Posted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 8:59 am Post subject: Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah on Meditation
This is a stunning article written on meditation by Sultan Mohammed Shah. Please pass it on to all your friends and family who might benefit from such inspiring and timeless words.
Love and light,
Meditation means different things to different people. In its basic form, meditation means sitting quietly, doing nothing, and being empty of all thought. It is a practice that relaxes and stills the mind of the endless chatter and clutter of our multitudinous thoughts.
Meditation is a vehicle that allows us to contact our deepest spiritual core or center, which is the essence of our being.
There are different variations of how meditation is done, but the essence is the same. Traditional methods of meditation have rules and methods. Whereas the modern schools promote an open-ended style of meditation. The form may vary, but the ultimate goal remains the same.
The objective is to attempt to tap into the Divine Reality and draw strength from it. Yoga, transcendental meditation, Hindu jaap, Buddhist mantra or the Sufi word are some of the different schools of meditation.
The key to inner peace and happiness lies within us. Meditation takes us on a journey inside ourselves to seek a connection with the Divine essence. This practice, if sufficiently strong and dedicated, has the potential to bring about spiritual enlightenment, which arises when we understand the deeper mystery and meaning of life.
The road to enlightenment has many levels and stages, and involves stripping away layers of illusion and delusion to get to the underlying spiritual truth-the heart of Divine realization. The key to happiness and inner peace is inside us and not outside.
Meditation helps us find that key. Nasruddin, a mystic, spoke of a man who had lost his keys and was looking for them in the street. A friend joined him in looking for the keys, but they were unsuccessful. The friend then asked the man exactly where he had lost his keys, to which the man replied that he had lost them at home. When asked why he was looking for the keys out in the street, his simple reply was that there was more light in the street. The symbolic meaning here is that we are looking for the key to the spirit in bright places, but not the right place, which is within us.
Meditation connects us to this place of illumination inside ourselves, even if it means going into some dark places along the way. When we meditate in absolute humility, we progress on the spiritual journey.
When a saint, through her devout meditation, reached the highest state of enlightenment, a voice asked, 'Who are you'? The saint replied, 'It is me'. The voice responded, 'Out you go'.
The saint continued her meditation and again came very close to the Reality. Again the voice said, 'Who are you?' This time she replied, It is your servant'. The voice again said, 'Out you go'. Once more the saint continued with her meditation until she attained the highest state of consciousness. The voice once more said. 'Who are you?' Now she replied, 'It is you,' and was finally let in to experience the Reality. The moral of this Sufi story is that we become something when we become nothing. When we eliminate our ego, we experience enlightenment. You and I become one. I and you become one.
Just think! At this place there is present such an oil, which produces the light of great intensity. For instance, the electric bulb here, which illuminates before you, that you can see. But that light is of the world. In the lamp of your soul (ruh), there is an abundant amount of oil, but if you do not enlighten it with a matchstick, how can there be an illumination? For how long will you keep wasting in vain and in ignorance the remaining life of yours?
Acquaint yourselves with esoteric knowledge (batuni ilm).
You are not practicing ibadat. This Ismaili faith (deen) is a faith par excellence, but you do not understand it, and hence you get guided on to the faiths of others. Get informed of your faith. You are being deceived by Satan. You just realize that you have gems in your hands.
You are going in other's faiths, but they are exoteric faiths (zaheri deen). In all those faiths, one performs exoteric ibadat, that which is done by the body, by the flesh. Ibadat by the tongue can be performed even by the animals. What is the use of that? Cows, bullocks etc. all have ears, tongue and body; so what is the difference between you and the bullocks? Like human beings, dogs and other animals too possess a body. They also eat, go to jungle, move, walk and run, and go where there is meat or other food and keep running for females. So, what difference is there between you and the animals like dogs etc..?
Your nobleness and your whole life are for you to recognize the soul. The lamp of Allah's Noor is in you. It is in your hands. That lamp is in all of you. You should look towards it. Enquire of it. If you do not enquire of it, how would you know? God has allotted time for carrying out business activity. The day is for man to work and earn.
Why has God created the night? The night is not totally for sleeping, but is for ibadat also, and in ibadat is contained the happiness.
Well, I am not certain about the authenticity or the original source of this article. I am trying to contact the person who sent it to me. I guess I should not have put it up here without verifying first if this is actually written or said by Aga Khan III. I will edit or delete it if it is turned out to be otherwise.
Are you doing it? Because everyone is doing it. The social peer pressure is mounting to meditate. It’s everywhere, including the very mainstream cover of Time Magazine. “But I’m not religious” cry the naysayers. “Narcissistic navel-gazing” sneer the A-types with no time to breath quickly, much less slowly. But glance at recent headlines and note the most unexpected word: science. That’s mounting too.
Increasingly, research is providing hard data that meditation not only helps you decompress, it changes the chemical structure of your brain. Not in a spiritual way—but a chemical and physical way. Mindfulness (basically modern meditation stripped of religion) is being studied across a wide field of human behavior, from depression to sports performance, and the findings are striking. Medical imaging before and after a period of training shows structural changes in parts of the brain affecting things like addiction, sadness and memory.
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The knowledge that our brains can physically change and adapt is relatively new and it’s known as neuroplasticity. “Initially we thought we couldn’t know anything about the brain. It was the ‘black box’ we couldn’t open,” says Dr. Sylvain Moreno, a scientist in the field of brain plasticity and neuro-education. Gradually, our grasp of the brain expanded: in the ‘70s with certain medications and the ‘90’s with rehabilitation when we learned we could regain function once thought lost forever in stroke victims. “The next step was to determine if we could set the brain on an entirely new trajectory ” by specifically building up certain parts of the brain or minimizing others. Dr. Moreno cautions the field is in its infancy and more rigorous study is needed to prove a true causal relationship. But, he says the best hopes in neuroplasticity are music, exercise and mindfulness. So just what parts of the brain can meditation impact and what’s in it for us?
1. In the Bedroom (Ohhhhh My)
Did anyone ever have an orgasm and say “wow, that was too intense. I wish I had been distracted and less present for that one”? Exactly. And if your ‘O moments’ are as rare and beautiful as a four-leafed clover (and as frustrating to locate), mindfulness activates the right brain, specifically the hypothalamus, which feeds the libido.
2. In the Boardroom (Work it)
Dr. Moreno’s research is showing that music training can permanently impact the higher “executive” functions of the brain and mindfulness research is showing the same. Improvements seen in things like memory, problem solving, empathy and creativity are not simply a short term benefit of a mindfulness practice but potentially a change in the structure of the brain: neuroplasticity at work. Meditators are more focused and effective even when the crazed pace of their work demands they multitask (generally considered a productivity killer).
3. In The Weight Room (Activate Beast Mode)
Meditation lowers stress hormones and increases your ability to rest and recover, all good things for mastering the gym. But one exciting finding to come from mindfulness research could also make a big difference in your workouts. A study published in the journal Emotion found after 8 weeks of meditation, participants were better at regulating their negative reactions. Research with athletes shows similar results. It seems meditation helps us tolerate hard work, physical pain or stressful situations, allowing us to separate the emotional from the physical and lower our sensitivity to perceived discomfort.
