Tag Archives: mindfulness

Mindfulness in museums and sensuous overflow

The Phillips Collection is introducing a mindful approach to accessing the art work on display there:

Washington PostAt the Phillips Collection, viewing art through mindful meditation:
As with traditional yoga practice, the mindful viewing program focuses on breathing and its restorative power, says Kanter, who teaches at Yoga District in D.C. and Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slowing down the breath, noticing and deepening the breath,” she says, can trigger “your relax-and-renew response. When you can mindfully attune to your breath and start to influence it, you trigger deep changes in your body. So that immediately has an impact on how you feel.”

The new approach benefited from yoga therapist Elizabeth Lakshmi Kanter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the program available via a smart phone app. Many European museums already hand out headsets that provide information and commentary in the language of the visitor, but I did not notice any mindful tones in the narration of the headsets that I used.

Proponents of mindfulness have long emphasized the power of breath in managing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breathing more slowly,” says Klia Bassing, a mindfulness meditation instructor and founder of Visit Yourself at Work, a stress-reduction program based in the District. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the immediate experience, such as contemplating a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bassing. “A body at nervousness will stay at nervousness.” (Does using a cellphone as a medium for mindfulness disrupt the mindful moment? Not necessarily, says Bassing: “It’s still effective in bringing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)

Photo: tourist crowd in from on Michelangelo's Pietà
The crush of tourists at major museums makes it hard to appreciate the art work.

I could have used more than a mindfulness app when Teresa and I were trotting through museums during our recent trip to Europe. We were there in September and early October when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thousands of multinational tourists are being herded through the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You almost feel bad when lingering in front of a particular art piece because you’re holding up others.

Of course, you can develop plenty of mindfulness while waiting in long queues to buy tickets, get in the front door or get passed security.

You can only take in so much visual input and stimulus, especially at the major European museums that flaunt their riches with national pride. During our trip, there were several moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feasting on Impressionist artists all morning, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the overpowering brilliance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emotional overflow spill into the river.

Photo: vaulted, glass roof of Orsay Museum, Paris
The interior of Paris’s Orsay Museum

Yoga as medicine gets a bad review

Brian Palmer is Slate‘s chief explainer and tackles the claims that yoga is medicine for many medical conditions.

Slate Does therapeutic yoga work? The best studies say no, but they don’t get much press..
Doctors eventually realized—most of them, at least—that prayer didn’t fit well into a clinical trial. Yoga doesn’t, either. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do yoga. By all means, do yoga, pray, and eat lemons, if those things bring you contentment. Do yoga especially if it’s your preferred form of exercise—exercise is a health intervention supported by thousands of clinical trials. But recognize the “yoga as medicine” craze for what it is: an indicator of the zeitgeist, not a scientific discovery.

I’ve commented on the trend towards prescribing yoga for all kinds of ills and flaws. Much of it goes back to the inception of modern yoga in India when its early advocates wanted to validate yoga within a Western, medicalized framework. In the States, the application of yoga as a therapeutic tool has also help it makes inroads into mainstream culture. There’s been a lot of bad science done around yoga therapy, which has compounded the problem. It’s hard to run standardized, double-blind studies on a massive scale on a practice that should be tailored to individual bodies.

But I also think that all this talk about yoga addressing medical conditions is wrongheaded. The practice of yoga is aimed at wellness, the holistic utilization regulation and balancing of bodily systemic functions (myofascial, neurological, circulatory, lymphatic, and others). You could focus a session exclusively on lower back pain, but the asanas and vinyasas would not affect just the lower back, but the whole body. The effects would be accumulative over time, not something like a round of antibiotics. In addition, yoga addresses mental states that Western-style exercise ignores and have a huge impact on well-being.

This article is the latest wave of skepticism about yoga, mindfulness and other things vaguely New Agish. You should also check out The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda by Evgeny Morozov, a senior editor at The New Republic. He’s actually talking about another trend, the recommendation that people should unplug from their stress-inducing devices because Western society is too hyper-wired and needs to stop multitasking. The mindfulness thing gets lumped in because unplug advocates frequently cite that mind state as the counterweight to multitasking.

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.

