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meditation

Meditation practises range from relaxation response meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, zazen, silent repetition of a word and autogenic training to steady aerobic exercise and even biofeedback. Let's dive in.

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zazen

zazen

One of the simplest ways of meditating, this technique involves nothing more than just being aware of your breathing. But don't be deceived by its simplicity. It is a potent tool for stilling the mind and regenerating the body. And concentrating your awareness on the breath is not as easy as it sounds. You need to find yourself a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. You can sit cross-legged on the floor with a small cushion underneath you, or you can sit in a chair if you prefer, but your back should be straight. This straight-back position is a requirement for many meditation techniques, since it creates a physical equilibrium which makes calm mental focus possible. Let your hands rest quietly in your lap. count your breaths Close your eyes. Take several long, slow breaths, breathing from your abdomen so it swells out with each in-breath and sinks in again when you breathe out. Now rock your body from side to side and then around in large, gentle circles from your hips to the top of your head. Rock in increasingly smaller circles until you gradually come to rest in the center. Now breathe in and out through your nose quietly without doing anything to your breathing - that is, don't try to breathe deeper or slower or faster, just breathe normally. With each out-breath count silently to yourself. So it goes: in-breath, out-breath `one'...in-breath, out-breath `two'... and so on up to ten, counting only on the out-breath. When you get to ten, go back and begin again at one. If you lose count halfway, it doesn't matter. Go back and start the count at one again. Counting isn't the point. It is a way of focusing your mind on your breath. After fifteen minutes - sneak a look at your wristwatch if you must - stop. Sit still for a moment, then open your eyes and slowly begin to go about your everyday activities again. If you are like most people, the first few times you do the exercise you will find you lose count often and you are frequently distracted by thoughts or noises. It makes no difference. It works just as well anyway. Each time some random thought distracts you, simply turn your mind gently back again to counting the breaths. Distractions don't change the effectiveness of the meditation. The exercise, like most techniques, is best done twice a day, morning and evening. A beginner will usually notice positive results by the end of a week, but they become increasingly apparent the longer you go on doing it. Some Buddhist monks do this exercise for two or three years before beginning any other form of meditation. beyond relaxation Once you are familiar with the practice of deep relaxation or meditation and with all the benefits it can bring you, you might be interested to go on to investigate other, more complex forms of meditation. There are many, for meditation is not a word that is easy to define. It takes in such different practices. Some forms such as zazen or vispassana (sometimes called insight meditation) demand complete immobility. You sit watching the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe, and whenever your mind wanders you gently turn it back to this observation. This simply concentrated attention, which can be likened to the `continuum of awareness' in Gestalt theory, is capable of bringing up many repressed feelings and thoughts that have been stifling your full expression and of liberating them. The Siddha Yoga of Muktananda and the chaotic meditation of Rajneesh, where the body is let go to move as it will, are examples of this sort. They often involve spontaneous changes in muscle tension and relaxation and in breathing, and they demand a sense of surrender to the physical body for the release of the mental, emotional and bodily tensions. These kinds of meditation can be particularly good for someone with a tendency to be physically rigid. Then there are the visualization meditations such as those used in Tibetan Buddhism in which you focus your mind on a particular image, fine-tuning it to the specific beneficial energies or influences this symbol carries (the creative imagery techniques in the next section are also an example of this kind of meditation). They have been used recently to cure serious illness and also in the sports world to improve athletic performance. Another form of meditation is that of "mindfulness," where you go about your daily activities simply being aware of each thing that you do, as in Gurdjieff's "self-remembering," shikantaza or mahamudra. These are just a few of the possibilities worth investigating if you want to go further. Each has something worthwhile to offer, and the mere act of learning a new method and the set of ideas and attitudes that go with it can be an exciting experience as well as tremendously beneficial.

