Category Archives: meditation

What we do once yoga becomes second nature

Carry your mindfulness with you: digital aids to practice

Photo: a relaxed hand rests on a knee during meditation
Meditation does not always have take place cross-legged in a quiet place.

I am a guy who has woven technology and mindfulness practices together in my life for the past decade. The Web and podcasts have opened the door to scores of dharma talks and guided meditations from some of the greatest teachers in the world: Tara Brach happens to be my favorite. I’ve been intrigued by the prospects of shrinking mindfulness to my smartphone and have added a few apps, but have never been completely satisfied. Carolyn Gregoire has pulled together a nice collections of phone apps and web services to augment your personal practice or take it in a new direction, and some of them look ready to take apps beyond promise and novelty.

These Digital Meditation Tools Can Be Your Gateway To A Calmer, More Effective Life.
Meditation, an ancient practice of calming the mind, would seem to be incompatible with modern technology, with its emphasis on speed and connectivity. But as more and more Americans have embraced meditation as an antidote to hyper-connected lives, the world of technology has joined the movement. The result is a growing field of meditation tools — from apps and podcasts to timers and online classes — and a growing acknowledgment that, paradoxically, technology can help us to turn inward, still our minds, and shut out the many distractions around us.

Most of these services are free or carry a modest charge. It will be interesting to see how these services develop and change because we just at the start-up phase of adapting an ancient discipline to modern means.

Gregoire adds a story about social trends leading towards interest in mindfulness: Why 2014 Will Be The Year Of Mindful Living.

A compact for a new personal interface to life

Photo: hands held in yoga mudra
The mudra (thumb to pointer finger) is held in standing position.

I have struck a bargain with myself—a new compact to simplify my personal priorities.

  1. I will meditate twice a day for 20 minutes, minimum. I may cut myself some slack if I have a yoga class or have a complication, but the morning sit has to be a blood vow. Aside from exercise (yoga), this is the most important thing that I can do for myself according to the most recent scientific research.
  2. I will pause three (OK, maybe two) beats before speaking and take a more thoughtful pace when speaking as a way of being more present in the moment, listening to both my counterpart in the conversation and my own internal dialogue. The idea is to create some “space” where I can be more aware and attentive in the present moment and not be led astray by my own tendency to get lost in a stream of words, fragments, tangents and monologues. In a way, it is a continuation from meditation practice.
  3. I will slow down my yoga practice by taking restorative, yin or nidra yoga classes as often as feasible, and also continue my home restorative practice. Even my hatha or vinyasa classes should be done as slowly as possible. I need to soften my exterior armor and open up, which will come with greater vulnerability.

I make these three commitments because I’ve had time to think about some questions about the basics: How do I improve my quality of life? How do I engage the outside world? How do I sketch out my interface with the world (geek speak here, as in user interface, the mechanisms to manage software or hardware). Rather than resort to what might be typical tactics of self-improvement (become a vegetarian, learn to play a musical instrument, become a better public speaker), I want to get down to even more fundamental issues.

During my yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga, I became aware that there is a big difference between my packaging  and my essential core (what lies underneath my thick skin, calluses, scars, knots, kinks, ticks, reflex reactions, open wounds, hardened muscles and fascia, and the stories that I tell myself). Part of the challenge of living wholeheartedly is breaking through all that external armor mounted over decades so that I open up a window into the core chamber of my being.

Mindfulness as an instrument to hone attention

We could all stand to pay attention with more regularity, but that requires you to actually notice when you’re wired. Now at least one university class is making students more aware of their mental habits.

The Chronicle of Higher Education You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help: “The e-mail drill was one of numerous mind-training exercises in a unique class designed to raise students’ awareness about how they use their digital tools. Colleges have experimented with short-term social-media blackouts in the past. But Ms. Hill’s course, ‘Information and Contemplation,’ goes way further. Participants scrutinize their use of technology: how much time they spend with it, how it affects their emotions, how it fragments their attention. They watch videos of themselves multitasking and write guidelines for improving their habits. They also practice meditation—during class—to sharpen their attention.”

And as an added bonus, here’s a recent New York Times article, In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds along the same lines. Both articles have some useful links to other resources.

There’s another article, Why Mindfulness and Meditation Are Good for Business out of the Wharton School of Business, which is an extended interview with Katherine Klein, vice-dean of Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative. There is also an audio file for download.

I also came across this More than Sound: art and science of the mind, which brings together a lot of like-minded people and products (audios, books, podcasts). It’s worth some time to explore the full span of resources.

Kabat-Zinn reminds us

Los Angeles Times Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not

Practices such as meditation, yoga or Eastern martial arts can aid the process, but mindfulness is fundamentally an “acceptance” or “coming to terms with things as they are,” not in the sense of passive resignation but active awareness, says Kabat-Zinn.

Although this article from October does not break new ground — the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) approach is well known — but Kabat-Zinn’s insistence on mindfulness not being a spiritual or religious experience is germane to the public discussion about all these exotic practices taking over the American mind. He’s so clear in how he opens up the discussion by suspending the more traditional terms for defining the experience. I’m going to have to re-read one of his books (well, maybe an article or a chapter).

Blissed out

Photo: hands in prayer
Anjali mudra in prepration for another vinyasa

I went to IMCW  tonight with Teresa. Tara Brach gave the dharma talk. As always, she dealt out wisdom as if she was dealing cards — and I filled out a flush.

