Why A Healthy Body Means A Healthy Mind

Since time immemorial, great civilizations have discovered and utilised the link between physical fitness and clarity of being. In the ancient civilizations of India, Greece and Rome physical fitness was given the highest importance – our title is in fact derived from the old Latin saying “mens sana in corpore sano“. This connection works on multiple levels and being aware of each aspect can really motivate you to have a fitness regimen as an integral part of your practice of self-improvement.

1. (The obvious one) Stress relief

During the day all the annoyances and troubles of the day slowly build up in our nervous system, turning us into the human equivalent of pressure cooker! But when we do some physical exercise, all that stored up energy suddenly finds a channel through which it can operate. So when you finish, not only do you have that feel-good physical factor, but also an enhanced sense of mental clarity.

2. Shake off lethargy

Often (especially if we have slept too much) we arise with a feeling of lethargy and sluggishness which can impair our effectiveness during the day. That’s why a run first thing in the morning works wonders in shaking off that half-asleep feeling. In fact, next time you get up and are tempted to go back to bed for a little while, try doing some exercise instead – you’ll be surprised how alert you feel at the end, and you will wonder where all that tiredness you had this morning went! Continue reading “Why A Healthy Body Means A Healthy Mind”

How to get by on less sleep

Often I think about what a shame it is that many of us have to spend eight hours or even more in a state of pretty much total unconsciousness. Of course, if we suddenly try to reduce that time, we just end up in a state of disorientation and crankiness, but there are a few things we can do to slowly and naturally reduce the amount we sleep and claim back more time for the things we really want to do:

1. If we have more quality, we need less quantity

When I was in college, I was convinced I needed nine hours minimum rest – however, when I look back, I see that rest included at least an hour tossing and turning around before sleep finally descended, and even then I could still sense my mind turning around like a washing machine. When I took steps to improve the quality of my sleep, I found that the quantity I needed also decreased. Here are a couple of things worth considering:

  • Try to turn off any mental disturbances (e.g computer or tv) half an hour before bedtime; the mental spill over from what we were watching or working on can often accompany us to bed and affect our sleep quality.
  • Many of us will take a shower and a change of clothes when we come home from work; it helps to put the workday behind us. Similarly, a shower (or even washing face and hands) before bedtime helps us to clense ourselves of the experiences of the day and not carry them into our sleep.
  • When the mind is calm, you can sink into a much deeper, more refreshing level of sleep. A five minute practice of meditation just before you turn in can give you that clarity of mind and enable a nights sleep unhindered by nightmares and other mental disturbances. Tejvan wrote about a meditation exercise you can try a few weeks ago…

2. A short daily nap

Much of our tiredness comes from stresses and strains which gradually build up during the day. A twenty minute nap in the afternoon can be just the thing to settle the nerves and give you a new lease of life going into the second part of the day. It also has the effect of tricking the mind into thinking that you’ve actually slept for longer, which means it can be a very good way to compensate for any reduced sleep you’ve gotten the night before.

3. Reduce sleep gradually, not suddenly

If you suddenly decide you are going to sleep for four hours a night, it will very quickly tell upon your health and well being. The best thing to do is reduce in small increments, say, fifteen minutes at a time. Once you have been at that level for a few weeks and your body has adjusted, then you can you can try and reduce by another fifteen minutes.

4. Try this concentration exercise

There are concentration excercises you can do which, when practiced properly, can be used in times of tiredness to give you the same amount of rest as sleep. This one in particular was suggested by my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy:

Try to feel that your entire body, from head to foot, represents a sea of peace. Feel that you have become peace itself, that you embody peace within and without. Try to feel your physical frame consciously, but at the same time feel that you are an infinite expanse of peace. When you can consciously feel this expanse of peace, you will see that your physical body, flesh, blood and bones, has totally merged and disappeared into that sea of peace.

In ancient times, yogis and meditation practitioners would use techniques like this to get the equivalent amount of rest in seconds to minutes and hours of sleep.

5. Another trick you can play on the mind

While I was researching the above quote, I found something else my teacher suggested which I had completely forgotten about:

Also, when you go to bed, just try to feel that you are going to sleep for twenty-four hours. Then, even though the clock will say that you have slept only three or four hours, your very first thought as soon as you wake up should be that you have slept for twenty-four hours. The mind can convince the outer consciousness, and immediately you will believe it. This is not self-deception; it is proper use of the conscious mind. The figure twenty-four has enormous strength. It immediately gives us a sense of comfort, relief, pleasure, fulfilment.