Sacred Truth Ep. 45: The Zen Of Stress-Free

Sacred Truth Ep. 45: The Zen Of Stress-Free

Cats laze in the sun. The caterpillar dozes on a tomato plant. A bumblebee nestles between two blades of grass. Yet we humans seem to be continually on the run. It’s as though we have become programmed by the media, advertising, and personal growth gurus to do it better and faster, to be more efficient, to keep going no matter what. We have lost the art of stillness. As a result, we miss out on the gifts that come to us when for a time we put aside doing and let ourselves just enjoy being. “What goes up must come down.” It would be great if these words were engraved on the brain of those of us who live busy lives. When stress gets out of hand it wears you down and creates deep fatigue. When stress is prolonged, it can make you feel overwhelmed, undermine your peace of mind, and turn into adrenal exhaustion that undermines your health. Yet, when you learn how to balance with relaxation, what was once stressful can feel like the spice of your life—fun even when life makes heavy demands. You know you’ll be able to meet them and enjoy the process. You and I and every other living thing have two fundamental modes—solar and lunar. Physiologically the solar—stressed—mode is a dynamic outpouring of energy and spirit. Oriental cultures call this mode the yang rhythm. When it’s in control you feel excited, love the thrill of a challenge, and become determined to make things happen. The lunar mode, your yin rhythm, is its exact opposite. When lunar energy predominates, you move into deep relaxation, which restores and rebalances your body and mind. Instead of an outpouring of spirit and energy, you become deeply receptive—literally able to draw energy, strength, and bliss into your body and your life as a cat does lying in front of a winter fire. Few of us are taught how to ease back and forth from dynamic to receptive mode and vice versa. As a result, our bodies are seldom at peace. Our minds are always busy. We can’t let go of those endless internal monologues. Continually mulling over past and the future, we miss out on the joy of moment-to-moment awareness. We eat food but don’t really taste it. We make love then wonder why it is not always as satisfying as we know it could be. We have forgotten how to live in the moment from the core of our being and let life flow through us instead of attempting to “manage” it. In short, we have lost connection with the two rhythms on which lasting health, vitality, and joy depend. Let’s now look at the simplest and most efficient way of reconnecting with both. It’s called Zazen. A powerful technique for reestablishing life-giving balance, zazen is a simple, yet almost infinitely transformative practice. I have taught this simple practice to thousands of people who continue to sing its praises. Practiced for 10 or 15 minutes a day, it silences your endless internal chatter, releases anxiety, and stops the kind of tail chasing like an obsessive dog that gets us nowhere. It gently trains your body and mind to move at will from the dynamic, solar, stressed state into the deeply receptive, restorative lunar one, helping us to become fully present in the eternal NOW like a child, a sage, an artist, a lover. Zazen is all about a new way of breathing. The word Spirit means breath—that is, life force. In Japanese they call it ki, and in Chinese it is called chi. In English we refer to it as energy or power. It is the electrical energy that fuels the living matrix of your body. Practice zazen and you learn how closely your breath is connected with the kinds of thoughts you have and the emotions you feel. As you develop awareness of your breath, entering and leaving your body, and of all the sensations this brings, you come to touch the still point of your being. You start by sitting in a comfortable but straight back posture and silently counting your breath: Inhale... “one,” exhale... “two,” and so on up to ten. Then you begin again back at “one.” The point of the counting has nothing to do with trying to get to ten. This is just a simple tool. If you lose count and your mind begins to wander, notice this, bless your thoughts, whatever they are, then let them go and gently return your concentration to the breath and start again at “one.” Each time you choose consciously to let a thought go and bring yourself back to your breathing, you increase your ability to place your mind where you want it to be. Believe me, this is an incredibly powerful experience. Before long it will help you break free of the limiting thoughts, worries, and obsessions that can rule our lives. Your sense of connection with your innate being grows stronger, as does your capacity to experience bliss, pleasure, and the that you have the right to be who you are without having to conform to other people’s imperatives. Your spiritual power grows, as do your intuitive skills. Creativity, which is closely woven into intuition, blossoms. Ok let’s get started together: • Position Your Body: The way you hold your body—your posture—helps create your state of consciousness. There are many choices. You can sit tailor-fashion on the floor using a small firm pillow or zafu, which raises your bottom slightly off the floor. Sit on the front third of your zafu tipping your body slightly forward. This creates the strongest feeling of stability. You can also use a chair. When sitting on a chair it is also important to use a cushion so you can sit on the front third of the cushion and keep your back away from its back. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. However you choose to sit, your back needs to be straight. Imagine that your head is pressing against the ceiling. Now allow your muscles to soften so the natural curve of the back appears and the abdomen pushes slightly forward so your diaphragm moves freely—rising and falling with each breath. • Position Your Hands: Place your hands in what is known as a cosmic mudra where your active hand (right if you are right handed and left if you are left handed) lies palm up in your lap. Nestle the other hand gently onto the palm of the active hand so that the knuckles overlap and your thumb tips just touch, forming a kind of oval. This connects your body’s right and left energy fields. It acts as a symbol for the unity of the breath, your life, and the Universe. This also helps turn you inward away from the confusion and chaos of daily life. • Grow Quiet: Allow your body to settle into a comfortable posture. Your back is erect but never stiff, your chin is tucked in slightly, and the tip of your tongue rests easily against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. • Breathe through your nose. Lower your eyes so you are looking at the ground two or three feet in front of you. After a while you may be surprised to find that although your eyes are open, you are no longer “seeing” what you are looking at, since the focus of your attention will have shifted within. • Discover Your Center: This is the hara—the physical and spiritual center of the body. It is a place of power from which all the martial arts are performed. Located in the pelvis, two-and-a-half to three inches below the navel, it is also the center of gravity in your body. Allowing your focus of attention to rest at the hara creates a sense of balance for body and mind. As you breathe in, imagine your breath going down to the hara and returning from the hara. Of course, on a physical level the breath is really filling the lungs but you need to just imagine this, which helps you with the breathing. • Breathe Easy: Pay attention to your breath without trying to change anything. Be aware of the tactile feelings that come with breathing. Notice the cool air entering your body as you inhale through your nose and what it feels like as it travels down the back of your throat. Feel the warmth of the out-breath as you exhale. When you stay in touch with this tactile sensation of breathing, you are less likely to be distracted by thoughts. • Silently count the Ins and Outs: Inhalation is “one.” Exhalation is “two.” Inhalation is “three” and so on until you get to ten. Then start all over again. The simple agreement you make with yourself is only that when the mind begins to distract you, you notice this and consciously choose to let it go and go back to watching the breath, and begin counting again from one. • Zazen is as simple as this. Practicing it for fifteen minutes once or twice a day—preferably at the beginning of the day and the end of the day—you begin to touch the still point within you again and again. In the process you build up joriki—the power of focus and concentration so that, in time, instead of becoming caught up in the endless mental machinations that draw us away from living our lives fully whatever you are doing, you become able to choose consciously to let go and turn your mind towards whatever you choose. The connection with your innate being strengthens so that your inner world and your day-to-day life gradually come together in harmony. The more you practice the easier it becomes so, at will you are able to move into in and out of highly stressful situations that at one time would have made you frantic. In essence, the mind is meant to be like the still water of a lake at dawn. But when the rains fall or the winds blow, its natural glass-like surface, which is meant to reflect sun and moon, becomes disturbed with eddies and waves which distort your perception of your feelings, your body, and the world around you. As you practice zazen your mind returns to its mirror-like state. Then it is able to reflect the world around you without becoming obstructed or distorted by anything in it. You learn first hand that you do not have to hold on to anything to create the life you long for. You become truly free. This experience of freedom becomes contagious—a blessing not only for ourselves but for others as well. Marianne Williamson describes it well: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Trying to understand or rationalize the practice of zazen is a waste of time. Like every genuinely transformative practice, it can never be fully understood. Zazen can only be lived.

