The Early Yield of the 40 Day Practice

One of the many things I notice when I am inconsistent with my meditation is that it takes me about twenty minutes to slog through the distractions and unconscious inattention to get to the clear, calm state of concentration. If this happens to you, simply persevere w/o judgement or frustration. With practice you’ll get there, I promise.

This is exactly why I’ve set myself the challenge of a 40 day practice. I’ve grown weary of of the faulty construction I’ve made of my life by inconsistent practice. Forty days of practice helps us to instill new habits, to compose a new song for our lives. As you may know, 40 is a significant number in spiritual traditions the world over.

Speaking of composing a new song for our lives, have you ever seen a metronome? It’s a simple time keeping device used by musicians to set the tempo for a certain time signature of music. The pendulum of the metronome sounds the beat as it sways back and forth according to the speed set by the practitioner.

The breath is the metronome of the human being. As we begin our meditation, we engage the breath not only physically but mentally, psychologically and emotionally as well. We settle into a tempo of slow, regular diaphragmatic rhythm. We sing the sensual song of the body and allow it to suffuse every cell of our anatomy. We find the natural cadence of being that lies in our souls beneath all the competing storms that disturb our peace.

The metronomic rhythm of the attentive breath sweeps away the seeds of potential disturbance before they sprout. We clean the soil of our minds so that we may sow the seeds of peace and steady attention that root and give rise to the creativity that invariably germinates from this fertile state of mind.

Now the garden of the mind is set to become absorbed in the neurochemistry that creates the deep foundational union of the human spirit with our cosmic origins. Persisting in meditation quite simply changes our brains. The work of Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, demonstrates how meditation stimulates growth in the hippo campus and parietal lobe where memory and empathy respectively reside. At the same time, the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is soothed and pacified. When we develop a habit of starting our day with this kind of mindset, we open the doors of possibility to being the kinds of people we really want to be–the kinds of people who can make positive, permanent change in our lives and the lives of others.

Another wonderful benefit is the seeming contradiction between feeling elevated and grounded simultaneously. I love this so much because it gives me the assurance that I will be more likely to think, speak and act with greater awareness. I will be less likely to think unkind thoughts and speak and or act out of unconscious reaction.

I am only a four days into my devotional period of 40 days, and the results are already such a joyful relief.

Here’s a good example of how a clear, considered state of mind can make a big difference: I heard a story today on NPR about an airline pilot whose plane was disabled by a broken engine fan blade that tore a hole in the wing of the jet aircraft he was flying. His actions defied my comprehension. The report told of how he sat back, took his hands off the controls and closed his eyes. WOW! He meditated. The instant guidance he got for consciously controlling his response was to treat that big hulking jet like a small Cessna. Rather than reacting to all the alarms and warnings produced by multiple systems failures, he cut through all the noise and carried out the fundamental, necessary actions that saved over 400 passengers and crew.

We may never fly a jet aircraft in an emergency situation, but each day, we know there are triggers and traps that have the ability to make us lose our composure, depress us, or send us careening off into an emotional detour that may have significant consequences. By starting each day with the habit of meditation we reconstruct our minds so that we are able to set the stage for goodness before negative influences confront us. We are ready and equipped to overcome life’s challenges before they gain enough strength to defeat us. The habit of meditation is the guarantor of our ability to respond to life in victory.

The Intimate Breath

The breath is not only how we receive the vitality of life, but it is our most intimate connection with Universal Prana, or creative force. Our first and last breaths define the boundaries of our physical lives. Yet, most of us ignore the breath and remain largely innocent of its power to transform our lives. The breath is automatic. Since it is automatic, we simply let it run on auto pilot as we go about our automatic lives. But the breath can also be transgressive, subversive and revolutionary. It is the sacred tool to break the robotic molds into which popular culture is being used to mold us.

Yoga and other related sciences of transformation like Ayurveda, Qigong, and Tai Chi, invite us to use the breath consciously. Within the conscious breath lie worlds that are hidden from everyday life. The art and science of using the breath with conscious control is the difference between mere existence and plumbing the depth of existence itself.

In Yoga, using the breath consciously is called Pranayama. Pranayama means to expand the life force, to energize ourselves toward a larger potential. To extend our life force with the breath requires only one, but very important feature: one-pointed attention.

In a world with so many stimuli clamoring for our attention, this is something most folks just don’t get around to or are even aware is possible. We have been programmed and dazzled by the media culture to the point that we seldom think our own thoughts. We need only simply look around and see people absorbed in their “devices,” imbibing artificial data streams of often meaningless entertainment to keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Asking people to simply sit quietly, following their breath, the most powerful personal force they will ever know, seems pretty poor competition for the seemingly glamorous distractions offered to us by our media saturated world.

But if you have reached the point of being sick with this saturation, and what is really colonization of your once-autonomous mind, then here is your invitation to break the collective trance under which so many of us have fallen. Here is the chance to develop a love and connection that is the basis for all transformative human experience. Here is the chance to liberate ourselves from the mind gobbling media behemoth that lusts to enslave and consume us. Your simple, life-giving breath is your salvation from a world of ruinous conformity and your ticket to true intimacy with yourself and genuine connection to other human beings who long for humanity, truth and freedom.

