As I write this I’m one day away from my full panchakarma retreat in Boulder, CO, at Dr. John Douillard’s LifeSpa. I felt so much more in balance after surgery and then a long teaching trip last year, when I did a PK precleanse in Tucson under Maria Kali Ma’s direction. So this year, as a birthday present to myself I’m diving in, making this a personal retreat away from Tucson–no phone, no e-mail; just meditation, gentle asana and pranayama, writing, abhyanga-sirodhara (Ayurvedic massage and oil drip), consults with John, lots of kicharee and, um, sesame enemas!
I’m just home from Kripalu and the first time teaching “LifeForce Yoga Meets the Hungry Ghost” with addictions specialist and LifeForce Yoga Practitioner-2 Dr. Kathy Shafer. A wonderful group gathered with us, sharing and supporting each other in their commitment to self-care and in their growing compassion for their own Hungry Ghost. We’ll be offering it again May 18-20, 2012.
While home this week, I’ve had time to review new research. It was astonishing how accurately the ancient yoga texts describe two different states of meditation. Dr. Shirley Telles and her colleagues have used the most modern scientific measurements to validate these different states in an article reviewed here and out soon in Biofeedback. Mr. Nilkamal Singh and Dr. Telles also give us a sneak preview of their in-press study on the physiological effects of kapalabhati and breath awareness. This is important information to have when attuning the pranayama breathing practice to the individual’s constitution and mood.
LifeForce Yoga Mentor Rose Kress and I have also had time to read and listen to new books and a children’s yoga nidra CD, reviewed below.
I hope to see you at Kripalu, Omega, or the Cape Cod Institute this summer!
A Warm Namasté,
RESEARCH: VALIDATION OF ANCIENT DESCRIPTIONS OF MEDITATIVE STATES
In an article soon to be published in the summer issue of Biofeedback, Dr. Shirley Telles and her associate Bhat Ramachanra Raghavendra have done breakthrough work, looking at the ancient text description (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) of two states of meditation and two states of wakefulness as described in the Bhagavad Gita. The researchers measured peripheral physiology (breathing, heart beat) as well as brain activation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Measurements were taken of experienced meditators before, after and during all four states (self-reported and assessed by their meditation teacher) on four separate days, at the same time of day, as well as on a group of non-meditators.
In dharana, which correlates with Focused Attention (FA) and is defined in the Yoga Sutras as focusing or “confining the mind within a limited mental area” (Patajali, III, i), the meditators when focusing on the mantra “Om” showed increased attention. Meditators in the dharana state on fMRI showed increased activation of the anterior cingulate suggestive of enhanced cognitive and attentional processing. There was also bilateral stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, indicative of heightened cognitive behavior. The measurements of dhyana, which correlates with “open monitor meditation,” defined in the Yoga Sutras as “an uninterrupted flow of the mind toward the object chosen for meditation” (Patanjali, III, ii) and characterized by no special focusing effort, were most profound. Not only was there a reduction in heart rate and breath rate, indicative of parasympathetic activity, but fMRI showed white matter hyperintensities in the frontal region which correlates with reduced executive functioning. Also notable was the increased activation in the right orbitofrontal cortex involved in decision making, and emotional regulation.
Research is validating what the ancient texts explained-that dharana and dhyana are two different states, affecting different parts of the brain and manifesting in different outcomes. This difference may account for the much publicized research of Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, who in using fMRI with Tibetan monks and the many studies on mindfulness meditation have most often found left prefrontal cortex activation. On the other hand, Sara Lazar at Harvard, also using fMRI, has shown activation on both sides and a thickening in the right prefrontal cortex.
“These observations suggest,” says Telles, ” that knowing the descriptions of these practices in the ancient texts may help in understanding contemporary research findings.” The research was carried out at the Patanjali Research Foundation in Haridwar, India, and the ICMR Center for Advanced Research in Yoga and Neurophysiology , SVYASA, Bengaluru, India.