4. In The Therapy Room (Battle Depression)
Perhaps the most promising research is in the area of depression. Dr. Norman Farb, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto studies depression and mindful training and has found that it can “reduce automatic negative self evaluation, increase tolerance for negative affect and pain and help engender self-compassion” in those suffering from depression. His fascinating research adds to the growing evidence of a relationship between mindfulness and neuroplasticity: a promising step towards healing the brain by changing it for the better.
by Alison Tinsley and Chris Fields The Mayo Clinic website (July 9, 2014) suggests that, “If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation.” The Huffington Post offers a “daily meditation” for us to contemplate. And in the December 14, 2014 edition of 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper became a meditation convert right there on our TV screens. Millions of books, magazines, videos, websites, classes and workshops offer to teach us how to meditate, and almost every health expert recommends meditation for whatever ails you. Even the Harvard Business Review (Oct. 2012) has gotten on the bandwagon. According to HBR blogger Peter Bregman, “Meditation brings many benefits: It refreshes us, helps us settle into what’s happening now, makes us wiser and gentler, helps us cope in a world that overloads us with information and communication, and more. But if you’re still looking for a business case to justify spending time meditating, try this one: Meditation makes you more productive.”
Everywhere we look we’re encouraged to meditate. When I search the word in Google I get 135,000,000 results! So, yes, it’s universally agreed that we should all pull up a chair, a pillow or zafu, and get with the program – not necessarily for “enlightenment,” but for our health, our happiness, our productivity and equanimity.
If you’re like many people, however, you may have tried to meditate a few times and it didn’t seem to work for you. You were probably told to sit quietly, relaxed but erect, in a peaceful place with your eyes closed or softly focused in the distance, and to breathe in and out gently through your nose. You were supposed to bring your attention back to the breath when your mind wandered and perhaps even repeat a mantra or an intention for focus. So you earnestly did this for one day or ten or even for a month or year and it seemed that nothing happened. Your mind was an escape artist and you didn’t feel any differently and this was frustrating and you’d rather go for a run or read the newspaper or sleep twenty minutes longer or go to bed twenty minutes earlier. Meditation just wasn’t for you.
Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve read what seems like an infinite number of books and articles, attended Zen Buddhist retreats, listened to tapes and talks, watched videos, and pursued every other avenue I could think of to find out how people actually succeeded at this seemingly so-simple thing. The search for the right way to meditate was infinitely frustrating, and I began to feel as though there were an elite group of people who “got it” and I just wasn’t among them. But I persisted because, even though I didn’t get it, something about sitting quietly in the morning for twenty minutes became slightly addictive. Although many mornings when it was dark and cold I didn’t want to get up and meditate, by the time I’d finished I was usually glad I had. So it’s been ten years now and I’ve been “sitting” (that’s meditator-speak) almost every morning wondering when enlightenment would show up. Then, just recently, I was talking to one of Chris’s colleagues who spoke of what he does during meditation. It’s entirely different from what I do during meditation. It was an aha! moment for me.
It may be blasphemy in some circles, but I’ve come to believe there really isn’t a right way to meditate. There is just your way, my way, the Dalai Lama’s way, Chris’s colleague’s way, and many, many other ways. There are as many ways and reasons to meditate as there are people meditating. So in these conversations with people from different backgrounds, different traditions, different professions, and different purposes for their practice, we’ve set out to de-mystify “meditation.” We talked to people like Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi whose lives have been transformed by their meditation practices. Others, like Marianne Gontarz York and Jennifer Flower, found alternatives to traditional sitting practices that work for them. The variety of practices described in the following chapters truly astonished us. One size definitely does not fit all.
It’s our hope that hearing what people actually do and how it affects them will interest and inspire some of you to start, continue, or enhance your own practices. Studies show that meditation is, after all, really, really good for us – even if we feel like nothing is happening when we do it.
Whether you have years of experience with contemplatives practices or are just beginning to explore how they might fit into your spiritual life, our next two e-courses will be of special interest to you.
Thomas Merton could be called the father of today's contemplative movement. This Trappist monk, prolific writer, activist, and interfaith pioneer left us a legacy of teachings that show us in concrete ways to live a contemplative life every day.
That's why we are delighted that Kathleen Deignan will be leading our next e-course on Thomas Merton's Abiding Legacy. She will draw upon her vast knowledge of Merton's teachings as the President-Emerita of the International Thomas Merton Society and author of two exquisite books, When the Trees Say Nothing, the first collection of Merton's writings on nature, and Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, a daily breviary for engaged contemplatives.
This e-course, scheduled in honor of the 100th anniversary of Merton's birth, will run for four weeks, from June 22 - July 17, 2015, and will cover:
•Awakening to Living Presence: Fostering the Contemplative Mind
•Learning to Live in The Presence: Cultivating the Contemplative Heart
•A Vow of Conversation: Engaging Contemplative Practice
•Being a Gardener of Paradise: The Flowering of Contemplative Vocation
Thomas Merton was also a contemplative photographer, and if he were still alive, he would probably be interested in Jan Phillips' e-course on Photography as a Spiritual Path. Jan has been using a camera to express her emotions, heartbreaks, and hopes since 1969. Photography has enabled her to bear witness to the activism in a wide variety of situation as well as the silent metaphors of contemplative journeys. During this one-month e-course, she will help us:
•Explore the impact of our images
•Reflect on our family and communal relations through the lens of a camera
•Retrain our eyes to see the divinity in our midst
•Identify our commonness with those who seem different
•Keep ourselves fortified against the barrage of images that break our hearts
•Discover new ways to add light to the world
Jan will share many of her own photographs and comment on yours in the Practice Circle. Even if you don't take pictures yourself, you will enjoy discovering how images can be vehicles of revelation.
Modi’s Yoga Day Grips India, and ‘Om’ Meets ‘Ouch!’
NEW DELHI — On a sticky morning last week, Deputy Commissioner Chandra Shekhar Sahukar of India’s Agriculture Ministry (animal husbandry department, small ruminant section) found himself in a yoga class for the first time in his 57 years, miserably grasping his ankle.
In his bag he carried a photocopy of a memorandum advising senior officials to familiarize themselves with certain postures ahead of International Yoga Day this Sunday, when they will take part in a mass outdoor yoga session scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. The session is intended to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records, the memo says, warning, “If some officials turn up without practice, there will be risk of the record claim being affected.”
At the front of the room, the instructor was folding and unfolding himself like a pocketknife, and pointedly reminding members of the class that they would soon be performing under the scrutiny of “Modi-saab.” When he asked the students to press their faces to their knees, Mr. Sahukar — whose professional duties, he noted later, include “a lot of sitting” — could keep silent no longer.
People, including some government employees, practicing yoga in a class in Delhi, India.Credit Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
“It’s not touching!” he exclaimed. “I can’t bend anymore!”
Of the major initiatives that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced since taking office, few have generated as much static as Yoga Day, which will feature a 35-minute public demonstration of poses by more than 35,000 government employees, students and other citizens. Though the Western world regards yoga primarily as physical exercise, Indians are more apt to see its postures and Sanskrit chants as freighted with ideological or religious meaning.
