Why Meditate?

“You will have to understand one of the most fundamental things about meditation: that no technique leads to meditation. The old so-called techniques and the new scientific biofeedback techniques are the same as far as meditation is concerned. Meditation is not a byproduct of any technique. Meditation happens beyond mind. No technique can go beyond mind.” – Osho

 

Why Meditate?

 I’ve been meditating since I was a child. I use to walk into the sheep pasture and slowly trace the paths in which the herd had walked. Mindfully I would place my feet inside the lines of the path. Sheep spread out in the field but when they are traveling from one area of the pasture to the other they walk in a single file line and in time the field that is a lush green color has narrow brown lines marking the trails. I suppose these trails marked throughout the pasture were my labyrinth. I would ponder my worries, talk them out loud and sit in quietness amongst the herd, make up songs and sing as loud as I could. I enjoyed watching the behaviors of the animals, the texture of nature and the grounding of the Earth beneath me. As an adult, I learned that these behaviors were called mindfulness and meditation.

The psychological benefits of meditation are that it reduces stress-related conditions such as anxiety and depression. When we meditate, the brain and the nervous system undergo radical changes that cause the reduction and prevention of these conditions. Meditation increases stress resilience. Meditation popularity is increasing as more people discover the health benefits. Some other benefits of meditation are promoting emotional health, enhances self-awareness, lengthens our attention span, reduce age-related memory loss, can support us in generating kindness, may help you fight addictions, improves sleep and helps control pain.

For me, meditation helps me burn off the emotions that need to be felt and processed such as anger, sadness, disappointment, worry, anxiety, stress and enables me to have a deeper understanding of my inner-self. I have been able to gain a better understanding of my life’s purpose.

What is meditation?

Often I am told, “ I can not meditate I’m terrible at it, I just can not clear my mind!” I explain that meditating is not about clearing the mind to a state of nothing. It isn’t even about sitting in quietness to meditate. You could sit in the middle of Times Square and still meditate. It is about taking time to sit in your stillness and observe what bubbles up for you. We forget that the mind is an organ and its thoughts are its movement. The mind also shares inner wisdom and the ego can make a lot up. When we take time to meditate it allows us to discern which-is-which for us. The goal of meditation if there even is one is to go beyond the superficial thoughts of the mind and experience our true essential selves because we are not stressed, we are not anxiety, we are not depression and so on. The mind itself is often our biggest obstacle standing between ourselves and this awareness. When we are fixed on one particular belief or outcome than it impedes our ability to grow.

I also want to share that meditation isn’t about always having a positive and happy mind. I’ll use myself as an example. When I first started my yoga journey I thought wow this is a lifestyle method in which I will always be positive, positive things will always happen to me if I learn these techniques. As I am nearing almost two decades of personal practice I am learning that life still happens, challenges and storms still happen, and all emotions still happen. It is more about acknowledging the opposites and choosing a course that is in the middle

How does meditation improve mindfulness?

Meditation and mindfulness are a mental discipline. It is often started by focusing your attention on your breath, doing a body scan and focusing on a body sensation, or even an affirmation or word. You take an inventory of your thoughts, emotions, sounds that are arising from moment-to-moment and observing them without criticism or analyzing. If you find your mind drifting into the past, future or something that is not the theme that you picked you recognizing that and bring it back to the present moment. This act is an act of mindfulness. In the May 2011 issue of Neuroimage suggested that one effect of this focus and refocused is increased brain connectivity.  There have also been studies using MRI’s to document the changes in the brain and the relationship of the health benefits.

Research on meditation?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), many studies have investigated mediation for different conditions and there is evidence that it may reduce blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, flare-ups for ulcerative colitis, ease symptoms of anxiety, depression and help with insomnia. Some research suggestions that it may physically change the brain and body to promote healthy behaviors.  Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people with psychiatric problems.

Sara Lazar of MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology explains: “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist through the day. The study demonstrates that changes in the brain structure may underlie some of these reported  proves and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Brittain Holzel first author of the paper and research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany states: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that by, practicing meditation, we can plan an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanism in the brain that facilitates this change.”

Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness, physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping, illness and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind-Body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. There are many types of meditation, however, there are some shared elements such as a comfortable posture, a place that you feel safe and offers fewer distractions, a focused attention, and an open attitude.