Relaxation Response Meditation

Relaxation Response Meditation

Harvard professor and expert in cardiology and behavioral medicine, Herbert Benson MD, began the first scientific studies into the effects of meditation almost 40 years ago. Ever since, Benson and his colleagues at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital have continued to conduct clinical research and to map the benefits of regularly practicing the relaxation response: In Benson’s own words, "a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.” The relaxation response can enhance brain function, slow age-related changes, stabilize heart beat, alleviate anxiety and dissipate stress. What is even more remarkable is this: When ordinary people with no training of any kind practice the relaxation response once or twice a day, it brings about cognitive restructuring and rapidly alters the expression of their genes. When it comes to rejuvenating, regenerating and healing the body, these findings are nothing short of revolutionary. LIVING STRESS-FREE Herbert Benson first described the relaxation response as the physiological opposite of the stressed fight-or-flight response. Working with his team, he then went on to pioneer the application of mind/body techniques to a wide range of health issues and meditative practices. They charted the measurable physical benefits which accrue from practicing any form of meditation, including those that rely on the silent repetition of a mantra—a word-sound. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are considered “sacred words” that hold particular sound vibrations to transmit particular powers. Each spiritual tradition has its own mantras, such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, these techniques work beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. BENSON’S QUANTUM LEAP To learn a relaxation response meditative practice (which I have recorded on video so you can do it with me), Benson suggests you choose a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, “flower”, “peace”, or “love”. He likes the word “one”, as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how to do it: Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: “one...one...one...” Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus. Herbert Benson Interview: Enhancing Health Through Mind Body Healing [video type=youtube src=v=KZ7JfC3_Zgc poster=http://d3oy45cyct8ffi.cloudfront.net/health/video/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2014/02/hgerbert-benson-INTERVIEW.jpg ]

