Mindfulness

Have you reached your destination and realized you have not been aware of the past 20 minutes? Perhaps you wanted to pick something up on the way home but you reached home and realized you have forgotten to do it? Or reached the bottom of a bag of crisps and realizing suddenly you finished the whole bag? These are common examples of mindlessness, when we go on automatic pilot, and go about our routine without conscious awareness. Though mindlessness occur on a regular basis in each person, there are costs in mindlessness and mind-wandering.
A study by Havard’s psychologists recently demonstrated the emotional costs of mind wandering (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). Mind-wandering may be the brain’s default mode of operation, which explains why people struggle to stay focused. However, mind-wandering is also an ability that allows us to learn, reason and plan. This study demonstrated an emotional cost to mind-wandering: it makes us unhappy. The results also support mindfulness research, that being in the present moment, the here and now, has positive outcomes. There were three main findings in this article. Firstly, in any activity, mind-wandering occurs on average 47% of the time, except for making love. People are also happiest making love, exercising, engaging in conversation, and unhappiest when resting, working, or using the home computer. Second, mind-wandering makes people less happy, regardless of whether the thoughts were pleasant or unpleasant, and on all activities. Third, current thoughts have a greater impact on happiness, than current activity. In other words, even if you are doing something you really enjoy, intrusive thoughts or mind-wandering will make you less happy.
We can practice mindfulness by attending to present-moment experience in a nonjudgmental way (Peters, Eisenlohr-Moul, Upton, & Baer, 2013). When we are mindful, we are actively aware of the present moment, and it promotes our ability to attend to, accept, and work with events and experience as it occurs (Langer, 1991). There are two predominant streams of mindfulness: Meditative mindfulness and sociocognitive mindfulness. Meditative mindfulness emerged from the 2500 year history of Buddhism, and is generally defined as moment-to-moment awareness without judgement. This results in de-automization, where old categories are broken down and the individual is no longer trapped by stereotypes. Sociocognitive mindfulness refers to a person’s mindful awareness of his or her current state. In any situation, cognitive distinctions about objects are continually made, with the current self and environment thus continually treated as emerging and novel. Mindfulness has been also been adopted by western psychology as a way to treat mental and physical conditions such as depression, addictions, and anxiety. Mindfulness has many positive outcomes, such as greater control over our thoughts and feelings, as well as allowing us to see things from multiple perspectives.
We can practice mindfulness as we practice yoga. Mindfulness may be especially important in pranayama and meditation. Mindfulness in yoga involves being aware of our attitudes and paying attention to each posture in our yoga practice, and not doing postures on autopilot. As we concentrate on our practice, we are actively aware of our thoughts, emotions, and the physical sensations (or pain) we may feel. We take note of such passing concerns, but we do not let these concerns take away our concentration on our practice. When we are mindful in our practice, we engage more of our mind and body, and therefore allowing ourselves to deepen and strengthen our mental and physical practice. As we become more focused in our practice, yoga becomes more than physical asanas, it becomes a part of us and the way we go about our daily lives.
References
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932.
Langer, E. J. (1991). Mindfulness: Choice and control in everyday life. UK, London: Harvill.
Peters, J. R., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., Upton, B. T., & Baer, R. A. (2013). Nonjudgment as a moderator of the relationship between present-centered awareness and borderline features: Synergistic interactions in mindfulness assessment. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(1), 24-28.
Leow Yi Jin

The power of Meditation

The power of Meditation

For some strange reasons I’ve always thought that meditation goes along with some kind of psychic power. It was only until I found myself in need of help that I had to discard any preconceptions in order to open up and learn all about the real science of meditation through yoga therapy.

Starting with the practice of different pranayamas (breathing techniques) I soon appreciated the quiet and peaceful time I was giving to myself. Time, which I didn’t even know I had.

I’m not talking about days or hours, no, just a few minutes daily bringing me peace and happiness and it wasn’t before too long that the benefits of this practice started to creep into my daily life. I’ve learned that by regulating and observing my breath, my thoughts would slow down allowing me to approach difficult situations in a much calmer way than before.

