Tag Archives: Meditation

What is mindfulness? Nobody really knows, and that’s a problem

You’ve probably heard of mindfulness. These days, it’s everywhere, like many ideas and practices drawn from Buddhist texts that have become part of mainstream Western culture.

But a review published today in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows the hype is ahead of the evidence. Some reviews of studies on mindfulness suggest it may help with psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress. But it’s not clear what type of mindfulness or meditation we need and for what specific problem.

Continue reading What is mindfulness? Nobody really knows, and that’s a problem

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Beautiful Meditation Chapel Features Modern Design

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-08Located in Mexico, the Ecumenical Chapel is a beautiful retreat perfect for relaxation and moments of silence.

Designed by BNKR Arquitectura, this amazing retreat is a meditation chapel that has the intent of helping people on their spiritual journey.

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-04This heaven of tranquility is buried underground and has a beautiful glass entrance and a modern design. In the middle of the chapel you can find a large quartz that reflects the oculus in the floor and as you can see the metal plate allows you to see outside through the water.

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-03This unconventional meditation space has a total size of 170 square meters and offers discreet moments to its visitors.

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-02The owners of this chapel were inspired by a similar project made by the same architects, chapel that is located close to their weekend house.

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-01If you would design a meditation spot for yourself, would you make it look like this one?

Beautiful-Meditation-Chapel-Features-Modern-Design-06

The Chakras-The Seven Centers of Consciousness

A primary focus of Amrit Yoga is to build heat by charging the battery of the body, which is based in the lower three centers. As this energy is aroused and consciously directed from the lower chakras to the upper ones, our biological prana awakens to its evolutionary potential.

Awakened prana, called Kundalini, carries out healing and cleansing at an accelerated level – resulting in the purification of the nerve channels in the body as well as cleansing kriyas – all of which prepare the body for accelerated spiritual development.

Chakra One: Roots, Alignment, Earth

Muladhara is the body in physical space and time, developing groundedness, stability and foundation. In Amrit Yoga, the attention is alignment in all poses, building awareness and strength in the legs – especially all standing poses. Anything that stabilizes and roots the foundation reinforces muladhara.

Chakra Two: Sensation, Flow, Water

In Swadisthana we become aware of the senses, sensation (pleasure/pain) and emotions that accompany each pose. We allow our awareness of ecstatic energy to build in the second half of the pose. Suggested poses include pigeon, bridge and the spinal twist.

Chakra Three: Power, Fire

In Manipura, our fire (spiritual heat) is stimulated. We “jump-start” the battery of the body, the physical storehouse of energy, through strong standing poses like The Warrior. The willful aspect of the practice is also associated with chakra three. In the first half of the Amrit Yoga Level I sequence, we are building the battery in the belly and then consciously directing that energy upward. This is an essential part of Level I as this conscious generation and directing of energy is necessary for prana to awaken and move upward to higher centers.

Chakra Four: Awakening to the Spiritual Path

In Anahata, we are asked to open the heart. This requires spiritual commitment to let the ego drop away. In Amrit Yoga the heart energy is engaged with the use of the arms, with mudras, giving and receiving movements. Some heart opening poses can be: camel, yoga mudra, cobra, half locust (opens arms and heart meridians). Breath and the fourth chakra are closely connected (lungs).

Chakra Five: Communication (internal/external) – the power of sound vibration

Visuddha is more apparent in Level II Amrit Yoga, but also in Level I – we turn into the vibration of prana that sources the movement. Use sound vibration when in the pose and the power of your word (opening intention and Om) to create the vibrational field you intend. Become aware of your own inner dialogue and if it serves you or not. In Amrit Yoga the throat chakra may be stimulated through chanting, bridge, camel and shoulder stand postures.

Chakra Six: the Third Eye

Meditation, witness, meditative awareness Pratyahara; deep absorption without choosing for or against what is present in Ajna chakra. In the second half of the pose and Third Eye integration-consciously allow energies to grow with meditative attention and draw freed energies upward toward the Third Eye for integration. All forward bending poses where the head is lower than the heart brings attention and energy to the third eye (child, yoga mudra, wide-angle forward bend).

Chakra Seven: Silence

In the Sahasrar, the elixir of Amrita comes through silencing the fluctuations of the mind. This is the entry into the bliss body, which can happen in the second half of the pose, in Third Eye Meditation integration, or in any pose. All these practices of Amrit Yoga are intended to reach the final point of stilling the modifications of the mind, which is always associated with the seventh chakra.

