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We call the heart of the formal meditation practice “sitting meditation” or simply “sitting.” As with breathing, sitting is not foreign to anyone. We all sit, nothing special about that. But mindful sitting is different from ordinary sitting in the same way that mindful breathing is different from ordinary breathing. The difference, of course, is your awareness.
To practice sitting, we make a special time and place for non-doing. We consciously adopt an alert and relaxed body posture so that we can feel relatively comfortable without moving, and then we reside with calm acceptance in the present without trying to fill it with anything. You have already tried this in the various exercises in which you have watched your breathing.
It helps a lot to adopt an erect and dignified posture, with your head, neck, and back aligned vertically. This allows the breath to flow most easily. It is also the physical counterpart of the inner attitudes of self-reliance, self-acceptance, and alert attention that we are cultivating.
We usually practice the sitting meditation either on a chair or on the floor. If you choose a chair, the ideal is to use one that has a straight back and that allows your feet to be flat on the floor. We often recommend that if possible you sit away from the back of the chair so that you spine is self-supporting (see Figure A). But if you have to, leaning against the back of the chair is also fine. If you choose to sit on the floor, do so on firm, thick cushion which raises your buttocks off the floor three to six inches (a pillow folded over once or twice does nicely; or you can purchase a meditation cushion, or zafu, specifically for sitting).
There are a number of cross-legged sitting postures and kneeling postures that some people use when they sit on the floor. The one I use most is the so-called “Burmese” posture (see Figure B), which involves drawing one heel in close to the body and draping the other leg in front of it. Depending on how flexible your hips and knees and ankles are, your knees may or may not be touching the floor. It is somewhat more comfortable when they are. Others use a kneeling posture, placing the cushion between the feet.
Whether you choose the floor or a chair, posture is very important in meditation practice. It can be an outward support in cultivating an inner attitude of dignity, patience, and self- acceptance. The main points to keep in mind about your posture are to try to keep the back, neck, and head aligned in the vertical, to relax the shoulders, and to do something comfortable with your hands. Usually we place them on the knees or we rest them in the lap with the fingers of the left hand above the fingers of the right and the tips of the thumbs just touching each other.
When we have assumed the posture we have selected, we bring our attention to our breathing. We feel it come in, we feel it go out. We dwell in the present, moment by moment, breath by breath. It sounds simple, and it is. Full awareness on the inbreath, full awareness on the outbreath. Letting the breath just happen, observing it, feeling all the sensations, gross and subtle, associated with it.
It is simple but it is not easy. You can probably sit in front of a TV set or in a car on a trip for hours without giving it a thought. But when you try sitting in your house with nothing to watch but your breath, your body and your mind, with nothing to entertain you and no place to go, the first thing you will probably notice is that at least part of you doesn’t want to stay at this for
very long. After perhaps a minute or two or three or four, either the body or the mind will have
had enough and will demand something else, either to shift to some other posture or to do something else entirely. This is inevitable.
It is at this point that the work of self-observation gets particularly interesting and fruitful. Normally every time the mind moves, the body follows. If the mind is restless, the body is restless. If the mind wants a drink, the body goes to the kitchen sink or the refrigerator. If the mind says, “This is boring,” then before you know it, the body is up and looking around for the next thing to do to keep the mind happy. It also works the other way around. If the body feels the slightest discomfort, it will shift to be more comfortable or it will call on the mind to find something else for it to do, and again, you will be standing up literally before you know it.
If you are genuinely committed to being more peaceful and relaxed, you might wonder why it is that your mind is so quick to be bored with being with itself and why your body is so restless and uncomfortable. You might wonder what is behind your impulses to fill each moment with something; what is behind your need to be entertained whenever you have an “empty” moment, to jump up and get going, to get back to doing and being busy? What drives the body and mind to reject being still?
In practicing meditation we don’t try to answer such questions. Rather we just observe the impulse to get up or the thoughts that come into the mind. And instead of jumping up and doing whatever the mind decides is next on the agenda, we gently but firmly bring our attention back to the belly and to the breathing and just continue to watch the breath, moment by moment. We may ponder why the mind is like this for a moment or two, but basically we are practicing accepting each moment as it is without reacting to how it is.
By doing so you are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable. You are making each moment count. You are taking each moment as it comes, not valuing any one above any other. In this way you are cultivating your natural ability to concentrate your mind. By repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath each time it wanders off, concentration builds and deepens, much as muscles develop by repetitively lifting weights. Working regularly with (not struggling against) the resistance of your own mind builds inner strength. At the same time you are also developing patience and practicing being non-judgmental. You are not giving yourself a hard time because your mind left the breath. You simply and matter-of-factly return it to the breath, gently but firmly.
Meditation does not involve pushing thoughts away or walling yourself off from them to quiet your mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts as they cascade through the mind. We are simply making room for them, observing them as thoughts, and letting them be, using the breath as our anchor or “home base” for observing, for reminding us to stay focused and calm.
© 1990 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living
Like breathing meditation, walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness and awareness. It can be practiced regularly, before or after sitting meditation or any time on its own, such as after a busy day at work or on a lazy Sunday morning. The art of walking meditation is to learn to be aware as you walk, to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence
Select a quiet place where you can walk comfortable back and forth, indoors or out, about ten to thirty paces in length. Begin by standing at one end of this “walking path” with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Let your hands rest easily, wherever they are comfortable. Close your eyes for a moment, center yourself and feel your body standing on the earth. Feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet and the other natural sensations of standing. Then open your eyes and let yourself be present and alert.
