In this video series, Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Yoga and Ayurveda expert, shares her expertise in a guided meditation on the breath.
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.
That girl isn’t pretty enough to be that annoying.
WHAT? WHAT did you just think? Who ARE you?
Oh, right. I’m me. Hi. My name is Valerie and I have a judgmental brain feed that reads like a cross between Mean Girls,The Hangover, and Heathers. It’s stunning to me. But there it is. Judge, judge, judge, all the livelong day.
Swami Kripalu once said, “Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” I’m pretty sure that judging others also breaks our heart. That’s partly because we bear the brunt of the poison that burbles up to form a negative judgment, and partly because we’re all energetically connected. I’m convinced that, on some level,we feel each other’s psychic barbs, especially if we intentionally throw them. They’re also the seeds of violence and war.
Harsh, constant judging creates barriers—which at times can actually be helpful. When judgments protect us from maniacs who cause harm, that’s good (yep, I’m judging!). But we also use judgments to protect our hearts from other scary things, like, you know, love. If I’m judging you, then I don’t have to take you in. I don’t have to need you. I don’t have to be vulnerable to you. I’m tough—I’ve got my barbed wire thoughts and they’re protecting me! (Or not.)
It’s a lot simpler than we think.
At the Union for International Cancer Control’s recent World Cancer Congress,Washington University School of Medicine researcher Graham Colditz, PD, DrPH, reported that more than 50 percent of cancer could be prevented if we implemented certain “lifestyle changes,” including quitting smoking and avoiding obesity.
Seems somewhat obvious, right? Maybe, maybe not. Although we read enough to know that eating right, exercising, and minimizing our exposure to known toxins (cigarettes among them) can limit our risk of developing cancer, most of us don’t necessarily believe it. “Many people are still under the impression that most cancer is genetic,” says Susan B. Lord,MD, a faculty member in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “But the real figure is actually five percent.” That is, five percent of cancers have strong genetic ties, and the rest are related to environment and lifestyle. This means that the disease is far more preventable than we tend to think it is. In fact, Dr. Colditz estimated that improvement in diet could reduce cancer incidence by 50 percent, and increases in physical activity could reduce cancer incidence by as much as 85 percent, in five to 20 years.
Dirt · y [adj.] Appearing as if soiled; dark-colored; dingy; murky.
Pu · ri · fied [verb] 1. To rid of impurities; cleanse. 2. To rid of foreign of objectionable elements. 3. To free from sin, guilt, or other defilement.
Mud surrounded the house where I grew up in a small village in Singapore. I spent many hours walking, playing, and daydreaming along dirt roads. My mom used to make me wash my hands and feet before I could eat or sleep and often yelled when I got myself dirty again. So at a young age, I began to form a judgment about being dirty and clean. Later, in my adult life, that judgment transformed into an invisible quest to be pure, to be good, and to be rid of stains in character.
I was always fascinated with martial arts. Growing up with two brothers and three other cousin-brothers, I watched a lot of kung fu films from Hong Kong where heros and heroines flew through the trees, defeating villains and restoring justice. I loved seeing how the body could quickly assume delicate yet powerful postures and defy gravity with leaps and somersaults. I especially admired the power and beauty that the women possessed. It seemed as though their diligent practices purified their characters—from weakness and doubt to strength and confidence.
When I was 14, I stumbled across a book filled with yoga poses. Fascinated by how flexible the people in the pictures looked, I began imitating them. Fusing martial arts and yoga, I improvised movement flows to demonstrate the sharpness and flexibility of my body. Through the flow, I would relive the feelings that I had when I watched kung fu movies—a sense of accomplishment, transformation, and purification.
“Can you create the life of your dreams?” asks Susan B. Lord, MD, in her R&R retreat lecture Mindful Living. More often than not, however, creating such a life can be challenging. As Susan points out, our culture can be quite isolating, demanding, and overstimulating. We live in a society that promotes linear thinking; meanwhile, our intuition, what Susan refers to as “the gut brain,” tends to be set aside. Because of this emphasis on a linear, head-centered existence, many of us are divorced from our bodies, and thus removed from the intuitive wisdom that resides within. We neglect our bodies—and our intrinsic physical needs—by sitting, often slumped, in front of a computer for eight (or more) hours a day; by not drinking enough water; or by over- or undereating. Because of this, Susan notes, many of us deny what we truly need through temporary measures, such as seeking out comfort foods or other unhealthy distractions, whenever we feel stressed, agitated, or lonely.
By cultivating a sense of mindfulness in our actions and experiences, however, we can create more space in our lives and encourage our intuition to flourish.
One of the keys to tapping into our intuition and creating a more mindful life is to step back and dis-identify from your stressors. You can do this, Susan says, simply by observing your stressors without judgment whenever they arise, and perhaps writing them down. For example, are you so harried that you often skip breakfast and end up feeling cranky and depleted before you even get to the office? By noticing this habit, you could make a plan to set aside time each morning to nourish yourself with a healthful breakfast before jumping into the day’s demands. “Pay attention to your body and give it what it needs in the moment,” Susan says. When you listen to what your body is telling you, you bring more awareness into your life.
Do you find yourself focusing on what isn’t happening in your life? Perhaps you find yourself stressed out about something that hasn’t even taken place yet, imagining and envisioning its worst-case scenario. As you indulge in these negative thoughts, notice how everything tightens up, both inside and around you. By not living in the moment, scarcity—that feeling of constriction and lack—pulls at us.
By being present in the moment and relaxing into what is happening, doors open wide for us. Abundance is available here, in this very moment, through mindful breath, relaxation, and gratitude.
Consider abundance, not in its usual connotation of wealth and plenty, but in its more energetic experience, as the fullness of spirit, an overflowing of presence that brings us deep connection to the moment.
Frank Jude Boccio, whose Zen dharma name is Poep Sa, is a yoga teacher and a teacher of Zen Buddhism ordained by Korean Zen Master Samu Sunim. He is also an interfaith minister and long-time student of Thich Nhat Hanh. Here he shares a few simple yet powerful ways to integrate mindfulness practices into your daily life—when driving, working, or even drinking your morning coffee.
Ashley Winseck, guest blogger
Most of life is a habit. We tend to fall into habitual ways of thinking and being and doing, and we’re living in a world where there are a lot of expectations and demands built up around us—bills, children, work, and more. Giving yourself moments of self-care—even if it’s just five minutes each day—can greatly improve quality of life.
The first step is admitting that you might have some habits are not working for you. Take a look at your daily routines and identify moments that cause you stress or could be improved upon. Then, determine what tools you can incorporate into your routine, what new habits you can establish. When you put some of these tools into practice, you can easily shift the state of your body, mind, and heart away from stress and back into your center.