The Concept of Incurable Disease is Dead

Note: Before I begin, let me say that modern medicine can often be miraculous in its power to heal. Sometimes there is no substitute for a good surgeon, a life-saving antibiotic or the strong medicines that can prolong the quality and quantity of our lives. However, there are many conditions that continue to baffle medicine that can and are successfully treated with alternative practices.

Words can have a big impact on us, especially foreign sounding medical jargon like those long, multi-syllabic concoctions that describe a disease condition. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the word cancer. But whether the words are simple or complex, the fact that they come from a doctor can make them seem as if they were written by the hand of god on a stone tablet.

The psychological impression that medical disease terminology evokes can be deep, and damaging. I’ve seen this happen to some of my yoga therapy clients. For example, degenerative disc disease is neither a disease nor is it degenerative according to one of my yoga therapy teachers, Neil Pearson, founding president of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Disc problems are associated with aging and poor condition. Discs may bulge or rupture, but they do not degenerate

But when a patient hears this diagnosis all kinds of fears may be conjured up that actually inhibit the patient from increasing daily function and reducing or eliminating pain. The psychological damage done by those official-sounding words often seem to be a sentence of damnation to which there is little recourse. Nevertheless, a regular practice of therapeutic yoga postures can often relieve the suffering of a person so diagnosed.

Another recent example that comes to mind is Sacroiliac Dysfunction. A new client of mine recently presented with this diagnosis. Often it is associated with cartilage wear and tear in the joint. One of the first results you’ll find if you google the term is a surgical technique that is advertised as “minimally invasive.”

My client, a former dancer, who also has lower lumbar disc ruptures due to an equestrian accident, has responded well to yoga therapy and chiropractic treatment. Her chronic pain is now nearly gone and she moves with a freedom she hasn’t had in a long time. Fortunately, she had previous yoga experience and didn’t let her diagnosis make her feel disempowered.

Often though, patients seem to get locked into a diagnosis like it’s an immutable fact of life about which they can do very little, which is rarely the case. Taking control of our health rather than asking a medical professional to “fix” us can make all the difference in the world. It did for me when I refused to believe that Crohn’s Disease was incurable. For over a decade I have lived without the specter of this awful digestive scourge and have no fear of it ever returning. Though medicine does not have a cure, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure or that we can’t heal ourselves without medicine.

Last year, at the age of 62 I had a routine colonoscopy. My results were nearly perfect. The doctor commented that it was very unusual for a person with Crohn’s Disease not to be taking medicine to remain in “remission.” What surprised me though was his utter lack of curiosity about how I had achieved and maintained my excellent condition.

Through the stress management skills I’ve learned from yoga and meditation and a diet of whole foods, I no longer get sick or even have an inkling of symptoms. I’ve got news for the medical profession: I don’t have Crohn’s Disease. I’m the only one among my many family members who have been likewise stricken to reverse my illness and be completely healthy.

The point I’m trying to make is that the human body may get “out of balance” in any number of ways. This doesn’t mean that we are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering, constant medical care and the inconvenience and expense that go along with it. The truth is quite to the contrary. It is more common than we realize that ordinary people like myself refuse to believe that they are helpless. Everyday thousands of people chart a new course for themselves and explore healing methods that lead them to a new world of bountiful health they’d previously been led to believe did not exist.

In her recent book, Radical Remission, Kelly Turner, PhD, studied over a thousand cases of what may be called spontaneous remission from cancer. Or course, these remissions weren’t spontaneous in the sense that they came out of nowhere. Turner identified nine things that all these cancer patients did for themselves that helped them get well, even after their doctors told they were going to die and began hospice care. One of those things was taking control of their health.

When doctors announce these terrifying diagnoses they think they’re being realistic, but often their words crush hope, hope that can and does lead to healing. Andrew Weil calls this “medical hexing.” Because of the position of authority a doctor occupies, patients often take that statement as the last word.

As Lissa Rankin, M.D., points out in her book, Mind Over Medicine, patients frequently imbibe a doctor’s pronouncements about their disease hook, line and sinker. They give up hope and die. This is the “nocebo” effect, where patients believe the worst and suffer accordingly.

