Goldie Hawn Promotes the Benefits of Meditation

Goldie Hawn wikimedia commons

Goldie Hawn promotes the benefits of meditation, which is a part of the MindUP™ curriculum. Meditation is integral and foundational to this program, a program which at its core philosophy seeks to transform and help children transform their lives by creating opportunities to develop necessary social and emotional skills.

The MindUP™ consists of fifteen lessons for three developmental levels including Pre-K through second grade; third through fifth grade; and, sixth through eighth grade.

The program is organized into four units, in which mindfulness meditation as a role.  “Let’s Get Focused,” the first unit, features “understanding mindful attention and focusing our awareness.” The second unit, “Paying Attention to Our Senses” includes;Mindful Listening; Mindful Seeing; Mindful Smelling; Mindful Tasting;  Mindful Movement I; Mindful Movement II.” In unit three, “It’s All About Attitude” includes the mindful practice of ‘perspective.’ The last unit is all mindfulness, “Taking Action Mindfully,” including; “Acting with Gratitude; Performing Acts of Kindness; Taking Mindful Action in Our Community.”

It’s easy to see how Goldie Hawn’s vision to bring mindfulness to the classroom has evolved. An article by Ingrid Wickelgren, on the Scientific American blog reviewed Hawn’s address at the Second Annual Aspen Brain Forum speaks directly to the programs evolution. Here’s Ingrid’s take on it…

“Hawn spoke without notes, claiming to be a born communicator, a claim she backed up by her performance. As she talked, it occurred to me that vivaciousness and beauty did not alone propel her to stardom. Unlike most people who wing it, Hawn strung together rhythmic sentences that made sense. If the neuroscience community was going to be delivered an advocate, they could have done a lot worse.

She answered the obvious question first: Why is Goldie Hawn speaking at a brain conference? I already partly knew the answer. Just as any 7-year-old can now do, I had looked it up on the web. Six years ago Hawn established a nonprofit group called The Hawn Foundation “to promote children’s academic success in school and in life through social and emotional learning.” It is based on the notion that kids’ intellects do not exist in isolation from their emotions, their connections to others or the rest of their bodies. The MindUp program, the Foundation’s signature educational initiative, is designed to address these oft-neglected components of learning. It was a perfect fit for the forum, which this year addressed “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Learning: Implications for Education.” But more on that in a bit.

Hawn’s version was more personal. Decades ago (in 1972 she said), when she became famous, she felt newly anxious and something hard to imagine happened: she lost her signature smile. The change was foreign to Hawn—and not welcome. “When I was 11 years old, I decided that what I wanted to be in life was happy,” she said. “I thought, `All I want to do is hold onto this joy, this tickle I had when I was little.’” Having lost that tickle Hawn went spelunking, in her own psyche. She saw psychologists and began meditating, embarking on a nine-year psychological journey. Such an adventure might make lesser folks crazy or depressed in itself, but Hawn became surprisingly analytical about it. It led, she said, to her first understanding of the brain, “what it can do, how it can change.” She was particularly interested in neuroscience and spirituality, fancying questions such as “What is that God part of the brain?”

Hawn moved to rainy Vancouver, because her son, Wyatt, wanted to play hockey. While watching the rain outside her meditation room sometime in 2002, Hawn’s quest turned outward—in particular, to children. “I was a happy child,” she recalled. “I signed all my 4th grade papers, “Love, Goldie.” But in the wake of 9/11, she perceived U.S. children as being profoundly unhappy. “And I thought why can’t we do something that gets kids to understand their potential? Why don’t we teach our kids about the brain?”

Hawn was no brain expert, but she reasoned that teaching kids about the brain might make them more aware of their own thoughts and emotions. It might help them to develop the ability to think about thinking, or metacognition. That awareness would then give them better control over their own mind—directing their attention more appropriately or calming themselves down—in ways that could improve learning. Hawn seems to give kids lots of credit. I doubt most grownups would be similarly confident that kids could ably control their minds if shown how. Hawn saw this mission as urgent, though. She particularly wanted to prevent stress from shutting down executive function, the self-control of thought, action and emotion that is essential for learning.

So Hawn asked a team of educators, neurologists, psychologists and social scientists to develop a new curriculum built, in part, around lessons about how the brain works. Nowadays teachers in about 65 U.S. schools, nearly 150 in Canada, seven in the UK and one in Venezuela are using MindUp. Some of its young students now weave brain anatomy into casual conversation. One six-year-old girl, Hawn says, explained that it was her aunt’s amygdala that saved her life when the aunt pulled her out of the way of an oncoming car. Another kid reportedly said, “Oh, that lights up my prefrontal cortex, I know how to do this.”

Not all scientists think explicit knowledge of brain anatomy is necessary for prepping kids for study. But it is kind of cool. And why not? “I don’t think kids need to know about the amygdala,” says Adele Diamond, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia. “But kids enjoy learning about the brain. I don’t think it hurts.”

Another component of MindUp, also apparently aimed at metacognition, is meditation. For three minutes, students concentrate on their breathing. The activity not only promotes calm but also sharpens attention. “It is very hard to stay focused on something for three minutes,” Diamond says. “This is training the mind.”

An equally important objective of MindUp is social and emotional development. Kids are taught, for example, that random acts of kindness matter. They know about mirror neurons, Hawn says, and they learn that you become happy when you give to someone else, a lesson in line with the teachings of the Dalai Lama​. Similarly, in “gratitude journals,” children regularly jot down what they are grateful for. I think this is also designed to make them feel good (Hawn invoked dopamine, the brain chemical for reward, in her talk), and to build better relationships. My kids are told to do this at Thanksgiving, and every November I have the passing thought that we really should be counting our blessings more often.