 

Resources:

 

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overviewhtm

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Yoga and Ayurveda

 

 

Vata is the carrier, and the colon is its main site in the disease process. When Vata accumulates, it spreads to the blood, bones and other parts of the body. Vata acts primarily through the nervous system through which it flows like an electric current. Yoga therapy can help to calm, center and relax the body. You can do this through a slow asana practice, and keep the breath deep with emphasis on the inhalation. Pitta pushes or provokes, and the small intestine is its main site in the disease process, in which excess acids or toxic pitta accumulates and spreads through the blood to different parts of the body. Pitta acts primarily through the digestive system and the blood as the body’s primary thermogenic power. Yoga therapy can help to chill and relax the body. You can do this by surrendering to your asana practice and keeping the breath relaxed and exhaling through the mouth to relieve heat as needed. Kapha strengthens or resist, and the stomach is its main site in the disease process in which excess mucus accumulates and spread through the blood and lymph to different parts of the body. Kapha primarily acts through the plasma or lymphatic system as underlying nutrient solution making up the bulk of the body and providing nourishment to all the tissues. Yoga therapy can help to lighten the body and movement. You can do this through an active vinyasa practice, taking deep breaths with an intention for your overall practice to be with effort.

Introduction

Ayurvedic medicine practiced as an ancient healing system used in India and worldwide. The theory of Ayurveda is based on balancing the individual’s three constitutional doshas (i.e., Pitta, Vata, Kapha). Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors are considered such as indiscriminate diet, undesirable habits, not observing rules of healthy living, seasonal abnormalities, lack of movement, misuse of body, mind, and spirit can cause disease. Typically in an Ayurvedic session, there is a diagnosis based on a comprehensive history, detailed physical examination, measurement of vital signs including pulse, and relevant laboratory tests. (Qureshi, 2013)

Yoga Therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress towards improved health and welling through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga according to IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists). A yoga therapist uses tools such as asana/postures, adjustments to movement, pranayama/breath work, meditation, lifestyle and Yama and Niyama to guide the experience. A yoga therapist does not diagnose, medicate, give nutritional advice, massage or do psychotherapy. The process involves an intake, assessment, evaluation, plan and review and uses the Panchamaya Kosha Model of healing which is an ancient model of the human system (i.e., Anamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha, Anadamaya Kosha).

Both Yoga and Ayurveda reflect the Vedic idea that we must live according to our unique nature and its particular capacities.

 Characteristics of Dosha

Dosha means “fault, impurity or mistake” which is a bit hard to understand in a yoga and Ayurveda context, therefore, we may think of dosha as an organization. It is important to comprehend that all three doshas are present in everybody and everything. When the doshas are in balance they maintain a harmonious psychophysiology as when they are imbalanced they pollute the bodily tissues which lead to disease. The three doshas Pitta, Vata, Kapha bind the five elements into flesh. Vata is space and air; Pitta is fire and water, Kapha is water and Earth. Each of these doshas has their attributes.

Vata means a vehicle to carry or move. Vata regulates movement from the activity of how many thoughts we have to the efficiency of how our food moves through our digestive track.  Vata tends to have few or no children, delicate in health, irregular appetite and thirst. A vata behavior may be easily excited, easily alert and quick to act without thinking. They have great imaginations, daydream, tend to love someone out of fear of loneliness, do not like sitting idle, seek constant action, make good money, have difficulty saving, faith is flexible, and are ready for a change. (Lad, 2002) When Vata is in a sattvic state, the individual is creative, open-minded, communicates well, is a source of constant inspiration and possess a strong sense of human unity. When Vata is in a rajasic state the individual is very active and running to achieve various goals that change continually, they are restless, easily distracted, talkative, superficial and disruptive. When Vata is in a tamasic state the individual is fearful, goes against the order, easily addicted to things, can be suicidal and cannot be trusted. (Frawley, 1999)

Pitta means heat and to be austere.  Pitta usually has strong appetites and like cold drinks and sweets. Pitta is usually disciplined, leaders, confident, wisdom, like to learn, and can concentrate. At times they are judgmental, critical, and perfectionistic. They like noble professions; make large amounts of money, like expensive items, lower sex drive, moderate strength, medium life span and material wealth. (Lad, 2002) When Pitta is in a sattvic state, the individual shines like the sun, disciplined, discriminating in their thinking and always consider the viewpoint of others, friendly, courageous, natural leaders with strong wills for growth and development. When Pitta is in a rajasic state the individual aims at achievement no matter the means, promote themselves and their agendas, critical, controlling, prone to anger and intolerance and reckless. When Pitta is in a tamasic state the individual is destructive, violent, resentful and hostile in life and takes it out on everyone around them, they do not respect social laws or feelings of others and can be psychopathic.  (Frawley, 1999)