Conversely, Rankin, with copious studies and examples demonstrates the power of the famous placebo effect. When given an inert treatment, patients recover from the even the most devastating diseases including cancer. A prime example is Mr. Wright who was dying of terminal cancer. His doctor gave him an experimental drug. Mr. Wright recovered in a miraculously short time. But when news surfaced that showed the medicine to be ineffective, Wright’s cancer returned. His doctor, now quite aware of the powerful placebo effect told him the medicine he’d been given was tainted, but that he now had a pure, more potent batch to give him. Again, Wright recovered. And again, when a national news story proclaimed the medicine worthless, Wright’s health faltered and he died soon thereafter.

What both Turner and Rankin are demonstrating is that there is no such thing as an incurable disease. Just because medicine has no cure, it assumes that no other treatment could possibly stimulate the body to heal itself.

In my next post I’ll explore the nine things that Kelly Turner discovered that help even the most hopeless cancer patients heal and go on to live many years full of accomplishment and happiness.

Until then, remember, a diagnosis is simply a description from a system that does not recognize any other possible way to heal. It is not a prophecy of doom. Rather, it can be the door that opens to a new world of knowledge, liberation and health as we take control of our lives and discover a world of possibilities beyond conventional medicine.

 

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Mindfulness as an Antidote to Frenzied Media Culture

Since I have worked in the radio and news media since 1986, I have had an insider’s view of this business and gained a unique perspective of how it works. Media, all media is driven by ratings, which is about attracting attention. Once the attention of those ears and eyes are secured, they are used as leverage to gain advertising dollars for profit and non-profit media outlets alike.

More often than not, the most sensational stories lead any newscast or pop culture program. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the old adage. The word “sensational” is key to this discussion. By sensational I mean that which is the most surprising, emotionally titillating, upsetting and attention grabbing. Many stories are simply bad news, like war, disasters, threats to our safety et cetera. They are amplified repeatedly like a psychological battering ram.

Also, remember this: news outlets often act as organs of particular political points of view. This is a long tradition.

Once upon a time, networks made their money on other types of programming like dramas and sitcoms. Now, all commercial networks demand that the news broadcast also be a profit center. This is one thing that has led to the sensationalist 24 hour news coverage we now see. It’s all about the money, the worship of money and the influence that money can buy in our society.

This is also true about the entertainment media. The number of programs on currently that deal with the deepest kind of human depravity or silliness has skyrocketed along with the number of cable tv channels.

A steady diet of sensationalism can have a strong effect on the human nervous system. It can provoke a range of emotions that keep us in a constant state of turmoil or at least imbalance. It can contribute to depression and despair.

But here’s the worst thing about feeding heavily on media trash culture: we so often feel disempowered to do anything meaningful to change our world. Disempowerment leads to apathy, and apathy to inaction. We can get frozen into a permanent state of inertia. We are then subject to manipulation by a whole host of demagogues whose points of view are eagerly broadcast by—the media.

Thought I wouldn’t claim that there is a conspiracy involved in media programming, it’s wise to remember the words of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Hamilton, who strove to secure the support of the wealthy for the fledgling U.S. government, had little but contempt for common folk. He encouraged the wealthy to supply the “the rabble” as he termed us, with “bread and circuses” while our betters handled the serious business of governance. And that is, by and large the pattern we have today: poor quality fast food on nearly every corner and 24 hours of news, sports and celebrity drivel.

This is where mindful practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation come to our aid. These ancient mindfulness practices offer us a way to take control of our nervous systems so that we can connect with what’s in our soul instead of being whipped into the chaos that is the commercial news media.

For those of us who may yearn to stop the world so we can get off for a while, these mindfulness practices help us reset our nervous systems so we can gain a clear perspective on life untainted by the greedy maw of consumerism promoted by the media industrial complex. When we regain autonomous control over own minds, we get a panoramic vista of our own lives and how we fit into the crazy world we’ve created. We are no longer manipulated by every violent atrocity, celebrity news tidbit or the other magnified trash foisted upon us. Our buttons and triggers are not so readily accessible to the barrage of commercial stimuli constantly directed toward us.

So, if you’re weary of the rat race and the endless, ruinous competition that is being offered, retreat. Retreat to the nourishing practices that our ancestors have nurtured and handed down to us. We may always drink from the fortifying springs of these traditions as an antidote to the toxicity of so-called modern culture.