Every day I managed to sit longer, stiller and more concentrated and my breath was getting deeper and deeper, which slowly led me into a state of meditation. After practicing for several weeks, I’ve noticed that not only my mental state took on a turn to the better but I also became aware of positive physical changes happening in my body.

However, I can’t take sole credit for this extraordinary experience. It was only with the help of a truly dedicated teacher whom I have to be ever so much thankful for.

The end of this therapy has also been the start of my yoga journey. A journey that undoubtably will be my companion for many years to come.

Sat-Chit-Ananda: The True Self

It is said that yoga brings us to our “True Self,” which Sanskrit captures as “Sat-Chit-Ananda.” Since I started to take a serious look at meditation several months ago, I noticed that this particular triplet of words appear over and over in different texts and curiously, these words are translated so differently by various writers and schools.  For instance, Parahamsa Yogananda gives one set of translations and Sivananda texts provide another, Tibetan Buddhists texts provide one set of meanings, Theravada Buddhists another, and so forth.  This leads one to realize the limitations of language to transmit wisdom.  Given the undisputable process of how words evolve through time and cultures, we must accept that words contain multiple layers and levels of truths and that meaning is contextual.  With this awareness, one sees how the ancient teachings can become distorted and manipulated with language and re-interpretation and how this process of dilution and distortion extends each time the teachings are translated into other languages.  One has to accept that words are necessary for communication, and at the same time be aware how teachings can be mis-applied and misunderstood when one takes for granted that the words convey only one truth.
In order to understand the essential meaning of this triplet, I have captured the multiple English meanings which I have found associated with each word in a table below.  As one can see, some meanings support one another, while some seem inherently contradictory.  How do we extract the inner essence?

Sat Chit Ananda
Existence Knowledge Bliss
Beingness (I am) Consciousness Joyfulness
Now (Eternal Presentness) Unconsciousness Absolute Happiness
Truth Wisdom Samadhi
Root / Source Mind (Buddhism) Liberation
Purity Awareness Equanimity

What we learned in Yoga Philosophy is that this triplet contains the word for truth, “Sat”, and in it, is embedded the inner secret of meditation.  When a person achieves Pure Presence, that person gains Conscious Awareness in every moment of Now, and then that person automatically attains the state of Bliss, also referred to as Samadhi by Patanjali.  Samadhi is a state of no-mind, in which, the person automatically experiences the Absolute Happiness which comes from Liberation from the mind—freedom from ignorance and the cessation of suffering.
Meditation essentially involves training ourselves to live fully present in the moment and to increase our capacity for conscious awareness. There are many techniques for meditation. Each of them presents a methodology to streamline our thoughts and our thinking process so that we free-up capacity for our consciousness to observe the truth of what happens around us—the nature of how the way we think creates our reality. We become consciously aware of the stories and illusions projected by our mind, so we can see through them.  This is how through meditation, we see through our “false self” and become our “True Self.”
Ashtanga Yoga is a long established path to Sat-Chit-Ananda.  The asana limb enables us to experience our innate potential by pushing us beyond our physical and mental limits. As students we have seen in our progress with the asanas in just over a few weeks, the amazing potential for people to be surprised and amazed by what the human body can do. We see that we have been limited not by our bodies, but by our conception of our bodies.  With training, discipline, and knowledge, I see now that my body can rotate, twist, bend flex, and defy gravity, in ways I had not imagined possible.  The biggest discovery is that the potential is there in all of us, but so few of us strive and push ourselves for it.  Similarly, our consciousness is limited by our ignorance of what is possible and is usually pre-occupied by our obsessive compulsive fixation on the external world. When we clear the mind, meaning we free ourselves from obsessive compulsive thinking habits—which is also described as a state of no-mind, or of being beyond mind—then Sat and Chit can be experienced.  We begin to feel and become aware of a center of wisdom and intrinsic awareness within that is beyond everything we have learned through social conditioning.  In each experience of Sat and Chit, our capacity for bliss develops.
The obscuration and limitations of language demonstrate how the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda cannot be attained through intellectual studies and inquiry. The mind cannot take us there. It must be attained by direct visceral experience.  Without visceral experience, spiritual practice can feel intangible and disingenuous.  There are many schools with paths for achieving union with our “True Self”—some more esoteric than others: Ashtanga Yoga, Buddhism (in its myriad lineages and sects), Vedanticism, Kriya Yoga, Sufism, Agnostic Christianity, Kabbalah, etc.  What makes Ashtanga unique and powerful is its emphasis on delivering direct visceral experiences by using the body to tame the mind.  Specifically, the asanas systematically accelerate the cleansing, strengthening, and expansion of energy in the body.  During and after asana practice, many students can feel energy coursing through his or her body.   Nevertheless, asanas, done on a standalone basis without the other 7 limbs, will not necessarily promote spiritual advancement.  It is a system where all the 8 limbs work together in parallel. When one practices all the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, the visceral experiences of Sat and Chit become more powerful and inevitable. Eventually, then Ananda comes.
As the Buddha said: Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam (May all beings be blissfully happy).