Kapha means water.  Kapha has a steady appetite and thirst with a slow digestion and metabolism which result in weight gain which is hard for them to shed. They like to eat, sit, do nothing and sleep for extended periods of time. They have deep, stable faith, love, compassion, calm, and steady mind. They have good memories, deep melodious voices and monotonous patterns of speech. They make money and tend to save money. (Lad, 2002) When Kapha is in a sattvic state the individual is loving, devoted, faithful, they have a comforting presence, patient, a balance of mind, loyal, forgiving and supportive. When Kapha is in a rajasic state, the individual is dominating, controlling, greedy, materialistic, accumulates wealth and possessions until they are overwhelmed by them. When Kapha is in a tamasic state, the person has different addictions, depressed, incapable of self-reflection, blame, trample over others and is usually overweight and full of toxins. (Frawley, 1999)

How Imbalances Present for each Dosha

Vata attributes are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear, astringent taste and brownish/blackish colors. Vata imbalances produce fear, anxiety and abnormal movements, however, when in balance it promotes joy, happiness, creativity and flexibility. Vata governs breathing, blinking, muscle, sneezing, elimination, and tissue movement, the pulsation of the heart and all changes in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. (Lad, 2002)

 Kapha attributes are thick, slow/dull, cold, oily, liquid, slimy/smooth, dense, soft, static, sticky/cloudy, hard, gross and a sweet and salty taste, white in color. Kapha imbalances produce attachment, greed, passiveness, apathy, laziness and congestive disorders, however, when in balance it promotes love, strength, peace, longevity, memory retention, calmness, and forgiveness. Kapha forms the body’s structure, organs, provides the cohesion that holds the cells together and supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems; it lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin and maintains immunity. (Lad, 2002)

 Pitta attributes are: hot, sharp, light, liquid, spreading, mobile, oily and sour, pungent and bitter to taste. Pitta imbalances produce anger, hatred, jealousy, and inflammatory disorders; however, when in balance it promotes understanding and intelligence. Pitta governs digestion, vitality, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, and body temperature. (Lad, 2002)

 Plan of Care for each Dosha

In teaching a vata individual it is best to use words like calm, slow, steady, grounding, strengthening, and consistent. The goal of a yoga practice would be the removal of stiffness from the joints, steadiness of the muscles, feeling of groundedness, calm and support. If you chose to do sun salutations with this individual, they should be done slowly and consciously.  Pranayama techniques like right nostril breathing, retention after the inhalation and Nadi Shodhana (combination of heating and cooling) are beneficial for this dosha.

The sequence of vata reducing asana practice is designed to build core strength while maintaining their flexibility. Some things to consider when teaching a vata sequence is to do it in the quiet, to hold the standing, sitting, forward bends and twists longer than the client is inclined to do as this longer hold will be a challenge and a reward for an individual in the long run. Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) holding each pose for a breath before moving on, to practicing being conscious of the movement. Adho Mukha Svanasana (or Wall Push), Tadasana (Mountain), Utkatasna (Chair), Trikonasana (Triangle), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid), Padangushthasana (Gorilla), Navasna (Boat), Prep for Sirsasana (Dolphin), Child’s pose, Legs-Up-the-Wall, Locust, Dandasana (Staff), Pashimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold), and Marichyasana III (Seated Spinal Twist).  (Kozak, 2001) Pala Mudra helps with anxiety relief and can be paired with an affirmation of “At peace within my inner being, I experience a greater sense of security.” and can be held for a couple of breaths or as long as fifteen minutes. (LePage, 2014)

For meditation, corpse poses with knees, ankles, wrists supported, eye pillow, neck roll, folded blanket around the top of the head and covering the ears, and a blanket to cover the whole body. You may even consider a sandbag on the belly. Long mediations for at least twenty minutes are needed to calm the fear and anxiety that is their inherent tendency.  Meditation can help them sleep, alleviate nervous digestion, strengthen their immune system. Mantra and visualizations work well for them.  Visualizations such as earth, water, mountain, ocean, lotus, rose, the light of the sun at dawn can help as well as color therapy of gold and saffron will contribute to clear their mental field. Mantras of RAM, SHRIM, HRIM are ideal for them to use throughout the day if they find themselves losing balance to worry and anxiety. Devotional meditations that a vata might resonate with are Vishnu as the avatar and savior of Rama, Ganesha as grounding, Hanuman power of prana and represents higher vata characteristics. Vata’s are learning to stabilize their inner nature so that the every changing external world does not un-ground them. (Frawley, 1999)

In teaching a pitta individual, it is best to use words like cooling, relaxing, surrendering, forgiving, gentle and diffusive. The goal of a yoga practice would be to feel the coolness, calm, openness, patience, tolerance; reduction of inflammation, and acidity. Rather than doing the sun salutation, the Moon Salutation (Chadra Namaskar) works better for them. Pranayama techniques like shitali and sitkari and left nostril breathing decrease pitta.