Preliminary data suggest the program works. Kim Schonert-Riechl, an applied developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia and her colleagues tested the effectiveness of MindUp in 75 schools in her area. So far, the program seems to have had “incredibly positive effects,” says Diamond, who helped parse the data. It not only boosted kids’ self-reported feelings of happiness, liking of school, and sense of belonging, but also moderated kids’ cortisol levels, suggesting it lowered stress in the classroom. Perhaps most strikingly, it improved children’s executive function.

Scientists I spoke to about MindUp were enthusiastic about its potential to benefit children, particularly those at risk of being unhappy and failing in school. A lot of it did make scientific sense. After all, meditation exercises of the type used in MindUp can help adults better orient their attention, according to work presented by psychologist Amishi P. Jha of the University of Miami. And stress can shut down the ability to think—so reducing it should do the opposite. Some studies exist on the effects of gratitude as well: expressing your appreciation for a romantic partner, for example, seems to solidify those important bonds. (See “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage,” By Suzann Pileggi, Scientific American Mind, January/February 2010.) MindUp is reportedly gaining the support of teachers as well. “Teachers love it,” Diamond claims. “That’s why it’s spreading.”

…Hawn’s program is unique, if for no other reason, because she’s behind it. I couldn’t help admiring this scientific novice for doggedly following up on the instincts she had a decade ago, far-fetched as they might seem, and molding them into something undeniably real and data-driven. Hawn’s determination obviously cuts across disparate fields.”Read original article…

Meditation is a journey into self-awareness and neuroscience is allowing us to explore the landscape of the mind itself. In today’s world our children face so many challenges that have created unprecedented stress which compromise our children’s chance of academic success and wellbeing. Goldie Hawn’s program promotes the benefits of meditation and as she said, “We are going to change education as we know it,” I believe her!

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Is the benefit of meditation real

Is the benefit of meditation to be real?

Is the benefit of meditation  real, and more fundamentally, how do we define or discover what is real?

The ultimate benefit of meditation is self-realization or Unity consciousness, the deep feeling of peace and the physical benefits that attend this feeling are the ‘side effects’ of a regular meditation practice.

 Self-realization is the only way we can define or discover what is real. The external world is an illusion that shifts based on our social conditioning and the way we perceive it in the moment. The practice of meditation is a precise way of calming the mind so that we can attain a state of consciousness that is completely different than the normal waking state. It is a way to explore all the levels of ourselves until we arrive at the center of our consciousness within, which is the place of our truth.   

As he begins his answer to these questions, Lewis Richmond a Buddhist writer and teacher, explains “I often say when I teach meditation, “We meditate not just to be calm, but to be real.”

So, here are Lewis Richmond’s thoughts on discovering what it means to be real…

As meditation is finding its way in the West and looking for authentic cultural roots, we are bound to re-enact Siddhartha’s own search, re-discover his own disappointments and illuminations. As Kalu Rinpoche, one of the young Tibetan teachers (he is in his early 20s) said recently in a public gathering, “Dharma is reality.” I thought this was quite profound, especially coming from one so young. He went on to explain that most religion, including Buddhism, offers an escape from reality, rather than a transforming insight about it. But Dharma is not like that. It is about what is true and real. Buddhist meditation is ultimately a way to discover that truth.

Once a student said to Suzuki Roshi, “My meditation is no good; I’m thinking all the time.” o which Suzuki replied, “What’s wrong with thinking?”

Suzuki meant it as a deep question. What is wrong with thinking? Is all thinking wrong, or just some thinking? Is thinking during meditation a bad thing? The sixth ancestor of Zen, Hui Neng, specifically taught that to empty the mind of all thoughts during meditation is not a Buddhist practice. Thrangu Rinpoche, a living Mahamudra master, once said (in the book “Pointing Out the Dharmakaya”), “sometimes you have a really bad thought when you meditate.” And to stress the point he added, “No I mean a really bad thought!”

When the laughter subsided he went on to say, “No problem. Just keep meditating.”

There is nothing wrong with meditating in order to calm the mind. All of us can use more calmness in the midst of a busy life. In fact, without some calmness in meditation it is impossible to see anything clearly or distinguish what is real from what is illusion. Once we have attained a stable, calm mind, we can then go deeper. We can, as Zen Master Dogen famously said, “study the self.” Who is this person that is meditating? Where do these thoughts and feelings that rise and fall originate, and where do they go when they subside? Why do I suffer? Why do other people suffer? What is the cause of that woe? How can it be convincingly assuaged?

These are the questions that Siddhartha asked as he continued his spiritual quest, continuing to probe deeper, until he was satisfied that he had gotten to the bottom of his inquiry. That is the real treasure that Buddhism has to offer, and it may take us a long time in the West to bring this treasure to full fruition.

It is possible. The Buddha was not a god or a super-being, but an ordinary human being just like us. If he could do it, we can do it. People in every generation have the same opportunity as the Buddha had to see behind the curtain of illusion to the reality beneath.

Each of us can be Buddha, which means being awake to what is real.Original article…

To see ‘behind the curtain of illusion,’ we must learn how to be still and examine what is within ourselves, sometimes found in the silence, but always found in awareness.  

Is the benefit of meditation to be real? If your meditation practice, regardless of the technique, gently awakens you to the different levels of your being, one after another, and you have be authentic with yourself in this process, then you will discover the truth, which is the highest form of reality.  

Please tell me about your journey of self-discovery and exploration of ‘reality.’

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The Three Stages of the Breath as a Vehicle for Meditation

Three stages of the breath as a vehicle for meditation

There are three stages of the breath as a vehicle for meditation, witnessing, relaxing the nervous system and stilling the mind.

