavasana, we can do yoga nidra, although just shavasana alone is great for relaxation.
- Practice Mouna. This is the practice of keeping silence. Mouna is very good for calming Vāta, as excess talking is said to cause Vāta imbalance. (7) One way to practice mouna is to simply keep silence for one hour before sleep in the evening. Try to avoid reading at this time, and just allow the mind to rest.
- Drink a glass of warm milk with powdered ginger or nutmeg before bed. With ginger it is supposed to be good for the stomach and lungs, with nutmeg especially calming to the mind and helpful to encourage restful sleep. (8) Raw milk or at least milk that has not been homogenized is better.
- Massage oil into the scalp before bed, placing a towel over your pillow to avoid soiling it with the oil. Sesame oil is warming and especially good for Vāta. Sunflower or coconut oils are more cooling and good for Pitta. Mustard or sunflower oils are recommended for Kapha. Applying oil to the feet before bed is also good. (9)
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine. If you are looking to calm the mind, at the very least reducing caffeine intake can be helpful. Of course, everyone is different. Caffeine is generally more detrimental for people with excess Vāta.
ॐ Shānti Shānti Shānti
(1) Actually, the classical reason why Shānti is repeated three times is to remove suffering in the three realms: Physical, Divine, and Internal. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanti_Mantra
(2) Vāta is one of the three doshas or humors in ayurveda. It is composed of air and space. More information about this can be found readily on the internet or in various books.
(3) Frawley, David. Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus, 2012. Print. (Page 79)
(4) “A daily routine is absolutely necessary to bring radical change in body, mind, and consciousness. Routine helps to establish balance in one’s constitution. It also regularizes a person’s biological clock, aids digestion, absorption and assimilation, and generates self-esteem, discipline, peace, happiness, and longevity.” – Dr. Vasant Lad, from: http://www.ayurveda.com/online_resource/daily_routine.html
(5) Svoboda, Robert. Vāstu: Breathing Life Into Space. New York, NY: Nāmarupa, 2013. Print. (Page 27)
(6) Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Santa Fe, N.M.: Lotus Press, 1984. Print. (Page 102)
(7) Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. (Page 103)
(8) Frawley, David. Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality. (Page 125)
(9) Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. (Page 102)