JOIN SUSAN & JENNIFER ROSE FOR A WEEKLY SUNDAY MORNING COMMUNITY MEDITATION CLASS. 9:00am-9:45 am This class will offer a variety of approaches and styles in order to make the practice of meditation accessible to everyone. The practice also include gentle asana (movement), pranayama (breathwork), mudra (energy seals) and chanting.
My first experience with meditation was through my Grandmother, who maintained a strong daily meditation practice. She even had a small room in her house with a beautiful stained glass oval skylight dedicated to her meditation practice. She tried to convince me that if I meditated daily, it would change my life. So did I start my own practice way back then? Heck NO!
It wasn’t until much later in my life, when I attended yoga teacher training at Mount Madonna that I began my journey into meditation. How I wish I had heeded my grandmother’s advice long ago. It indeed would have changed my life then as it has now.
So what exactly is meditation?
Meditation, Dhyana, is the 7th limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – an 8-fold path which explains the foundations of yoga. Verse 3.2 defines Dhyana, meditation as a “one directional flow of presented ideas relative to a single object of concentration.” It is the natural progression from the 6th limb of yoga, Dharana, or concentration, on to the ultimate goal of yoga, which is samadhi, bliss.
Meditation is quieting all the wandering thoughts that hijack your mind so that you can focus 100% of your attention on one object, in most instances the object is your breath, but it can also be an external object such as a candle or picture of a deity.
The Mahabharata (one of India’s great national epics)describes a yogin meditating as:
“He does not hear; he does not smell, neither does he taste nor see, nor experience touch; likewise, the mind ceases to imagine. He desires nothing, and like a log he does not think. Then the sages call him “yoked” – one who has reached nature.”
This is your brain on meditation
With modern technology, scientists have been able to “look” inside our brains to “see” what exactly is happening to us when we meditate. Beta waves or rhythms are used to measure the frequency of activity in the human brain. There are Low Beta Waves, Beta Waves and High Beta Waves. Low beta waves with varying frequencies are often associated with the so-called monkey mind – active, busy, or anxious thinking and active concentration. When we meditate, low beta waves have been shown to decrease, thus decreasing the activity going on in the brain.
As I am no brain specialist, I’ll let neuroscientist Joe Martino explain:
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.
The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.
As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.
So meditation actually and physically slows down the thoughts in the mind. To me, this is the scientific explanation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 – Yogash Chitta vritti nirodhah- Control of the thought waves in the mind is yoga – (translation per Baba Hari Dass.)
Benefits of Meditation and Effects on Health
- When we meditate, we bring our attention right here, right now. Since our mind is not jumping from subject to subject, we are better able to focus our attention on what is occurring in the present moment. This ability to focus actually continues through the day even when we are not meditating.
- We switch from the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight mode) to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest & digest mode) allowing us to be less reactive and calmer with less anxiety. We are better able to handle crisis situations or even normal everyday situations.
- We are better able to handle stress. Not only does a regular meditation practice prevent stress from getting into our systems, it also releases accumulated stress that is already in our systems. It helps to relax the connections between certain neural pathways thus helping us to change the patterns of thinking that we have accumulated over our lifetimes.
- Meditation can help with loss of memory as we get older. Studies on the brain have shown that the Hippocampus, the major long-term memory storage center, and the frontal brain lobe, the short-term memory storage center, both light up during meditation. By working your memory muscle in meditation, the amount of gray matter increases. In other words your information storage mechanisms increase, allowing your brain retain the ability to store new memories now, and as you age. It can also help you recall memories that you thought you had lost. That’s good news to me with a history of dementia in my family.
- With the mind cleared of all the unnecessary, negative and self-derogatory thoughts, the mind is open to more creative thoughts.
- Although the activity in the parietal lobe (see above) -which is connected with a part of the brain that creates empathy- has slowed, studies have shown this has led to more compassion towards others.
So how do we start meditation?