In the wisdom tradition of Yoga, the breath is used as a vehicle for self-awareness and as a subtle focus that carries us inward. Following the breath is the means to a deeper connection and concentration of the mind-body, which leads to a sweet sense of peace and tranquility.

Meditation begins as we bring our awareness to the breath, following the rhythmic movements and the natural sensations of the many elements of breathing. This witnessing, which is the first stage of breath awareness is the process of bring awareness to all the physical and mental elements, from awareness of the air movement in and out of our lungs to the slowing of thoughts arising in the mind.

As we settle into awareness there is a shift that begins to take place in our nervous system. There is a close relationship between the breath and our nervous system; if we are frightened or apprehensive our breath is shallow and short, stopping and starting erratically, if however, we breathe slowly and deeply our nervous system relaxes.

Finally as the nervous system relaxes the mind begins to quiet and focus. From this deeper state of focused concentration, meditation becomes possible.

Let’s explore the three elements a bit closer.

Witnessing     

Witnessing is the process of bringing your attention fully to each of the sensations in the mind-body.

Notice the cool feeling as the air rushes up through your nose on the in breath and how it’s warmed as the air is expelled. As you settle in to your awareness, begin to focus on the inhalation, feeling a sense of renewal with each breath in and then renew your focus on the out breath and the release of tension that takes place with it. Allow this process to become a rhythmic pattern, following each breath, one at a time.

Once you have become comfortable with allow your awareness to move into the body, follow the breath into your chest, feel the movement of all the muscles as each expands and contracts as the breath fills your lungs. You will notice a difference in the way and amount different muscle will contract and expand depending on the position you are in, whether sitting erect or lying down, be aware of those differences.

Remember this is a natural process, so let it occur naturally, there is no need to ‘conform’ to a ‘style’ of breathing. If you sit in an upright and erect position you will become aware that there is less expansion of your chest as you breathe and it becomes more of a widening in your rib cage. But, whatever position you choose, let each breath flow into the next, without pause but without forcing or trying to control it, this is because a pause leaves an opening for the mind to become distracted.

Later during meditation you can maintain awareness even if you return your attention to the breath. You become the witness of your own breathing.

The breath is affected by a number of different factors as you move through your day. Each emotion has its own unique form of breathing, whether crying or laughter, the breath changes. Stress also has a deep and pervasive effect, restricting the normal flow of our breath, because of this our health can be adversely affected. However, as we develop an awareness of our breath through practice and because we can control our breathing voluntarily, we can make adjustments that will have a positive effect.   

As your practice evolves it will, naturally and organically, become less about controlling your breath and more about being the witness.

Relaxing the Nervous System

Meditation is a process of letting go, especially in the beginning; there is the release of negative energy in the form of stress, negative emotions, worry or regret. These thoughts are released as we slip into the meditative state, arising from their subconscious moorings.

Because the breath can be voluntary it is possible to maintain equilibrium reducing the natural tension between negative thoughts and conscious relaxed breathing. Through awareness and presence (witnessing) when we notice the negative thoughts arising by focusing on and preserving the relaxed breath, we can maintain self-control.

It is while practicing meditation that breath awareness will interrupt the flow of negative energy, keeping it from taking up residency, which in turn calms the nervous system. It’s breath awareness and the associated relaxed nervous system that allows us to create distance between our witnessing self and the causes of our stress.

Meditation – Stilling the Mind

It is in the deeper stages of breath awareness and as our nervous system relaxes that leads us in to the meditative state. This is accomplished as we combine breath awareness with a mantra; a process of watching the breath move in and out through the nose while repeating a mantra or sound.  

When the attention is on the breath, the air moving in and out of the nose, then the focus of our concentration is on a physical sensation. When we add the mantra to the breath, we move our focus from the physical sensation to the mental sound. This practice deepens the anchor of our concentration and focus.

The number one challenge a beginning meditator faces is becoming distracted by thought. Breath awareness works much like a meditation ‘safety net,’ catching us when we inevitably lose our concentration.

As our practice evolves the mental repetition of our mantra will replace breath awareness, allowing it to fade gently into the background. Ultimately, the same process will happen to the mantra, and as it fades the silence that has always been there emerges as we enter the field of unbounded awareness.    

Understanding and practicing the three stages of the breath as a vehicle for meditation, will allow you to move from meditation as a practice to meditation as an experience.

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Meditation Benefits: What is Meditation?

What is Meditation?

What is Meditation?

What is meditation? The word meditation has been misunderstood and used incorrectly, especially in the culture of the mass media. Meditation has come to mean everything from contemplating to daydreaming or fantasizing. In Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) the word for meditation is dhyana and it is not contemplation or imagination.

Meditation is a specific practice that quiets the mind, taking us beyond our doubt, anxiety, judgments, in other words, beyond the prison of our mental conditioning. It is a state of consciousness beyond the ordinary waking state. Meditation is a means for understanding and experiencing the center of consciousness within.

Meditation is not a religion, though it plays a part in all the worlds’ wisdom traditions and is used to enrich the spiritual experience. Meditation is a science, which means it has defined principles, that there’s a specific process which is followed, and it produces results that can be verified.

The practice of meditation is the practice of clearing the mind, allowing it to become relaxed and inwardly focused. Meditation is a state of restful-awareness; your mind is clear, you are fully awake and aware, but your mind is not focused on the external environment or any of the events that are happening around you. You are cultivating an inner state that is one-pointed and still, so that the mind will slip into silence. When this stillness happens, and the mind falls silent and it no longer distracts you, your meditation deepens.

In this ‘modern’ age, we are not educated in how to look within; all our educational practices are focused on examining the external world. As a result we remain, mostly, unknown to ourselves, strangers to our true nature. Vast reaches of our mind go unknown, the deep reservoir of our unconscious (subconscious) mind remains a mystery and outside of our control. The result is confusion, doubt and disappointment, with these attributes often playing a major role in our lives. It’s been said that the whole of the body is in the mind but the mind (the intellect) is not in the whole of the body.  It is only through the awareness which arises in meditation that we can really develop control over the mind.

