transcendental meditation

WHAT IS IYENGAR YOGA?

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WHAT IS IYENGAR YOGA?

 

iyengar-asana-bigger11Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by BKS Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture and breath control. The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas.

Iyengar has systematized over 200 classical yoga poses and 14 different types of Pranayama (with variations of many of them) ranging from the basic to advanced. This helps ensure that students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit step-by-step.

Iyengar Yoga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old. Iyengar Yoga is firmly based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga.

Iyengar yoga focuses particularly on three aspects. Correct body alignment allows the body to develop harmoniously in an anatomically correct way so that the student suffers no injury or pain when practicing correctly. As all bodies are different and people have different weaknesses and strengths. Props were developed for use in Iyengar yoga; and are objects like wooden blocks, chairs, blankets and belts that help one adjust or support oneself in the different postures so that one can work in a range of motion that is safe and effective.

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An added benefit is that although the therapeutic aspects of asanas and pranayama have been known for centuries, the emphasis on correct anatomical
alignment and methods of working have refined the therapeutic aspects of Yoga. Thus practice of Iyengar yoga will often result in eliminating aches and pains, improve posture etc. but Iyengar Yoga can also be used to treat many ailments, including extremely serious medical conditions, under the supervision of a suitably experienced teacher. The other two key aspects of asana practice in the Iyengar system are correct sequencing in which there is a powerful cumulative effect achieved by practicing asanas in particular sequences. The concept of timings means postures are held for considerable lengths of time to let the effects of the poses penetrate deeper within the individual

Pranayama is started once a firm foundation in asana has been established as physically the student requires the alignment, flexibility, lung capacity and training necessary to sit and breathe correctly while practicing. Pranayama gives numerous physical benefits including toning the circulatory, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems, activating the internal organs and creating a feeling of energy and calmness. Equally importantly it also brings the mind and senses under control and makes the individual fit for the experience of meditation.

iyengar-yoga-centre-singaporeOne may, get the impression that Iyengar yoga is just gymnastics and deep breathing or only Asana and Pranayama. This is incorrect.      Asanas and Pranayama are merely used as the tools with which to master all 8 aspects of Astanga yoga. Mastery of the body is the gateway to mastery of the mind. Consider the following: The whole human being from the outermost skin to the innermost being (or soul) is interconnected. For example, if the body is ill, the mind also becomes depressed, lethargic and bad tempered and if the mind is stressed the body becomes tense. The intensity and depth to which Iyengar yoga is practiced on the physical level does affect and change the mind and spirit.

In doing yoga asanas the whole body and mind must learn to become involved. One has to spread one’s awareness to the smallest parts of the body simultaneously so the mind becomes alert, attentive and sharp. One learns to breathe smoothly deeply and evenly so one’s energy (prana) can flow without obstruction and one learns to make the mind quiet, passive and receptive thus promoting a meditative state of mind. This makes the body fit for Pranayama.

Through asanas one also learns an awareness and application of ethics – Yama and Niyama. For example one of the Niyamas is sauca (Purity). An example: iyengar-yogaBecause yoga builds up a very sharp awareness of the state of the body and mind, one becomes very aware of ones state of health and begins to nurture it. So after too much eating and drinking, the body suffers and the mind becomes dull. As one spends more and more time practicing yoga, the obvious contradiction and self-destructiveness becomes more difficult to reconcile and one begins to moderate ones eating and drinking, leading to a more pure lifestyle. Another example of this is the Yama of non-violence. Although superficially Yamas are social ethics and Niyama personal disciplines, both can be applied equally to any situation such as society or the physical body.  While doing Parsvakonasana one may experience pain in the front knee and assume it is at fault for causing one discomfort. But in reality the knee is causing pain because it is forced into an unnatural position by the thigh and buttock working lazily. So the buttock and thigh do the violence by being lazy but we blame the knee. The remedy is to make the buttock and thigh work correctly then the knee can function properly and the discomfort disappears. As one’s sensitivity in the postures increases one also realizes that not only the buttock and thigh but all parts of the body to a greater or lesser extent have had their role in the violence to the knee. This thinking can be applied to society where it is easy to find the roots of violence in unhappy homes, childhood neglect and poor education.

Pranayama is the essential prerequisite for correct true meditation.  It is theoretically possible to achieve a meditative state of mind by merely sitting and concentrating, in practice it is not possible for 99% of people. In meditation the mind is absolutely silent but razor sharp. Many people go to meditation classes, for many years even. But few achieve this state of consciousness; the mind has too many “portals.” It is like a sieve full of water. Whichever hole you block, water continues to pour out of the rest. The mind is too subtle, cunning and restless to be controlled and made still. Therefore, Pranayama is recommended as the breath is used to still the mind. Smooth subtle and controlled breathing is far easier to master than the mind and when the breath becomes smooth and steady so does the mind. Then one can learn to withdraw the senses from external objects and cultivate the state of mind where the experience of meditation can come.

imagesMeditation is a state of mind that cannot be learnt and thus the practice of sitting and attempting to meditate is not a guarantee of results in itself. Rather the foundations of self-culture have to be built through practicing the first five disciplines of yoga. The experience of meditation comes when the student is ready.

This leads to another keynote of Iyengar yoga: meditation in action. If one can meditate on a flame, grain of rice or other subject, why not meditate on the posture one is performing? So, as a student does yoga postures the mind learns to become aware of the different parts of the body. At first the mind moves from part to part but with training learns to become absorbed in all parts of the body evenly at the same time. One learns to refine one’s awareness and penetrate deeper into the body in order to achieve more accurate and thus effective and comfortable postures. So the mind is trained to achieve a meditative state of being. Although pranayama is the real key to preparation for meditation, the progress made is applicable to asanas which can be practiced to such a degree of refinement that one meditates in the posture.