Unleashing the Power of Prayer in Yoga Practice

As I continue working with clients who want to use yoga to address their disease conditions, I also find myself turning to prayer as another energy tool to help them. I often wind up my meditation sessions with prayers for my clients, but just today it dawned on me that I could use my asana session (generally an hour or more) to continue sending energy to them. Since I practice slowly and inhabit poses for many breaths, I find this a good time to use my sankalpa or yogic intention in prayer for healing the people with whom I work. I find this is a great way to stay focused and channel my energy toward a specific purpose. This is also an effective method to be engaged in my sadhana or personal devotional practice. Yogini, Katherine Ghosh speaks of this in terms of postures of consciousness.

If you are a secular person you may find the idea of prayer a bit uncomfortable. There are many ways to pray, and I’ll bet that even if you’re an atheist you could find one to suit you.

Prayer in its most basic terms, for me, is about energy transfer, not about religion or asking the favor of any deity. It is simply the use of psychic intentional force to have an affect on the object of your prayer. It is not necessarily a matter of religious faith.

Intention is a powerful force. Evidence for this proposition is abundantly supplied by the many scientifically designed tests whose purpose is to measure the effects of the focused intention of a cooperating group. The work of Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, in his book Super Normal, clearly demonstrates the effect that his test subjects were able to exert over the results delivered by a random numbers generator and many other experiments that measure clairvoyance and telepathic potential. Not only does Radin document his own work, but refers to work done by others for decades from all over the planet. It’s a great read and offers us many novel ways to think about energy and how we can use it.

This is by no means a slight to those who practice a religious faith or their supplications on behalf of those for whom they pray. Religious or secular prayers, both channel energy for a desired purpose.

One of the main points that Radin makes in his book is that human beings have latent mental abilities that we ignore and allow to lie fallow. Along with Radin’s work, Transcendental Meditation Groups offer tantalizing evidence that when group meditations occur in troubled neighborhoods, violent behavior and crime decrease. Together, evidence of this nature demonstrates what focused intention and unity of thought can do.

Thoughts, intentions and prayer are all forms of subtle vibrational energy. Everything humans have created started out as the merest inkling, daydream, or inspirational insight. Einstein often received inspiring dreams from which his scientific ideas emerged. Charles Dickens also claimed that his fertile dream world fed his successful writing career. Einstein also thought that imagination was more important than knowledge.

The difference between a vain imagination and some concrete result is focus. Focused prayer, meditation, sound (as in chanting, a precursor to song) water the seeds that sprout in our consciousness.

I have mentioned the science of cymatics in other blog posts. Cymatics shows how focused sound vibrations move and order the shape of matter whether a certain frequency breaks glass or forms a beautiful sand mandala.

Prayers, thought, and sound, because they are forms of energy, do the same thing. Focusing and thereby harnessing the power of intention is psychic leverage we can use to move mountains. Eastern and western religious traditions agree that creation began with the creative intention expressed in sound. We have the same power to effect change in our lives and the lives of others when we magnify our latent energy through prayer and focused intention.

Building a Juicy Yoga Practice Through the Balancing Symmetry of Asana

Of all the bodily sensations that we as students usually notice when we begin yoga practice is asymmetry or imbalances between different parts of our bodies; one side of the body may be weaker, less mobile and less flexible. This may be due to illness, pain, injury or habitual movement patterns that favor one side of the body over the other. Whatever the case, we quickly understand how prana, chi or energy flow in our bodies is inhibited by persistent imbalance.

Take a sprained ankle for example. I’ve sprained my right ankle six times starting when I was about four years old; most recently it was a minor sprain walking in uneven rocky terrain. As it has healed, I’ve noticed residual immobility or congestion around the Achilles tendon. Like any injury, or damaged muscle or joint, it needs extra attention to return to full function.

Symmetry is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is feeling comfortable in our bodies. Uncomfortable bodies make for uncomfortable minds; there’s no getting around that fact. Hosting a constantly disturbed state of being will lead to any number of obstacles to reaching our full potential.