To reach the goal of meditation, which is to go beyond the mind and experience our essential nature, our biggest obstacle is our mind, which stands between us and pure awareness. This is the reason that it is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind,’ and why the practice of training the mind is compared to that of training a puppy. The mind resists any efforts to control it, because it seems that our mind has a mind of its own. It’s the uncontrolled mind that causes us to only experience daydreams, visions and fantasies instead of having the genuine experience of meditation.

The practice of meditation is the practice of stilling and calming yourself, releasing judgment and seeing things as they are. It is a way training the mind so that you won’t be caught up in its endless movement and distractions. Meditation is the process of systematically exploring your inner dimensions.     

Meditation is a commitment, you are committing yourself to a practice not a ritual or ceremony. Meditation is not about forcing the mind to be quiet (it really can’t be done that way); instead it is the process of letting go and discovering the quietness that is always present behind the screen of our internal dialogue. Meditation requires a certain discipline; there is a need for consistency. Meditation is like learning to play a musical instrument or paint a picture, if you want to reach the level where creativity can flow naturally through you; then you need to practice the techniques until you can let go of them.

Meditation is freedom from the endless noise and distractions inside your head. Meditation allows you to experience what is taking place around you without reacting. Meditation brings you the freedom to experience who you really are, free from all the mental activity, and you begin to experience inner contentment and joy.

This relief and respite from the hectic pace of everyday life is not an escape from the world but the foundation of inner peace. With practice you can begin bringing the attributes of meditation into your everyday activities, which allows you to move more effectively in the world. Applying the principles of meditation to the experiences that happen before you, you can become fully present to them, which gives you time to respond before reacting to them.

Meditation is very beneficial in that way; it exposes your unproductive habits and reflexes instead of acting them out and this leads to inner balance, harmony and freedom.

So what is meditation? It is the place where you remember your essential nature as centered, creative and peaceful, free to experience the joy of being fully present in this moment, NOW

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Meditation Benefits: Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Patience and the practice of meditation will equal consistency. And because every action has a reaction, it’s not possible to consistently practice and not receive benefits. However, those benefits may not be noticeable to you early on in your practice. This is where your patience comes in. You may not, in the beginning, notice the benefits, but gradually over time, because you are storing the samskaras (impressions) in your unconscious mind, the benefits will bloom to help you later. And because it takes time to notice the results be consistent, and most of all, gentle with yourself.

Meditation Benefits: Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Patience and the Practice of Meditation

Meditation is quietly looking inward, beyond the mind and discovering the different levels of your being, one after another. This process is personal and it is experiential, meaning that it can only grow out of practice and not by intellectual pursuits. This is important because you “need to do in order to be.”

In his article in the “times of India,” Sant Rajinder Singh notes that there are two ‘elements’ which make up the study and pursuit of spiritual (self-realization) teaching, Study and practice (he refers to study as theorizing). Singh warns against too much study and not enough practice.

As a way of illustrating the point he tells us a story of  Buddha and one of his disciples Malunkyaputta.

“While we must satisfy the mind and have our questions answered, we do not want to get trapped into mental wrangling, for that is like a spider web in which we may get stuck.

The Buddha spent 45 years teaching spiritual truths to enable people to break free of the karmic wheel of life that binds them to this world. Buddha was full of compassion and served humanity selflessly. The only time he did not tour was during the rainy season, when he stayed in one place. He gave all an equal chance to find the way to enlightenment.

So many questions

One day, a disciple, Malunkyaputta sought an interview with the Buddha. Malunkyaputta had a restless mind, that asked: “Is the world infinite or finite? Is the soul identical with the human body?” Since he was preoccupied with these questions, he could not meditate. He requested the Buddha to answer his questions failing which he would leave the order.

Buddha replied, “O Malunkyaputta, did I ever ask you to take up this path and did I promise you that I would answer these intellectual wranglings?” The disciple sheepishly replied, “No.” Buddha said, “Whoever worries about these meaningless speculations such as whether the world is infinite or finite, or whether the soul looks like the body, is taking away time from spiritual practice. It is just like someone who is shot by an arrow who instead of letting the doctor treat him to get out the poison starts saying, ‘I will not allow my wound to be treated until I know who is the man who shot me, what kind of person is he, is he tall or short, what type of bow and arrow did he use, or what colour is his skin.’ The key is to get treatment first. Similarly, if we say we will not do our spiritual practices until we get answers to these questions about whether the universe is eternal or not, and other such questions, then one may pass one’s whole life and never reach the spiritual goal.”

While in the Simsapa forest near Kosambi, Buddha was sitting with his disciples. He picked up a few leaves and asked his disciples, “What is your opinion? Which is more? Is it the few leaves in my hand, or the leaves in the forest around us?”

The disciples said, “You have very few leaves in your hand, while there are many more in the forest.” Buddha then told them, “It is the same with my teachings. Of everything I know, I have only told you a little. What I have not told you is much more, like the leaves in the forest. Why did I not tell you everything I know? The reason is that all that information is not useful. Information that will not lead to enlightenment, I have not told you. I have only told you that which you need to know to gain the spiritual experience and find salvation.”