Dhyana (Meditation) – 8 Limbs of Yoga

Dhyana, or yoga meditation, is the 7th stage of the 8 limb’s of Ashtanga Yoga. What most people today refer to as ‘meditation’ are generally varieties of techniques for stress relief and relaxation, and for enhancing and refining the faculty of ‘concentration’ (or dharana).
However, Swami Gitananda explains that meditation is a most misunderstood word. It has come to mean for many, simply sitting with the eyes closed, or the repetition of a mantra sound over and over. It must be something much more profound, much more elevated.
 
From the 6th stage of Dharana, the mind is put through various rigors of trainings to restrain its waywardness and to refine its awareness to the ultimate degree of ‘one-pointedness’. Achieving this state is an ‘active process’ that requires much effort. But it is precisely when this ‘one-pointedness’ of mind ceases to be an ‘active effort’ and then just ‘happens naturally’, without any effort, that we have achieved the state of meditation.
Hence, meditation is a ‘state’ (of being, or of mind), and not a techinique that we ‘practice’.  It is an unbroken stream of raw observation whereby very little ‘sense of self’ remains. Without the dualistic nature of thought inherent in thinking present, one can say that at such moments, the observer and the observed become one.
At this level, it becomes increasingly more difficult to use words and the reasoning, conscious mind to describe the experiences of yoga. After all, the state of meditation, by its very nature transcends our material human experience and everything that is related to it.
The 6th (Dharana) and 7th (Dhyana) stage of yoga often seem to overlap each other by definition. However, we could say that meditation (dhyana), is concentration (dharana) taken to ‘perfection’ — In other words, a meditative state is the natural result of ‘perfect concentration’.
So it is prolonged concentration, then, that leads us into this ‘spontaneous’ and ‘free-flowing’ meditative state, whereby nothing but the object of concentration fills the mental space; and whereby the observer and the observed become one.
So this begs the question “How often are we in a meditative state?”. Unless you are a very dedicated and highly disciplined practitioner, the answer is “probably not often”.
While this word ‘meditation’ has taken on a whole range of meanings today, from the very mundane exercises for calming the mind, to more structured practices for refining and improving concentration, these things, although some of them may be valuable tools on the ‘road to meditation’, are not themselves meditation, and in most cases, alone will not be able to take one to a state of meditation.
This is so because much preparation is needed before one is capable of experiencing this powerful, yet very subtle state of meditation. As Swami Gitananda explains:
“Meditation is an exalted state of being which is produced by a moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama; transcendence of and freedom from the imprisonment of the senses in Pratyahara. Practices of Dharana, exercises in concentrating and focusing the mind must be perfected. Only then is one able to even speak of meditation, let alone experience it.”
In my own experience in meditation, I believe I have encountered fragmented moments of meditative states. However, I say they are fragmented states because while in those states, it does not take long before my discursive mind intervenes to try and dissect and understand what has just happened. I suppose the “ … moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama” spoken of by Swami Gitananda refers to the ultimate process of making the ego extinct, thereby allowing a meditative state to be sustainable. This is not an easy task from my own experience.

Bliss is Being Choicelessness

All our choice, all our decisions, end in dilemma.  Continously moving from 1 extreme to the other.  Continuously thinking, continuous thoughts. Continously not accepting the present moment.  Whatever you think and what you can’t think.  Whatever you experience and whatever you can’t experience.  The root of the mind is dilemma. All our choices end in suffering. Bliss is choicelessness.  Bliss is something that it the way it is.  Postponing the bliss, the esctacy gives continuous misery.
The moment you choose, you have started to suffer.  You will be visualising what you are missing.  Material life is the x-axis and spiritual life is the Y-axis.  Meditation is being in this moment.  You will explode and express yourself in the present moment.