The healing effects of total silence

A week without noise in Ibiza proves a meditation revelation for Florence Waters. I remember the first time a friend confessed he was going on a silent meditation retreat: no talking, Wi-Fi, books, phones or pens for what sounded like a very long week.

Though a little curious, I was embarrassed enough to change the subject immediately. Perhaps this is how people felt in the Nineties when someone disclosed they were having therapy. But when I saw him afterwards he was clearly moved by the experience; “I can’t really explain, you’ve just got to do it,” he ventured. “I don’t have time,” I said. “Anyway it’s not really my thing.”

A year later I discovered that another friend – a sarcastic lawyer and the least likely yogi on earth – was also a closet meditator. He was going through a difficult time but seemed not only to be coping exceptionally well, he was happier than I’d ever seen him. When I asked if he’d met a girl, he told me that meditation had changed his life. Then he sent me the website address for the Art of Meditation, an organisation started by the increasingly in-demand teacher Guy Burgs.

Now recognised as one of the country’s leading experts in meditation, Burgs quit his fashion business in the Nineties and spent 10 years studying meditation in Bali, Burma and India. He returned to Britain convinced that people could benefit from the transformative side to meditation, something still relatively little known here.

“There’s a powerful healing process that happens to all of us when we start to commit to reorganising our mind and bring it back to a coherent state through meditation,” he says.

Among devotees of Burgs’s method is the psychotherapist Adrianna Irvine. “Working with Burgs completely rewrites the rule books as far as therapy is concerned,” she says. “It allows one to reach beyond the conscious mind to effect healing… While the effect is faster than anything that I have witnessed it is no quick fix and still requires hard-won character refinement to allow one to access such profoundly healing states.”

Still sceptical but increasingly curious, I found myself flying to Ibiza for a silent retreat with Burgs. I had tried meditation classes before, so I thought I had a vague idea. I didn’t.

The week was nothing like I’d imagined. We didn’t listen to dolphin choirs, visualise rose buds opening, swallow imaginary white light or anything of the sort. In fact, Burgs teaches a skill requiring intelligence and creativity.

As he says, “Just as you can kick a football clumsily, you can meditate upon the breath in a clumsy way. Or you can learn to do it with real skill and find out what your mind has to offer.”


Guy Burgs is one of the country’s leading experts in meditation

The courses consist of classes and meditation sessions, which take place in a large hall where each pupil is seated on cushions, chairs or stools. The classes were a revelation, like sitting down to a TED talk twice a day – a compelling mixture of psychology, science, philosophy, spiritual teachings and even stand-up comedy.

We were allowed to break our silence for questions during these, and there were also regular exercise sessions to split up the day. Eating in silence felt awkward to start with but it became blissful; you really notice how excellent the food tastes when you don’t have to think about what you’re going to say next.

As we learnt to meditate, it helped to have a taskmaster like Burgs watching our attempts. “Don’t just sit there having a nice little think,” he’s fond of saying. A week on his silent retreat begins with him making every effort to help your mind settle. Within days you become amazingly uninterested in petty concerns that you were fixating on during day one.

The mind of an iPhone junkie is not easily stilled, but when it is you begin to become aware of the bigger themes controlling your life – memories, insecurities, the need to be seen, and other drives that you might allow, albeit subconsciously, to control your life.

“Imagine a reflection of the moon in a lake that’s heavily disturbed, full of ripples and waves. If you didn’t know it was the reflection of the moon it would look nothing like the moon,” Burgs says. “If we try to understand reality through a mind that is constantly disturbed, we continue to get a distorted sense of what is actually going on, which is why just trying to work it out in our heads doesn’t always work.”

Once uncomfortable feelings and memories begin to surface, Burgs teaches tools needed to release them. Many say they are able to cry for the first time in years. Five days into our retreat Burgs drew a diagram on his whiteboard to explain what was going on in our minds.

“If you’re feeling awful, that means you’re doing something right.” One woman raised her hand and said, “I’m so glad that you explained that. I felt terrible yesterday — I can’t remember feeling so bad.”

“It works like a detox,” explained Burgs. “As soon as you stop bombarding the body with new stuff, it’s able to start clearing out the accumulated toxins. The mind works the same way. One of the reasons we seek stimulation is because we don’t want to be with how we feel. We come on retreat to do this so your poor wife or husband doesn’t have to be around while you throw your toys out of the pram!”

By the week’s end I felt I hadn’t been lighter since Christmas morning, aged six. I was startlingly aware of everything going on around me.