Practise makes perfect

As we think about our own lives, many get involved in intellectual pursuits. But there comes a point when we find that the mind will never stop its wrangling. We have to discriminate which questions will help our spiritual progress and which ones are merely to satisfy the intellect’s curiosity. People who are steeped in the theoretical side of religion can spend years debating each point found in scriptural writings and never find any solution. It is far better to spend time in our spiritual practices so that we can rise above our limited intellect and come in contact with our soul. Then, we will not have to wonder about answers, for we will know them for certain and see them for ourselves. Our soul has all the answers; it is one with the Lord.” Read more…

In cultivating a meditation practice, how much and what technique you need to practice, will depend on your motivation. If you simply want a little less stress in your life, you don’t need to meditate three or four hours a day, on the other hand if you are seeking spiritual awakening, then ten minutes in the morning really isn’t going to cut it. This is where the “theorizing” come in, after determining your motivation you can begin to discover which meditation or combination of meditation practices fit your needs.    

No matter which technique(s) you decide upon, at first you will see progress in terms of feeling less stress, physically relaxed and emotionally calmer. As your practice progresses and depending, again on your intention, you may begin to notice subtle changes. At this stage some of the benefits of meditation will only make themselves known over time and are less dramatic.

With persistence, patience and the practice of meditation, you will discover a sense of freedom. Freedom from everyday worries and the freedom to experience the joy in this moment.

What is your motivation? What meditation techniques do you use, and do you need help determining what one fits your needs. You can share here.

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Meditation benefits: The Source of Joy and Sorrow

The mind is the source of joy and sorrow.

Patanjali sutras

Patanjali sutras on the source of joy and sorrow

In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali explains, by cultivating a practice of meditation a student begins to develop a calm and clear mind, and as the practice evolves the still mind can focus on both the subtle and gross objects. The highest goal spirituality or meditation is to awaken to the true nature of things and discover the cause of suffering at the individual and collective level. To implement a cure for our suffering, Patanjali reminds us, we must awaken to our own true nature.

All sorrow lies at the core of our being, deep within us, and it’s here that the cure can only be found. Unless you can shine the light of awareness on the deepest parts of your inner being, your search for emotional freedom will be confined to external factors, where they can never be found.

Most of us know how precious and wonderful life is and that we should not waste it. Yet somehow we manage to pass each day lost in the fog of the unconsciousness. Sometimes events awaken and motivate us to participate, and even then despite our good intentions, we found ourselves slipping back into the unconscious and mundane.

Though we have the powerful spiritual teachings and the words of wisdom from the great seers and teachers, we find ourselves only looking to external causes for unhappiness and sickness, instead of placing our vision on the underlying subtle and more potent causes. As a result we hold someone or something in the outer world responsible for all our problems. Patanjali, in the sutras, ask and answers why.

The sutras teach that we are what we think, that the core of our being is made up of our belief system, our inner tendencies and habitual patterns that make up and define our personalities. It’s out of these personal tendencies and patterns that our mindset arises. While at the level of our soul we contain the essence of the Divine, in our everyday existence our mindset create our reality, good or bad, happy or sad, filled with suffering or imbued with joy. We perceive (and therefore create) our reality based on our mindset. It is from this perception that our patterns of likes and dislikes, our conditioned world, grows.

It’s through the repeated actions that our mental impressions grow stronger and stronger creating, what Vedanta describes as, deep groves in the mind-field, called samsara. This effect in the mind-field is also known as the wheel of karma. And once we are caught up in these perceptions the grooves deepen and the wheel spins faster and our only opportunity to disrupt this pattern is to bring awareness to our fundamental perceptions, our likes and dislikes. This is the level of true transcendence and transformation and the only way to bring fundamental and lasting change to all aspects of our lives.

This is why, according to Patanjali, the highest form of meditation is on self-awareness, and why enlightenment is understood to be self-realization. When we still our minds we have then have to power to become whatever and whomever we wish. We accomplish this when we transcend our judgments (likes and dislikes), our aversions and attachments. It’s from this place of transcendence, that the clear awareness of what lies at the core of our being allows us to discern what we need to release, and give us the courage to do it.

Patanjali, through the sutras, shows us that meditation on our real nature takes us into the subtlest realms of our being, the birthplace of all our suffering and with this knowledge we can end it. This clear, still and peaceful state of mind is called samadhi (the most subtle being sabija samadhi, meditation on prakriti), a state of total spiritual absorption.  

Yes, the mind is the source of joy and sorrow. Patanjali, through the sutras, shows us how to shine our inner light of awareness on the source allowing us to directly experience the truth and attain liberation.

One of my favorite translations and commentaries is,The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali by Alistair Shearer.” 

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Meditation Benefits: Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga

Asanas are not all there is to Yoga. For the few who may not know the ‘asana’ (meaning posture) are the poses that are generically referred in Western pop culture as Yoga. The asana is the third ‘limb’ (anga) of the sage Patanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga.

Bhartendu Sood, in his article, in the editorial page of “Times of India,” makes exactly this point, and that in practicing only the asanas one is practicing only one limb of Yoga. While practicing the postures will keep you fit and toned, if they are practiced with only that intention, fitness and good health will be the only benefit. A great one to be sure, but not one that will awaken you to your Divine nature.

Mr. Sood explains what is involved in walking the path set out by Patanjali, so here’s Mr. Sood…

The eight stages of ashtanga yoga are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratihara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The five yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. The five niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to God. Sage Patanjali expected seekers to embrace yama and niyama before coming to the third stage, asana. The eightfold path is to take the practitioner towards moral, physical and spiritual uplift. The ultimate aim of yoga is spiritual realisation or samadhi via mind and body.

Pranayama is control of breath; it purifies and removes distractions, facilitating concentration and meditation. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses during meditation that enables you to focus on the Supreme Power and establish a cosmic link. Dharana is to concentrate on one point for a considerable length of time. The aim is to still the mind by gently pushing away superfluous thoughts. Dhyana is uninterrupted meditation without an object.