RESEARCH: YOGA BENEFITS ELDERLY WITH DEMENTIA
A study in Taiwan found that elderly people with dementia living in long-term care facilities who participated in three hour-long yoga classes a week had better physical and mental health than those who did not participate. Those in the yoga group had lowered blood pressure, reduced respiration rate, strengthened cardiopulmonary fitness, enhanced body flexibility, improved muscle strength and endurance, improved balance, and increased joints motion. In addition, depression and problem behaviors were significantly reduced.
Int Psychogeriatr. 2011 Mar 9:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]
RESEARCH: DOCS PRESCRIBING MORE CAM
Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(9):862-864. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.160
A national survey reports that in 2007, 38% of Americans used complementary and alternativemedicine (CAM) with mind body therapies composing 75% of the rise in CAM since 2002. Evidence to support the therapeutic use of MBT (including yoga,tai chi, qi gong, meditation, guided imagery, progressive musclerelaxation, and deep-breathing exercises) is growing.
According to the study’s lead author, Aditi Nerurkar, MD, MPH, docs are most often prescribing as a last resort when other conventional treatments have failed instead of as preventative or first-line treatment. She felt that if doctors referred patients earlier in treatment there would likely be a decreased use of the health care system and the outcomes for patients would improve.
RESARCH: KAPALABHATI AND BREATH AWARENESS BOTH HEIGHTEN ALERTNESS
In a study soon to be published in Biopsychosocial Medicine, Dr. Shirley Telles and Mr. Nilkamal Singh, of the
Patanjali Yoga Research Foundation in Haridwar, India, compared high frequency yoga breathing (HFYB) or kapalabhati to breath awareness.Kapalbhati practiced for one minute and for fifteen minutes had the same effect of reducing parasympathetic modulation during and after the practice. Breath awareness reduced parasympathetic modulation after the practice, but it also increased sympathetic modulation. After both practices, there was a notable improvement in a paper and pencil cancellation task which measures focus, attention and executive functioning
and is indicative of increased sympathetic modulation.The 38 participants in the study stayed in the research laboratory the night before the measurements were taken so that their basal autonomic status could be assessed before they had any physical or mental activity other than the two yoga techniques.The authors speculate that, “It is possible that conscious cortical regulation of brainstem
respiratory centers may influence cardiovascular centers and hence bring about the changes in heart rate variability
REVIEW by Amy Weintraub
Poems of Awakening, Betsy Small, ed.
Poems of AwakeningThis inspiring collection of what editor Betsy Small calls “spiritual poetry,” contains some of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott, May Sarton, Elizabeth Spires and Jane Hirshfield. But it is a gift to also discover new poems that speak to the heart of what it means to awaken in every sense of the word.
In the introduction, Small introduces us to a blissful moment of her own awakening on a beach while collecting rocks. “Why would I want to own these rocks, if they are already a part of me and I am a part of them?” Small was inspired to begin this collection gathering poems that inspired and supported her awakening when her yoga teacher read a poem that drew her back to that moment on the beach.
The poems are gathered from every tradition, including the most secular and unaffiliated. What unites them is the poet’s authentic journey home to Self, be it through the present moment of the body or the limitless connection to unbounded reality. Each of the seven chapters that are here called “sets,” from the first grounding in the physicality of the present, “My Body Effervesces” to the final, “All Surrounding Grace,” begins with ancient poems and moves forward through time. These are poems to savor and to share with your students, your clients, and your beloveds.
REVIEW by Amy Weintraub
Chill Children: Guided Relaxation with Global Family Yoga (CD) by Mira Binzen
Chill ChildrenThis CD includes seven short visualizations spoken by Mira Binzen. The practices are based on yoga nidra and will guide children and their families into deep states of relaxation. In my favorite of the seven, Binzen uses the image of starlight that travels around the body creating a warm glow. Each time the point of light lands on the body, there is a light chime, as though Tinkerbelle has alighted. There are other special sound effects, including children laughing in Dead Bug pose and birdsong in “True Nature.” Binzen’s voice is strong and reassuring throughout as she instructs her young listeners to, “ask your family to join you or ask them not to disturb you” and provides options for practice times like before homework. The last relaxation is “Goodnight,” and it’s an ideal track to play after the bedtime story, if you or your child are still awake.