Preparations for the event set off a chorus of criticism, mostly from a handful of Muslim activist groups that say they should not be compelled to chant “Om,” a sound sacred in Hinduism, or perform the sun salutation, which they say violates the monotheistic nature of Islam.
Mr. Modi’s officials have hurried to address those complaints, assuring the public that participation in Yoga Day is optional and that it focuses exclusively on health, not religion. “Om” is not part of the Yoga Day protocol, nor is the sun salutation. The debate so incensed one right-wing member of Parliament that he suggested that those displeased by the sun salutation “drown in the sea.”
Behind the headlines, there is little doubt that the yoga campaign amounts to a cultural challenge, in a capital city powerfully shaped by its British and Mughal past. New Delhi’s elites are mostly Anglophiles, fond of their whisky and butter chicken; its clerks spend their days in dim warrens of paper files, tensed against the next supervisory tongue-lashing. Many rank-and-file civil servants have bellies like first-floor balconies.
Shripad Naik, India’s first minister overseeing yoga and traditional medicine, who has helped organize this month’s celebration, said it was time to clear away the vestiges of a Western lifestyle left behind by colonial powers.
“Earlier, our people used to get up before sunrise and sleep before sunset, but now our lifestyle has changed. They are going to the pub, they will go in the middle of the night, at 12 or 1, and eat chicken and many, many new dishes,” said Mr. Naik, who, like the prime minister, rises before dawn and practices yoga daily. He recommends going to sleep by 9 p.m., gets his news from the Hindi-language press and proudly declares that he has never had an injection.
“There will be a lifestyle change,” he said. “Our style will come.”
Mr. Modi is not the first Indian leader to promote yoga. Indira Gandhi was so devoted to her yoga instructor, Dhirendra Brahmachari, that he accompanied her family when it traveled and became known as the “flying guru.” In the late 1970s, Mr. Brahmachari hosted a weekly television show, and yoga was included in some school curriculums. But after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, his influence waned, and he withdrew behind the walls of his ashram.
Mr. Modi has no guru of that importance, but since the 1980s, he has consulted regularly with H. R. Nagendra, a Bangalore guru who focuses his practice on achieving samadhi, a state of profound meditative absorption. Mr. Nagendra said Mr. Modi drew from the thinking of various popular teachers, including the gurus Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Jaggi Vasudev and Mata Amritanandamay.
The strains of yoga arising now are, in many cases, intermingled with Hindu nationalist thought. Sun salutations and Sanskrit chants are part of the daily, military-style drills of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the right-wing Hindu group that started Mr. Modi on his political career. The daily shakhas, as the drills are known, were designed to “create an all-Bharat national consciousness.” Bharat is the Hindi name for India.
Shripad Naik, India's first minister overseeing yoga and traditional medicine, practicing yoga in the garden at his residence.Credit Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
Mr. Nagendra, the nephew of a prominent R.S.S. leader, says his techniques have sent cancer into remission in 350 cases, weaned thousands of asthma patients off medications and treated psychiatric disorders, as well as homosexuality.
“It is the extreme stress that takes place, the stressful life, the wrong lifestyle, which makes them go for homosexuality,” he said. “We work to reduce the craving at the deeper levels. Once you do that, your desire to have sex or excessive sexual indulgence is gone.”
At events, Mr. Modi often shares the dais with Baba Ramdev, who presides over an ayurvedic medical empire and has preached against influences he describes as foreign, among them the English language, chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Mr. Naik, the yoga minister, himself learned yoga through the R.S.S., and he said he hoped that the widespread practice of yoga would lower rates of violent crime.
“You see these rapes happening, all these bad habits, he said. “When he is doing something positive, the bad will be out of him.”
As for government workers, Mr. Naik said, they will become more productive and less corrupt. “There will be a definite change in the way the bureaucracy functions,” he said. “When they are thin, all their energy will go into producing better work. There is no need to do it forcefully, once we have put them on the right path.”
Last week, that process seemed likely to be a long one. At the morning session recommended for bureaucrats, the instructor issued a series of staccato commands: “Touch the nose to the toes! Open the knees! Don’t raise your buttock! Stick the buttock to the floor! Stick the buttock to the floor!” His students assumed expressions of intense concentration, apparently focused on not tipping over.
Kuldip Kumar, 38, a clerk in the administration of All-India Radio, gave a little smirk when asked why he had attended the practice session, his first in 25 years.
“There is a stick hanging over all of us,” he said. “When the prime minister comes, if officials do not show up, of course it is bad for their career. The attitude is, we have to beat them with a stick to get the job done.”
Others, filing out, said they had been inspired by the asceticism of Mr. Modi, who kept to a nine-day religious fast throughout a jam-packed visit to the United States last fall. (“Even Obama had to bow down when he saw Modi so energetic,” one of them said.)
Shiv Visvanathan, a sociology professor, said many of Mr. Modi’s most prominent initiatives as prime minister, like the national cleanup campaign, known as “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” involved asking citizens to look within themselves and change their habits.
“He is looking for a new kind of cultural revolution,” Dr. Visvanathan said. “I like the comic part of it — the fat cops, the bureaucrats, doing exercise. Here is India, getting fat on hamburgers and milkshakes. Modi is the Benjamin Franklin of India in many ways.”
Bal Mukund Singh, the yoga instructor, ended the class by urging his students to become Hanuman, the monkey god, and then watched as they dispersed to the offices where they would spend their days handling dusty file folders and eating fritters. When they were out of sight, he checked off the characteristics he had observed, things like “big tummy, rigid body, less flexibility, stress, tension, depression, diabetes.” Still, he said cheerfully, these are good days.
“They heard it on TV, and they are running toward the yoga,” he said. “The prime minister is the king. If the king does something, that is very effective. And this time, our king is doing yoga.”
BALTIMORE — ATTENTION, downward-facing-dog enthusiasts. The International Day of Yoga is coming on Sunday. A brainchild of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, it is being backed by more than 175 countries and heavily promoted worldwide. Last week, the Indian Embassy in Washington emailed me an invitation to celebrate on the National Mall, complete with a downloadable yoga “protocol” of exercises. Even Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, has been seen, shoeless, practicing his tree pose in Delhi.
The plans for India are even more ambitious. Multitudes of primary, secondary and college students have been summoned to perform the yoga protocol on Sunday at 7 a.m., as have government workers. Mr. Modi’s home state of Gujarat alone is organizing celebrations at 29,000 locations. Pursuant to the national obsession with setting world records, the Guinness Book has been invited to observe a yoga rally with more than 35,000 practitioners, presided over by Mr. Modi himself, in the nation’s capital.
Not everyone is enthusiastic. Some Muslim preachers and opposition politicians have accused Mr. Modi of using the day to foist Hinduism on religious minorities under the guise of yoga.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has responded quickly to such concerns by dropping the requirement to chant or perform a sun worship pose, which might be construed as un-Islamic because it posits the sun as a deity. The party has also relaxed earlier directives that made participation by students and others compulsory, and it has distanced itself from members who have branded protesters as “traitors” who should “drown in the sea.”