The eight limbs work together: The first five steps – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara – are the preliminaries of yoga and they build the foundation for spiritual life with body and brain. The last three, which would not be possible without the previous steps, are concerned with reconditioning the mind. They help the yogi to attain enlightenment.

Samadhi or enlightenment can be achieved only when we follow these eight stages in the order prescribed by Patanjali. A yogi acquires equanimity and a detached outlook before developing a flat tummy or toned body.

Training of the mind brings equanimity. It is a mental state that looks with equal ease at happiness and sorrow, at misery and luxury, and treats success and failure alike. It looks at the world and happenings around with an open mind, free of biases, fears and has only good and positive thoughts.

The Bhagavad Gita describes yoga as a state of equanimity, achieved by cultivating a detached but unified outlook, serenity of mind, skill in action and the ability to stay attuned to the glory of the Self or atman and the Supreme or Bhagavan.

According to Krishna, the root of all suffering and discord is the agitation of mind caused by selfish desire. The only way to douse the flame of desire is by simultaneously stilling the mind through self-discipline and engaging in a higher form of activity. Yamas and niyamas speak of this self-restraint and discipline, underlining that asanas without yamas and niyamas are simply exercises.

Traversing the path of yoga is not that easy since it calls for lot of restraint, discipline and devotion. It is not good to skip the first two steps in order to begin with asanas. There is nothing wrong in it but it can’t be named yoga and we ought to be aware of its limitation when it comes to making a person spiritual. Read more…

Mr. Sood points out that the first five steps are preliminary steps need to reach the final three. This true, but there is a deeper truth. It is true that there is a sequence to the eight limbs which makes up the daily practice and that total samadhi is the result of the previous seven limbs being fully developed, however, there are different levels of samadhi. Samadhi means a completely still or settled mind, and the first stage of samadhi (samprajnata), is the initial settling down of the mind, that right from the beginning of the practice, helps bring together the practice of all eight limbs.

Even these early stages of samadhi are very beneficial for the mind body system and move the practitioner closer to total absorption.

The whole process of Yoga is to unite the separate individual self with the Universals self. Yoga is the practice of reentering our original state, the state of perfection, a state of perfect self-realization. Knowing this it’s easy to understand that asanas are not all there is to Yoga.

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Meditation Benefits: Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

Vipassana meditation brings peace of mind to the youth of India, at least around Mumbai, according to the Hindustan Times. Vipassana means “insight” in Pali, an ancient language of India. Vipassana is described as the essence of the teachings of Buddha, the experience of his teachings, because he attained the experience of the truth in meditation, so meditation is truly the essence of the teaching.

Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

Vipassana Meditation Brings Peace of Mind

   

Vipassana is taught as a living practice of the Buddha’s teaching and it has been passed on for millennia. Vipassana as a technique is simplicity, is universally applicable and non-secular.

Vipassana is taught over a ten day period (though there are longer retreats) and is open to anyone that wants to practice this type of meditation. During this time the practitioner stays at the center, cutting all ties with the outside world. They are given instruction and told that refrain from all other activities such as reading, writing and, of course, any electronic devices are ‘turned off.’

While there is an open duologue with the meditation teacher, silence is observed between the participants. During the first three plus days the focus of practice is, appropriately enough, mental concentration, which is in preparation for formal meditation. Each day thereafter new practices or steps are introduced, until day ten when the silence ends. The tenth day is preparation for reentry into the everyday world, and the course end on the morning of the eleventh day.

The idea of meditating ten to twelve hours a day for days on end may seem a bit extreme to the uninitiated. In fact at the Vipassana centers around Mumbai, India, (as with all Vipassana centers) there is an evaluation process, like a doctors certificate, required to determine the fitness of the practitioner.

(For a detailed schedule of a ‘typical’ Vipassana retreat check out my post “The Benefits of Vipassana meditation.”)

But according to the Hindustan Times young people around Mumbai are embracing Vipassana meditation in order to relieve stress.

“Sujata Khanna, registrar, Pattana Vipassana Centre, Goregaon says that the number of people below the age of 30 who opt for Vipassana has increased noticeably in the past year. “While Vipassana was considered to be popular among the older crowd, we now find that the number of people below the age of 30 outnumber the senior crowd.”

She adds that during the vacation season, the ratio of women to men is higher: “Most come because they cannot handle the stress in their daily lives.”

Another reason for the youth to attend the intense retreat is to develop concentration skills that will help them in their studies and career.

“We always ask for a doctor’s certificate before they come, because Vipassana isn’t physically easy,” Khanna explains. “You have to sit for long hours and wake up very early, which is a big change from your usual routine. Some people do break down and cry, but a teacher is there to help them with the right techniques to deal with their situation. In fact, we’ve noticed almost 50 per cent of our young students come back.”

Advertising executive Labony Kaushal, 25, admits the only reason she thought of giving Vipassana a shot was to alleviate her boredom. “I was just tired of doing the same thing, and having nothing new in life to look forward to. I thought that 10 days of not talking to anyone would be good for me, since I’m not a very talkative person anyway.” Kaushal didn’t do any research before signing up, which she recommends for anyone who’s rolling the idea around in their head. “It’s not about religion; it’s an intense physical and mental experience because you’re just sitting and observing yourself. So, everybody’s experience is different.”

The first day, called Zero Day, is where an audio-visual explains the techniques of meditation to the new arrivals… and little else. “You expect someone to come up to you and tell you something, but you’re just sitting in one place, meditating. I got a headache on the first day, which is something they warn you of because your body is not used to it,” she recalls.

By the second day, Kaushal experienced a surge of energy, but admits the days dragged on. “I was doing a mental countdown to the end. And every day, it felt like I was running a never-ending race,” she says, adding, “But by the final day, I didn’t want to come back to Mumbai. And I definitely want to go back there soon.”