Meditation is a skill that is developed over time. It usually doesn’t just happen on your first attempt-not to normal people anyway! It takes practice. Beginners often get discouraged when they can’t just sit down and “clear their mind”. That is a really difficult thing to do. So, you sit, or lay down (but don’t fall asleep!). Get comfortable. Go to a quiet place somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and just watch what happens. The first step is to just watch. Try and focus on your breath. When thoughts start coming up in your mind, you let them pass by and don’t get involved with them. But! Often times those thoughts come up for a reason. Sometimes they are the very things you need to work on. Sometimes things that you need to face, but would just really rather not. Every time you catch your mind wandering, you just bring it back to your breath. Start with one to five minutes. Whatever you can handle. Gradually over time it will get easier. And remember, it may be years before you can “clear your mind” and find emptiness. But through the journey, transformation begins.
GONG BATH???……. What’s that all about?
You may have read in our newsletter or noticed our flyers about the Breathing Vibrations Workshops that Ruben Vasquez and Travis Lacey have been hosting over the past couple of months. Those who have been fortunate enough to experience the workshop have rave reviews. But what exactly is it and what does it actually do in the body?
What to expect
Our typical workshop begins with Ruben leading us through some insightful breathing exercises (everyone especially liked the blowing bubbles!) to help us get into our breath and to prepare the body for the meditation and the vibrations that will be experienced through the gong. (Check out our video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH6Xb9eK0fE ) Then we get really comfortable-with bolsters and blankets, eye pillows, whatever it takes for us to feel completely safe, spoiled and supported. Travis then works his magic (and he IS quite magical) with the gong for about 50 minutes. The vibrations felt in the body continue to resonate, even after the gong bath ends, so we remain in savasana for about 10 more minutes.
What is sound vibration all about?
As Marian Kraus explains:
“Virtually everything on Earth vibrates. The planet itself vibrates. All matter consists of atomic material, which is in constant motion. Motion is manifested in everything within the Universe – nothing is at rest – everything moves, vibrates, spins and circles. This motion generates frequencies, which then generate sound. Whether we hear it, everything has a sound, a vibration all its own. The velocity (frequency) of the movement determines the specific sound. All organisms on this planet use vibration, a.k.a. energy, as the primary means of communication. Because all organisms are made out of atoms and molecules, you and I and every living thing are radiating energy, vibes.”
What does it do to our bodies?
So, our bodies are vibrating constantly on a cellular level, by frequencies we can hear and by frequencies we are unable to hear. The vibrations travel through the vagus nerve to the deepest levels of our existence-bones, skin, cells, tissues, right down to our DNA- and stimulate the alpha and theta brain waves associated with deep meditative and peaceful states that assist in the healing process. The gong raises an individuals’ vibratory frequency, transforming and restoring our natural state of balance as cells can only be in one mode or another – growth (transformation) or protection (fear).
Most of us live in a constant state of stress that activates our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode), causing our bodies to release hormones- cortisol and adrenaline – resulting in increased heartbeat, unstable and shallow breathing and a general feeling of alert and possibly disharmony throughout our system. Long-term stress imbalances prevent activation of our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), reducing our ability to heal and fight disease and decreasing our immune system’s ability to function properly, leaving us open to a plethora of health issues.
In fact, if you are out of balance, or are having a physical problem, sometimes, the vibration of the gong will initially intensify the pain. This actually happened to me with a shoulder issue. During my first gong experience, my problem shoulder began to throb and I went into protective mode, actually inhibiting the vibrational healing. On my second experience, after Travis had explained how the gong healing process works, I allowed the gong to work through my shoulder rather than reacting against it. This is why Travis explains that if you fall asleep during a gong session, it’s not a bad thing. When you are asleep, your brain is more open to accepting the healing process rather than rejecting it.
The powerful effect of the gong coaxes the nervous system out of the sympathetic and into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest); facilitates the movement of prana (life force energy) in the body; and releases tension and stress which allows the tissues in your body to harmonize and vibrate at your optimal personal frequency. Participants often find that they sleep quite well after a gong bath. As with other detoxifying practices, it is a good idea to hydrate well after the session.
Are you curious? Come and try it for yourself.