In sum, the Iyengar method of Yoga may be said to define itself as different from other styles of Yoga by 3 key elements, namely technique, sequence and timing: (1) Technique means that in practice one learns ever finer adjustments in the alignment of how one performs one’s asana and pranayama; (2) Sequence refers to the sequences in which asana and pranayama are practiced. For example, by varying which postures are practiced after which, the mental and emotional effects of the practice can be intensified in a manner not otherwise possible in order to bring about changes to the whole being including ones spiritual evolution; and (3) Timing refers to the length of time spent in postures or pranayama.  Postures cannot be done swiftly or without awareness. It takes time to move into a posture and become stable. When this has been achieved then one remains stably for some time to intensify the depth of the posture and so extract its benefit. Otherwise the potential effects and benefits remain small compared to what is possible.

Kathy Kiefer

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REIKI AND MASSAGE THERAPY

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REIKI AND MASSAGE THERAPY

What is a Reiki massage? Reiki is not really a massage, but can be combined with massage for reiki healing.   Reiki healing is the usage of spiritual energy to heal a person’s aura or situation.

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Reiki healing is the usage of spiritual energy to heal a person’s aura or situation.   The word “Reiki” actually translates to “Universal Life Force Energy.”   Massage is the process or rubbing or kneading different parts of the body for therapeutic reasons or purposes.

The word Reiki comes from two Japanese words –Rei which means “Gods Wisdom or the Higher Power” and KI which is “life force energy.” So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided force energy.”

A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance that flows though and around you.   Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and well-being. Many have reported miraculous results.

Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual healing an self-improvement that everyone can use.

It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.

An ancient Japanese massage technique, reiki is a formula to help stress reduction and promote healing. This is a hands-on healing technique through massage that generates life force energy flowing through the body. If the energy levels are low individuals can feel fatigue, experience negative emotions, and have physical complications with organs and glands. Various healing techniques that enable the qi and meridians to connect with the chakras in the body exist. These are all energy fields that, when depleted, result in emotional and physical ill health. Here you will learn what a reiki massage is and what it can do for you.

The patient is fully clothed and lays face up on a massage table. The practitioner places their hands in specific positions on the body, starting from the head and ending at the feet. These positions used depend on the energy levels of the patient, as there may be blockages in some organs more than others. The patient then lays face down so the practitioner can perform treatment on the back. The practitioner stores energy in their own body so the heat and flow can translate to energize the meridians, qi, and chakras in the body.

The main benefits are that the patient feels less stress and relaxed. Depending on the depletion of energy in the body, the patient may feel heat radiating from the practitioner. They also may feel a tingling sensation that is the energy coming to life and connecting within the body. As a relaxation technique, some patients fall asleep during the session. After treatment, the patient may feel sleepy yet as they move around, they will be energized more than before.

Reiki and massage are two separate things.   The usual treatment of Reiki massage begins at the head and works its way through the seven different chakras.   The hand placements coincide with these chakras or energy centers of the physical body.

Reiki massage has been used to help patients manage pain and to increase their quality of living. Reiki massage is different from normal massage because the practitioner does not knead or manipulate the tissues or muscles of the patient.   Instead the hands of the practitioner remain still, and the energy of healing is sent through the channels of the practitioner into the patient.

If you are nervous about your first massage treatment combining Reiki and traditional massage, there is no need.   The practitioner will not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.   You remain completely clothed, as it is not necessary for there to be skin-to-skin contact.   Reiki massage can even be used to send energy to broken bones or injuries that are covered by casts and bandages.

Reiki is also used to treat conditions such as TMJ (also known as lock-jaw), muscle pain, tension, stress, injury healing, pain management and over 60 other medical ailments.   IN the Western world, there are four different areas of chakras of the body used for treatment.   They are the head, body, legs/fee and back, respectively.

Reiki treatments are said to be one hundred percent safe; they don’t incur any side effects or injuries.  There are sensations that are felt, but are different for different people. Some people experience a sensation of warmth or tingling.   Others experience a spirit of relaxation and balance.

Reiki is a form of faith healing developed by a Japanese Buddhist in the early part of the 20th century. Pronounced “ray-key,” this complementary therapy is known as a road to healing, and a system of   divine enlightenment.

The word “reiki” in Japanese roughly translates as “universal life form energy.” It would explain why reiki can only be   passed from master to apprentice, and why the theory behind this spiritual practice upholds that only a skilled reiki practitioner can absorb energy from the universe and then channel it into a patient in order to improve their health and well-being.   In this way it is much like touch therapy, with the reiki master acting as the conduit – removing bad energy and replacing it with good energy.   This channeling of good energy will then encourage the patient to heal.

The actual channeling  procedure involved in reiki works something like this: the reiki master holds their hands over the recipient’s body – sometimes actually making contact with the         body – and uses their spiritual expertise to administer the healing treatment.   Some schools of reiki prescribe specific spots on the bod y for hand placement; while others believe that the hands of the reiki master should be used to detect the right place to administer treatment.   This second school believes the practitioner should intuitively recognize places of imbalance in our bodies.

Reiki can be administered in one of two ways – either in person or via distance healing.