Yoga and its application in health and wellness

Photo: ornamental shrine in bronze, India
Siddha Pratima Yantra, Western India, dated 1333 (Samvat 1390) Bronze, 21.9 x 13.1 x 8.9 cm Freer Gallery of Art, F1997.33

The next major event of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit is the Medical Yoga Symposium to take place on the weekend of January 11-12, 2014. The first day with the theme of “Discovery and Didactics: Professional Perspectives and Personal Stories” will be in the Meyer Auditorium at the Freer-Sackler Gallery while the second day (Master Classes, Experiential Workshops,  3-hour intensives and Discussions ) will take place at the Marvin Center of the George Washington University. Participants should be prepared to get down on the mat.

The event will be led by a lot of heavy hitters in the American yoga scene, especially those devoted to yoga therapy and related applications, as well as medical researchers, doctors and psychiatrists—more than 20—too many to list here so you can consult the flyer or the website for more details. It is shaping up to be as thought-provoking and body-shifting as the yoga symposium in November.

The event is being organized by the Gallery, the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and Therapeutic Yoga of Washington, DC. Because the two-day event is not only an exposition, but a teaching event (attendees are eligible for continuing education credits), it comes with a cost: $180 the first day, $100 the second day. Student and group pricing is available.

Topics include:

  • Evidence-based Integrative Health Practices
  • Yoga Practice in Modern Society
  • Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention
  • Transformations in Modern Medicine
  • Scientific Research on Yoga and Yoga Therapy

“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit will remain at the Freer-Sackler Gallery until January 26, when it will go on a road show to San Francisco and Cleveland. Several special events are planned for the final week.

An anniversary, illness, injury and spiritual practice

September 5 was my 39th wedding anniversary so Teresa put a air ticket in my hand and we headed off to Boca Raton, Florida, to spend a week together. I owed it to Teresa because I had been isolated (in mind and body, at least) for a month doing my yoga teacher training at Thrive Yoga. Now Teresa got her chance to get my exclusive attention.

Photo: couple sitting on the beach with waves in background
Our 39th anniversary found us in the Boca Raton beach, enjoying the Florida surf and sun.

Of course, there were other complications. The week before, I came down with acute bronchitis, which kept me pretty debilitated and hoarse for most of a week. I had to give up yoga classes. Even when I was in Florida, my breathing was wheezing whenever I did anything too strenuous. I had to be careful doing my restorative practice in the evening because I felt the phlegm bubbling in my chest when I was laying down, and it would frequently provoke coughing. Luckily, I was still able to walk around so that was our main activity in Boca Raton.  There were lots of jellyfish just off the shore, which discouraged us from spending a lot of time in the water. On our last day, the winds and tides seemed to clear waters of the jellyfish so we could spend more time swimming. Continue reading An anniversary, illness, injury and spiritual practice

Spotlight on a DC meditation teacher

Tara Brach is a psychologist and teacher on Buddhist meditation. She is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, a spiritual community that practices Vipassana meditation.

The Washington Post Meditation guru Tara Brach is calm eye of Washington’s stress-filled storm
Listening that night would be far more than the 300 people in the room. Brach’s talks are downloaded free nearly 200,000 times each month by people in more than 150 countries. Strangers write from around the world to say her words have saved them from committing suicide or relapsing into drugs. Government contractors who parachute into the District plan trips around her class. One devotee last year gave her newborn son the middle name Brach.

Her latest book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart was published earlier this year and has become a best seller (for good reason). I’ve written about her dharma talks before (both attending the talks in Potomac and the audio files available online). She has deeply influenced my life even though I have never personally spoken to her..

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.

Confirmation of meditation’s impact on the brain

I’ve been keeping my head down lately, but I just noticed the following news item that reinforces the findings of more scientific research into the impact of meditation on the brain:

The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification appeared in mid-March and Science Daily also did an article, Evidence Builds That Meditation Strengthens the Brain. The work was done at UCLA USC Laboratory of Neuro Imaging by Eileen Luders and colleagues. The LONI’s latest news announcements show the range of their investigations.

I should also point you to The Mindfulness Research Guide which follows the practical application of meditation to many human arenas. There is a monthly newsletter that has nearly 5,000 subscribers.