Some people have returned to Burgs’s signature “healing meditation” retreat twice a year since he began 15 years ago, and waiting lists for his retreats are growing year-on-year. Are we experiencing a reaction to the pressures of digital life?

“Over the last 10 years I have seen a big change in people,” Burgs told me when we broke our silence. “When I started teaching even just 15 years ago the pace of life was much simpler. I was teaching people how to develop a more tranquil, sensitive mind. Today I have to focus more on mental robustness and stability. We’re more stimulated than we’ve ever been.

“Either we reduce this stimulation and rediscover the sense of inner peace we may have lost, or we develop new levels of mental stability and robustness. Meditation can teach both.”

Those who go on retreat are often apparently healthy, happy individuals. Others may be facing mental or health problems, getting over a bad break-up or a bout of insomnia.

As somebody who has tried numerous therapies over the years, including psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, I’d recommend meditation before any of them in terms of bringing about profound, deep-rooted changes.

Last year I’d have balked at this, but saying “I don’t have time to meditate” was nonsense. As Burgs says, “How have we become so well educated about physical health and failed to recognise that mental health is the real governor of the quality of our lives?”

For more information visit theartofmeditation.org. If you are curious, try Burgs’s 12-minute guided meditation designed to help anyone set up, regardless of whether they are total beginners or already practising

Top tips for meditation

Develop concentration and mindfulness equally. Many people are starting to learn about mindfulness, but most do not learn to concentrate deeply, and it is our inability to concentrate that is the main cause for restlessness, impatience and frustration.

Have the same approach to meditation you would have to physical fitness. It won’t come just by turning up at the gym and hanging out. Results come from effort put in over time.

The idea that we don’t have time to meditate is an illusion. Take the time and it will pay dividends as you find yourself completing tasks more quickly and effectively as you become less easily distracted.

Meditation can return results in both the way we apply ourselves and the reward we get from our experiences. An organised mind can hugely improve effectiveness, as greater levels of mental energy mean we do not tire easily, but it will also mean our capacity to appreciate pleasurable experiences when they come is also enhanced.

Meditation is far more than a coping tool for modern life and its stresses. It also has the capacity to get us beyond the point of merely coping, to the point where we are really flourishing in life as we get in touch over time with our true potential.

Mindfulness therapy comes at a high price for some, say experts

MBCT courses are proliferating across the UK – but research in the US found some who practised were assailed by traumatic memories and impairment in social relationships. Photograph: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images/Vetta

Much-hyped therapy can reduce relapses into depression – but it can have troubling side effects

In a first floor room above a gridlocked London street, 20 strangers shuffle on to mats and cushions. There’s an advertising executive, a personnel manager, a student and a pensioner. A gong sounds softly and a session of sittingmeditation begins.

This is one of more than 1,000 mindfulness courses proliferating across the UK as more and more people struggling with anxiety,depression and stress turn towards a practice adapted from a 2,400-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Enthusiasm is booming for such mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) courses, which an Oxford University study has found can reduce relapses into depression by 44%. It is, say the researchers, as effective as taking antidepressants.

It involves sitting still, focusing on your breath, noticing when your attention drifts and bringing it back to your breath – and it is surprisingly challenging.

Lifestyle magazines brim with mindfulness features and the global advertising giant JWT listed mindful living as one of its 10 trends to shape the world in 2014 as consumers develop “a quasi-Zen desire to experience everything in a more present, conscious way”.

But psychiatrists have now sounded a warning that as well as bringing benefits, mindfulness meditation can have troubling side-effects. Evidence is also emerging of underqualified teachers presenting themselves as mindfulness experts, including through the NHS.

The concern comes not from critics of mindfulness but from supporters, such as Dr Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London.

He has launched an investigation into adverse reactions to MBCT, which have included rare cases of “depersonalisation”, where people feel like they are watching themselves in a film.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm for mindfulness-based therapies and they are very powerful interventions,” Ruths said. “But they can also have side-effects. Mindfulness is delivered to potentially vulnerable people with mental illness, including depression and anxiety, so it needs to be taught by people who know the basics about those illnesses, and when to refer people for specialist help.”

His inquiry follows the “dark night” project at Brown University in the US, which has catalogued how some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories.

Problems recorded by Professor Willoughby Britton, the lead psychiatrist, include “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations”, changes in their sense of self and impairment in social relationships.

One Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, has described the “dark night” phenomenon as an “irreversible insight into emptiness” and “enlightenment’s evil twin”.