In-person – During an in-person reiki treatment, the client will be asked to lie down on a massage table or mat.   They remain fully clothed throughout the treatment and the practitioner never makes contact the patient’s skin.   The environment is totally relaxed, with candle light, soothing music and aroma-therapy are used to put the client in a totally relaxed state.   The reiki practitioner will transfer energy from their own hands to the client, by gently touching different areas on the client’s body.

Distance healing – the client is asked to set up a relaxing environment in their home or place of their choice.   The reiki practitioner will then transfer the energy from themselves to their patient from a distance.

While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it.

While Reiki is not a religion, it is still important to live and act in a way that promotes harmony with others.

Kathy Kiefer

THE KEY TO THE HEALING POWER OF TOUCH

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THE KEY TO THE HEALING POWER OF TOUCH

The key for healing through the power of touch is in the art of showing compassion in your touch!     It’s the human touch in the world that counts.   Which means far more to the sinking heart than shelter or bread or wine.    For shelter is gone when the night is over, and bread lasts only a day.  But the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice live on in the soul always.

The healing power of touch cannot be refuted. Human touch rules our very lives. Without human touch we die – maybe not our bodies, but our minds and our souls. The sense of touch and feeling are at the very core of our being, of the body-mind-soul connection. Experiencing the world through your senses is the way you process information that is useful to you. Imagine a world without sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch. Even if you lost only one of your five senses, it would be a much less enjoyable world. The sense of touch and feeling is a sense that is paramount to your survival. A baby is enveloped in the warmth of the womb, and the amniotic fluid, gently cushioned against the hostile world as it develops. The embrace and warmth of the mother, after birth, is vital for the maternal-infant bond, and is essential for the baby’s survival. The word ‘feeling’ itself is a metaphor for the sense of touch and the emotion that it elicits. Touch equals emotion, or a ‘feeling.’ You feel with your physical body and you ‘feel’ with your emotions. This is the power of touch. To touch and feel is the power of the body-mind-soul connection at work

I believe that this use of language for ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ is no coincidence. When you ‘feel’ emotions, you also ‘feel’ it in your physical body, even though you have not actually ‘felt’ with your hands or the physical body. This is another reason why it is so important to understand the connection between the body-mind-soul. They are one.  The physical manifestations of your emotions that help you discover who you really are. You can speak to one another through the healing power of touch. The physical language of the soul is through the power of touch and the emotions that it elicits. When nothing is left to say, or you don’t know what to say, you can convey your understanding and compassion, solely through a truly heartfelt, physical touch. This is the healing power of touch.  We can instantly tell the difference between a business-like touch and a compassionate, healing touch. You can communicate that you care or don’t care, in the way you touch. How is this possible? How is this message conveyed, if touch were only a physical experience? Yet you even speak this metaphor when you say, “I was ‘touched’ by his words.” You are ‘touched’ by the act of kindness that both your mind and your physical body ‘feels.’ Others ‘touch’ your life. You say “Let’s keep in ‘touch.'” The healing power of touch, the physical experience combined with the emotional experience to heal the soul is yet another example of the connection of the body-mind-soul or the body-mind connection that leads to healing of the soul.  Touch is not an isolated physical event. The caring or lack of caring is transmitted through your hands, through the power of your touch. If what is said, and the physical sensation of touch you actually feel are incongruent, the physical touch will prevail. Physical touch has power over words – every single time. The power of touch is that significant. If caring is transmitted through my hands by means of physical touch, but I am emotionally detached, the sensation of caring will not be transmitted. If I ‘care’ for a patient by bathing and dressing him/her but do not do it in a compassionate manner, while remaining detached, the physical touch will be read as cold, uncaring, hurried or at the very best, neutral. This is why the old adage, when you were being paddled as kids, when the parent said, ‘This is hurting me more than it is hurting you,’ or ‘spare the rod, spoil the child,’ never worked. You never felt loved during this process. One never says, “My parents were so good to me, and I felt deep acceptance for who I was, and I felt love and understanding while I was being paddled!” Or for that matter, immediately after you were paddled. Or when you became an adult and thought about the paddling. In fact, what you probably felt when you were paddled was anger, defiance, feelings of being out of control and even rage, or perhaps submission to your repressed rage. Then these powerful emotions have to be suppressed, for later dealings. In fact these feelings were most likely felt over and over again in you, if you were paddled and are honest with yourself. Correction of the misdeeds of children should never be coupled with physical pain of any nature, in my opinion. The power of touch that is applied in a manner intended to hurt, hurts us physically and emotionally and may leave deep scars. A child, who is coddled, and touched with the full love and caring that the power of touch can convey, that honors the child as an individual, is a healthy child. A child is always able to discern the physical touch that was meant to care and that which is detached, abusive or meant to harm. When you want to care for a person that is grieving, hurting or suffering in any way, and you cannot find words to say, a caring, compassionate touch is all that is needed to convey your love. This is such an effective way to communicate. The power of touch done in a loving, compassionate manner will convey all. No words will be needed. The healing power of touch encompasses all and heals all. We often touch our pets, our dogs and cats with more caring and compassion than we do our fellow human beings! A child that is touched inappropriately in an adult manner will be scarred for life. The kind of ‘caring’ that this abuse portrays to the child will forever distort his/her concept of love. The only healing that can occur after abuse is the surrender to the emotions that are currently manifested in your body. What is supposed to be the most powerful expression of love, human compassion and understanding is the single most abused sense you own – physical touch. You may have also experienced horror through touch – physical beating, detachment and abuse. You all deserve more. When the power of touch is abused, the entire being, the body-mind-soul is affected. The physical body retains these scars and this deeply held pain. The power of touch needed to heal your soul and heal your scars when you have suffered abuse is immense. You will need to at first recognize that Love and physical touch was not meant to be conveyed in an abusive manner but that Love could be experienced through the healing power of touch. Seeking professional help from practitioners that convey this healing power of touch instead of the abusive power of touch will help you receive love and help you to heal. Seeking Love through grace will help you too. Self-love and self-caring of your physical body through seeking its messages can also help you if you have a deep desire for self-healing. You will need to re-connect with your body and love your body.   If you ignore your body, ignore its messages, your dis-ease will only grow deeper. The only way to portray caring through the physical act of touch is to be totally present to the individual you are touching. Remember that through the power of touch, physical touch also ‘touches’ the body-mind-soul. Your mind must be empty of your own self-absorption. You cannot provide caring and warmth through your hands if you are thinking about what you will be cooking for dinner or who won last night’s game.    You must be thinking about the other person, and how it would feel to receive your touch.  Being present to the other person is so important in all your interactions with others. You all too often do not hear what others are saying, but are already formulating what you will say next. We all think 2-5 steps ahead of the present moment, almost unconsciously. We are all so self-absorbed and not in the present moment! Forget about words. Touch with your heart and soul. Honor the other being.