This advice has definitely saved me on a couple of occasions when I had three or four hours sleep with a big day ahead of me the next day.

If anyone has any additional tips, please let us know!

(Photo: stxchng.hu)

Is self-discovery a selfish act?

We’ve all heard it before from well-meaning people – that focusing on our own self-improvement is an intrinsically selfish act. That it ignores all the people out there less fortunate than ourselves we should be helping. That it is basically an exercise in narcissism.

Let me say it right from the start – there is absolutely not even a grain of truth in this. And here are three very powerful reasons why:

Reason 1: You have to have it in order to give it

If we do not have inner awareness, or reached a state of inner contentment, then the so-called help we offer to the world will be driven by our need for self-approval and self-validation. We become more concerned about gaining approval for what we have done than about the people we are helping. We may have the outer resources necessary to help others, but we do not have the inner resources to do the job wisely, and with the proper amount of concern and detachement.

The journey of self-improvement gives you those inner resources. It brings to the fore new talents and capacities you never knew you had, and these capacities give you a greater sense of self-confidence as you go out into the world. Continue reading “Is self-discovery a selfish act?”

Overcoming jealousy once and for all

Sometimes we get a subtle kind of thrill by indulging in jealous thoughts of other people, thinking that what goes on in the confines of our minds can’t really harm anyone. But for people who are consciously trying to better themselves and grow into their highest potential, indulging in jealousy can infact be a significant stumbling block to inner progress.

Why is that? Well, when we harbour jealous thoughts, we inhabit a mental space that consists solely of the person we are jealous of. In doing so we limit our possiblilities and our view of the world shrinks; we begin blaming other people for our current state rather than doing something about it ourselves.

Jealousy also brings us further away from true awareness of the world, as it invariably always exaggerates the person’s bad qualities, and these exaggerations then become our reality. It acts as a kind of a filter where we often see only the bad things about the person, and not the person as a whole. Continue reading “Overcoming jealousy once and for all”

Changing yourself by accepting yourself

The very notion of ‘self-improvement’ can often imply a deep dissatisfaction with ourselves and with life. This is rather unfortunate, because such an attitude can be pretty counterproductive if we want to change ourselves! Let’s first explain how accepting ourselves does not mean giving up on improving ourselves; in fact it makes the whole process of self improvement much more joyful:

  • We get to set our own standards for self-improvement: Often we are unhappy because we judge ourselves by some unrealistic standard, which has often to do the expectations set by other people and society. By accepting some external guideline for what constitutes self-improvement, you are in effect comparing yourself to others.  Accepting ourselves allows us to judge our self improvement not by criteria set by others, but by our own previous marks.
  • We get to focus on the positive: Often we spend so much time poring over our faults and failings that they occupy our entire mental space, leaving no room for us to appreciate our good qualities. By constantly ruminating on our weaknesses we give them a kind of power and we feel more and more helpless to overcome them. However by accepting yourself as you are, warts and all, you can then focus on increasing and expanding your good qualities – you will notice that your weaknesses will decrease in strength as well. Indeed, the most effective way of reducing your weaknesses is not by focusing on them, but by invoking its opposite positive quality instead.
  • We live in the moment: Self acceptance means accepting whatever you did in the past, no matter how deplorable, is done and there is nothing you can do to change it now. Any time and energy spent wondering what might have been is therefore pointless. You have to start from where you are, here and now, at your current state of development, with what you have at your disposal.
  • We change our attitude to the world: A poor self image leads to problems relating to other people, and excessive time wondering how others perceive us. However if we are happy in our own skin, then we begin caring less about what people think about us, and more time caring about people.

So how do we go about cultivating a philosophy of self acceptance? Here are a few tips:

  • Create space to acknowledge your good qualities. Our mind often seems automatically geared to think of only the bad about ourselves, you have to consciously shift the focus to the good.  Even a simple five minute daily exercise of writing down the good things you did (no matter how small), or positive thoughts and inspirations you have had helps enormously.
  • Don’t identify with the mind. We often see our minds as the final arbiter over our behaviour, and take anything it tells us very seriously, especially when it tells us something bad about ourselves. However a practice of meditation can help you access a deeper part of your nature, and take your thoughts much less seriously.
  • Compete with yourself rather than others. Whether it be work, sports or any other field of endeavour, try to set your challenges not so much as achieving a fixed goal or competing with others, but more about transcending your own personal best. This relieves the pressure of outside expectation, and you will get tremendous joy from knowing that you have gone beyond anything you have previously done.