Ask Kaushal whether she’s noticed any permanent changes and she says, “ I was an angry person who’d react without thinking of the consequences, but I’ve become more patient now. I can feel a balance, though I would need to be in an extreme situation to test how powerful it is.”

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Seema Hingorrany admits she’s seen a substantial rise in the number of young patients opting for Vipassana, and cites stress as the main reason. “Patients between the ages of 22 to 30, who find that they cannot cope with the stress in their lives and the constant need to be in touch with people, take this step because Vipassana teaches you to detach yourself,” she says, adding, “Many of them are going through a break-up in their relationships, or have parents who are getting divorced. They listen to recommendations from friends or their spiritual guru, or have read up on the subject.”

Hingorrany says that she gets emails and calls from patients asking what the right age for Vipassana is, but she opines, “It’s not about being the right age, but having the right reason. If someone is emotionally disturbed or unbalanced, I wouldn’t recommend this intensive introspection because it might further upset the mental balance and cause you to crumble.”

For those who return from their retreat successfully, Hingorrany notices a change in their composition. “I’ve seen patients achieve a balance in body and mind.  Many reveal that their stress-related migraines and allergies disappear. And of course, they become emotionally stronger because they have enhanced their coping methods.” Read more…

The experience of Labony Kaushal is actually a common one. In the beginning most students find the meditation practice to seem more like torture instead of the deep inner peace they are seeking. They feel themselves very resistant to the forced timetable (like getting up at four or four thirty in the morning), the sparse facilities, instructions of the teacher, all the discipline and even the technique itself.

The big surprise for most of the students is, as it was for Kaushal, by the tenth day there’s the realization that Vipassana meditation brings peace of mind, that at some point the meditators slip into effortless effort, discover detached involvement and maintain a peaceful alertness.

My favorite books on Vipassana meditation are, “The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart” and “Insight Meditation: A Step-By-Step Course on How to Meditate by Sharon Salzberg.”

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Meditation Benefits: Why should Baby Boomers Meditate?

Why should Baby Boomers Meditate

Why should Baby Boomers Meditate

As a member of the baby boomer generation and a long time meditator, I have had the opportunity to experience, first hand, the long and the short term benefits of meditation on my wellbeing. The best known of these benefits is stress reduction, but as we pass midlife, meditation becomes so much more than a simple stress reduction practice and instead can become an important part of our overall health regiment.

Let’s face it, if you’re a baby boomer then you know you’ve started to slow down in the last few years, and while aging doesn’t have to be accompanied by, any health issues, depression, or the loss of desire, ambition and joy, however, it often is.

We know that to enjoy the latter half of our lives we need to take care of ourselves, and how important it is to be physically active and eat right. And now it’s becoming increasingly evident, the third key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and aging successfully, is meditation.

The only true measure of our age is found by measuring our bio-markers. Because we don’t all age at the same rate, three different measures of age have used to describe the aging process. The first is chronological, simply the number of our birthday’s. Second, and closer to our ‘real’ age, is our biological age, a measurement of the functioning of our physiological systems in comparison to the average of the same aged population, and the final type of measurement are the biomarkers of age based on all our different biochemical and physiological measurements and then compared to the group averages of all ages.

One of the more recent findings, regarding meditation and aging, has to do with a simple structure at the end of our chromosomes, the telomeres, which help maintain the optimal health of our cells and genes.

In his article, “Why Aging ain’t no Myth,” Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. spoke with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (who was awarded the prize for her work on telomere biology), along with her associate, Dr. Ellisa Epel, about the issue of the benefits of meditation and the lengthening of telomeres and the improvement of “many aspects of psychological wellbeing (PWB), a critically important aspect of successful aging.”

PWB is made up of the following six characteristics:

1. Self-Acceptance: You learn to compassionately accept yourself as you are and accept others as they are as well.
2. Self Confidence: You have the perception that you can handle whatever comes your way with strength and grace.
3. Independence: You are not reliant on other’s approval and feel you are healthy enough to take care of yourself. You want to live at home and not have to go an assisted living facility, for example, later in life.
4. Personal Growth: You sustain a desire to learn new things and have new experiences. You remain mentally active.
5. Positive Relationships: You surround yourself with people who love and support you and forsake those who don’t.
6. Purpose and Mission in Life: You continue to have a reason to live, be it giving back to society or taking care of your children or grandchildren.”
   Read more…

In an earlier study the way older adults defined, for themselves, successful aging (which was considered a critical component for well-being) was in alignment with the six characteristics psychological wellbeing offered by Dr. Epel.

According to the study published in “The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,” defining healthy aging from the perspective of the older adults would only enhance an understanding of the correlations between self-rated criteria and researcher-defined criteria which could lead to development of a valid and reliable model for successful aging.”   

Dr. Epel told Dr.  Dharma Singh Khalsa, “that meditation is the fastest way to PWB. This is substantiated by emerging medical research. In one recent study, practicing mindfulness meditation for six hoursa day, for three months in a retreat setting, increased telomere length and enhanced PWB. In two studies in which I’ve been involved, one published and one presented in abstract form at the conference in Sweden, it was revealed that PWB can be increased by practicing a simple twelve minute meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK). Practicing KKfor 12 minutes a day, for eight weeks, increased telomere length by 43 percent, which is groundbreaking.”

Another benefit of a regular meditation practice is improved cognitive function, and because there are such a large number of us in baby boomer generation the numbers who are thought to suffer from cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will be proportionally large.

A study published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,” tested meditation’s effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in people exhibiting memory loss. The results showed a “number of significant changes in the preprogram baseline and the post program baseline scans in the” group practicing a specific type of meditation. In a low cost meditation practice practiced for only 12 minutes a day over an eight week period showed “positive results in both functional neuroimaging changes as well as an improvement in cognitive function in people with memory loss…”

In the end those who practiced meditation regularly, even for short periods of time, on measures of associative learning, cognitive skills, mental health, and aging, fare much better than those who don’t. So if you meditate, not only will you live longer, but you will think clearer, you will be less likely to suffer from depression and will feel a greater sense of joy and well-being.