Reconciling painting with my meditation practice

When we talked during TTC about the Patanjali sutra 1:28 “Tajjapah Tadartha Bavanam” (“Say Om / Do things with feelings and full dedication”), I thought about a painting that I did few years ago (below).

When I paint, I try to paint with my heart. I dig deep into myself, into my inner feelings and I just think about colors, composition, emotions. Everything floats and is slowly falling into place by itself. There is no right or wrong in this moment, only bliss and energy, feelings.
 
Sometimes I can feel the ego and mind coming back: “why not showing more technique?”, “why not choosing a more trendy style?”, “why not be more shocking?”, “did I do it well?”, “will it please the audience’ eyes?” By then, I know that I need to re-connect with myself and not let the mind interfere with these funny questions and come back to my feelings.
 
This is how it came up, the feeling I had while painting it. The face is like floating and disagregates, skull and teeth appearing, merging with space, in a closed-eyes moment of bliss, without fear or doubt. For me, this could be the feeling of impermanence and the joy that it can give. I feel that the theme of this painting is about meditation. But I was not in a meditative state at all, fighting thoughts, reconnecting with feelings, emotions and ideas jumping… my head was in a rollercoaster mode! How ironic.
 
When I paint, the emotions are quite strong and I feel that I am painting with “my guts”. At that stage, it is very hard for me to “calm down” and meditate right after painting. Painting does not bring me into a meditative state at all. I am quite agitated and it takes many hours after painting to find back “my mind”. I was discussing that matter with a painter who was also into meditation. I told him that painting was defeating the purpose of meditation. They seem so opposite! When you are into your feelings (passion, anger, inspiration), you are so far away from meditation, which is supposed to be detached from emotions and feelings! He told me he thought  the same, and that painting in a meditative state would only create dull paintings, naïve or whatever, that I had to paint with all my emotions … to eventually fight and silence them to practice meditation! For the last few months I was dwelling in that thought, thinking that I may have to choose between meditation and painting (basically I stopped painting all that time).
 
Then during the TTC , I heard the above-mentioned Sutra saying that when you do things with your heart and feelings, at that moment, there is no mind … which is good! When I look back at this painting, I kind of saw it, I was perhaps in a state of no-mind, so focused, so dedicated to painting. No mind is close to meditation I guess, so why not?
This is how I may reconcile painting and meditation: even if painting triggers emotions and all, it is at least a moment of  no-mind … or maybe even active meditation ? If I cannot sit still and meditate for the rest of the day, it is ok, I could just let go, the hours immersed in the joy of painting are enough. There are many ways of meditating… and painting may be one of them?
Huy
 

Dhyana (Meditation) and Your Brain

Probably like many before me, my foray into meditation was motivated by a need to calm my mind, ease the overwhelming torrents of anger in my chest, etc, etc…you get the picture…
Well, after having meditated regularly for about 2 months..something has changed. it is subtle. There were no fireworks or grand realisation. There is no light around my head, and i still can’t sit in a lotus position. But there is a constant fuzzy feeling that surrounds me, which either helps me disconnect or connect to my environment. Am i imagining this? After all, the mind creates what the mind creates..no? NO! According to this article in Science Daily, mediation can actually change your brain structure. A team led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers conducted a study group where they looked at the brains of participants before and after they started on an 8-week meditation programme. If you don’t fee like reading the looong article…here are the highlights of differences found in the participants:

  • increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory
  • increased grey-matter density in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection
  • decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
And all of the above by just meditating 27 mins per day for 8 weeks…..pretty awesome huh?

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital. “Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks.” ScienceDaily, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 16 May 2011.

Meditation; Physical and mental benefits

Meditation is a state of consciousness that can be understood only on a direct, intuitive level. Ordinary experiences are limited by time, space, the laws of causality, but the meditative state transcends all the boundaries. while a person meditate, past and future cease to exist. There is only the consciousness of I AM in the infinite, eternal, NOW.