Mind Magic

Mind Magic

Do you believe in magic? Despite what you might have heard, it’s real, and it resides within you: Specifically, within your mind. This is because your thoughts and emotions can directly alter your reality—in accordance with your desires—in measurable ways. You probably aren’t yet aware of the astounding power that your mind can have when used to full effect. But don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself how experimenting with a couple of simple practices can enable you to unleash its hidden ability, and literally change your world as a result. MIND OVER MATTER Looking back in history, science has always been considered ‘magic’ before it is fully understood and explained. The ways in which mind can affect matter are not yet completely explained by science, lending a supernatural association to this field. Certainly when you begin to harness mind power and observe it shaping your life, you’ll be convinced of its magical prowess! But there is also a solid and growing foundation of scientific evidence in its support. Physics, for example, has established that a change in one molecule can bring about an alteration to another—faster than the speed of light—even if they’re thousands of miles apart. Other scientific studies have proven that clear intention can, when coupled with a state of expanded awareness, have all sorts of physical repercussions: From increasing oxygen levels in cells to inhibiting cancer growth. PRAYER POWER One of the most effective ways to harness the power of intention and put it to work in your own life is through Affirmative Prayer. This technique involves verbally affirming your desired outcome—as if it already exists. It is incredibly powerful, and can be done either by yourself or in a group if you prefer. HERE’S HOW Recognition. To begin, open your heart and mind to the presence of the universal being all around us—or God, nature, spirits, or whatever you prefer. You might say, “I acknowledge Spirit as the birds chirping, the breath that fills my lungs…” or “I know that Spirit is everywhere in everything…there is no place that Spirit is not.” Unity. Honor and affirm your oneness with God, the Universe, or whatever entity you recognized in step one. “I am one with the presence of the Universe. That which the universe is, I am.” Realization. This is where you affirm the existence of whatever it is you desire to manifest, as if it has already happened. If you are praying for healing you might say “My body, mind and spirit are perfectly aligned and whole. I experience radiant health on all levels.” Thanksgiving. Give thanks to whatever in your life brings you gratitude. This will have the effect of ‘sprinkling water’ on the seeds of prayer you have planted. “I am grateful for my home and my friends… I give thanks for this opportunity to remember my wellbeing through prayer.” Release. Surrender your prayer to the universe in full belief that it will be handled. ‘I release my prayer freely and fully into universal law knowing that it is done. Amen.’ UNLEASH ENERGIES Energy changes always precede physical changes. This is one of the ways in which acupuncture works on human and animals as it allows a change in energy to take place within the organism. When we are carrying about a lot of latent energy—especially negative energies in the form of anger, grief, unfulfilled lust and so on—which cannot find a release, this interferes with our daily functioning. Often, it also stops us from achieving our goals. The good news is that, with a little mind-power, you can actually make this energy work to your advantage. When emotional or bodily energy is isolated and focused, it becomes a dynamically transmittable force. What this means is that, when coupled with clear intention, this bioelectrical discharge enters the atmosphere and can be used for whatever purpose you choose. Alternatively, you might simply want to rid yourself of a stifling emotional force that is holding you back from reaching your full potential. This is a worthy cause in itself. A ritualistic energy release is a wonderful way of spiritually detoxing your being, while turning negative energies into forces for good. HERE’S HOW Firstly, you’ll want to set up an appropriate ‘chamber’ where you will be comfortable and undisturbed. Use whatever props will help you intensify your emotional experience—a written letter or perhaps a photo or effigy of the person you are trying to help. Music is a wonderful evocative tool, possibly the best. Cleanse your chamber and open the ceremony using any combination of bell-ringing, incense-burning, and spoken word. Next, clearly announce your intention in as many or as few words as you wish, as long as it’s clear. Describe what you wish to achieve and why. Call upon the help of whatever spirits or supernatural entities (if any) you believe in. Continue to focus on whatever is making you angry, sad, etc. LET LOOSE When you feel that your emotions are profoundly heightened, release them. You might do this through an unsuppressed flow of tears, the violent destruction of an inanimate object, even orgasm if your goals are romantically-oriented (or you are trying to discharge excessive lust). Once all of your emotional and physical energy has been expended, close the ceremony, perhaps with a single sentence and the tolling of a bell. As with affirmative prayer, be confident in the knowledge that the universe will respond. Don’t worry about feeling stupid while going through this process. You will find that how you feel afterwards will justify the trouble you have taken. Not only will you feel like a fresh person: You will begin to see changes in your chosen areas of life—wherever you have directed the energy. You will discover how, using your own mind, you can create real-life magic … and you’ll never look back. TRY IT YOURSELF To discover the power of affirmative prayer for yourself, try this interactive prayer audio: www.theheartpod.com/pray-now.html. You can use it to pray for health, abundance, a relationship – or any subject dear to your heart. If you enjoy the process, you might like to start your own prayer group. You’ll find instructions on how to do that here: www.theheartpod.com/group-prayer.html.