REVIEW by Amy Weintraub
Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness by James Baraz with Shoshana Alexander
Awakening JoySince 2003, James Baraz has supported thousands of people worldwide, who struggle with a myriad of challenges, to see their way through suffering to the joy that is also their birthright. In his new book, he tells a few of their stories and invites you into the Awakening Joy course that has changed their lives. Each chapter is a step toward a greater sense of fulfillment. Baraz, who has been teaching meditation since 1978 and is a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, is no Pollyanna. He doesn’t deny suffering but offers a wider lens from which to view it and that bigger perspective also includes happiness. “Dealing with sorrow wisely when it comes is one of the essential practice themes of the Awakening Joy Course,” he says, and it’s also an important theme of this book.
Baraz looks at joy from many directions, including how fundamental it is to religion. Here he quotes Rabbi Nachman of Breslove (1772-1810), “Joy is not incidental to the spiritual experience. It is vital.”
The book is an inspiring manual of timeless Buddhist practices informed by modern psychology and brain science. Awakening Joy is also a compilation of the thoughtful writings of noted psychologists and teachers who teach in the Awakening Joy course. For example, Baraz quotes Rick Hanson, one of the guest teachers and author of Buddha’s Brain, one of the best and most accessible books on psychology and brain science I’ve read (reviewed in Newsletter #25). In this section, Hanson describes how our brains gravitate to what might be threatening or negative in a situation, as a means of protection. It’s how we survive. “Because our brain is set up to be wary, we have to help ourselves toward happiness by inclining our attention to positive experiences by consciously intending to do so. Through conscious attention you can gradually build up a storehouse of positive experiences to neutralize the negative ones.” The book and the course teach us how to do that, step by step. The foundation of each step and of the entire course is the practice of mindfulness. The course and the book teach us the importance of attuning to the present moment and provide a prescription for doing it.
As author and meditation teacher Jack Kornfield says in the Foreward, “You hold in your hands a book that can change your life.” Once it’s in your hands, you will likely want to sign up for the next on-line and on-site course to meet Baraz and the many guest teachers who contribute to Awakening Joy. www.awakeningjoy.info/index.html
REVIEW by Rose Kress
Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now by Lama Surya Das
Buddha Standard TimeHow often do you find yourself wishing that there was just one more hour in the day so that you could get things done? It feels as though we have so much on our plates and so little time to get it done. Not so, says Lama Surya Das. It is not that we do not have enough time, it is how we fill our time. Many of us feel overwhelmed at all we have on our to-do lists, so we compensate by multi-tasking. We answer emails, while talking on the phone, eating a snack and watching the television–not one task gets our full attention and as a result we cannot remember what the person on the phone just asked us to do. Buddha Standard Time promises to “teach you to wean yourself from the addictions that sap time and energy, to clear out all the debris and distractions” because the better you can manage your mind, the less time (or the lack thereof) has a hold on you.
At first glance, one might wonder where you will get the free time to practice a little bit of meditation in our already over-filled days. Current research tells us that when we set aside time for a meditation practice we have more focus and less stress during the day. For example, Lama Surya Das offers Full Connection Meditation – breaking yourself “out of the trance by doing one physical task with focused attention, wholly and completely, while letting go of absolutely everything else.” That might mean practicing Yoga without distraction, or taking a walk without listening to music, or exercising at the gym without watching the television. It may seem a little daunting at first, but think of the clarity of thought that will come when the mind is given time to relax and not think.
There are eight easy to read and understand chapters in this book, from “Awakening to Natural Time,” to “The Spinning Wheel of Time.” Each chapter contains Mindful Moments, clear advice or practices that you can weave into your day to transform your relationship with time, and Time Out meditations, simple pauses in your daily life. Lama Surya Das includes stories that illustrate the message of each chapter as well as current research that relates to meditation. You do not need to be a Buddhist, or know anything about Buddhism to be inspired by the wisdom and the tools contained within these pages. Even just reading this book, I began to feel stress melting away and a renewed commitment to finding more focus, fulfillment and creativity in my life.