But what was evern more compeling for me was the feeling that I had when I sat down in the balcony of the River Road Unitarian Church in Potomac. It was as if I settled into a safe place and all my pschological armor fell away from me. I did not go to the dharma talk with any specific objective. I was simply seeking a sanctuary where I could close my eyes, focus on my breath and let whatever was going to happen happen.

The other point to bring up is that BuddhaFest is quickly approaching, June 17-20 at the American University campus. Films, talks and meditation are all going to take place.

However, Matt, my son the photographer,  will have the opening night of an exhibit of his art collective in DC on Friday evening, and I would not miss that — even for the Dalai Lama. That means I won’t be able to take in Tara and Lama Surya Das’s tag team teaching on love, understandng and freedom at BuddhaFest.  Facts and Fictions will include a selection from the seven members of the Sparkplug collective and show for the whole month.

The importance of listening

Photo: arms across lower chestI went to the Wednesday evening dharma talk at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. Tara Brach led the group in several rounds of meditation. Every time I’ve heard her speak, I’ve struck by how she always manages to deliver a message that is extraordinarily meaningful to me. That evening, she spoke about the importance of listening, opening our ears, indeed the whole body, to awareness of what’s going on around us. Listening is the first step towards being mindful about the present. Tara’s words struck a cord with me because my father is increasingly impaired in hearing and I’ve experienced how this isolation is walling him off from his family, his community, the world around him. I came away from the session with a commitment to find a way to break through to my father so that he gives in to buying a new hearing aid.

This was my first time, though I know several of the IMCW teachers, like Hugh Byrne, who I know from Flow Yoga Center. I’d been meaning to go to one of IMCW’s classes or dharma talks for some time. Since my wife is off in Peru and I take the car to the Metro everyday, it’s easy to go to the IMCW Wednesday evening session in Potomac, instead of heading home. It just means that I get home close to 10 pm. There must have been 300-plus people at the Wednesday session, and parking was a hassle.

I highly recommend the IMCW dharma talk archive. Whenever I’ve felt the need for a dose of mindfulness, like during the February snow storm, I turn to Tara’s talks. These weekly talks and meditations, mainly of Brach, but also of guest speakers, go back until 2006. If you listen to an audio file, I encourage you to make a donation to IMCW’s work.

Getting grounded in seated position

Photo: Seated in meditation As part of my intention of “not working so hard” at my yoga, I’ve been practicing more seated poses, usually cross-legged Easy Pose (Sukhasana). In the evenings, I get up from my computer and take a seat on a zafu cushion in the middle of my study. I’ll listen to some music, read or simply rest my attention on my body. I don’t necessarily intend to meditate, but it often moves in that direction. Sometimes, I will transition into yoga nidra or a restorative pose as a release from being seated more than 15-20 minutes.

I notice that it takes a while to sink into the seated posture. It feels different after 10 minutes, and not just because my legs are losing sensation. I start working through my musculature, which is pretty substantial, lots of thick muscles working all day to keep me upright and moving. It takes time to get through the resistance and “touch bottom.” By the end, I feel that I’m resting more on my sit bones than on the muscles. I also notice a change in my breathing as my upper torso (rib cage, diaphragm, solar plexus, thoracic spine) gains freedom from the lower half.

Obviously, if I lived in a non-Western culture, I would be spending a lot more time seated on the floor and the uniqueness of what I experience on the zafu would be routine.

One benefit I find so far is that it makes for much sounder sleep. Because I am really working my core in seated Easy Pose, my torso and thighs are really grateful for the relief of lying doing. I’ve exerted a lot of effort holding the upright position without really working up a sweat or increased aerobic activity. I sense that it bleeds off a lot of the nervous energy that builds up during the day.

Christmas Day Thoughts

The Holiday season is a disruptive time. Routines are thrown to the wind. Even though I’ve been off work, I have not been able to fit yoga classes in since last Friday, a full week. The blizzard locked us in for two days, and then I was too sore to go to class on Monday. My wife has been using the car a lot so that pins me in the house, especially with the heavy snow and messy streets. And when I do have the car, I need to run my own errands to the stores or visit my parents. Because my daughter is coming back home to live, it’s been doubly hard to clean up for the festivities. All the boxes (for storage, donations, and logistics) get hidden in my new office space.

Last night, after our guests left and my wife went to bed, I cleared out a spot in the middle of my office space and sat in meditation for about 20 minutes and then did an extended yoga nidra session. No special intention, just the need to find some stillness and dwell in it for a while. I got off my mat, went to bed and was asleep in seconds. I’ll have to remember that trick the next time I can’t seem to turn off the mental overdrive in the evening.

In any case, I want to wish all visitors to this site “Happy Holidays and a Prosperous New Year.” May you all find renewal and faith in the stillness that comes in the wake of celebration and fellowship.

GoogleTalks on the Path to Enlightened Science

I had been meaning to point to GoogleTalks as a fabulous source of videos of interesting people talking about interesting things. Today, I chanced across this video Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Richard J. Davidson at the Google Campus in California, just a few weeks ago, September 23. Davidson has been the academic research pointman for the contemplative sciences, and I’ve mentioned him in the blog before. His new research center is Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. Here he speaks about the latest work in that field. Be advised that he can slip into neuroscience geek speak on a few slides but he quickly switches back to plain English.

Google has thrown itself behind some ideas that have nothing to do with Internet search, advertising or computer sciences. Scores of insightful people are brought to speak about their work for the betterment of the staff, and these chats are made available online to the general public. This list below is not comprehensive and there are other interesting chats in other areas of personal development.