Quantum Healing Via Consciousness

Quantum Healing Via Consciousness

Harvard professor and expert in cardiology and behavioral medicine, Herbert Benson MD, began the first scientific studies into the effects of meditation almost 40 years ago. Ever since, Benson and his colleagues at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital have continued to conduct clinical research and to map the benefits of regularly practicing the relaxation response: In Benson’s own words, "a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.” The relaxation response can enhance brain function, slow age-related changes, stabilize heart beat, alleviate anxiety and dissipate stress. What is even more remarkable is this: When ordinary people with no training of any kind practice the relaxation response once or twice a day, it brings about cognitive restructuring and rapidly alters the expression of their genes. When it comes to rejuvenating, regenerating and healing the body, these findings are nothing short of revolutionary. WHAT IS GENE EXPRESSION? Uninformed people as well as many mainstream scientists believe that our health, biological age and death are written into the genes we inherit at birth. They view genetic inheritance as something akin to a dour clairvoyant prediction of our future—something which we remain powerless to alter. It is true that the genes we inherit may indeed define our “risk” of early aging, degeneration and disease. But whether or not this “risk” becomes fact, so negative events actually happen to us, has far less to do with our genetic inheritance than it does with how we choose to live our lives—in effect, on how our genes are expressed. Gene expression is the scientific term for how well or poorly we manage our genetic inheritance. For instance, how do your own genes express themselves? Do your genes provide you with great vitality? Clarity of mind? Creativity? Freedom from illness? Or are they expressing themselves in negative ways, like creating obesity, sagging skin and spirit, early aging and degeneration? HOW’S YOUR OWN GENE EXPRESSION? You see, there are many possible versions of you tucked within your genes and chromosomes. Which versions become expressed—which potentials become “facts”—depends almost entirely on the way care for and use your body, handle stress, and orient yourself spiritually and creatively. Here’s where the food you eat, the exercise you get, and practicing Benson’s relaxation response really come into their own by helping to prevent degenerative conditions: Alzheimer’s disease, many forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, obesity—even overt signs of skin aging, to mention only a few. And there is even better news: Once signs of degeneration have already appeared, practicing the relaxation response daily can reverse them while rejuvenating mind and body, halting stress damage and setting your spirit free. All you need to tap into it to use a method to turn it on. The possibilities are many. They range from relaxation response meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, zazen, silent repetition of a word and autogenic training to steady aerobic exercise and even biofeedback. Some will work better for you or be more enjoyable than others. It is worthwhile trying a couple of different techniques so you discover which you like best. My own favorite method is “relaxation response meditation.” I am happy to be able to share with you a simple and fun video so you can do the exercise along with me. Click here to watch the video FREEDOM’S DISCIPLINE We live in an age where discipline is looked down on as something which interferes with our spontaneity and freedom. So we tend to rebel against it. But the kind of discipline needed for a daily relaxation response practice—far from stifling your ability to be involved in the spontaneous business of life—actually frees it. At first it may take a little effort to get up fifteen minutes early each morning to practice the technique and (if you can manage the time) take fifteen minutes out of your afternoon or early evening to practice again. You will find it is well worth it. The most common objection most people make is that they don't have time. The reality of the situation is this: Even if you practice this technique once a day for fifteen minutes, it will expand time for you. You’ll find you can do everything with greater efficiency and enjoyment, and far less of your energy is wasted on fruitless activity. Every minute you spend in this deeply relaxed meditative state will bring you a fourfold return in the energy you have to use in the rest of your life. LIVING STRESS-FREE Herbert Benson first described the relaxation response as the physiological opposite of the stressed fight-or-flight response. Working with his team, he then went on to pioneer the application of mind/body techniques to a wide range of health issues and meditative practices. They charted the measurable physical benefits which accrue from practicing any form of meditation, including those that rely on the silent repetition of a mantra—a word-sound. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are considered “sacred words” that hold particular sound vibrations to transmit particular powers. Each spiritual tradition has its own mantras, such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, these techniques work beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. BENSON’S QUANTUM LEAP To learn a relaxation response meditative practice (which I have recorded on video so you can do it with me), Benson suggests you choose a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, “flower”, “peace”, or “love”. He likes the word “one”, as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how to do it: Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: “one...one...one...” Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus. THE RACE IS ON We live in exciting times—times when the breach between science and spirituality originally ushered in 400 years ago by the Copernican Revolution is rapidly narrowing. We need to make use of the gifts that the closing of this gap brings us. Even if you have neglected yourself over the years—most of us have, by the way—it is never too late to change. Making simple alterations in the way you live can regenerate your health and rejuvenate your body and mind. In my opinion, practicing the relaxation response once or twice a day is a powerful way to begin. Collectively, we are involved in a race against time. It has no precedent in human history. The stakes are high—ultimately the future of our planet. Scientific discoveries about the relationships between mind and body, and about life changes which can alter our genetic expression, are here to be understood and used. Experiential methods of self-exploration, healing and personal transformation emerging from humanistic and transpersonal psychologies offer enormous potential for taking control of our lives and creating the future we want. Making good use of what is already tried and tested can transform the whole way you experience life. Living can become a process of growth and joy, instead of one of degeneration and disillusion. If a sufficient number of us undergo a process of deep physical and spiritual transformation, we may in time reach a critical mass that enables us, working together, to envisage another finer and more just way of living together on the planet. Two things are certain: Now is the time. We are the people. May your own life be blessed.