Asymmetry can affect the mind as well as the body. Emotional trauma, whether its source is war, physical/sexual abuse or severe injury can also damage our ability to cope with life as fully participating, engaged beings.

We regain our balance by caring for ourselves. We develop loving kindness toward ourselves. We give ourselves the extra attention necessary to become fully functioning individuals again.

One place this happens very effectively is on the yoga mat. The yoga mat is a veritable flying carpet for our highest intentions. When we step onto our mats, it can be like walking into another dimension, a dimension where the outside world can no longer impinge on our freedom to be who we really want to be regardless of its expectations of us.

As we step onto the mat to address our pain and limitation, we begin with the breath, our most powerful healer. We practice what I call the root to crown connection. We breathe from the pelvic floor or perineum to the crown of our heads. Articulating the breath deliberately from root to crown guides our breathing through all the major chakras, massaging and purifying these energy centers (and their associated organs) of physical and emotional debris.

Today after class one of my students told me the story of a young girl she knew who had been sexually assaulted by her classmates. She became withdrawn, fearful and disengaged as she tried to grapple with the horrible violations against her. Victims of assault often assume a compressed physical posture with rounded shoulders and collapsed chest in order to protect themselves. Trauma lives in our cells and tissues and shapes our physical and mental posture toward our lives. The aunt of this young girl is a yoga teacher. The aunt led her to the yoga mat and began helping her restore her physical/emotional and symmetrical connection to life. Just a year after her assault, this girl is once again moving forward as a confident, full participant in her life rather than a victim stuck in her trauma. Intentional movement and breath is restoring this child’s balanced posture and attitude toward life.

Likewise, when we injure a muscle, joint or some connective tissue, the injured part atrophies or shrinks in response to trauma. We must first rest and treat the injury with appropriate measures. When the acute phase of the injury subsides, we can begin working to restore full function with intention, breath and asana. With my sprained right ankle, I began doing twice as many standing poses on the right side to rebuild my strength and endurance. I also worked to flex and extend the ankle to stretch and compress the tissue to encourage healing circulation and relieve the congestion caused by inflammation.

After we recover 90% from an injury or trauma, we’ve reached perhaps the most challenging part of our recovery. This is where we can end up with a “nagging” injury that will be with us for the rest of our lives. This will forever be a vulnerable part of our body or mind that is susceptible to re-injury. Vanquishing that last bit of infirmity takes determination and persistence.

This is the time to work with a yoga therapist or physical therapist or both, to achieve full healing. Once you have received a treatment plan from your health practitioner, work consistently and gently to achieve full recovery.

One of my favorite ways to practice is to repeat postures two or even three times on each side of the body. A great yoga teacher, Susannah Bruder, in Oakland, California, used to say that “repetition, is the spice of life.” Repeating poses lengthens the muscles, conditions the joints and tones the nervous system. Our bodies become juicy, lithe and at ease.

As we achieve symmetry in our bodies and align our attitudes with the universal principles of goodness, life becomes a joyous adventure bound for the desires of our hearts. A healthy body and mind running clean and clear serve the path of reaching our full potential as human beings. Let us all take the next step toward participating in the great Mystery of human experience by healing ourselves so that our bodies and minds can receive divine prana through pure food, water, air and sunlight. With this health of symmetry and alignment the highest achievements will be ours.

Building Victorious Will

We often hear it said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This speaks to our will power in general and to specific goals in our lives. More to the point, I see it in terms of creating a consistent yoga practice that will change every facet of our lives for the better.

Rather than just being the latest exercise fad, yoga comprehensively addresses every aspect of human existence. It is, as I’ve stated many times before, a universal toolbox. Whatever you need, yoga has an answer for it that has been tried and tested with millennia of successful evolution. Our yogic ancestors have honed this science/art and bequeathed it to us as a complete system for living healthy, victorious lives that reach the deepest levels of human satisfaction and accomplishment.

The path of yoga (or union with Universal power and purpose) is the process of being reborn each time we draw a conscious breath that makes us realize our connection to every life form and spirit in the cosmos.

Of course, we would all love to live lives of satisfaction, fulfillment, health and prosperity. That’s what I love about yoga; it shows us a way to get there. It’s a map through the maze of life, a template upon which we can build our lives as we experience the wonder of human existence.