Photo: Jowan Guthier, Sri Chinmoy Centre galleries

The three stages of meditation

The first time many of us encounter the concept of meditation is through images in TV and movies, showing cross legged yogis sitting in serene bliss for hours on end. However, any of you who have ever tried meditation know that that is a pretty advanced state, and not something that can be attained by just going to a workshop or two! In fact the journey can be broken into three different stages – concentration, meditation and contemplation, as described below:


Many meditation teachers recommend their students to learn the art cof concentration before they embark on meditation proper, and indeed many of the exercises taught in introductory meditation classes could more aptly be called concentration exercises, as they teach the art of quieting the mind and bringing the multiplicity of thoughts buzzing around our minds to just one – focusing on the object of concentration. From a personal perspective, I can definitely vouch for how important this is – I have lost count of the times I was having a very nice meditation experience, only to lose track of it by being carried away by the most mundane thoughts. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a very nice concentration exercise you can use; you can also begin with something a simple and as natural as focusing on the breath, letting your attention follow the breath as it moves in through the nose and out through the mouth.


Once we have stilled the mind and brought our focus down to one thought, we can then move into meditation proper. We move beyond the mind and expand into the space of vastness and peace that lies beyond out thought. We have all had meditative moments before – looking at the sun setting over the beach or holding a newborn child in your arms, moments where in the silence all of life seemed to be contained and where everything just seemed to make sense. Through meditation, we expand this state of awareness and make it a real and permanent part of your daily life.

Once we gain regular experiences of meditative stillness, we can live our lives knowing that there is a core of contentment inside us that does not depend on how things are going on around us – that the true source of happiness is within.


In contemplation, we move beyond merely experiencing these realms of peace and bliss inside ourselves; we try to merge and become one with the experience, so that we are the peace and bliss we are experiencing. In other words, the lowest part of our being enters into and unites with the highest part. People usually do not embark upon contemplation until they have spent at least a few years concentrating and meditation, and there are very few people who have absolutely perfected this art.

As children we believe that we can be anything we want, and then begin settling for less all throughout our adolescence and adulthood. In contemplation, our sense of self-awareness expands and we realise that anything is truly possible, that there are no limits is we truly believe in ourselves. At that stage we truly begin to realise and act from our highest potential.

Concentration challenges the restless world.

Meditation graces the aspiring world.

Contemplation embraces the beautiful world.

– Sri Chinmoy

Image source: World Harmony Run

What makes a good leader?

To many people, the world seems palpably lacking in leaders – people of principle who can empathise whith those they lead and who can be trusted to do what is best for the group at large. But what makes a good leader and how can you improve the quality of your leadership? We list six qualities any good leader should have:

A leader brings out the best in his people

Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.
Lao Tzu

A lot of tension in leadership situations comes because we have a fixed idea of what should happen, regardless of peoples’ abilities to carry that thing out. Criticizing people for something they haven’t been properly trained to do or for not fitting into your grand plan is not leadership. Leadership comes from an honest evaluation of people’s capacities and strengths, and then playing to those strengths. When people can contribute their best qualities to a project, they are much more likely to feel a sense of ownership about the project and go the extra mile to see it through.

A good leader is not a control freak

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

George Patton

We have all seen the kind of person who says “its my way or the high way”. Sometimes forceful people can push their agenda and achieve a few immediate successes, but long term they are left with a crew rife with tension and bad feeling, and getting anything done becomes like squeezing blood from a stone. If you can harness people’s enthusiasm and give them a sense of empowerment about their work, then they are much more likely to work with you than against you, and you will discover new talents within your crew that you might otherwise never have found.

Continue reading “What makes a good leader?”

Learning to Live In The Heart

In western society, the mind is generally considered to be the apex of our being, and deep thinkers celebrated as the defining product of our times. In fact, it was not until I was in my mid-twenties until I came across the notion that the ordinary human mind may not be the be all and end all of human existence. What could possibly lie beyond the mind, I wondered? Well, we unconsciously answer that question every day when we gesture towards ourselves during a conversation – we point towards the middle of the chest, the place where we intuitively feel the core of our being. Hence if you are interested in pursuing the possibilities of self-discovery, then learning to live in the heart is a very good place to start.