Mindfulness experts say such extreme adverse reactions are rare and are most likely to follow prolonged periods of meditation, such as weeks on a silent retreat. But the studies represent a new strain of critical thinking about mindfulness meditation amid an avalanche of hype.

MBCT is commonly taught in groups in an eight-week programme and courses sell out fast. Ed Halliwell, who teaches in London and West Sussex, said some of his courses fill up within 48 hours of their being announced.

“You can sometimes get the impression from the enthusiasm that is being shown about it helping with depression and anxiety that mindfulness is a magic pill you can apply without effort,” he said. “You start watching your breath and all your problems are solved. It is not like that at all. You are working with the heart of your experiences, learning to turn towards them, and that is difficult and can be uncomfortable.”

Mindfulness is spreading fast into village halls, schools and hospitals and even the offices of banks and internet giants such as Google. The online meditation app Headspace now has 523,000 users in the UK, a threefold increase in 12 months.

But mounting public interest means more teachers are urgently needed and concern is growing about the adequacy of training. Several sources have told the Guardian that some NHS trusts are asking health professionals to teach mindfulness after only having completed a basic eight-week beginners’ course.

“It is worrying,” said Rebecca Crane, director of the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice in Bangor, which has trained 2,500 teachers in the past five years. “People come along to our week-long teacher training retreat and then are put under pressure to get teaching very quickly.”

Exeter University has launched an inquiry into how 43 NHS trusts across the UK are meeting the ballooning demand for MBCT.

Marie Johansson, clinical lead at Oxford University’s mindfulness centre, stressed the need for proper training of at least a year until health professionals can teach meditation, partly because on rare occasions it can throw up “extremely distressing experiences”.

“Taking the course is quite challenging,” she said. “You need to be reasonably stable and well. Noticing what is going on in your mind and body may be completely new and you may discover that there are patterns of thinking and acting and behaving that no longer serve you well. There might be patterns that interfere with living a healthy life and seeing those patterns can bring up lots of reactions and it can be too much to deal with. Unless it is handled well, the person could close down, go away with an increase in self-criticism and feeling they have failed.”

Finding the right teacher is often difficult for people approaching mindfulness for the first time. Leading mindfulness teaching organisations, including the universities of Oxford, Bangor and Exeter, are now considering establishing a register of course leaders who meet good practice guidelines.

They expect mindfulness teachers to train for at least a year and to remain under supervision. Some Buddhists have opposed the idea, arguing it is unreasonable to regulate a practice rooted in a religion.

Lokhadi, a mindfulness meditation teacher in London for the past nine years, has regular experience of some of the difficulties mindfulness meditation can throw up.

“While mindfulness meditation doesn’t change people’s experience, things can feel worse before they feel better,” she said. “As awareness increases, your sensitivity to experiences increases. If someone is feeling vulnerable or is not well supported, it can be quite daunting. It can bring up grief and all kinds of emotions, which need to be capably held by an experienced and suitably trained teacher.

“When choosing a course you need to have a sense of the training of the teacher, whether they are supervised and whether they themselves practise meditation. Most reputable teacher training courses require a minimum of two years’ meditation practice and ensure that teachers meet other important criteria.”

David Lynch Discusses Transcendental Meditation In New TM Documentary

DLTM

In the new low-budget documentary Meditation, Creativity, Peacethe viewer is taken around the world as director David Lynch visits several film schools in Europe and the Middle East.  While some of the doc features Q&A exchanges about his film career, the majority of the film is Lynch sharing his thoughts on his life’s greatest passion — Transcendental Meditation.

At a recent screening at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which was moderated by comedian and fellow TM’er Russel Brand, fans lined up around the block for tickets.  A pleasantly surprised organizer was heard saying, “We didn’t have this many people when we had Patti Smith live.”  Sean Macaulay of The Daily Beast was there, and he shared his experience in a feature published yesterday.  ”Lynch says he discovered the practice 40 years via his sister when he was struggling with anger and anxiety.  ’I liked what she said about it.  More importantly, I heard a change in her voice.  More happiness.  More self-assuredness.  I said, ‘I want that mantra. I’m going to get it.’ And I went down and I learned. That was July 1, 1973. Saturday morning. Beautiful sunny day.’ His first instructor in Los Angeles looked like Doris Day, and he’s practiced twice a day ever since.  Repetition of your custom-tailored mantra moves the mind beyond self-consciousness and into pure consciousness, where one can connect with the eternal.  Concentration and contemplation are still on the surface,’ he explains. ‘You have to dive within.’”