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive Relaxation

A technique based on the work of Edmund Jacobson, this is an excellent way to begin if you have never done any sort of relaxation or meditation technique before, because it gives most people some sense of what relaxation feels like even the first time you try it. As you repeat your technique (it is best done for fifteen minutes at least twice a day), you will find you enter a state of relaxation that is progressively deeper and deeper. The first few times you try the technique, you may find you have trouble picturing all the images as they come, or preventing your mind from wandering. It doesn't matter if you don't `see' anything - some people are more visual in their imagery, others more feeling; both work superbly well - just approach the exercise from your own point of view. become aware When you find your mind wandering (this is a common occurrence because your concentration is not used to focusing so intensely, or because you are experiencing something new to you, which naturally enough causes a little anxiety) ask yourself, `Why is my mind wandering?' Pursue that thought for a couple of minutes, then go back to the exercise and continue to go through it as best you can. All difficulties will iron themselves out automatically after you have practiced the technique long enough - so persevere to overcome any initial difficulties. Find a quiet room, preferably one without too much light, and sit in a comfortable chair that gives support to your back. Place both feet flat on the floor and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing and just let the air come in and out of your body without doing anything. Take a few deep breaths. Each time you breathe out, slowly repeat the word `relax' silently to yourself. focus Focus on your face, and let yourself feel any tension in your face or eyes, your jaw or tongue. Make a mental picture of tension - you could picture a clenched fist, a knotted rope, or a hard ball of steel - then mentally picture the tension going and everything becoming relaxed, like a limp rubber band. Feel your face and your eyes, your jaw and your tongue becoming relaxed, and as they relax, experience a wave of relaxation spreading through your whole body. (Each step takes about ten seconds.) Tighten up all the muscles in your face and eyes, squeezing them as hard as you can. Then let go and feel the relaxation spread throughout your body again. Now apply the same instruction to other parts of your body, moving slowly downwards from your head to your neck, shoulders, and upper back, arms, hands, chest, mid- and lower back, your abdomen, thighs and calves, ankles, feet and toes, going through each area until every part of your body is relaxed. With each part, picture the tension in it mentally and then picture it going away; each time, tense the muscles in that area and then let them go and feel the relaxation spreading. When you've relaxed every part of your body, sit quietly in this comfortable state for up to five minutes. Now let the muscles in your eyelids become lighter; get ready to open your eyes and come back to an awareness of the room. Open your eyes. Now you are ready to go about whatever you want to do.

Mantra Magic

Mantra Magic

Herbert Benson, who wrote The Relaxation Response and Maximum Mind, discovered that measurable physical benefits accrue from practicing any form of meditation which depends on the silent repetition of a mantra - a word-sound. This can be done by repeating any word over and over while the eyes are closed and the body is in a quiet state. Meditation using a mantra has a long tradition. Some mantras are said to be sacred words that have particular sound vibrations which transmit particular powers. Each tradition has its own mantras such as Guru Om, Om mani padme hum, La ilaha illa 'lla or, in the Catholic religion, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Whether their magic aspects are true or not, the technique works beautifully to replace the habitual chatter that runs through one's mind, worries about things past and things yet to come. Benson suggests you find a word that is pleasing to you. It could be anything, say, `flower', `peace', or `love'. He likes the word `one' as it is simple and has the connotation of unity about it. Here's how. Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for fifteen to twenty minutes and a comfortable chair that supports your back. Sit down and close your eyes. Give yourself a moment to settle in and you are ready to begin. Simply sit there, feet on the floor and eyes closed, quietly repeating your word over and over to yourself: `one...one...one...' Whenever your mind wanders or you are disturbed by a sound or thought, simply turn your mind gently back to repeating the word again. That is all there is to it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, stop repeating the mantra and get ready to open your eyes. Open your eyes, stretch, and go about your everyday activities. This is a particularly useful technique once you have practiced it a few times because you can do it in so many different places, such as in a waiting room or on a commuter train or bus.