Never underestimate the healing power of touch. The power of touch to touch the soul for health and healing is great. Bodywork practitioners who perform their art in this fashion are the greatest healers of all. Seek out such practitioners who are more meditative in their presentation to healing. The traditional art of Thai Yoga Massage requires the practitioner to enter the session with a prayer-like, meditative and healing attitude!    If only all our healthcare practitioners approached us in this manner with the power of healing touch on their hearts and minds. The world would be full of healthier and more whole individuals. For now, seek your own physical, bodily truth.

Kathy Kiefer

TRADITIONS IN FAITH AND MEDITATION

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TRADITIONS IN FAITH AND MEDITATION

 

What are some of these traditions that are related to faith and meditation?  Would anyone be able to learn how to use them in collaboration with their faith?  I find it fascinating and important to see how the different faiths of the word view and use meditation.  I hope that this will help clarify any misconceptions there may be.

There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years.   In the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going lasuach in the field—a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice.   Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanach that meditation was used by the prophets.   In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ, which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ, which means to muse, or rehearse in one’s mind.

The Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah, is inherently a meditative field of study. Traditionally, Kabbalah is only taught to Jews over the age of forty in Ashkenaz, though training begins at 13 in Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. The Talmud refers to the advantage of the scholar over the prophet, as his understanding takes on intellectual, conceptual form that deepens mental grasp, and can be communicated to others. The advantage of the prophet over the scholar is in the transcendence of their intuitive vision. The ideal illumination is achieved when the insights of mystical revelation are brought into conceptual structures. Corresponding to the learning of Kabbalah are its traditional meditative practices, as for the Kabbalist, the ultimate purpose of its study is to understand and cleave to the Divine.   Classic methods include the mental visualization of the supernal realms the soul navigates through to achieve certain ends. One of the best known types of meditation in early Jewish mysticism was the work of the Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning “chariot” (of God).

In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called “hitbodedut” (transliterated as “hisbodedus”), and is explained in Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and Mussar writings. The word derives from the Hebrew word “boded”, meaning the state of being alone.  Another Hasidic system is the Habad method of “hisbonenus”, related to the Sephirah of “Binah”, Hebrew for understanding. This practice is the analytical reflective processes of making oneself understand a mystical concept well, that follows and internalizes its study in Hasidic writings.

New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy, mysticism, Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism yet may contain some degree of Western influence. In the West, meditation found its mainstream roots through the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional belief systems as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity to provide spiritual and ethical guidance.  New Age meditation as practiced by the early hippies is regarded for its techniques of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object.   New Age meditation evolved into a range of purposes and practices, from serenity and balance to access to other realms of consciousness to the concentration of energy in group meditation to the supreme goal of Samadhi, as in the ancient yogic practice of meditation.

Religions and religious movements which use magic, such as Wicca, Thelema, Neo-paganism, occultism, etc., often require their adherents to meditate as a preliminary to magical work. This is because magic is often thought to require a particular state of mind in order to make contact with spirits, or because one has to visualize one’s goal or otherwise keep intent focused for a long period during the ritual in order to see the desired outcome. Meditation practice in these religions usually revolves around visualization, absorbing energy from the universe or higher self, directing one’s internal energy, and inducing various trance states. Meditation and magic practice often overlap in these religions as meditation is often seen as merely a stepping stone to supernatural power, and the meditation sessions may be peppered with various chants and spells.

In Sikhism, simran (meditation) and good deeds are both necessary to achieve the devotees Spiritual goals, without good deeds meditation is futile. When Sikhs meditate they aim to feel God’s presence and immerge in the divine light.  It is only God’s divine will or order that allows a devotee to desire to begin to meditate. Guru Nanak in the Japji Sahib daily Sikh scripture explains, “Visits to temples, penance, compassion and charity gain you but a sesame seed of credit. It is hearkening to His Name, accepting and adoring Him that obtains emancipation by bathing in the shrine of soul. All virtues are Yours, O Lord! I have none; Without good does one can’t even meditate.

Nam Japna involves focusing one’s attention on the names or great attributes of God.   The practices of Simran and Nām Japnā encourage quiet internal meditation but may be practiced vocally in the sangat (holy congregation). Sikhs believe that there are 10 ‘gates’ to the body, 9 visible holes (e.g. nose holes, ears holes, mouth, belly button, etc.) and the 10th invisible hole. The 10th invisible hole is the top most energy level is called the tenth gate or Dasam Duaar. When one reaches this stage through continuous practice meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavor when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, and experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.

Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord’s name since meditation only conjures up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householder’s life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, the latter of which being a popular practice at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.  In the Sikh religion, kirtan, otherwise known as singing the hymns of God is seen as one of the most beneficial ways of aiding meditation, and it too in some ways is believed to be a meditation of one kind.

Most of the ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using some type of prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread. The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu japa form of rosary has 108 beads (the figure 108 in itself having spiritual significance, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads.   Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala.  The Muslim mishbaha has 99 beads. Specific meditations of each religion may be different.

As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a U.S. government entity within the National Institutes of Health that advocates various forms of Alternative Medicine, “Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.”

Over the past 20 years, mindfulness-based programs have become increasingly important to Westerners and in the Western medical and psychological community as a means of helping people, whether they are clinically sick or healthy.   Several methods are used during time set aside specifically for mindfulness meditation, such as body scan techniques or letting thought arise and pass, and also during our daily lives, such as being aware of the taste and texture of the food that we eat.   Scientifically demonstrated benefits of mindfulness practice include an increase in the body’s ability to heal and a shift from a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex instead of the left prefrontal cortex, associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety, and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance.

Methods of meditation have been cross-culturally disseminated at various times throughout history, such as Buddhism going to East Asia, and Sufi practices going to many Islamic societies. Of special relevance to the modern world is the dissemination of meditative practices since the late 19th century, accompanying increased travel and communication among cultures worldwide. Most prominent has been the transmission of numerous Asian-derived practices to the West. In addition, interest in some Western-based meditative practices has also been revived, and these have been disseminated to a limited extent to Asian countries.

 Ideas about Eastern meditation had begun “seeping into American popular culture even before the American Revolution through the various sects of European occult Christianity,” and such ideas “came pouring in [to America] during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s.”

More recently, in the 1960s, another surge in Western interest in meditative practices began. Observers have suggested many types of explanations for this interest in Eastern meditation and revived Western contemplation.  One of the founders of Contemplative Outreach wrote that “the rush to the East is a symptom of what is lacking in the West. There is a deep spiritual hunger that is not being satisfied in the West.”  It has also been suggested that the shift in interest from “established religions” to meditative practices “is caused by the scarcity of the personal experience of these [meditation-derived] transcendental states – the living spirit at the common core of all religions.”

Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts.   Beginning with the Theosophists meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga, New Age and the New Thought movement.

Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.

Many traditions in which meditation is practiced, such as Sahaja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation,  Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions, advise members not to consume intoxicants,  while others, such as the Rastafarian movements and Native American Church, view drugs as integral to their religious lifestyle.

On the other hand, the ingestion of psychoactives has been a central feature in the rituals of many religions, in order to produce altered states of consciousness.  In several traditional shamanistic ceremonies, drugs are used as agents of ritual. In the Rastafari movement, cannabis is believed to be a gift from Jah and a sacred herb to be used regularly, while alcohol is considered to debase man. Native Americans use peyote, as part of religious ceremony, continuing today.  In India, the soma drink has a long history of use alongside prayer and sacrifice, and is mentioned in the Vedas.

During the 1960s, both eastern meditation traditions and psychedelics, such as LSD, became popular in America, and it was suggested that LSD use and meditation were both means to the same spiritual/existential end.  Many practitioners of eastern traditions rejected this idea, including many who had tried LSD themselves.

Various postures are taken up in some meditation techniques. Sitting, supine, and standing postures are used. Popular in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism are the full-lotus, half-lotus, Burmese and kneeling positions. Meditation is sometimes done while walking, known as kirhin or while doing a simple task mindfully, known as SAMU.

Kathy Kiefer

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

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TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

 

What is Transcendental meditation?   What (if any) are the benefits from this form of meditation?  Why is it important?

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a specific form of mantra meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.   It is often referred to as Transcendental Meditation, or simply TM. The meditation practice involves the use of a mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day while sitting with one’s eyes closed.  It is reported to be one of the most-widely practiced, and among the most widely researched, meditation techniques, with over 340 peer-reviewed studies published.  Beginning in 1965, the Transcendental Meditation technique has been incorporated into selected schools, universities, corporations, and prison programs in the U.S.A., Latin America, Europe, and India. In 1977 a U.S. district court ruled that a curriculum in TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) being taught in some New Jersey schools was religious in nature and in violation of the First Amendment. The technique has since been included in a number of educational and social programs around the world.    TM is one of the most widely practiced, and among the most widely researched meditation techniques.

The Transcendental Meditation technique has been described as both religious and non-religious, as an aspect of a new religious movement, as rooted in Hinduism, and as a non-religious practice for self-development.  The public presentation of the TM technique over its 50-year history has been praised for its high visibility in the mass media and effective global propagation, and criticized for using celebrity and scientific endorsements as a marketing tool. Advanced courses supplement the TM technique and include an advanced meditation called the TM-Sidhi program.  In 1970, the Science of Creative Intelligence became the theoretical basis for the Transcendental Meditation technique, although skeptics questioned its scientific nature.  Proponents have postulated that one percent of a population (such as a city or country) practicing the TM technique daily may have an impact on the quality of life for that population group. This has been termed the Maharishi Effect.

According to proponents of TM, when meditating, the ordinary thinking process is “transcended.” It’s replaced by a state of pure consciousness. In this state, the meditator achieves perfect stillness, rest, stability, order, and a complete absence of mental boundaries.