Yoga has encountered such objections before — conservative Christian parents in New York and California have branded its use in schools as religious indoctrination. Since 2004, Islamic clerics have issued fatwas prohibiting yoga for Muslims in Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia. The question of whether there is any justification to such opposition is a delicate one.
Certainly, yoga’s evolution has been inextricably linked with that of Hinduism. The word itself, linguistically related to “yoke,” first appears in the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text from around the 15th century B.C., to describe a chariot yoked to horses, in which a felled war hero might ascend to the sun.
As the tradition of meditation and exercise developed among Indian ascetics between A.D. 200 and 400, “yoga” acquired its new meaning of reining in body and mind to rise above worldly concerns. In this sense, yoga undeniably embodies the worldview of Hinduism (as well as Buddhism and Jainism), in which the goal is to end suffering through enlightenment.
However, there is no historical record of other religions’ disapproving of yoga. Muslim travelers in India, fascinated by yoga’s teachings, started bringing translated works to the Islamic world almost a millennium ago.
The Mughal emperor Jahangir commissioned a Persian text, Bahr al-Hayat, which depicted 21 asanas, or positions. Swami Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu reformer, became a sensation after presenting yoga to the West as a scientifically based philosophy at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
Since then, interpretations of yoga have multiplied. A number of practitioners, both in India and abroad, view it purely as a set of exercises. At the other end of the spectrum are Shiva devotees aiming for moksha, or liberation from the cycle of life and death, through intense meditation and asceticism. Somewhere in the middle lie New Age variations, the ones with incense and mantras and piped-in incantations of the sacred Hindu word “om,” swirling around yoga studios like stereophonic movie-theater-sound logos.
What’s striking about Mr. Modi’s grand project, given his formative years in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization, is the presentation of yoga as a secular activity. His government takes great pains to point out that 47 Muslim nations supported his United Nations resolution. In his United Nations address, he characterized yoga as “an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition,” rather than Hindu tradition.
Mr. Modi’s careful scripting shows him to be a consummate businessman. By presenting yoga as one of the monumental achievements of Indian thought, he is increasing the country’s visibility, promoting its brand on the world market. He will not allow the distraction of religion to interfere with the return on his investment.
Yoga is big business, estimated at $10 billion a year in the United States alone, and India needs to be associated with it — not just to attract tourists to yoga retreats, but also to assert its intellectual rights. The country has been fighting attempts by Western gurus to patent yoga poses, assembling a repository of over 1,500 asanas to keep them free.
Within India, the goal is different. Those on the Hindu right have always harbored the vision of returning to India’s greatness as an ancient civilization. A practice with Vedic origins that has nevertheless attained such secular popularity is the perfect vehicle to create a shared national consciousness. The physical engagement, mental discipline and sublimation of desire enshrined in yoga meld seamlessly, yet discreetly, with the more militaristic tenets of organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The churlish might question whether huge public rallies can be conducive to the quiet spiritual advancement that yoga promises, or whether the pollution generated in transporting all those participants to their Sunday events helps us deal with climate change, as Mr. Modi claims yoga will do. But that would be missing the point, which is to demonstrate that the prime minister can mobilize such large tracts of India’s population, that he possesses the assertiveness and authority needed to bring together such a diverse and willful people.
International Yoga Day Finally Arrives in India, Amid Cheers and Skepticism
“I believe that from the 21st of June, through the International Day of Yoga, it is not just the beginning of a day but the beginning of a new age through which we will achieve greater heights of peace, good will and train the human spirit,” Mr. Modi said in his speech.
Through Sunday’s spectacle and Mr. Modi’s place at its head, the government attempted to give fresh life to the idea that yoga can help restore national pride and a return to ancient values in an age of tarnished virtue and health crises. Some groups representing Muslims, the country’s largest minority, have bristled against that message, calling it a threat to secularism, or saying that they should not be compelled to perform sun salutations or chant “Om,” a sound sacred in Hinduism.
The central government decided not to include sun salutations in the routine, and said that the event was voluntary, though some government employees reported feeling some pressure to attend.
The government made no effort to play down its message of the healing power of yoga. In an event later Sunday, Mr. Modi mentioned diseases like diabetes and hypertension, and drug addiction in India, adding that “practicing yoga helps combat stress and chronic conditions.” The message, despite the criticism, caught on with the apparently adoring participants, who included some of the most flexible schoolchildren in Delhi and apparently inflexible bureaucrats.
“Since ancient times India was the guru of the world,” said Vikash Chandra, a lawyer who has been practicing yoga since 1992. Yoga Day in Delhi, which was captured by more than 24 state-run TV cameras and broadcast all over the nation, would help them reclaim it, he said.
Schools in San Francisco Implement Meditation & Students’ Happiness and Academic Success Soars
by Jennifer Chait, 01/20/14 filed under: green education, health & body
Photo by Shutterstock
We’ve seen yoga, standing desks and vegetarian lunches turn troubled schools around, but we’ve never seen meditation adopted successfully within the school system. Until now. According to reports, several San Francisco middle and high schools, as well as scattered schools around the Bay Area, have adopted what they call, “Quiet Time” – a stress-reduction meditation strategy that is doing wonders for students and teachers. The first school to adopt the Quiet Time practice in 2007, Visitacion Valley Middle School, has reaped huge rewards. Formally a school largely out of control, Visitacion Valley is smack in the middle of a neighborhood where shootings are common. This resulted in the students getting bad grades, skipping school and fighting daily, as they were likely highly troubled by the violence surrounding them. The situation at Visitacion Valley was so dire that teachers even started calling in sick, to avoid teaching these kids. The school tried everything from counseling to peer support to after-school tutoring and sports but nothing seemed to work until Quiet Time entered the picture.
The SFGate reports that within the first year that Quiet Time was used, “The number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly.” Most importantly, the SFGate reports that, “Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.” Now, at least three other schools have adopted Quiet Time with similarly successful results. Burton High School notes that students involved in Quiet Time say they experience significantly less stress and depression, and greater self-esteem, plus academic successes have risen dramatically. The California Achievement Test, which measures grades of kids in CA, found that twice as many students in Quiet Time schools have become proficient in English, when compared to students who don’t participate in Quiet Time, and the gap is even bigger in math. Teachers in the schools using Quiet Time are also faring better, stating that they’re, “Less emotionally exhausted and more resilient.” The Quiet Time website notes the following success rates of meditation in schools:
•10% improvement in test scores—and a narrowing of the achievement gap.
•Highly effective for increasing creativity.
•Improved teacher retention and reduced teacher burnout.
•Greater happiness, focus and self-confidence.
•Reduced ADHD symptoms and symptoms of other learning disorders.
•86% reduction in suspensions over two years.
•40% reduction in psychological distress, including stress, anxiety and depression.
•65% decrease in violent conflict over two years.
While of course, we can’t know the very long-term effects of meditation in schools (yet) it’s clear that schools are benefiting from the innovative practice, making Quiet Time a stellar idea for other schools to try. For more information on the Quiet Time Program, contact Jamie Grant at Jamie@DavidLynchFoundation.org.