Macaulay also touches on the popularity of the Transcendental Mediation movement, and notes that some of the most well known people who have embraced TM include Oprah Winfrey, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Seinfeld, George Stephanopoulos, Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Scorsese, to name just a few.  You can read the beautiful story in full by visiting TheDailyBeast.com.  And to learn more about Lynch’s thoughts on Transcendental Meditation you absolutely must watch the video below which was filmed a few years ago at a Q&A in Boston.  For more information on the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace CLICK HERE.  For all FEELguide posts related to David Lynch CLICK HERE.

Does meditation have benefits for mind and body?

Written by Robert Schneider, MD, FACC

It is hard to believe some still question whether meditation can have a positive effect on mind and body. A very selective research review recently raised the question, leading to headlines such as the one in The Wall Street Journal that said the benefits are limited.

I have been researching effects of meditation on health for 30 years and have found it has compelling benefits.

Over the past year, I have been invited by doctors in medical schools and major health centers on four continents to instruct them on the scientific basis of mind-body medicine and meditation in prevention and treatment of disease, especially cardiovascular disease.

Research on Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, has found reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance (useful for preventing diabetes), slowing of biological aging, and even a 48% reduction in the rates of heart attack, stroke and death.

I would consider those to be benefits. And so does the American Heart Association, which last year released a statement saying that decades of research indicates TM lowers blood pressure and may be considered by clinicians as a treatment for high BP.

Research on meditation has also shown a wide range of psychological benefits.

For example, a 2012 review of 163 studies that was published by the American Psychological Association concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique had relatively strong effects in reducing anxiety, negative emotions, trait anxiety and neuroticism, while aiding learning, memory and self-realization.

Mindfulness meditation had relatively strong effects in reducing negative personality traits and stress, and in improving attention and mindfulness.

The review concluded:

“The effects found in the current analyses show that meditation affects people in important ways.”

Integrative health care has major effects on mind and body

Meditation has been shown to positively affect mind and body health.

Why, then, did the recent review published in a specialty journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Internal Medicine) conclude there were limited benefits, with mindfulness meditation showing only moderate or low evidence for specific stress-related conditions such as anxiety?

That review was narrowly focused on research showing that meditation alleviates psychological stress, so objective benefits such as reduced blood pressure were outside its scope.

In addition, the review only looked at studies in which the subjects had been diagnosed with a medical or psychiatric problem. The authors excluded studies of otherwise normal individuals with anxiety or stress, as well as any study that was not on adults.

These selection criteria resulted in the omission of many rigorous studies, which, when taken as a whole, show that there are indeed benefits for reducing stress and anxiety.

A 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review) of 10 controlled studies found that at least one meditation, Transcendental Meditation, significantly reduced anxiety. And the greater the starting level of anxiety in the test subjects, the greater was the reduction with meditation.

In a commentary that accompanied the article published by JAMA, Dr. Allan Goroll states:

“The modest benefit found in the study by Goyal et al begs the question of why, in the absence of strong scientifically vetted evidence, meditation in particular and complementary measures in general have become so popular, especially among the influential and well educated.”

I can answer that. Complementary and alternative approaches (now called integrative health care) have indeed been shown in rigorous scientific studies to have some major effects on mind and body health.

But equally important, people who use natural approaches are taking a more active role in their health. This is called self-empowerment and is what medical professionals should desire for their patients and themselves. This is the grail. We want people to adopt healthier behaviors and outlooks and attitudes, to take more responsibility.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the majority of chronic diseases could be prevented by proper self-care. That is, by people managing their own stress and lifestyle.

Meditation benefits are becoming accepted by health professionals

Finally, people meditate because it can fundamentally change their self-perceptions and sense of suffering. And, yes, research also supports this.

In studies on long-term and even short-term practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, subjects report the experience of a fundamental level of unity and wholeness in their awareness. This gives them a deep feeling of peace, connectedness and relief from stress.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) and brain imaging research shows that meditators’ brains actually function differently than those who have not learned the technique.

So to Dr. Goroll and all those who wonder why anyone would meditate, my observation, based on decades of published scientific research, is that meditation greatly contributes to a healthy, balanced mind and body. To ignore the evidence is ignoring the scientific basis of medicine.

As can be seen in the presentations on meditation at the recent world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, and the cover story in the February 2nd issue of Time magazine, the benefits of meditation are coming to be widely accepted by health professionals, business leaders and the media.

It is now time for the medical profession to catch up and provide this information to those who depend on them for the most advanced advice for mind and body health.