The sequence of asana is for pitta reducing and practiced in an effort with ease that is non-goal oriented. Focus on the breath monitoring the level of work intensity. Forward folds and twists are effective in reducing and bringing up pitta. If you are reducing pitta, hold the postures for extended periods of time. Chandra Namaskar (Moon salutations) done at 50-60% of their effort level works well for them, and they will still be working harder than most. Cat Stretch, Locust, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Low Lunge, Padottanasna, (Standing Straddle fFold), Legs up Wall with Pelvis lifted, Child’s pose, Supta Padagusthasna (Hand to Big Toe), Paschimottansana (Seated Forward Fold), SupineTtwist. (Kozak, 2001) Padma Mudra helps to reduce anger and find unconditional love and used with the affirmation of “nurturing the garden of my heart allows for the blossoming of unconditional love.” and can be done at any time for a couple of breaths up to fifteen-minute practice. (LePage, 2014)

 Savasana for fifteen-twenty minutes with a bolster under the knees, wrist, neck and eye pillow and using a strap at the thighs will help release anger, aggression and let go of their willful control approach to life. For meditation helps them concentrate their energy in a positive way toward an inner goal, however, ensure that they do not turn it into another form of achievement. Focus on expanding the mind and heart to reveal truth like waves move across the lake in the moonlight. Use non-fiery images like a mountain forest, lake, ocean, rain clouds, deep blue skies, the moon, and stars. For color therapy use the colors such as white, dark blue or emerald green. Mantras such as SHAM, SHRIM, OM are helpful throughout the day if anger arises for them. Forgiveness prayers and Meta can help them find peace and happiness for themselves and for those that they have harmed from their forceful actions. For devotional practices Lakshmi born of the ocean, Vishnu and Shiva in their forms of water and space, and God. Meditations that focus on the infinite space beyond the limitations of their critical mind is the art of developing discrimination for them. (Frawley, 1999)

In teaching a kapha individual it is best to use words like stimulating, moving, warming, lightning, energizing, and releasing. The goal of a yoga practice would be to normalize the body weight, reduction of congestion, removal of excess fat, mucus, and water from the body, a greater sense of detachment. Sun Salutations can be active and flow.  Pranayama techniques like Bhastrika and Kapalabhati decrease kapha in the body.

The following sequence is to help reduce Kapha.  Their practice should be energetic with a goal to first strengthen shoulders, arms, and legs so they may master the art of inversions. Hold Forward Folds shorter as this can increase kapha.  Surya Namaskar should be strong considering doing seven repetitions to bring up their heart rate. Adho Mukha Savasana (Downward Dog), Tadasana (Mountain), Vrksana (Tree), Trikonasana (Triangle), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2), Prep for Sirsasana (Dolphin), Sarvangasana I (shoulder stand at the wall), Locus, Niralamba Bhujangasana III (Cobra), Navasana (Boat), Supine Spinal Twist. (Kozak, 2001)  Svadhisthana Mudra is helpful with addictions and can bring in self-nourishment qualities. It can pair with an affirmation such as “completely at home at the center of my being, I experience deep nourishment and inner healing.” and can be done for a couple of breaths up to fifteen-minute practice. (LePage 2014)

Savasana should be five to fifteen minutes on the ground in corpse pose to help them release possessiveness and heaviness into a space of consciousness of true happiness and abundance. Meditation for a kapha may take a more disciplined approach as they are most likely to fall asleep, therefore doing more active meditations that include mantra, pranayama and meditation may work better for them. Focus on images that increase the fire, air and either elements like sun, wind moving through trees, an expanse of clear blue sky in colors like gold, blue and orange. Mantras of OM, HUM, AIM are good for stimulating energy for them. For a devotional practice, they may connect with Shiva or the Kali to stimulate them. Devotion should not become a form of self-indulgence but the purity of heart and mind. (Frawley, 1999)

 Discussion

The Vedas relate to an important practice of yoga and Ayurveda, which reflect an approach that comprehends all aspects of life. Yoga is the application of Vedic wisdom for self-realization. Yoga provides the means for purification of the mind (Chitta-shuddhi) to enable us to gain self-realization through Vedanta (self-knowledge).  Ayurveda is a Vedic method for healing and right living.  Ayurveda affords us purification of the body (deha-shuddhi) for optimal health and energy. As you learn the Vedic system and combine the related disciplines, you have a tremendous resource. (Frawley, 1999) In the modern world, you see these practices in integrative medicine. The body of research seems to be growing faster for yoga therapy, but both yoga and Ayurveda face difficulty. The challenge is in conducting randomized control trials because most of the treatments are individualized and targeted to the entire person. Future research may include looking at combining these integrative modalities and collect data with scientific rigor.