+ Meditation transforms roughest San Francisco schools
+ Learn more about Quiet Time and see how to adopt it in your child’s school
The world celebrated the first International Day of Yoga on June 21, click through to know why yoga has become such a rage and how can it benefit a practitioner—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Officials in Central Russia Have Banned Yoga Because They Think It’s an Evil Cult
Officials in the central Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk have called off all yoga classes held in both private and municipal facilities as part of a crackdown on "religious cults."
According to the Moscow Times, which cited a report in the Russian Kommersant daily, the owners of two of the city's main hatha-yoga studios received letters from government officials telling them to immediately cease their classes because the practice of yoga could "spread new religious cults and movements."
Yoga classes have also been taking place at a stadium and public meeting hall in Nizhnevartovsk. However, the heads of the local departments for physical culture and education received letters as well, the Moscow Times says, describing yoga as "inextricably linked to religious practices" and having a distinct "occult character."
Hatha yoga is based in Hindu tradition, but is mostly practiced as a physical exercise that promotes flexibility and deep breathing.
Suspicion of yoga is not shared among all Russian apparatchiks, however. Last year, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency that Americans upset about the annexation of Crimea should “spend more time in the open," and "practice yoga."
1. Practice compassion and kindness.
2. Practice gratitude.
3. Practice contentment.
4. Practice humility.
5. Practice generosity.
6. Practice slowing down.
7. Practice smiling.
Although you practice compassion and kindness in your yoga class, you may sometimes forget all of your yoga virtues once you step outside your studio. But doing yoga doesn’t give you the right to act like a snob off the mat. And it certainly doesn't mean you're holier than anyone else.
Sure, yoga is a great practice to unite the body, mind and spirit, but what you ought to be striving for is to unite yourself with the world around you.
Treat others as well as you treat yourself on the yoga mat.
Apply the lessons you learn from your practice to your everyday life. Become the same kind of person off the mat as you are when you're on it. Here are seven ways to become the best version of yourself outside the yoga studio:
1. Practice compassion and kindness.
You were being compassionate and kind to yourself on the mat, so why not extend that same glowing spirit to those around you!
Knock off your judgmental ways, put an end to the rumor mill and hush up on the gossip. Be kind in your body, mind and word. Don’t speak it if it’s going to hurt. Let go of those thoughts if they're destructive. Give up your seat if someone else who might need it more than you do. Say hello to a stranger.
Treat others as well as you treat yourself on the yoga mat.
2. Practice gratitude.
Don’t think about the things that are missing in your life. Stop comparing yourself to your friends or even random strangers on the subway. You’re not starving, homeless or jobless.
You have education and skills. You have family and love. You have time and your health. You have internet and mindbodygreen. You have yoga. Don’t relish in what you’re lacking. Double down on what you have. Praise the goodness and be grateful for the blessings in your life. Announce what you’re thankful for to the universe before you harp on what’s missing.
3. Practice contentment.
You’re content in yoga class, but why do you spend the rest of your day wanting more? It feels like it’s never enough in the world once you're outside of the studio.
Turn lack into sufficiency by practicing gratitude (revisit #2 if necessary). Let go of all that stuff and live for real experiences. Find joy in any experience no matter how big or small. Appreciate how far you’ve come in life. Appreciate yourself for just being you. I assure you, you’re already enough.
4. Practice humility.
You’re no better than anyone who doesn’t practice yoga.
Bow in devotion to your teacher or guru or fellow yogis, but also bow in devotion to any human being. Instead of judging and labeling others we interact with, strive to be open and see what they can teach you. Be inspired by the people who come into your life.
5. Practice generosity.
Treat others as well as you treat yourself on the yoga mat.
Give with your heart and spirit. Give without asking for anything in return. Stronger than your donation is your time and your attention. You can give immensely to someone by simply being present and being there for them.
6. Practice slowing down.
There’s no rush. Your outside world is a reflection of your inner world.
Practice that same inner calmness you cultivate on the mat, as you go about the outside world. Reduce your commitments. Prioritize your life. Leave the house early. Give yourself plenty of time. Shorten your to-do list.
7. Practice smiling.
Smile. It's the easiest way to brighten anyone’s day, and transfer the inner vibrations that you're feeling to someone else.
A smile helps you feel good, and it helps others brighten their day, too. Smile more and share your inner joy with others! You’ll always look and feel great when you are smiling. It’s like bowing and saying “Namaste,” without ever whispering a word.
Does smile possible during deep meditation when participants goes in deep, deep stage (advance stages) when he/she becomes unaware about him, his feelings, in this stage how can he keep smile!! when he becomes unaware what is going on around him!
Smile is always good and smile always welcomed by others!
It is also good for your health.
But many Yoga experts also noted that in deep stages of meditation you can not control your feelings whether it is a small smile on your face, sadness or happiness. I am still in my early stage of meditation but honestly I can not put smile on my face while meditating! May be my method is not right or may be I am not punctual in meditation!.
Many yoga Gurus including Osho wrote in his well known Yoga books that in deep stages of meditation you feels happiness and feel like your body doesn't have any weight and you feels like you are floating in the air!
Many yoga Gurus including Osho wrote in his well known Yoga books that in deep stages of meditation you feels happiness and feel like your body doesn't have any weight and you feels like you are floating in the air!
The article is about not what happens during yoga but is about expressing the result of the yoga in daily life outside of yoga. For example, if one found peace and joy in the yoga practise, then he should radiate that happiness by smiling during his normal relations with others.
"With everyone sprinting along, it’s hard to remember that sitting down properly was once considered a virtue. According to a new biography of Queen Elizabeth, as a child the princess was forced to sit for hours on end, unable to go to the loo; if she didn’t fidget, she got a cookie.
Even plebeian youths were expected to sit while eating, learning and listening to grown-ups. Munro Leaf’s 1946 children’s book, “How to Behave and Why,” instructed kids on the importance of “sitting and standing right,” the latter primarily in the execution of greetings and pledges of allegiance. Irritated elders were constantly admonishing one to “Stay put” and “Stop fussing,” terrifying anyone tempted to jiggle a leg into statuelike submission. Today, movie scenes in which children are chastised for freeing an errant pinkie in church or refusing to sit through dinnertime look as unenlightened as belt lashings."
"Cultural doomsayers once feared that people would be hopelessly entranced by the soft glow of the computer screen. Turns out, the real distraction is us."
This Article was published on page 28 of ASIAN LITE ,
VOL VII, ISSUE XXXV MAR 03 – MAR 09, 2014.
28 – HEALTH – ASIANLITE.COM - Email: email@example.com
Meditation – Cure for Stress
By ABDUL SULTAN
I was born in Karachi (British India) in 1926. During my young age, I was attached to my grand-father, who was my role model. Being Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim, he practiced Sufism, just as most of the Ismailis have this optional facility. Ismailis are a sect of Shia Islam, who believes in Imamah after the Nabuwa.
I am 88 now.
