by Tresca Weinstein, guest blogger There’s a well-known story about a sitar player (in some versions, it’s a lute player) who was discouraged with his meditation practice and went to the Buddha to ask for instruction. “What happens when you tune your instrument too tightly?” the Buddha asked. “The strings break,” the musician replied. “And [...]
Discover ways that meditation allows you to stop, breathe, and pay attention to both your inner world and your active mind.
Meditation Lets Us Look Inside Ourselves to See the Whole World
Jack Kornfield, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, author, and one of the most well-known teachers of Buddhism in the West. He’s a founding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and Spirit Rock Center in California. Here, he talks about meditation, his signature loving-kindness practice, an upcoming Kripalu retreat, and why he loves to teach.
What’s at the core of the trainings you teach? The trainings are centered in equanimity and balance—it’s the training of the heart and mind to stay balanced. I teach a series of steps for equanimity, beginning with reflections on the vastness of time and changing circumstances, ever-changing winds of gain and loss, praise and loss, pleasure and pain. Training has to do with reflecting on the value of keeping a peaceful heart and envisioning others with compassion. We realize that people can love enormously, and that you can’t love on behalf of someone else; we try to understand the limits of love. It’s also using a series of deep intentions: May I live with peace in the joys and sorrows of the world. May you find peace.
Forget about enjoying the holidays: More and more, the majority of us just want to make it through. Which is why a meditation practice—proven to counter stress, beat depression and illness, keep energy levels up, and help encourage better sleep—can come in especially handy this time of year. The best part: You don’t need to invest a lot of time or commitment (and, unlike most everything else this season, it’s totally free). Angela Wilson, MA, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, offers the following tips for practicing on-the-go mindfulness: no quiet room, dimmed lights, or mat required.
The following heart-based meditation comes from the Institute of HeartMath, in Boulder Creek, California, and is a wonderful technique to redirect the mind and replace negative emotions with positive ones.
First, get your body in a comfortable, relaxed position and focus on breathing slowly and rhythmically, so that the length of your inhalations and exhalations are about the same. Find a breath rate that feels sustainable for you. Next, bring your awareness to the center of your chest and imagine your breath flowing in and out of your heart center. As you continue to breathe in and out of your heart, remember a time when you felt a positive emotion such as gratitude, joy, or love.
Think about being with loved ones, a beloved pet, appreciation for the good things in your life. This associative memory generates a positive emotion. If you can’t recall such a memory, then simply imagine a positive feeling moving in and out of your heart as you breathe. If your mind wanders, gently return to the positive feeling, allowing the sensations of gratitude, love, or joy to flow with your breath. Continue to circulate this heartfelt feeling for a few breaths, or even for a few minutes. Then pause to notice the effects of the practice.
How meditation can help you be a better friend.
Meditation has long been celebrated for all it can do for us, among the benefits: lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help us sleep, and even possibly help us lose weight. But a recent study also found that meditation might help us be better friends and partners. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta found that many participants who had practiced eight weeks of meditation showed significant improvement in their ability to identify the emotions of people in photos based on their expressions. That is, they were more in tune with the feelings of others.
Do you suffer from anxiety, poor digestion, or lack of focus? When life’s demands overwhelm us, Angela Wilson, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, explains in her R&R retreat lecture Cultivating Inner Strength, our nervous system gets out of balance. Through the practices of yoga meditation, and mindfulness, however, we can build resilience in order to be fully aware of all our experiences.
As Angela explains, there are two main branches of the nervous system. There’s the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response in reaction to stressful situations. It’s a hot, reactive state, which increases heart rate and primes the body for action. The other branch is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated when the body is relaxed. The parasympathetic supports a cooling, restful and state. It soothes the system, aids in digestion, and can be fostered through yoga practice.