Begin to walk slowly. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease and dignity. Pay attention to your body. With each step, feel the sensations of lifting your foot and leg off the earth. Be aware as you place each foot on the earth. Relax and let your walking be easy and natural. Feel each step mindfully as you walk. When you reach the end of your path, pause for a moment. Center yourself, carefully turn around, pause again so that you can be aware of the first step as you walk back. You can experiment with the speed, walking at whatever pace keeps you most present.
Continue to walk back and forth for ten or twenty minutes or longer. As with the breath in sitting, your mind will wander away many, many times. As soon as you notice this, acknowledge where it went softly: “wandering,” “thinking,” “hearing, “planning.” Then, return to feel the next step. Like training the puppy, you will need to come back a thousand times. Whether you have been away for one second or for ten minutes, simple acknowledge where you have been and then come back to being alive here and now with the next step you take.
After some practice with walking meditation, you will learn to use it to calm and collect yourself and to live more wakefully in your body. You can then extend your walking practice to an informal way when you go shopping, whenever you walk down the street or walk to from your car. You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of the usual planning and thinking and, in this simple way, begin to be truly present, to bring your body, heart and mind together as you move through your life.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in April confirmed that yoga and a form of meditation known as Kirtan Kriya improved brain functioning by increasing connectivity, improving memory, and decreasing mood aberration.
Over the course of twelve weeks adults - age fifty-five+, who reported mild anxiety about their memory and showed some mild cognitive impairment - focused on improving brain function. For one hour a week, one group of fourteen attended a Kundalini yoga class, a beginner-level form of yoga focused on breathing exercises and meditation.
For fifteen minutes each day, they practiced a form of meditation known as Kirtan Kriya, the repeating of sounds combined with repetitive hand movements. The “brain game” group of eleven attended an hour a week of classroom instruction in a well established brain-training program and spent fifteen minutes a day performing a series of mental exercises designed to bolster their brain functioning.
Both groups showed improved communication in the regions of the brain involved in memory and language, but those who practiced yoga also showed more activity in the regions involved in the brain’s ability to focus and to multitask. The yoga group showed a statistically significant improvement in mood and visuospatial memory performance, reflecting increased connectivity and improved verbal memory.
IMPROVE BRAIN FUNCTIONING WITH KIRTAN KRIYA
The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, has been studying the effects yoga meditation has on the brain and discovered (confirmed, really) that a certain form of yoga meditation, known as Kirtan Kriya, can have immediate, long-term positive benefits for the brain. Practicing this simple twelve-minute yoga meditation has been shown to bring about the following benefits:
How Does Kirtan Kriya Work?
According to yogi practitioners, Kirtan Kriya meditation stimulates all of your senses and the areas of the brain associated with them. The use of the tongue stimulates the eighty-four acupuncture meridian points on the roof of the mouth, sending a signal to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and other areas of the brain. The dense nerve endings in the fingertips, lips, and tongue activate the motor and sensory areas of the brain. Using the fingertips to accompany the sounds activates the occipital lobe of the brain, which improves vision (as in “having a vision”) or clarity of purpose—short- and long-term. Like all meditation, this practice can have powerful and positive effects on brain function.
Instructions for Performing Kirtan Kriya
Variations exist, but here’s a simple meditation you can do at home:
When you’ve completed the exercise, inhale deeply, drawing air into your lungs, stretch your arms and hands above your head (gently stretch your spine), and then lower them down each side, in a sweeping motion, as you exhale.
Don’t be discouraged if it feels incredibly awkward at first. Over time, your coordination will dramatically improve, and you’ll likely find yourself looking forward to these meditation sessions as a way to start, or refresh, your mind, body, and spirit.
NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE - Written by Susan Reynolds, the author of Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer. She also coauthored Train Your Brain to Get Happy, and Train Your Brain to Get Rich.
Edited by Amritari Martinez
A TECHNIQUE TO HELP ELIMINATE NEGATIVITY FROM THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
- GAN PUTTEE KRIYA
MEDITATION TECHNIQUE TO HELP STABILIZE A HEALTHY SENSE OF SELF IDENTITY
This is a perfect meditation for people who are lost in their neurosis and psychosis and with their sense of self and identity-the condition that manifests when a person becomes delusional. This technique helps to establish a healthy state of mental stability and is most appropriate for the schizophrenic with a weakened identity who is questioning the deep self.)
Sit in chair or on floor with straight spine. Both arms are raised out to the sides and the elbows are bent at 90 degree angles so that the forearms are pointing straight up. (See figure p. 70) The hands face forward. The eyes are open and focused at the tip of the nose (the end point that you cannot see). The mantra “Humee Hum Brahm Hum” is chanted. The mantra is most effective when it is chanted to the rhythm in a CD (Humee Hum and Peace and Tranquility, Kaur, Nirinian). In rhythm with the mantra, touch the top of your head with the left hand while chanting “Humee hum” and blessing yourself. Then return to the original position while chanting “Brahn Hum.” The meditation is continued for 11 minutes. To end the technique, inhale through the nose, hold the breath, and tighten the spine, and also stiffen only the left hand. Pull the energy of the spine into the left hand. Then exhale and repeat the breath holding and tightening two more times, and then relax. In part, the intention with this technique is to also learn to become kind, humble, helpful, and compassionate.
YOGIC PROTOCALS FOR TREATING SCHIZOPHRENIA AND OTHER PSYCHOTIC DISORDERS
These meditations can be found in these books written by David Shannahoff-Khalsa:
Sacred Therapies: The Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Hand Book for Mental Health (2012)
Kundalini Yoga Meditation: Techniques Specific for Psychiatric Disorders, Couples Therapy and Personal Growth (2006)
Kundalini Yoga Meditations for Complex Psychiatric Disorders: Techniques Specific for Treating Psychosis, Personality, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders ( 2010)
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