So what differentiates the heart from the mind?

  • Empathy. The heart is the place where we feel a sense of connectedness and goodwill with other people and the world – the phrase ‘my heart goes out to him’ says it all, I think. This is in stark contrast to the mind, which quite often resorts to stereotyping and seeing the bad qualities in others.
  • Oneness. The mind works by gathering information, then classifying and categorising – a process of dividing which ultimately separates you from the object you are looking at. The heart, on the other hand, expands to identify itself with an object or situation, such that you actually feel connected with the thing you are focusing on.
  • Spontaneity. The mind can become very jaded with seeing the same things and constantly requires new excitement to keep it happy, newness and freshness are an intrinsic part of the heart’s nature. For the heart, everything happens in the now, no mulling over the past, no worrying about what might happen. We can see this most clearly with children, running around inventing new games and discarding them in favour of new ones at the spur of the moment.
  • Purpose. Often we have difficulty finding a purpose to fulfill here on earth, the thing that will make us most happy. The mind is very often no help here, vacillating between one option and another, heavily influenced by the unrealistic expectations of other people or society. Yet when we quiet the mind, we can feel an inner inspiration coming from the depths of our existence. When we get such an inspiration, it is often accompanied by a tremendous sense of inner joy and relief of the tension that came from your mental indecision. There is also a sense of certainty that does not depend on the result of the action; we inwardly know it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it meets with success or failure.

So how does one explore the realm of the heart?

Here are a few exercises to practice for five or ten minutes every day:

  • Use the breath. It is in the silence of the mind that you can then bring your attention to the heart. I found this simple breathing exercise to be quite effective: as you breathe in follow the river of breath, as it enters through the nose and enters into the core of your being. Similarly on the outbreath, feel the river of breath leaving your heart centre and leaving through your mouth into the universe.
  • No mind. Let the power of imagination point you towards the heart centre. Feel and imagine that you have no mind, all you have is the heart; you can repeat to yourself “I have no mind; all I have is the heart”. After a few minutes you can go even further and say “I am the heart”, firmly identifying yourself with this reality in the core of your being.
  • Mantras. In Eastern traditions this is considered one of the most effective ways to get into the heart. You can use ancient Sanskrit terms like ‘Aum’ or ‘Shanti’ (meaning peace) or instead repeat some quality of the heart that you particularly like, like ‘Love’ or ‘Joy’. If you place your hands on your chest whilst saying it; the physical sensation of the voice helps to bring your attention to the heart centre. As you repeat, feel that it is actually your heart centre saying the mantra in and through you.
  • Music. Different kinds of music tend to affect different parts of our being, like our mind or our emotions. Likewise music created by people who live in the heart tend to also elevate our awareness and bring us closer to the heart. Just as the tide gets under a boat and lifts it up, so music can elevate you to places of peace and beauty inside yourself. When listening, resist all temptation to analyse the music, and in the words of my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy, “let the music-bird fly inside your heart-sky“.

Staying Detached In The Middle Of The Storm

Things are going haywire at work, your friends are having troubles and you’re being brought into them, you’re wondering where the next money is going to come from – we’ve all had these times in our lives, where bad news never seems to come singly, but in groups! So how do we stay detached and keep our tranquility in the middle of everything?

Control your mind

All negativity first attacks the mind, and it is here that you can have your best defenses against being depressed about it. Too often we waste valuable energy speculating worst-case scenarios about what will happen, and we end up being depressed more from the scenarios that we have invented than the situation as it exists now! We have to train ourselves to focus on what needs to be done, and cut aside any extraenous thinking or worrying. I remember a prayer my mother had pinned up on the kitchen noticeboard ever since I was a child: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” My mother wasn’t particularly religious, I guess it was just the profound wisdom contained within the prayer that appealed to her, the same as it does to me.

This is of course easier said than done – the mind can at times seem like a set of wild horses careering down the path of negativity regardless of the effect it has on your happiness. To tame those horses, what is needed is a regular practice of meditation. It won’t make negative thoughts go away overnight, but what it will do over time is strengthen your ability to focus on the here and now and stop mulling over what might never happen.