Proponents say the technique has many benefits for both mind and body, including:  (1) clearer thinking; (2) reduction of cardiovascular risk factors; and (3) Increased longevity.

The technique is recommended for 20 minutes twice per day. According to the Maharishi, “bubbles of thought are produced in a stream one after the other”, and the Transcendental Meditation technique consists of experiencing a “proper thought” in its more subtle states “until its subtlest state is experienced and transcended”.  Because it is mantra based, the technique “ostensibly meets the working definition of a concentration practice”; however, the TM organization says that “focused attention” is not prescribed, and that the “aim is a unified and open attentional stance”   Other authors describe the technique as an easy, natural technique or process, and a “wakeful hypo metabolic physiologic state”. Practice of the technique includes a process called “unstressing” which combines “effortless relaxation with spontaneous imagery and emotion”. TM teachers caution their students not to be alarmed by random thoughts and to “attend” to the mantra.

The TM technique consists of silently repeating a mantra with “gentle effortlessness” while sitting comfortably with eyes closed and without assuming any special yoga position.  The mantra is said to be a vehicle that allows the individual’s attention to travel naturally to a less active, quieter style of mental functioning.  One author discusses neurological theories about the importance of selecting the correct mantra. According to these, the mantra enters “the central nervous system via the brain’s speech area”, and represents “a direct input of ease and order”. TM meditators are instructed to keep their mantra secret to ensure maximum results (“speaking it aloud, apparently defeats the purpose”), to avoid confusion in the mind of the meditators, and as a “protection against inaccurate teaching”.

The TM-Sidhi program is a form of meditation introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1975. It is based on, and described as a natural extension of the Transcendental Meditation technique. The goal of the TM-Sidhi program is to accelerate personal growth and improve mind-body coordination by training the mind to think from what the Maharishi has described as a fourth major state of consciousness called Transcendental Consciousness.

Yogic Flying, a mental-physical exercise of hopping while cross-legged, is a central aspect of the TM-Sidhi program. With the introduction of the TM-Sidhi program in 1976 it was postulated that the square root of one percent of the population practicing the TM-Sidhi program, together at the same time and in the same place, would increase “life-supporting trends”. This was referred to as the “Extended Maharishi Effect”. These effects have been examined in 14 published studies, including a gathering of over 4,000 people in Washington DC in the summer of 1993

Scientists have been conducting Transcendental Meditation (TM) research since the late 1960s and hundreds of studies have been published.  The Transcendental Meditation technique is a specific form of mantra meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and has become one of the most widely researched meditation techniques. TM research has played a role in the history of mind-body medicine and helped create a new field of neuroscience.

Early studies examined the physiological parameters of the meditation technique. Subsequent research included clinical applications, cognitive effects, mental health, medical costs, and rehabilitation. Beginning in the 1990s, research focused on cardiovascular disease supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.   Research reviews of the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique have yielded results ranging from inconclusive to clinically significant.   More research is needed to determine the therapeutic effects of meditation practices and sources vary regarding their assessment of the quality of research. Some cite design limitations and a lack of methodological rigor, while others assert that the quality is improving and that when suitable assessment criteria are applied, scientific evidence supports the therapeutic value of meditation.

According to the Maharishi, there are seven levels of consciousness: (i) waking; (ii) dreaming; (iii) deep sleep; (iv) transcendental consciousness; (v) cosmic consciousness; (vi) God consciousness; and, (vii) unity consciousness.  The Maharishi says that transcendental consciousness can be experienced through Transcendental Meditation, and that those who meditate diligently could become aware of cosmic consciousness.An indication of cosmic consciousness is “ever present wakefulness” that is present even during sleep. Research on long term TM practitioners experiencing what they describe as cosmic consciousness, has identified unique EEG profiles, muscle tone measurements, and REM indicators that suggest physiological parameters for this self-described state of consciousness.

Characterizations of the TM technique vary amongst scholars, clergy, notable practitioners and governments. According to the Maharishi his technique requires no preparation, is simple to do, and can be learned by anyone.   The technique is described as effortless and without contemplation or concentration.  The TM technique utilizes the tendency of the mind to move towards greater satisfaction.  According to TM advocates, the technique is “purely a mechanical, physiological process”, the “two-minute ceremony” invokes no deities, the mantras are “sounds without meaning” and the technique “pre-dates Hinduism by 5,000 years”.

Some religious leaders and clergy find Transcendental Meditation compatible with their religious teachings and beliefs while others do not.   Catholic monk Wayne Teasdale  has written in his book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions, that Transcendental Meditation “is what is called an open or receptive method” that can be described as giving up control and remaining open in an inner sense.  In 2003, the Roman Curia, a Vatican council, published a warning against mixing eastern meditations, such as TM, with Christian prayer.   There have been many clergy who practice the TM technique and find it compatible with their religious beliefs.

There are those who find Transcendental Meditation to be a “…highly simplified form of Hinduism, adapted for Westerners who did not possess the cultural background to accept the full panoply of Hindu beliefs, symbols, and practices”, and describes the Transcendental Meditation puja ceremony as “…in essence, a religious initiation ceremony”.  Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh of the Greek Orthodox Church describes TM as “a new version of Hindu Yoga” based on “pagan pseudo-worship and deification of a common mortal, Guru Dev”.