Zazen: Power in Simplicity

Zazen: Power in Simplicity

Zazen has been practiced for 2,500 years. It traveled from India, China and Japan to arrive in the West around the middle of the last century. The practice of zazen is neither a means of introspection nor of contemplation. It is a means by which we come to experience the unity with our selves and the Universe. As a technique, it is easy to learn and simple to practice. As with most valuable techniques, what matters is not trying to understand it, for there is nothing in it to be understood. What matters is doing it. As you do it day by day, it transforms your health and your life. A powerful technique for re-establishing life-giving balance at every level, zazen is a simple, yet almost infinitely transformative practice. Zazen deepens our connection with the innate self simply by becoming aware of our breathing. Practice it daily, and it can relieve fear, release anxieties and clear away internal monologues where the mind chases its tail like an obsessive dog, getting nowhere. Zazen also strengthens vitality, and teaches us the art of being present in the eternal NOW. STILL WATERS RUN DEEP In essence, the human mind is meant to be like the still water of a lake at dawn. But, when the rains fall or the winds blow, its natural glass-like surface, which is meant to reflect the sun and the moon, gets disturbed with eddies and waves, distorting our perception of our bodies, ourselves and the world around us. As we practice zazen, our mind returns to its mirror-like state. Then it can reflect the world around us without becoming obstructed or distorted by anything in it. Gradually we learn that we do not have to hold on to anything to be able to create the life for which we long. We become free. This experience of freedom becomes contagious—a blessing not only for ourselves but for others. Marianne Williamson said it well: ‘As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ The word ‘spirit’ means breath—that is, life force. In Japanese they call it ki, in Chinese chi. In English we refer to it as energy or power. It is the electrical energy that fuels the living matrix of your body. Practice zazen and you learn how closely the way your breath is connected with the kind of thoughts you have and the emotions you feel. Working with the breath, you inadvertently work with body and mind. For these three are different aspects of a single reality. EXPAND CONSCIOUSNESS As we develop awareness of the breath, as it enters and leaves our body, and of all the sensations this brings, we come to touch the ‘still point’ and gradually develop a natural ability to focus the mind. We start by sitting in a comfortable but straight posture and counting the breath: inhale . . . ‘one’, exhale . . . ‘two’, and so on, up to ten. Then we begin again back at ‘one’. The point of the counting has nothing to do with trying to get to ten—it is just a simple tool for focusing attention. If you lose count and your mind begins to wander, notice this, bless your thoughts, whatever they are, then let them go by gently returning your concentration to the breath and starting again at ‘one’. Each time you choose consciously to let a thought go and bring yourself back to your breathing, you increase your ability to place your mind where you want it to be. It’s an incredibly powerful experience. After a while, you begin to break free of the limiting thoughts, worries and obsessions that rule most people’s lives. Connection with your innate being grows stronger, as does your capacity to experience bliss, pleasure and the sense that you have the right to be who you are without having to conform to other people’s imperatives. Your spiritual power grows, as do your intuitive skills. Creativity, which is closely allied to intuition, blossoms. We lose the sense of isolation which so many have, where we feel alone and alienated from the Universe. Want to try it? Let’s get started. POSITION YOUR BODY The way you hold your body—your posture—helps create your state of consciousness. There are many choices. You can sit tailor-fashion on the floor, using a small firm pillow, or zafu, which raises your bottom slightly off the floor. Sit on the front third of your zafu, tipping the body slightly forward. This creates the strongest feeling of stability. You can also use a chair. When sitting on a chair it is important also to use a cushion so that you can sit on the front third of the cushion and keep your back away from its back. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. However you choose to sit, your back needs to be straight. Imagine that your head is pressing against the ceiling. Now allow your muscles to soften so the natural curve of the back appears and the abdomen pushes slightly forward so that the diaphragm moves freely—rising and falling with each breath. POSITION YOUR HANDS Place your hands in what is known as a cosmic mudra, where your active hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) lies palm up in your lap. Nestle the other hand gently on to the palm of the active hand so that the knuckles overlap and your thumb tips just touch, forming a kind of oval. This connects your body’s right and left energy fields. It also acts as a symbol for the unity of the breath, your life, and the Universe. This also helps turn you inwards away from the confusion and chaos of daily life. GROW QUIET Allow your body to settle into a comfortable posture. Your back is erect but never stiff; your chin is tucked in slightly; the tip of your tongue rests easily against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth, which keeps you from salivating too much. Breathe through your nose. Lower your eyes so that you are looking at the ground 2 or 3 feet in front of you. After a while you may be surprised to find that, although your eyes are open, you are no longer ‘seeing’ what you are looking at, since the focus of your attention will have shifted within. GO TO THE CENTER This is the hara—the physical and spiritual centre of the body. It is a place of power from which all the martial arts are performed. Located in the pelvis, 2½ to 3 inches below the navel, it is also the centre of gravity in the body. Allowing your focus of attention to rest at the hara creates a sense of balance for body and mind. As you breathe in, imagine your breath going down to the hara, then returning from the hara as you breathe out. Of course, on a physical level the breath is really filling the lungs, but imagining this helps centre you. BREATHE EASY Pay attention to your breath without trying to change anything. Be aware of the tactile feelings that come with breathing. Notice the cool air entering your body as you inhale through your nose and what it feels like as it travels down the back of your throat. Feel the warmth of the out-breath as you exhale. When you stay in touch with this tactile sensation of breathing, you are less likely to be distracted by thoughts. COUNT THE INS AND OUTS Inhalation is ‘one’. Exhalation is ‘two’. Inhalation is ‘three’ and so on until you get to ten. Then start all over again. The simple agreement you make with yourself is only that when the mind begins to distract you, you notice this and consciously choose to let it go, then go back to watching the breath, and begin counting again from one. Zazen is as simple as that. Practicing it for 15 minutes twice a day—preferably at the beginning of the day and the end of the day—we touch the still point within us again and again. In the process we begin to build up joriki—the power of focus and concentration so that, in time, instead of becoming caught up in the endless mental machinations that draw us away from living our lives fully whatever we are doing, we become able to choose consciously to let go and turn our mind towards whatever we wish. The connection with our innate being strengthens so that our inner world and our day-to-day life come together in harmony. The more you practice, the easier it becomes eventually, at will, to move into your still point even in highly stressful situations that once had you frantic. Practicing zazen day after day brings many other gifts from the Universe as well. The practice of zazen is highly experiential. Trying to understand or rationalize it is a waste of time. Like most transformative practices, it can never be fully understood; it is meant to be lived.