A saying ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth comes to mind: if you have faith as a mustard seed you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you. (Mathew 17:20)

Before we get to mountains, we can begin with the more modest goal of building a yoga practice that will pave the way for such a victorious, mountain-moving life.

How do you think amazing people become amazing? They commit to and develop a practice that yields amazing results. Life is a practice, and we begin where we are.

I recommend beginning with your body and mind. Inseparable, they are the vehicle we’ve been given to transcend the human condition and reach our boundless potential.

Within the body is the breath, the golden key that opens every lock. When we support the movement of our bodies with the synchronized diaphragmatic breath, we begin to tap into infinite possibility. This is why yoga asana, or yoga poses are an integral technique for building the pathways of will.

As we begin to move and breathe into simple asana, we stimulate cellular renewal in every organ and gland of our bodies. Our muscles, ligaments, tendons veins, arteries, lymph system, indeed the entire body begins to pour itself into a template of purpose and alignment with our highest good.

To develop a home-based yoga practice, begin with a few minutes per day, preferably first thing in the morning. Use one of the movement sequences you’ve learned in yoga class or use a good yoga book. Do what feels good, safe and sound to you. Your body will lead you. Enjoy your simple practice. Make it a habit.

Consistent practice will begin to change your body and mind, literally. Your practice will stimulate positive neurochemical changes that make you feel clear, clean and eager to engage with your life in every area. These are the changes that build will power. As our bodies begin to function more efficiently, we often find that our will to resist cravings and unhealthy habits gets stronger. It becomes easier to create new habits that displace habits of unskillful living.

As you devote a few minutes each day to your personal practice, you will notice that you feel more at ease and steadier in your attitudes toward life. Results will prompt you to explore your practice more deeply. You are now on the path to infinity. Soon, you may yearn for a deeper experience of life. Meditation, or cultivating the mind, will facilitate this yearning. As we cultivate a deeper experience of life through the meditation practices prescribed by yoga, our lives begin to fall into place as we align ourselves with the universal principles of goodness that are stated in Yama and Niyama, the ethical considerations described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Though it will take some time, steady practice, incremental gains will earn you a will of flexible steel that will help you shape your life according to your dharma, or your highest good.

So, begin with ease, a little faith and open your heart to the genius that lives within you. Allow yoga, or union with Universal energy, to unlock the mystery of life.

Note: As always, I’d love to hear from you. I see that my posts are being read all over the world. I’m honored and humbled. Please drop me a line and say hello. Share your yoga experiences. Let’s connect and increase the prana of yoga worldwide.

Namaste. I recognize, respect and affirm your goodness.

An Unnoticed Plague

When I asked a group of school age yoga students recently if they knew how to breathe, many of them giggled and looked at me quizzically. Adults, realizing that this is partly a rhetorical question often look perplexed. The reason that this is one of the first questions out of my mouth to a new group of students is because American society is plagued by the habit of reverse breathing.

The signs of reverse breathing are easy to spot. If, as we breathe, the belly contracts as the chest expands, we are reverse breathing. A properly drawn breath begins with the diaphragm, the sheet of muscle suspended between the ribs that separates the chest (thoracic) cavity containing the heart and lungs from the abdominal cavity where many of our vital organs reside. The diaphragm is responsible for 75% of our respiratory flow while the intercostal muscles that knit the ribs together take care of 25%.

During reverse breathing the diaphragm’s role is diminished as it retracts impotently in a feeble upward motion. Ideally, the diaphragm should push downward to open the lungs to receive the inhalation.

“So what,” you might say? “As long as air gets into the lungs, what’s the difference?” The difference is huge, Mt. Everest huge. Full activation of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles are essential and fundamental to basic health and well being.

Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. This cranial nerve descends in branches through the torso and the diaphragm itself and “supplies motor parasympathetic fibers to all the organs except the suprarenal (adrenal) glands, from the neck down to the second segment of the transverse colon.”[1] It is responsible for heart rate and digestive peristalsis, the motion of the intestines that digests food and eliminates waste. Recent research suggests that the vagus nerve may even respond to signals from bacteria in our intestines, and that signal is then conveyed to the brain. When the diaphragm and intercostal muscles are not fully utilized, these functions are inhibited, and that is seriously bad news.