Meditation Benefits: Duck don’t do Anger

Meditation Benefits: Duck don’t do Anger

Meditation Benefits: Duck don’t do Anger

There’s a story told in meditation circles used to illustrate how meditation helps us deal with a very human emotion; anger. The story, I like to describe as, ‘ducks don’t do anger,’ tells how two ducks fighting over a piece of bread, after a short bit of angry nipping at each other, are able to just swim away, and unlike their human observers aren’t holding a grudge, feeling resentment or feeding their anger.

Anger is part of being human and it’s hardwired into our reptilian brain, it comes from our ego state, that part of us that needs us to feel secure and safe. In order to deal with anger we must find the underlying cause. Anger can rise out of fear, pain, sorrow; anger can be a cry for attention or help, it may be an expression of grief, loneliness or a desire for love.

In the end we have to own our anger and more importantly the root cause and in order to own it, we need to acknowledge it and not try and repress it. The questions arise, can meditation help us embrace this shadow side of our humanness and if so how?

Meditation is a practice of awareness and when we sit in meditation we start to become present with those parts of who we are, even those parts which we’ve repressed, hidden from, the darker side of our nature.

Unpleasant as unearthing these thoughts, feeling and emotions are, as long as we continue to repress them, the more they will rise up and make themselves known. Meditation opens a doorway allowing us to see what the real emotions are hiding behind it. Meditation invites us in to witness the anger, and in that process of witnessing anger, begin to evaporate it.

Ram Dass describes this process as ‘making friends with anger,’  a place from which he no longer identifies with it, he said it this way, in the Shapiro’s new book, “Be the Change,” “I still see anger arise, even after thirty years of meditating. But now, when it does, I can say, ‘Hello old friend’ and invite in for a cup of tea.”  He went on to say, “Meditation has helped to overcome the more negative places, like anger, because it gives me the chance to bring together my identification with my awareness.”

Anger unchecked can do untold damage both on an individual level and on the wider level of our collective consciousness. When anger is repressed it can transform into hatred, a transformation that occurs when we feel we’ve been especially wronged.

It’s natural to feel greater justification for this kind of anger, as well as, in situations where we see injustice. And in situations where find gross inhumanity, it becomes possible to transform angry passion into acts of compassion. This, however, can be a slippery slope, because justification can, also, become rational, and rational can be used to justify irrational acts.

It’s this level of anger that creates enemies and is ultimately the rational for violence. So, how do we move from anger and hatred of our enemies, to a place, if not of love, at least of tolerance?     

Deepak Chopra offers us this analysis of the problem from his blog post, “How to Love Your Enemies (Really).”  

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra

1. Anger is a natural emotion, but when it turns to hatred, a natural emotion becomes distorted. Anger is bottled up and feeds on itself. Ideas of revenge, retribution and violence build up over time. People who have injured, opposed or offended you start to turn into enemies.

2. The rationale for hating an enemy can become quite complex and convincing. Long-held grudges always tell a story in which the wronged party is in the right. But behind these rationales the fuel is bottled-up anger.

3. Even when someone commits a horrendous offense against you, which would seem to justify seeking revenge, you are doing harm to yourself by harboring built-up anger. This insight, which is hard for many people — and nations — to arrive at, is key.

4. Once you see that the problem is built-up anger, and that anger is irrational and destructive, there is an incentive to release it. An emotional debt to the past creates suffering in the present. In cases where horrible crimes have been committed, the higher goal is to seek justice, not revenge. The two aren’t the same thing.

5. Paying old emotional debts can be done in various ways. A person can begin to cross the divide, talking to his enemy and realizing that both share a common psychology. Empathy can be cultivated. Letting go of pride and ego is worth pursuing. Yet much of this letting go happens only at the mental level, which isn’t adequate to the hot, violent feelings being held inside. In fact, when anger management training brings up old hostility without giving a way to release it, attempts at controlling anger fail miserably.

6. Releasing the hot, violent energy of anger can be done. Under the rubric of “energy work,” there are now many practitioners in this area. If that seems too arcane, it needn’t. Sit down and revisit a memory that arouses your anger. Generally these are memories where you feel that an injustice has been committed against you. Your mind is filled with reasons for how you were wronged. Now pause and feel the actual energy of your anger. Your body may be tense, your skin warm, breathing ragged, heartbeat increased. The physical side of anger is the key to releasing it, because rationales go on forever. They are all-consuming and self-consuming at the same time.

7. Once you have contacted the physical side of anger, there is a pivotal moment. If you express your anger by acting it out, mentally or physically, none of the energy will be released. Feeling your anger and expressing it still holds the energy inside. You must want the anger to go, which can be tricky. Like every strong emotion, anger believes in itself; it wants to stick around and keep telling you its story. To get past this allure, stop paying attention to the story and the rationales attached to it. Instead, focus on making the angry energy leave. This may require an experienced guide, because the pivotal moment is psychologically slippery. Read more…

In meditation, because we develop a greater sense of self-awareness, we have the opportunity to see anger as it is, with all its recurring patterns of thought and its waves of shadow energy, and make ‘friends with it.’ It is from this quiet space of self-reflection that we can begin to accept ourselves for who we are.   

Meditation is not a panacea; will we will be instantly be transformed into beings of light and love because we’ve practiced sitting on the cushion? No.   Meditation’s benefit is that it allows us to be honest and accepting of ourselves as we are and it’s that awareness which carries with it the power of real transformation.