While a mantra is meant to soothe the body and mind through sound, a mandala is meant to center the mind through sight. Mandalas are beautiful, usually circular, geometric designs that draw your eye to the center. Mandala means "circle" or "center," and the designs suggest the circular patterns that exist in so many levels of life, from atoms to solar systems. Mandalas represent a pilgrimage to enlightenment. As you focus on the center of the mandala, you'll notice the outer parts shifting and changing in your peripheral vision; eventually, your focus will become clear, and the center will be all that you see.
Mandalas are a metaphor for the spiritual path of the mind and body. This well-known mandala is built into the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. Spiritual pilgrims literally walked through the mandala to attain spiritual insight. Get a pencil and try walking the Chartres mandala by tracing the path you would take to reach the center and then return from the center to the world again.
Using mandalas and mantras together is a wonderful way to meditate, because the combination of aural and visual stimulation awakens and clarifies your mind, body, and spirit in multiple ways. Adding color to your mandala goes even further toward stimulating the senses. (And you thought meditation would be boring!)
The Least You Need to Know
^ Chakras are energy centers in your body that govern different areas of your physical, emotional, and spiritual self.
^ Unblocking and releasing chakras through meditation and targeted yoga poses can improve your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
^ Mantras are words or groups of words meant to resonate within the body for certain effects and are often used as an aural focus in meditation. The most well-known mantra is the Sanskrit word Om.
^ Mandalas are circular patterns meant to focus the vision and, by extension, the consciousness during meditation. Combining mantras and mandalas in meditation results in an even more powerful centering effect.
You Are What You Eat
In This Chapter
^ Three types of foods bring out three types of personal qualities ^ Moderate eating is best ^ The benefits of a lacto vegetarian diet
Now that you've got a handle on yoga's basic principles and are happily posturing away, let's consider another extremely important but often overlooked aspect of yoga: diet. It only makes sense that if your body, mind, and spirit are one, how you feed your body will influence the whole package. Western scientists have long recognized that a healthy diet is crucial to good health, although through the decades the definition of "healthy" has certainly changed.
A fundamental principle is the yoga diet's primary influence. Yogis have traditionally divided food (and everything else, but we'll just talk about food in this chapter) into three categories, called gunas. The three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas, and each represents a different type of energy. When applied to food, these energies go into our bodies and affect us in different ways, making us more balanced, or imbalanced, depending on our individual needs and the food we eat. Sattvic food promotes health, vitality, strength, and tranquillity; rajasic food promotes excessive energy, agitation, and discontentment; and tamasic food promotes lethargy, laziness, and inactivity.
Imagine a teeter-totter. The three gunas exist along the board of the teeter-totter, with rajas on one end, tamas on the other end, and sattva squarely in the middle. For example, if you tend to be a rajasic type of person, or you eat a lot of rajasic food (such as meat, hot peppers, double espressos, and other stimulating kinds of foods), and
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