At the age of 20, I too adopted and practiced that sort of meditation. I started getting up at 4 am. Human beings consist of two things—human body and soul, and that way, one have to maintain a good balance between Din and Dunya, and between materialism and spiritualism. This is an improvement prevalent in the old system when a Jogi or a meditator had to be a Brhamchari and had to live in solitude e.g. in the jungles, caves and mountains. A Sufi can live a normal life, raise a family, earn a living, and at the same time, he can elevate the status of his soul and observe and live his life for the real purpose he has been created.
Sufis believe that Sharia has upper storeys at different levels. Sharia’s second upper stage is Tariqat and the third stage is Haqiqat and the top most is the Maarefat. Some of the Muslims, who are extremist in Sharia, do not like any liberalism in Shariat and as such think that the Sufis are not perfect Muslims, they oppose the concept. For example in Afghanistan, during Taliban regime, thousands of Ismailis were targeted and tortured and many had their arms and legs amputated.
I may maintain here that the title “Ismaili”, my community got in the year 765AD, about 130 years after the death of the Prophet. Before that we were called Imamis or Shias. It is the historical fact that the foundation of Sufism was laid by the Holy Prophet himself. Just three years before his death, he raised a group of 40 people in Medina and sat with them and taught Sufism daily at night between the sunset prayer (Magreb) and late night prayer (Ishah). And they practiced meditation between 2 am and early morning Fajjar prayer. He had appointed Hazrat Ali as lecturer and instructor. In Hadeath, the Prophet has said “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is its gate.”
The Prophet had selected the venue for the group on a varandah surrounded by benches made of stones. That was adjoining his mosque. In Arabic language, bench is called “Suffa”, and the Prophet called them “Ahl-al-suffa”. Ultimately that turned to be “Sufism”. Above all, God blessed this group by revealing a verse that directed the Holy Prophet to support it because they prayed morning and night for “seeking His face”. [Verse 28 of Chapter 18, Al Kahf / The Cave].
My spiritual life was disturbed at the age of 32. It was because my new profession was stressful and required my attention for 16 hours. I could hardly sleep for six hours—thanks to the increasing stress level. In such circumstances, I stopped meditating. I forgot the fact that God is close to those who are close to Him. Conversely, He forgets those who forget Him. As such, living in stressful life for 10 t0 15 years, I started to develop Angina, high blood pressure and similar diseases. All these took a toll on business too. Things got so bad that I lost everything and was thrown on the footpath. There was a time when I thought that I would die of heart attack.
I would not be living today if I had succumbed to the situation. Centrifugal force of stress was stretching my heart but I wanted to live and wait for future opportunities. I wanted to find out whether it is possible to wait for the opportunities. I restarted remembering Him wholeheartedly and was back to meditation in the year 1972, at the age of 46.
In two years, I felt a great change in the philosophy of life. I felt that God has blessed me with real knowledge and true path. I felt that I had reached the stage of Haqiqat. I felt reality in everything, Material and spiritual. I could sustain any pain without pain killers. I could face worldly problems with minimum stress. I lost all stage fear and my willpower became stronger.
Life is full of problems. People call it “nature” but I call it “His System”. While my heart problem continued, I had captured the problem of mental “stress”. I felt God was with me all the time and He was protecting me, and looking after all my problems. And that was the reason to overcome “stress”. The happiness that comes from within me, gives me optimistic and positive thinking. That is exactly the opposite of “vicious circle”.
At the age of 69, I had a longest and complicated surgery— bypass of five blockages of arteries and veins of my heart. I did not feel any pain. I overcame all my problem at the age of 72. Crossing the age of 85, I have lost mobility. Now I am disabled.
I live with more than a dozen health problems. I prefer wheel chair whenever I have someone who could drive me but most of the time I have a walking stick in my hand. I live alone in my flat; I cook my food daily, and wash my dishes with my hands. I avoid eating in restaurants and pubs.
I have four loving daughters, but they live in different places. My eldest daughter lives in Los Angeles, USA. Another one lives in London. Only the youngest one lives in Stockport. She and her husband want me to move into their house but I do not agree to that as I do not want to part with my independence. At the moment I have the freedom to watch TV or sleep or do meditation at any time.
I visit the Asian Centre where I meet senior Asian people of all
sects and religions. We are all good friends and discuss our problems
and try to help, sympathise and console each other. I also play indoor
(The writer is 88 year-old and lives in Stockport).
U of T prof believes meditation classes are set to explode across Canadian campuses as universities work to reduce stress and anxiety.
By:Louise Brown GTA, Published on Fri Jan 15 2016
There is laughter and chatter outside in the hall, but University of Toronto psychology professor Brenda Toner’s “mindful meditation” students seem oblivious. Eyes closed, bodies still, they seem to hear only Toner’s voice as she talks them through a five-minute breathing activity at the end of the weekly session.
“Go inside your mind and take a survey of what you’re feeling — check for weather patterns,” she says to the 25-plus students sitting on chairs in a circle.
“Now focus on your breaths, breathe in and breathe out and let go of your thoughts as best you can. There are many distractions inside the room and outside — let them go. If your mind wanders, gently nudge it back to the breath without judgment, without criticism.”
Toner believes mindful meditation classes are poised to explode across Canadian campuses as universities work to reduce stress and anxiety.
The article below is about the trend of reducing attention span. Mindful meditation can assist in increasing the attention span....
The Eight-Second Attention Span
This weekend, I’m going to the Mojave Desert, deep into an arid wilderness of a half-million acres, for some stargazing, bouldering and January sunshine on my public lands. I won’t be out of contact. I checked. If Sarah Palin says something stupid on Donald Trump’s behalf — scratch that. When Sarah Palin says something stupid on Donald Trump’s behalf, I’ll get her speaking-in-tongues buffoonery in real time, along with the rest of the nation.
The old me would have despised the new me for admitting such a thing. I’ve tried to go on digital diets, fasting from my screens. I was a friend’s guest at a spa in Arizona once and had so much trouble being “mindful” that they nearly kicked me out. Actually, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the Seahawks game, mindful of Seattle’s woeful offensive line.
In the information blur of last year, you may have overlooked news of our incredibly shrinking attention span. A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.
Attention span was defined as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted.” I tried to read the entire 54-page report, but well, you know. Still, a quote from Satya Nadella, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, jumped out at me. “The true scarce commodity” of the near future, he said, will be “human attention.”
Putting aside Microsoft’s self-interest in promoting quick-flash digital ads with what may be junk science, there seems little doubt that our devices have rewired our brains. We think in McNugget time. The trash flows, unfiltered, along with the relevant stuff, in an eternal stream. And the last hit of dopamine only accelerates the need for another one.
I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone. One of the joys of going to Europe was always the distance — nine hours in my case — from compulsive contemporaneous chatter. While I hiked the Cinque Terre, the West Coast was sleeping. No more. Somebody, somewhere is alerting me to something that can’t wait.
You see it in the press, the obsession with mindless listicles that have all the staying power of a Popsicle. You see it in our politics, with fear-mongering slogans replacing anything that requires sustained thought. And the collapse of a fact-based democracy, where, for example, 60 percent of Trump supporters believe Obama was born in another country, has to be a byproduct of the pick-and-choose news from the buffet line of our screens.