The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system which controls the relaxation response.[2] When the diaphragm is fully utilized, the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, is released. Acetylcholine not only helps induce relaxation, but stops inflammation from beginning its insidious work of causing disease.

Breathing just into the chest without using the diaphragm does not stimulate the vagus nerve, and leads to stress and chronic tension. Chronic stress and tension are seed beds of disease. Without vagus nerve stimulation, heart rate regulation is inadequate, relaxation is nearly impossible, immune system activity is dampened and the door to disease is wide open.

In my experience as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, I find that reverse breathing is pervasive in our society. It is no coincidence that some of my most seriously ill clients are chest breathers. The first thing I check when I begin to work with a new client is the breath.

So, what has got us breathing in this abnormal fashion? The word fashion is key to the reason for this disease-courting breathing technique. Somewhere in the past, it became “fashionable” to abandon a normal healthy breath for the plague of reverse breathing. Did it begin when corsets came into fashion? Trying to draw a diaphragmatic breath with your abdomen strangled between whale bone stays and tightly tugged strings is impossible. Chest breathing is the only alternative. Did it start as an evolutionary trait to make our selves look bigger to potential predators? Does the military “suck in your gut, throw out your chest and cock your shoulders back” like a loaded spring have anything to do with it? I’d bet it’s a bit of all these things and more.

But when I ask kids to tell me how to breathe, invariably I get some who tell me that proper breathing begins in the chest. I suspect this instruction is coming from their parents or other adults in their lives.

The obsession to appear attractive and fit in the U.S. and other western countries is a nearly irresistible social pressure that encourages reverse breathing and begins to sow the seeds of poor health, disease and early mortality.

An eight year-old girl in one of my classes this summer told me her mother had instructed her to breath into her chest and suck in her belly. This girl is perfectly height/weight appropriate, but I suspect the mere notice of her belly may well be an affront to her mother’s sense of what’s attractive. I noticed that this child was more anxious and in need of attention and assurance than many of the other children. Breathing into her belly felt “weird” to her.

Perhaps I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d bet that if we could correct this disastrous trend of reverse breathing, we’d see healthier, more relaxed human beings. The implications of that extend into every thread of human endeavor. Think for a moment what a world of relaxed, balanced human beings might be like.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagus_nerve#Function

[2]https://sites.google.com/site/stanleyguansite/health/health-tips/breathe-deeply-to-activate-vagus-nerve

A Basic Meditation Lesson

Some weeks ago on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, I heard a famous Buddhist monk talking about the benefits of meditation. I was all ears, naturally. A caller to the show who found meditating difficult asked the monk for advice about how to achieve a better meditation. To my surprise and disappointment the monk simply told the man to keep practicing without inquiring about the details of his difficulty. Neither did the monk offer any technical advice that might have helped the student.

Meditation can be difficult at any time, especially in the beginning. The mind is a wild place full of distractions to keep us from achieving our natural state of bliss. With a little practice and perseverance ANYONE can develop a life-changing meditation practice.

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First, regardless of your religious tradition or lack of one, you can meditate. Meditation is found in all traditions. Atheists and agnostics can also meditate. Meditation is not about belief; it is simply about cultivating the mind. If you have a spiritual tradition, it will enhance your personal practice.

If you have a yoga asana (posture) practice, this will make meditation easier. The purpose of the physical culture of yoga asana is to strengthen the body to sit comfortably so that we can explore infinity without the distractions of a cranky joint or spine. Before you begin do a few yoga postures with deep breathing and attention on the breath and body. Developing a simple, regular asana practice will make meditation easier.

Now, find a quiet place. Sit in any comfortable way you like. Keep your back straight by grounding into the sitting bones of the pelvis. Be erect, but relaxed. A long, straight, spine and erect posture enable energy to travel efficiently through the body. Notice how you feel; listen to your body. If you need a pillow or other prop to help you feel comfortable, by all means use it. The word asana in yoga can be interpreted as “comfortable seat.”

Close your eyes if you feel safe to do so. If not, fix your gaze on a stationary object. A spot on the floor or wall will suffice. A yantra, or artistic yogic design is even better. Let your eyes be soft and out of focus.