The intimate breath is the breath that we use in meditation. It is slow and measured. How do we measure the breath? The intimate breath is not measured with machines, nor is it recorded on graphs. It is measured with attention. When we sit comfortably, we can simply watch the breath as it rises and falls. The intimate breath is a breath where the attention watches each milliliter of breath inhaled and exhaled. By this minute attention we account for every moment of the golden present. This is rapt attention! This is absorption into union with the Universe, the one song, the eternal Presence of cosmic creation. This is the essence of yoga. A taste of this nectar renders its competitors pale by comparison.

This is attention so sharp that it pares away the irrelevance of the colonizing commercial clatter that assaults us daily. This is liberation from a type of possession that seeks to program and use us for the latest trend of mass hypnosis. This attentive breath is a breath so fine that direct knowledge can well up within us from this divine connection to the cosmos without being filtered through the greed of those who would control and dominate us.

The intimate breath is the get out of jail free card that unlocks the door into the intuitive knowledge that precedes all other knowledge.

Using this intimate, attentive breath gives us access to the deep well of knowing, knowing that shines a light into the dark places of the human psyche to help us release our potential as beings of boundlessness.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Yoga Musings 20 Years After the Rwandan Genocide.

As covered by National Public Radio this last Sunday, Rwandans are entering a three month long period of remembrance of the genocide that occurred 20 years ago. Poverty, inequality, repression of women and ethnic hatred fanned by influential Rwandan men ignited a spree of murder that claimed the lives of nearly one million souls.

After the killing was over 70% of the population were women. These women were left to pick up the pieces left them by the murder of neighbors and families. The women of Rwanda have had no choice but to heal their wounds by the kind of decisive action that has now, buy some estimations, elevated their country to the status of one of the cleanest and least corrupt in Africa poised on the brink of a technological revolution.

Today, women hold more seats in Rwandan parliament than any other nation in the world. Forty percent of the president’s cabinet is female and over 50% of the judiciary is comprised of women. Women may now own property, girls and women may inherit wealth from their parents, and girls are being educated in unprecedented numbers to prepare them for future leadership roles.

Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, proudly recites the rebirth of women’s empowerment in Rwanda, but admits that full gender equality is still a work in progress.

Hearing these stories about Rwanda’s rise from the ashes of genocidal holocaust got me thinking about an entry I posted on November 19 last year. In my essay, The Meek Will Inherit the Earth, I wrote about the human race as a geological force strong enough to change our climate and threaten our existence as a species. I also defined meek as not merely humble, gentle and patient, but as cooperative. One part of the inheritance of the meek that I didn’t speak about but have always held as central to my thoughts on this subject is that after the aggressive and hateful extinguish themselves in a national blood-letting like Rwanda, that the meek will be left to rebuild a society based on justice and equality rather than hate and violence.

Now the formerly oppressed women, girls and orphans of Rwanda who were brutalized, raped and tortured en masse 20 years ago are in the unique position of inheriting their native land. In the process a balance is being established between the men and women of this society that may well lead this once desolate country to become an example of what human potential can achieve when it is based on the cooperation of the meek,  the kind and the respectful.

I like to look at this blossoming Rwandan transformation as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Sermon on the Mount that that indeed “the meek will inherit the earth.”

I would also like to think that the whole world could take a lesson from what the Rwandans have so cruelly endured. When girls and women are excluded and disenfranchised, when they are relegated to serfdom, when their human rights and their very bodies can be violated without consequence their society is on a collision course with disaster. When patriarchy enforces itself half the potential of the human species will never reach its potential. Any species that allows such incalculable waste will never have the tools it needs to survive much less flourish.

As I alluded to in my November post, humanity is facing multiple challenges that may well be surmountable. However, considering present circumstances and future trends, our survival as a race is by no means guaranteed. Certainly, without the genius of every man, woman and child willing to guide our troubled evolution we risk everything. Inequality, sexism, racism and hatred are no longer affordable. With nearly 8 billion souls on the planet, the margins of success grow thinner each day.

The Rwandan renewal, though incomplete, presents possibilities for us all; possibilities of a world where every one of us has an equal opportunity to contribute our best. When we get the best from everyone, we can all get the best of every thing.

 

 

Since this is National Yoga Month I want to highlight the ability of yoga to turn back the clock on aging. Personally, in the last twenty years, I’ve increased my capacity for abundant living with my yoga practice. I am stronger, have a better range of motion (I can do the splits) am much more mentally acute and have a more conscious, happier outlook on life than when I was younger.

The pervasive theme of aging is decline, senility and a less than graceful passing. But as I tell my yoga students, decrepitude is a choice. Rising and greeting each day with movement and the breath of joy is the path to conquer all the obstacles in life.

To celebrate my good health and gratitude for my yoga practice I entered the AARP New Faces of 50+ Model Search with the encouragement of my darling wife, Michele. I penned my motto: Gentleness is the Path to Strength, wrote a brief essay and had a new picture taken. Well, low and behold, out of hundreds of contestants I’m a finalist in the contest.

If I am lucky enough to win, I will use this opportunity to continue my yoga/ayurvedic education at the California College of Ayurveda.

If you’re over 50 and reading this, perhaps I could persuade you to take a moment and vote for me. You can VOTE EVERY DAY through Sept. 24. Every time you vote you enter yourself into a sweepstakes to win $5,000. It’s a simple process; even simpler if you’re an AARP member. Below is the URL for registration and voting.

http://sweeps.aarp.org/facesof50/

Simply copy and paste to your browser.

This could potentially mean a great deal to me. I thank you in advance for your vote.

May you be healthy, may you be happy, may you flourish to your potential.

Namaste,

Tim