 

References

 

Frawley, D. (1999). Yoga & Ayurveda Self-Healing and Self-Realization. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

 

Frawley, D., & Kozak, S. S. (2001). Yoga for your type: an Ayurvedic approach to your Asana practice. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus.

 

Lad, V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.

 

Page, J. L., & Page, L. L. (2014). Mudras for Healing and Transformation (2nd ed.). Sebastopol, CA: Integrative Yoga Therapy.

Qureshi, N. A., & Al-Bedah, A. M. (2013). Mood disorders and complementary and alternative medicine: a literature review. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment9, 639–658. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S43419

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Forgiveness Meditation Technique Personal Practice Journal

The meditations that I chose to use were: Jack Kornfield Forgiveness Meditation (Produced by sounds true practices, 7:30 minutes in length, I practiced this one on Monday and Wednesday) and The Beginners Guide to Forgiveness: How to Free your Heart and Awaken Compassion by Jack Kornfield (Produced by sounds true practices, 48 minutes long (but the meditation portion was about 29 minutes at the end) and I practiced this one on the other days of the week).  It was interesting because at first I could not even hear the words, as it was too painful; then slowly I started to hear certain words.

What I learned about myself is that it is easier for me to forgive others than to forgive myself. Jack’s words “There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly. For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself; I forgive myself.” These words are very hard for me to embody at this moment in my life. I realized how much I am harming myself and have stuffed down over the years by not forgiving myself. I understand that I am in charge of how much suffering that I want to endure. I also know that I am suffering because of choices I have made. Since I have this belief system, ultimately, anything that has caused me suffering has been at my hand not someone else’s; therefore, I have struggled to forgive myself. I need to start to look at these choices as opportunities of growth, learn what I need to and move on.

The last four years I have worked on meditation using magnified healing with Kwan Yin, which has some of these benefits: heal past negative karma, compassion, forgiveness of others, align the spiritual centers, and explain the light channels and self-love. Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion and serves us much in the same way as Mother Mary.  This practice with Jack Kornfield leaves me wondering if I have not forgiven myself, have I forgiven others as I had thought. I have always believed when I forgive others that have harmed me through word, action, or deed I have given myself a gift. It does not mean that what they did was right or that they deserved the forgiveness it means that I acknowledge the hurt and let it go so that I suffered less. I know that I am ready to do this when I can sit down beside the person rather than wanting to sit across from the person. If I am having a hard time getting to this point and know that a new boundary needs to be set in the relationship, I write the person a letter telling them how I felt. What I needed, that I forgive them, and this is my new boundary that I respectively wish they follow moving forward.

A book that I like about forgiveness is Forgive for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin.  In his book, he talks about the HEAL method: H is for Hope, E is for Educate, A is for Affirm, and L is for Long-Term Commitments.  We need to forgive ourselves because it is a lot to carry in our body. Would we show up to the beach dressed in our snow-ski outfit? Not forgiving ourselves is the same thing. Recently during a reflective asana practice, it was suggested to me to start small with forgiving myself for little things so that I could learn how to forgive myself for big things. I am currently in a season of change with a broken heart that is so obvious to everyone around me that even my tongue tells a story of a broken heart in my body. The grief is so intense! Right now I feel like I am hanging by my fingertips straddling a great divide unable to let go to jump to the other side because I am not feeling supported in my basic survival needs (shelter, clothing, food, and transportation). Once I feel as though my basic survival needs are being met, then I will be able to foster support and let go. My current mantra is “When I allow universal love to help me I can let go and grow.”

I have a long way to go on a journey toward the forgiveness of me. I suppose along this journey I will come to redefine what it feels like to forgive someone else as well as myself. I will start small and build over time. I think Viktor Frankl‘s quote from his book Man’s Search for Meaning sums it up “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.” As I rent less space in mind to the things that have caused me, harm through thought, word or deed and move on, I will be able to open my heart more.

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