A Benevolent Bath

A Benevolent Bath

Allow an hour for the whole process of taking a delicious treat of a bath from beginning to end. Make sure you have everything you need - towel, loofa or hemp glove, and another towel to use as a headrest. Add essential oils to the water as the bath is filling, using about ten to fifteen drops total of either a single essence or of a mixture for a large bath. Each essence has a different effect on the mind and body (see below).  When you get into the bath, gently scrub yourself all over with a hemp glove or a loofa. Then just relax and soak for a few minutes, letting the heat penetrate your muscles.  Keep a cool cloth nearby to smooth over your face when needed. Let the essential oils work their wonders while you carry out a relaxing and waste-eliminating self-massage.  Water is the perfect medium for self-massage. The heat (remember not to have your bath too hot and stimulating) of the water works silent wonders, and it supports your body so that you have easy access to feet, legs, arms and torso while still remaining relaxed. When your bath is finished, lie down for ten minutes with an eye mask or a piece of dark fabric across your eyes and keep warm. the massage message Self-massage is nothing more than stroking, kneading, pushing and pressing your skin and muscles. Start with your feet. Grasp one foot between thumb and fingers and press in between the tendons, gently at first, then harder and harder, moving from the toes up towards the ankle. Then, using your fingertips and knuckles, go over the soles of your feet. Wherever you find a sore spot, work harder until you feel the discomfort melt beneath your hand. Now do your heel, grasping it between thumb and fingers and working around the area of the Achilles tendon. This is also a good time to make circles with your foot to loosen the ankle joint. Repeat this with the other foot, and then go on to your legs. Lift each leg in turn and deeply stroke the flesh on the back, from the ankle up to the knee. Then go back to the ankle again and repeat the same motions on the side and front of the calf. Keep working and, as you massage a little deeper with each stroke, you will gradually find that any tautness softens. Now go over your thighs with the same movement, and afterwards knead and squeeze around the knee area wherever there are trouble spots, just as you did on the feet. Now knead each thigh and hip. Then go on to your arms. Knead and squeeze every spot you can reach on your shoulders and neck, looking for sore spots and focusing on the areas between joints and muscles. Pay particular attention to the tops of shoulders, where most of us lock away our tension. Grasp this area in your thumb and fingers and insistently ease away any hardness you find there. Finally, go over your ribs, doing each side with its opposite hand. essence alchemy As part of the benevolent bath, choose essential oils not so much for what they can do for your skin as what they can do to expand your consciousness and lift your spirit. Whatever your mental state may be, it has an enchanting antidote from the world of flowers: Negative State Essential Oil Remedy anger: ylang ylang, rose, chamomile resentment: rose sadness: hyssop, marjoram, sandalwood mental fatigue: basil, peppermint, cypress, patchouli worry: lavender feeling jaded: neroli, melissa, camphor feelings of weakness: chamomile, jasmine, melissa irritability: frankincense, marjoram, lavender, chamomile physical exhaustion: jasmine, rosemary, juniper, patchouli anxiety: sage, juniper, basil, jasmine

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