Keep a perspective

Negative news tends to fill up your entire thinking and crowd out all the positive aspects of life. Don’t let that happen! Keep things in perspective by considering all the blessings you have had so far in your life. We discussed the quality of gratitude a few blog posts back, and we would certainly recommend exploring some of the techniques posted there; it will help you see all the good things in your life as well as the bad.

It’s not the event itself; it’s how you interpret it

Be not afraid
Of destructive actions by others.
But be afraid
Of your own reaction to them.

– Sri Chinmoy

A common psychological model developed in the 1980’s postulated that people who attribute internal, stable and global causes to bad things that happen are much more likely to get depressed about them. What do we mean by that? By internal, we mean blaming ourselves rather than something outside ourselves. By stable, we feel that the current bad situation is going to last forever. And by global, we see this bad thing as evidence of a continuing run of hopelessness – for example saying “Oh, I can’t do anything right” or “it always turns out like that” – rather than seeing it as specific to that particular situation. All these ways of explaining a situation are merely reflex actions of the mind. When we can control our minds, we can accept each situation and deal with it as it is, without attributing blame, without feeling we will be trapped in that situation forever, and without seeing that bad situation as a further indication of how bad life is.

Stay inspired

Happiness is always accompanied by a tremendous sense of expansion – you feel a great sense of goodwill for everyone, and a sense of place in this vast world. In contrast, when bad news strikes, the tendency is to retreat behind the walls of your own castle and separate yourself from everyone; your thinking becomes largely focused on yourself and your predicament. Try every day to have a diet of inspirational reading or watching; this will help in turbulent times to release you from your self absorbed thought-prison and back on the road to actively look for a way forward. Read about other people who faced odds much greater than yours and triumphed. If they can do it, you can do it too!

An easy to learn concentration exercise

Concentration is the secret key to a whole world of possibilities, enabling you to keep out distractions and focus on attaining your life goals. In addition it is an absolute prerequisite if you want to learn the art of meditation, as it helps ‘clear the road’ of any mental obstacles. However if anything the average concentration span is decreasing as life gets busier and busier and the world becomes filled with more things to distract and scatter our attention.

Here is one very easy-to-learn concentration exercise which was taught to me by my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy. It can reap tremendous rewards in terms of clarity, productivity and efficiency in your life, and it can be done with just a few minutes practise every day. People commonly view concentration as purely a mental exercise; but here we are also going use our heart centre, that space in our chest we point to when we say ‘me’ – helping to take some of the burden away from our tension filled minds.


An object of concentration – best is to use a candle or flower, but you can even use a dot on the wall.


  1. In this exercise, we will use the candle, although you can adapt the exercise to whatever object you are using. Sit with your back straight, and place the burning candle at eye level.
  2. First bring your awareness to your breath. Gradually your breath becomes slower and more relaxed. Try to imagine a thread placed in front of our nose; you are breathing so quietly it will not move to and fro.
  3. Now we look at the object. Gradually bring your attention to a tiny part of the candle flame, for example, the very tip of the flame.
  4. When you breathe in, feel that your breath, like a golden thread, is coming from that point on the candle and entering into your heart. And when you breath out, feel that your breath, feel that the light is leaving the heart, passing through a point in your forehead between the eyebrows and a little above (in Eastern philosophy this is a powerful concentration point) and then entering into the object of concentration. Try to feel that nothing else exists except you and the object you are focusing on.
  5. When you do this exercise, thoughts will invariably get in the way. When this happens, don’t be annoyed or upset, just bring your attention back to the exercise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and similarly it will take time to rein in your mind.
  6. (if you have the time) You can go one step further, and use your power of concentration to identify with the object’s existence. Try to feel on the inbreath that the existence of the flame, and the qualities it embodies such as radiance, serenity and aspiration, are entering into you and becoming part of your own existence. On the outbreath, feel that your existence is expanding and spreading out from the centre of the chest and entering into the candle. In this way, you concentrate on the object to such an extent that you feel no separation between you and the object; your existence has expanded to include the candle. In this way you can identify ourself with the entire world.

Start off with a modest goal – i.e 3-5 minutes a day, and then gradually increase with time. After only a couple of weeks of doing this exercise, you should notice the progress – a clearer mind, better ability to cope with tasks, less stress, more serenity.

If you are inspired to try, please let us know how you got on! Good luck!

Shane Magee regularly gives meditation classes in Dublin on behalf of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. For more information visit Dublin Meditation