Others say that “although there are some dedicated followers of TM who devote most or all of their time to furthering the practice of Transcendental Meditation in late modern society, the vast majority of those who practice do so on their own, often as part of what has been loosely described as the New Age Movement.” They say that most scholars view Transcendental Meditation as having elements of both therapy and religion, but that “Transcendental Meditation has no designated scripture, no set of doctrinal requirements, no ongoing worship activity, and no discernible community of believers.” They also say that Maharishi did not claim to have special divine revelation or supernatural personal qualities.

TM is unlike religion in its “key elements”: “there is no public worship, no code of ethics, no scriptures to be studied, and no rites of passage that are observed, such as dietary laws, giving to the poor, or pilgrimages.”

Some studies have found that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and the use of health care services but more research is needed.

Continue reading below…

Whether the health benefits of TM and other forms of meditation are real, though, is controversial. Some researchers fault the quality of meditation studies and say meditation is no more effective than health education in addressing most common health problems.

Current evidence suggests that meditation, both TM and other forms, are generally safe for healthy people. It also suggests that meditation may improve the quality of life for many. Experts agree, however, that meditation should not be considered an effective single treatment for any particular health condition. Nor should it be used as an alternative to conventional medical care.

Kathy Kiefer

MEDITATION TYPES

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MEDITATION TYPES

Why do people meditate?  What are the benefits and types of meditation?  I am finding more and more about the different types of meditation and the influence that mediation has on our lives (both personal and spiritually). I hope that I answer or can help others understand these differences and they important role it plays.     Meditation does work.

Meditation has been widely recommended as a healthy way to manage stress by way of thought, contemplation and reflex ion.  Meditation provides many health-enhancing benefits like reducing symptoms of stress, trauma and anxiety, aids in reliving physical issues like headaches and enhancing our body’s immunity to illness.  One has to be open and receptive to it, and let go of the negative connotations you may have.  You just need to find the right one for you.   Don’t give up.

There are scores of variations of meditation, most of which range along a continuum of some combination of concentration and open awareness techniques. Defining and understanding the type of meditation being practiced represents some of the most important and challenging factors in the field of scientific meditation research. The difficulty of creating clear and consistent definitions of meditative practices is evidenced by the discrepancies found in many academic descriptions of meditation.       Traditionally, meditation has been situated within the context of a set of religious beliefs, teachings, and practices. The objective was to alter everyday consciousness to reach a state of receptiveness to the goals of the tradition. The customary meditation posture involves sitting in a cross-legged position on a cushion with an awareness of bodily position. There are variations that include lying down, standing, walking or even yoga.  Modern meditation groups may sit in chairs. Eyes can be closed or open and unfocused. It can be performed individually or in groups. Some teachers emphasize that meditation is a state of mind involving awareness and acceptance, and can be done at any time in the midst of any activity. There are countless forms of meditation, but most fall into three or four general categories: concentrative, open awareness, and guided – as well as the broadly defined practice of mindfulness.

There are many different types of meditation techniques that are practiced by people from all walks of life, while holding to the fundamental principles of reflection and quiet thought to bring about a state of rumination. The different types of meditation that are acknowledged worldwide include transcendental meditation, prayer, Zen meditation, Taoist meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist meditation. Several of these call for the body remaining completely still or to be stimulated with controlled deliberation, whereas other types will allow free movement of the body. While being aware of these different types of meditation, the end objective is to teach our busy minds to quieten, freeing our minds of stress drawing on quiet contemplation and reflection.

Quiet Mind:   when meditating, the thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. Start thinking about nothing now; if you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.      Being In The Now:  Instead of focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past. Altered States of Consciousness:    Over time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.

There are many, many different ways to meditate, some include: Basic Meditation Techniques:   Involves sitting in a comfortable position and just trying to quiet your mind by thinking of nothing. It’s not always easy to do this if you don’t have practice with it. But a good way to begin is to think of yourself as an ‘observer of your thoughts,’ just noticing what the narrative voice in your head says, but not engaging it. As thoughts materialize in your mind, just let them go.   Focused Meditation Techniques:   you focus on something intently, but don’t engage your thoughts about it. You can focus on something visual, like a statue; something auditory, like a metronome or tape of ocean waves; something constant, like your own breathing; or a simple concept, like ‘unconditional compassion’.  Some people find it easier to do this than to focus on nothing, but the idea is the same — staying in the present moment and circumventing the constant stream of commentary from your conscious mind, and allowing yourself to slip into an altered state of consciousness.    Activity-Oriented Meditation Techniques:   You engage in a repetitive activity, or one where you can get ‘in the zone’ and experience ‘flow.’ Again, this quiets the mind, and allows your brain to shift. Activities like gardening, creating artwork, or practicing yoga can all be effective forms of meditation.   Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness doesn’t really look like meditation. It simply involves staying in the present moment rather than thinking about the future or the past. (Again, this is more difficult than it seems!) Focusing on sensations you feel in your body is one way to stay ‘in the now;’ focusing on emotions and where you feel them in your body (not examining why you feel them, but just experiencing them as sensations) is another.    Spiritual Meditating: Meditation can also be a spiritual practice. (It does not have to be, and certainly isn’t specific to any one religion, but can be used as a spiritual experience.) Many people experience meditation as a form of prayer — the form where God ‘speaks,’ rather than just listening.  There are many people that experience ‘guidance’ or inner wisdom once the mind is quiet, and meditate for this purpose. You can meditate on a singular question until an answer comes (though some would say this is engaging your thinking mind too much), or meditate to clear their mind and accept whatever comes that day.