Allow your breath to open up into your abdomen by using the diaphragm, the lateral sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. The belly should swell with each inhalation. If your belly retracts or sucks in during an inhalation, you are reverse breathing. This will build stress and prevents you from entering meditation. If you reverse breathe, spend a few minutes with your hands on your belly and practice abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing until it feels natural and easy.

(Note: In our culture we are encouraged to look fit and attractive by sucking in our bellies, throwing out our chests and pulling our shoulders back. This has led to an epidemic of reverse breathing which builds stress. Stress is a precursor and catalyst for disease.)

Begin to follow your breath with your attention. Watch as each cubic centimeter of breath enters and leaves your body. Concentrating on your breath with this kind of detail will help keep you focused. Slow your breath down gradually.

See if you can count ten breaths without losing count. If you can, begin again. Practice this for several rounds until it becomes easy. If you lose count, simply begin at one and try again. Please be kind to yourself without allowing your inner critic to judge you if you don’t succeed right away.

You may want to continue with this simple counting technique for awhile, which is just fine. You are developing the art of dharana, or concentration, one of the eight primary aspects of yoga. Dhr, the root of dharana, means to hold. So, we are learning to hold or focus our attention on a single object like the breath to the exclusion of all other objects. You are developing one pointed focus with dharana.

You may also consider using the following techniques to help you develop concentration. Mantra japa is a method of mentally repeating a brief combination of syllables, a mantra, to entrain the mind for meditation. The simple two syllable mantra of So Ham (pronounced Hum) is a Sanskrit term that means I Am or I Am That. It is a way for us to identity with the great All That Is or God or Universal Energy, what ever your conception of universal creative energy is. You could just as well use Blue Sky, White Clouds if thinking about divine energy disturbs you in any way. You can also use any word that has personal significance or sacred nature to you.

Another simple but effective tool for building concentration is a mala, or a string of beads similar to a rosary. The use of stringed beads for developing concentration is an ancient shamanic method that goes back to ancient times. Hold the beads in either hand and simply move one bead per breath as another way to reinforce your concentration.

This trio of devices, the breath, mantra and mala will help you build powerful concentration as you begin your meditation practice.

So, when does dharana or concentration become meditation or dhyana? This is a hard question to answer. When we have banished the fluctuations of the mind as Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras, we have achieved meditation. Do not dwell on the distinction between these two aspects of yoga. Concentration naturally leads to meditation just as naturally as a river flows to the sea. The more we practice the easier it becomes.

So, there we have a basic lesson in meditation. Simple, right? Simple doesn’t always mean easy. As I said earlier, the mind is a wild place. I’ve heard the expression: The mind is like a monkey stung by a scorpion. It can careen in countless directions like a pinball machine. Practice this method regularly and you will begin to get results. You will be able to achieve a strong, peaceful disposition that is resilient to the storms of life. A mind trained in meditation is a mind that can help you achieve your loftiest goals as you sail smoothly above depression. Meditation will help you accept life on its own terms as you navigate with purpose to reach a stronger state of being.

Begin with 5 minutes or so and then work your way up to whatever delivers good results. Many recommend 20 minutes twice a day. From my experience, the longer the meditation the deeper you go.

As you practice you will originate techniques that are unique to your style of meditation. The method I’ve taught here is one of many. This one works for me. Explore and see what you come up with. Infinity awaits. Sixteenth Century Christian Philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The questions we pose in meditation will always be answered with wisdom.

Please also refer to my posts about how meditation can change the physical state of your brain. The work of Harvard neurologist, Sara Lazar, shows the wonderful ways your brain changes with regular meditation.

Cultivating your mind through meditation is the beginning of realizing your full potential as a human being. You are as unlimited and boundless as the universe itself. You’re made from the same stuff as the stars. We are miniature replications of the universe. Meditation helps us remember our connection to infinity and helps us align ourselves with its unstinting energy.

As always, I would love to hear from you. Connecting with you inspires me as I hope it does you, too. Please, leave a comment. If there is some aspect of yoga you’d like me write about, please let me know. We are all on the same path. I would love to hear about your experiences, too. I am merely a student. If you have something to impart to me, please, I’d love to hear it. As we grow together in yoga, the world gets better for all of us.

Namaste’.