Even “Downton Abbey,” supposedly an exemplar of popular taste for refined drama in the Digital Age, is in fact a very hyper-paced entertainment. The camera seldom holds a scene for long, cutting from Mrs. Patmore’s sexual advice to the butler Barrow’s latest plotting at a speed that is more Nascar than “Masterpiece Theatre.”
A New York friend used to send me clever, well-thought-out emails, gems of sprightly prose. Then he switched to texting, which abbreviated his wit and style. Now all verbs and nouns have vanished; he sends emojis, the worst thing to happen to communication in our time.
But all is not lost. I don’t know what the neuroscience has to say about this, but I’ve found a pair of antidotes, very old school, for my shrinking attention span.
The first is gardening. You plant something in the cold, wet soil of the fall — tulip bulbs or garlic — and then you want to shout, “Grow!” Eight seconds later, nothing. Working the ground, there’s no instant gratification. The planting itself forces you to think in half-year-increments, or longer for trees and perennials. The mind drifts, from the chill of a dark day to a springtime of color. Hope, goes the Emily Dickinson poem, is the thing with feathers. But it’s also the thing that rises from a tiny seed, in its own sweet time.
The second is deep reading, especially in the hibernation months of winter. I’m nearly done with the second volume of William Manchester’s masterly biography of Winston Churchill, “The Last Lion.” (O.K., I’m late to the book, Churchillians.) It’s zipping by. Next up is a new history of the Roman Empire.
Remember all those predictions that technology was going to kill book reading? It never happened. Paper books and stores that sell them are experiencing a revival of sorts. So, yes, I’m as screen-scrolly as the next guy when I’ve got the world in the palm of my hand. But put the thing aside, and kneel next to fresh-tilled earth, or curl up with an 800-page tome, and you find that the desire for sustained concentration is not lost. If anything, it’s greater.
Irony alert: I invite you to follow me on Twitter, @nytegan.
Over the December holidays, my husband went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Not my idea of fun, but he came back rejuvenated and energetic.
He said the experience was so transformational that he has committed to meditating for two hours daily, one hour in the morning and one in the evening, until the end of March. He’s running an experiment to determine whether and how meditation actually improves the quality of his life.
I’ll admit I’m a skeptic.
But now, scientists say that meditators like my husband may be benefiting from changes in their brains. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.
But how exactly did these study volunteers, all seeking stress reduction in their lives but new to the practice, meditate? So many people talk about meditating these days. Within four miles of our Bay Area home, there are at least six centers that offer some type of meditation class, and I often hear phrases like, “So how was your sit today?”
Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, said the participants practiced mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation that was introduced in the United States in the late 1970s. It traces its roots to the same ancient Buddhist techniques that my husband follows.
“The main idea is to use different objects to focus one’s attention, and it could be a focus on sensations of breathing, or emotions or thoughts, or observing any type of body sensations,” she said. “But it’s about bringing the mind back to the here and now, as opposed to letting the mind drift.”
Generally the meditators are seated upright on a chair or the floor and in silence, although sometimes there might be a guide leading a session, Dr. Hölzel said.
Of course, it’s important to remember that the human brain is complicated. Understanding what the increased density of gray matter really means is still, well, a gray area.
“The field is very, very young, and we don’t really know enough about it yet,” Dr. Hölzel said. “I would say these are still quite preliminary findings. We see that there is something there, but we have to replicate these findings and find out what they really mean.”
It has been hard to pinpoint the benefits of meditation, but a 2009 study suggests that meditation may reduce blood pressure in patients with coronary heart disease. And a 2007 study found that meditators have longer attention spans.
Previous studies have also shown that there are structural differences between the brains of meditators and those who don’t meditate, although this new study is the first to document changes in gray matter over time through meditation.
Ultimately, Dr. Hölzel said she and her colleagues would like to demonstrate how meditation results in definitive improvements in people’s lives.
“A lot of studies find that it increases well-being, improves quality of life, but it’s always hard to determine how you can objectively test that,” she said. “Relatively little is known about the brain and the psychological mechanisms about how this is being done.”
In a 2008 study published in the journal PloS One, researchers found that when meditators heard the sounds of people suffering, they had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures, a part of the brain tied to empathy, than people who did not meditate.
“They may be more willing to help when someone suffers, and act more compassionately,” Dr. Hölzel said.
Further study is needed, but that bodes well for me.
For now, I’m more than happy to support my husband’s little experiment, despite the fact that he now rises at 5 a.m. and is exhausted by 10 at night.
An empathetic husband who takes out the trash and puts gas in the car because he knows I don’t like to — I’ll take that.
THE other morning, I woke up and brewed a cup of Mindful Lotus tea ($6 for 20 bags). On the subway, I loaded the Headspace app on my iPhone and followed a guided mindfulness exercise ($13 a month for premium content). Later in the day, I dropped by Mndfl, a meditation studio in Greenwich Village ($20 for a 30-minute class).
These days it seems as if everyone is peddling mindfulness, a popular form of meditation. The Golden State Warriors, the Seattle Seahawks and the Boston Red Sox are now practicing mindfulness in the locker room. After Google began teaching the practice to its employees, stuffy companies like McKinsey and BlackRock started doing the same.
Consumer offerings are prolific, too. There are more than two dozen mindfulness apps for smartphones, some offering $400 lifetime subscriptions. The Great Courses has two mindfulness packages, each with a couple of dozen DVDs for $250. For an enterprising contemplative, it’s never been easier to make a buck.
On the face of it, that should be good news all around. After all, where’s the harm in having folks slow down, get in touch with their feelings and be kind? As a sporadic meditator myself, I know firsthand that mindfulness can relieve stress, improve focus and promote well-being. And during this charged election season, couldn’t we all use a bit more peace, love and understanding?
But with so many cashing in on the meditation craze, it’s hard not to wonder whether something essential is being lost. If mindfulness can be bought as easily as a pair of Lululemon yoga pants, can it truly be a transformative practice that eases the troubled mind? It’s a question as slippery as a Zen koan.
Yoga may help improve memory more than brain training, reveals study
A recent study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, U.S. showed that doing yoga has a better effect on memory strengthening than brain training.
As part of the study, 25 adults of the age of 55 were chosen. The participants had mild cognitive impairment, which made it hard for them to think and remember things properly. Some of them were chosen randomly to complete a three-month yoga and meditation course. The others were asked to practice memory-training exercises.
The study results revealed that both the groups had similar improvements in their verbal memory, which helps them remember words or names better. But, those who practiced yoga, showed superior improvements in visual-spatial memory, which helps to recall locations and navigate.
"Historically and anecdotally, yoga has been thought to be beneficial in aging well, but this is the scientific demonstration of that benefit," said study co-author Harris Eyre. "We're converting historical wisdom into the high level of evidence required for doctors to recommend therapy to their patients."
However, since the size of the test group was small, researchers said that the study must be conducted on a larger scale to yield more accurate results.
Daniel Odier was born in Geneve in 1945. He is a novelist, screenwriter and poet, and has published over 46 works including the bestselling Tantric Quest (Inner Traditions), and Desire, The Tantric Path to Awakening (Inner Traditions). Anais Nin called him “an outstanding writer and dazzling poet”. The author began his studies with Kalu Rinpoche in 1968 and remained his disciple until his passing in 1989. In the Himalayas, he was initiated by his Tantric master the yogini Lalita Devi. In 2004, Odier received the Ch’an ordination in the Lin t’si and Caodong schools in China, as well as permission to teach the Zhao Zhou Ch’an lineage in the West.