Here are states of Consciousness

* Waking State
This is the normal everyday state of awareness. The conscious mind is functioning. You know that you are awake. The intellect is working. You are thinking and reasoning, and you are aware of your physical environment. Time, space, and causality are in full control in the waking state.

* Dream State
Contrary to popular belief, this intermediate state between waking and deep sleep is not restful state, as mental energy is being expended. The intellect is not functioning, but there remains some awareness of the physical world. Regular asana practice will help you to relax at night and enter deep sleep.

* Deep Sleep

When the mind is relaxed it will goninto the state known as deep sleep. The mind is blank; there is no awareness of yourself as a separate entity. The ego identity does not exist. There is no awareness of “I am doing…” nor of your physcal environment, nor even an awareness of your own being.

* Meditation

As in deep sleep, neither body consciousness nor awareness of an external physical reality exists. Nor do time, space or causality, but in meditation the awareness is transcendental. It is the continuous flow of one thought of the Supreme, and identification of the indiidual with the divine.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Meditation provides a long lasting spiritual rest, which must be experienced to be understood. Once you can meditate, the time you normally devoted to sleep can gradually be reduced to as little as three hours per night, and you will still feel more rested and peaceful than before. By reducing heart rate and consumption of the oxygen, meditation greatly reduces stress levels. It seems that each part of the body even down to the individual cells, is taught to relax and rejuvenate. Meditation helps to prolong the body’s period of growth and cell production, and reduces the decaying process. After the age of 35, our brain cells die off at a rate of 100,000 per day, and they are not replaced, but meditation can reduce this decline, as it changes the vibratory make-up of both the body and the mind. In this way, meditation can prevent or minimize senility.

MENTAL BENEFITS OF MEDITATE

We each possess vast inner resources of power and knowledge, much of it brought with us from the past. In the meditation, new patterns of thinking come to the surface and develop as we experience a new view of the ecperience a new view of the universe, a vision of unity, happyiness, harmony, and inner peace. Negative tendencies vanis, andthe mindbecomes steady. Meditation brings freedom from fear of death, which is seen as a doorway to a new name and form. People who meditate regularly tend to develop magnetic and dynamic personalities, cheerfulness, powerful speech, lustrous eyes, physical health, and boundless energy. Others draw strengh from such people and feel elevated in their presence. Meditation is only possible when all mental modifications have been stilled, and with this comes mental peace.

Well, knowing all those benefits of Meditate..don’t we all want to have it too?? </p
Namaste

Meditation and Medicine!! Which is more effective?

Meditation More Effective than Morphine for Pain

Blog by Granny Med
(10 Hours Ago) in HealthAlternative Medicine
There has long been anecdotal evidence that relaxation techniques such as meditation are effective in coping with and managing various difficult health problems, including pain. But new evidence to be published in the “Journal of Neuroscience,” links meditation with brain scancs showing that brain activity is altered in people who meditate while exposed to pain.

Scientists scanned the brains of 15 health volunteers naive to meditation using arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI). During the scan, a heat device was placed on the right legs of subjects that warmed the area to 120 degrees Fahrenheit over 5 minutes. Most people experience this stimulus as painful.
The scans were conducted prior to meditation and after four 20 minute classes in a technique known as focused attention. In focused attention people pay attention to their breath while letting go of distracting thoughts or emotions.
Amazingly, after meditation training, pain intensity was reported to be 40% less on average, while pain unpleasantness was rated 57% lower. Every participant rated their pain lower after meditation from an 11% reduction up to a 93% reduction. Most opiate painkillers reduce pain by 25%.
The scientists reported that brain activity was reduced in the primary somatosensory cortex while increased in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and orbiot-frontal cortex after meditation. These areas of the brain are involved in feeling the location and intensity of pain as well as creating the experience of the pain. It appears that meditation works on multiple areas of the brain responsible for multiple pathways that process the experience of pain.
Although the results of this study are limited by the small number of participants, the implications of this information is intriguing. Meditation produced dramatic pain-reducing effects after only 1 hour 20 minutes of instruction. The potential to reduce pain was greater than traditional pain medications.
You can read the abstract of this study at: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/14/5540.abstract