Concentrative Meditation   The objective is to cultivate a single-pointed attention on some object, such as a sound, an image, the breath, or a flame. Through the training of consistently returning to the object of focus, the mind develops the capacity to remain calm, stabilized, and grounded. Many Western meditation teachers start beginners with this practice, most commonly focusing on the breath. In some advanced practices, states of bliss may be reached. The most well-known and researched form of the concentrative type in the West is Transcendental Meditation (TM).    Transcendental meditation was introduced to the western world in 1958. It is extremely simple to learn and practice, yet it brings immense practical benefits to all areas of life. Of all the different types of meditation, this particular technique gives a unique quality of rest to the mind and body, releasing stress and tiredness in a very natural way. Transcendental Meditation is a very practical and simple form of reaching a state of rumination and suitable to all people, especially those who find it difficult to set aside time, as some techniques may require an hour plus to practice. 15-20 minutes twice daily sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. This may even be done on the bus, train, lunch hour, essentially anywhere that is safe for you to sit with eyes closed for those 15-20 minutes.

Open Awareness The objective of these forms of meditative practices is to open the mind into a panoramic awareness of whatever is happening without a specific focus. Often this awareness is compared to the spacious sky or a river with objects floating by. The capacity to be present with whatever arises is developed through this practice. The Zen sitting practice zazen, or shikantaza, is an example of this form of meditation practiced in the West.  Zen meditation is the practice of sitting in preparation of relaxing the body and mind as well as opening oneself up to discovering insight into the nature of your being. In effect this means that as you sit in the various positions prescribed, closing your mind to thought and images; you will notice after a period of time, your heart rate will begin to slow down. Breathing will become shallow, and you will pass into a meditative state. Thought will become isolated and deliberate concentration on the present moment is all you will be aware of. Any thoughts of the past and the future will be kept at bay thus focusing and reacting to what is happening in the now. There will be no rumination on the things you should have done or the things that still need to be done. This will result in a wonderful escape from the constant chatter of the subconscious mind.

Mindfulness The most popular, widely adapted, and widely researched meditation technique in the West is known as mindfulness meditation is a combination of concentration and open awareness. Mindfulness is found in many contemplative traditions, but is most often identified with the Theravadan Buddhist practice of vipassana, or “insight meditation.” The practitioner focuses on an object, such as the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, or sounds. The focus is not as narrow as in concentrative meditation, for there is a simultaneous awareness of other phenomena. This mindfulness practice is often extended to daily actions, such as eating, walking, driving, or housework. The contemporary Western adaptation is typically removed from the rigorous contemplative training method of empirical introspection traditionally associated with Buddhism, which has as its objective the development of equanimity and clarity of perception.    Vipassana meditation was discovered and taught by Buddha thousands of years ago. The word vipassana meaning ‘to see things clearly’ was taught to people as a way of healing the body and mind, by means of cleansing both of impurities and toxins.   This type of meditation is not solely practiced by individuals with a Buddhist background; it is used by people of various cultures and backgrounds.

Imagine having complete control over your mind instead of the other way around. Buddhist meditation can give you that, if you undertake the proper discipline to do so. This type of meditation is said to bring your mind, body and soul to a natural balance. Buddha practiced the state of mindlessness through deliberation and rumination throughout his life. The idea was to diminish the mind’s need for selfishness and the craving for material matter to become a happier person. During meditation, you are in complete awareness of your physical body and every movement it makes. You are what’s more very aware of your state of mind and how it can change so rapidly in time – a minute, a day. Buddhist meditation is an extremely disciplined practice and should be done on a regular basis to benefit the mind, body and soul. If practiced correctly and consistently you will soon begin to notice very obvious changes, such as the mind slowly becoming free from fear. Your focus and concentration throughout the day, every day will become far more superior than previously. There will be no concerns or worry in your mind, no link to this physical world, no cares.

Taoist meditation is a type of meditation has several points in common with Hindu and Buddhist systems. The Taoist method is considerably less abstract, far more practical than the contemplative traditions that originated in India. The chief characteristic of this type of meditation is the generation, transformation, and circulation of inner energy. Once this stream of energy is achieved known as “deh-chee”, this can then be useful in promoting better health and longevity or whatever the meditator chooses. The Taoist meditation uses Breath and Navel meditation to teach beginners. This is the oldest method on record in China and India and works directly with the natural flow of breath in the nostrils and the expansion and contraction of the abdomen. This type of meditation is a fine way to improve focused attention and one-pointed awareness.

Guided Meditation All forms of meditation can be guided, and many are practiced with recorded or in-person guidance at first, and is also called guided imagery, the practitioner follows auditory guidance from a teacher or recording that elicits certain images, affirmations, states (such as peacefulness), or imagined desired experiences. Guided imagery is popular in the West to facilitate health and well-being and is often used to rehearse successful outcomes of procedures, such as surgery or an athletic performance.

Mindfulness meditation is a simple type of meditation teaching us to be mindful and alert of everything we do in our lives giving deliberate thought and concentration to everything we do. This will motivate a better awareness of the diverse situations and surroundings we find ourselves in resulting in a much more relaxed body and nervous system. This type of meditation trains your mind and body to meditate on the things in life that you cannot change, with a great deal of contemplation and rumination on the whole idea. It can be applied to every aspect of life, from eating to exercising, to just breathing and living. Mindfulness meditation is about being aware of the things in your life that you have control over.

Amid all the different types of meditation, there will always be confusion as with anything as to questions such as; ‘Is it safe?’, ‘How to decide which technique to practice’, ‘How much does it cost?’ Nevertheless once a decision is reached and you begin to practice the desired type of meditation suitable for you, it will become an essential part of your new daily life.  Then you wonder how you previously survived without it!

 Kathy Kiefer