Daniel Odier teaches, within the Spanda tradition of Kashmiri Shaivism, the mystic dance Tandava and the Yoga of Touch, which he received from the Yogini Lalita Devi.
The tradition of Kashmiri yoga is a non-postural form of yoga which develops a movement in three stages, culminating in Tandava, or dance of Shiva. It is an extremely slow, completely free practice which brings about a release of the body into space, the experience of an absence of limits, and leads to non-dual awareness. The body is perceived as space and it is precisely this perception which lets the yogini access her true self, unhampered by any divisions of the ego. The ego is viewed as absolute in its tense state, and the absolute is experienced as ego in its unlimited state. Perceiving the unlimited allows the practitioner to savor the absence of choice and to become free in a world where matter and being are experienced as vibrating energies.
“In the tantric approach, we don´t see the body as something separated from the cosmos. We have practices to feel the Spanda, or vibration, on an intimate level. When we are vibrating, we realize that the whole world is vibration too and consciousness. From this point, there is no split between the inside and the outside, which is the core of all mystical experience.”
“The work on emotions is one of the most interesting and less known practices of the tradition of Kashmiri Shavisim. It is based on the Vijnanabhairava tantra, or tantra of the supreme knowledge.
image: Kali and Bhairava in Union
Thru the practice of the mystic dance Tandava, the practitioners’ body opens and becomes sensitive to the subtle perception of the effects of emotions. Once they reach this bodily consciousness, they are capable of living emotions through their bodies, rather than leaving the emotions to the mind, which grabs them and uses them to keep telling an old story we have heard too many times.
The body has the capacity to absorb emotions without building on them, and to let them go back to the space where they came from. The yogi does not try to dominate his emotions, on the contrary he lets them bring their cycle to completion. He lives one emotion at a time, without stagnation or repetition.”
“The tantric quest totally revolves around the idea that there is nothing to add or take away from one’s being as it already contains its absolute essence. Existing beyond the realms of religious dogma, belief systems, and moral precepts, it is therefore a supreme form of lay asceticism, entirely suited to the reality of everyday life. It is a feminine path which embraces all living beings and fully recognises the power of woman. It is a path which leads to the original source, to the embryonic state of being which encompasses the whole.”
“You don’t meditate to experiment with altered states of consciousness or whatever else. You meditate only to perceive by yourself that everything is within us, every atom of the universe, and that we already possess everything we would wish to find outside of ourselves.”
“Desire, liberated from its ties to the ego, realizes that it has no other aspiration than the fullness of Mahamudra and, as it sees in the same impulse that this plenitude is innate and limitless, it no longer aspires to any realization whatsoever. There is no longer anything but intimate vibration, continuous sacred tremoring, and the absence of localization in time and space.”
“No act loses us; no violence we’re subjected to destroys us; no debasement chases out the divine, and no one can take the divine from us. We can have access to it at any time by breathing the intimate perfume of the woman, the perfume of the world.”
“Shiva and Shakti are indistinguishable. They are one. They are the universe. Shiva isn’t masculine. Shakti isn’t feminine. At the core of their mutual penetration the supreme consciousness opens.”
“The capacity for total wonder is the very substance of awakening.”
A FRIEND of mine has a bad habit of narrating his experiences as they are taking place. I tease him for being a bystander in his own life. To be fair, we all fail to experience life to the fullest. Typically, our minds are too occupied with thoughts to allow complete immersion even in what is right in front of us.
Sometimes, this is O.K. I am happy not to remember passing a long stretch of my daily commute because my mind has wandered and my morning drive can be done on autopilot. But I do not want to disappear from too much of life. Too often we eat meals without tasting them, look at something beautiful without seeing it. An entire exchange with my daughter (please forgive me) can take place without my being there at all.
Recently, I discovered how much we overlook, not just about the world, but also about the full potential of our inner life, when our mind is cluttered. In a study published in this month’s Psychological Science, the graduate student Shira Baror and I demonstrate that the capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of “mental load.” Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.
In a series of experiments, we gave participants a free-association task while simultaneously taxing their mental capacity to different degrees. In one experiment, for example, we asked half the participants to keep in mind a string of seven digits, and the other half to remember just two digits. While the participants maintained these strings in working memory, they were given a word (e.g., shoe) and asked to respond as quickly as possible with the first word that came to mind (e.g., sock).
We found that a high mental load consistently diminished the originality and creativity of the response: Participants with seven digits to recall resorted to the most statistically common responses (e.g., white/black), whereas participants with two digits gave less typical, more varied pairings (e.g., white/cloud).
In another experiment, we found that longer response times were correlated with less diverse responses, ruling out the possibility that participants with low mental loads simply took more time to generate an interesting response. Rather, it seems that with a high mental load, you need more time to generate even a conventional thought. These experiments suggest that the mind’s natural tendency is to explore and to favor novelty, but when occupied it looks for the most familiar and inevitably least interesting solution.
In general, there is a tension in our brains between exploration and exploitation. When we are exploratory, we attend to things with a wide scope, curious and desiring to learn. Other times, we rely on, or “exploit,” what we already know, leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment. We tend to be more exploratory when traveling to a new country, whereas we are more inclined toward exploitation when returning home after a hard day at work.
Much of our lives are spent somewhere between those extremes. There are functional benefits to both modes: If we were not exploratory, we would never have ventured out of the caves; if we did not exploit the certainty of the familiar, we would have taken too many risks and gone extinct. But there needs to be a healthy balance. Our study suggests that your internal exploration is too often diminished by an overly occupied mind, much as is the case with your experience of your external environment.
In everyday life, you may find yourself “loading” your mind in various ways: memorizing a list of groceries to buy later at the supermarket, rehearsing the name of someone you just met so you don’t forget it, practicing your pitch before entering an important meeting. There are also, of course, the ever-present wanderings of a normal mind. And there are more pathological, or at least more chronic, sources of mental load, such as the ruminative thought patterns characteristic of stress, anxiety and depression. All these loads can consume mental capacity, leading to dull thought and anhedonia — a flattened ability to experience pleasure.
My birthday gift to myself for the last couple of years has been a week of silence at a vipassana meditation retreat. Being silent for a week, and trying to empty your mind of thought, is not for the faint of heart, but I do wish that everyone could try it at least once. During my first retreat, I wondered how a simple tomato could taste so good, why I did not mind physical discomfort as much, how looking at a single flower for 45 minutes was even possible, let alone so gratifying. My thoughts — when I returned to the act of thinking about something rather than nothing — were fresher and more surprising.
It is clear to me that this ancient meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present. Except when you are flying an F-16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander. As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life. Honing an ability to unburden the load on your mind, be it through meditation or some other practice, can bring with it a wonderfully magnified experience of the world — and, as our study suggests, of your own mind.
Moshe Bar, a neuroscientist, is the director of the Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University and a professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
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