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Making Peace With Grief

Happy Circle is open and free for everyone. As we explore the nature of grief, can we make peace with an emotion that is such a potent part of existence?

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As I see people strenuously doing crunches and sit-ups at the gym, alone and with trainers, here is the case made by Harvard Medical School’s Focus on Fitness e-newsletter: yoga planks are good for core fitness, sit-ups and crunches are not good for the back.

A decade ago, sit-ups and grunting crunches were the standard for tight abs and slim waistlines. But research has proven that they are not effective and may actually cause harm. The repeated sit-ups push the curved spine against the floor with pressure causing damage to the compressed discs in the small of the back. Dr. Stuart McGill’s (known for his expertise on the back) work suggests that in some people the crunches may cause herniated discs.

Sit-ups can tug on tight hip flexors that are engaged in the movement–hip flexors are muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar vertebrae. This results in lower back pain and discomfort.

Abdominal muscles are just a small group of core muscles. So using just a small group means the rest of the muscles are not worked.

Planks do not wear and tear the vertebrae. They also engage many more muscles–on the front, sides, and back. So they strengthen the whole torso, not just the abs.

In BBC’s Future series article, The surprising downside of sit-ups, a 2011 Illinois study had one group do daily sit-ups for six weeks and the control group did none. The sit-ups  made no difference to waist size or the abdominal fat!

The BBC article states: “Research published in 2005 on soldiers stationed at the US military’s Fort Bragg attributed 56% of all the injuries sustained during the two-yearly Army Physical Fitness Test to sit-ups.”

One study suggests that it is not the wear and tear on the discs but genetics that predispose some people to back injury more than others.

Readers may also want to look at a previous post on this blog from November 7, 2011:

https://yogamedblog.wordpress.com/tag/stuart-mcgill/

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The relaxation response triggered by yoga and meditation counters the stress response. When the mind-body has repeated experiences of stress, the stress response triggers faster as a survival mechanism and the stress hormones, over time, cause health problems. Stress may contribute to, or exacerbate, some of these familiar health problems:

anxiety * arthritis * constipation * depression * diabetes * headaches * heart problems * heartburn * infectious diseases such as colds and herpes * insomnia * irritable bowel syndrome * backaches, joint aches, abdominal pain * PMS * ulcers

This is now widely accepted knowledge as I am learning in the Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health by Professor Jason M. Satterfield Ph.D (Great Courses from The Teaching Company).  The stress response is well-explained in the following excerpt from:

Now and Zen: How mindfulness can change your brain and improve your health Longwood Seminars, March 8, 2016 Content provided by Harvard Health Publications health.

Collectively, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands make up the HPA axis, which plays a pivotal role in triggering the stress response. The hypothalamus sends a chemical messenger (corticotropinreleasing factor, or CRF) to the nearby pituitary gland, which then releases its own chemical messenger (adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH) into the bloodstream. ACTH travels to the adrenal glands, which respond by releasing a number of stress hormones into the bloodstream. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones, too. The combined effects of these hormones are widespread…Senses become sharper, muscles tighten, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, and breathing quickens. All of this prepares you to fight or flee in the face of danger. Simultaneously, the hypothalamus fires up the autonomic nervous system.

Yoga and meditation activate the relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts the overactive sympathetic nervous system. (This has finally become mainstream and is no longer “fringe medicine”!) Stress hormones such as cortisol are reduced. Blood pressure may drop, heart beat slows down, breathing is slower, the muscles relax.

Along with life style changes, cultivating positive behaviors, and improved diets, yoga and meditation offer very cost-effective ways to significantly improve health outcomes. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also found to be effective, but it can be very expensive.

For a study at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (see the link above), two groups were studied: long-term practitioners of yoga, meditation, and repetitive prayers and a group with no prior experience of these techniques. The novice group was taught a 20-minutes sequence with diaphragmatic breathing, body scan, mantra repetition, and mindfulness. Blood samples were taken from both groups to examine gene activity–specifically on how the body deals with free radicals.

The long-term practitioners had the most significant positive change and the novice group saw some positive change after eight weeks of practice. However, this effect is not long-term, suggesting that like physical exercise, the relaxation response needs to be triggered regularly. Yoga, meditation, prayers, need to be part of a regular routine.

I have two links to free audio tracks (diaphragmatic breathing and body scan) for readers of this blog who may want to start a regular practice.

 

 

wave-320755_1280In compiling this list, Ridgewood’s hidden diversity has become apparent in the number of private meditation groups that offer oases of peace–from Centering Prayer to Vedanta and Zen/Buddhist teachings to Yoga meditations.  These are quietly welcoming communities that practice, and keep alive, the ancient traditions of meditation in a contemporary society. Some do not charge anything.

These are the groups I am aware of–please get in touch with me if there are other groups in Ridgewood so they can be included on this list.

Arya Samaj of New Jersey

105 Cottage Place

Ridgewood, NJ 07450

The mission of Arya Samaj is to bring harmony to the community through Vedanta teachings. The group meets every Sunday and offers yoga classes from 1:30 to 2:30 PM. It is followed by Havan (fire ritual) and 15 minutes of meditation.

Contact: Sanjeev Kumar 201-527-5700.

www.aryasamajofnewjersey.com 

Centering Prayer

Westside Presbyterian Church (Gathering Room)

6 S Monroe Street, Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Centering Prayer is a form of Christian silent meditation that has been practiced for many years. It is a form of “resting in God” and letting go of anxieties and fears—as well as any emotions that keep the Love of Christ from flowing through us. This class meets regularly at 9:25 am, ending at 9:50 in time for participants to gather upstairs for the 10:00 am service. Please direct any questions to Susan McBrayer at susanmcb4@gmail.com or Heidi Ahlborn at heidi.ahlborn@gmail.com. We welcome you to join us as we celebrate the loving, compassionate, forgiving, non-judgmental and inclusive Spirit of God.

Heart Circle Sangha

451 Hillcrest Road

Ridgewood, NJ 07450

877-442-7936

Heart Circle Sangha fosters the practice and study of Buddhism through meditation, study, services, retreats and workshops. Our purpose is to awaken the spirit of living in the present moment and appreciating our life just as it is. We are committed to serving our communities and the world. Our practice schedule is as follows: Sunday 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, Monday 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm, Wednesday 7:00 am to 8:00 am. For beginning instruction come on Sunday at 9:00 am.
WWW.HEARTCIRCLESANGHA.ORG

Mahasri Yoga

The extensive website, founded by Meena Modi, a longtime Ridgewood resident, yoga and meditation teacher, is committed to serving the local as well as global community—peace begins with each one of us. The website is a free resource for numerous Yoga Nidra and other meditation tracks, book reviews, and articles on Yoga and Yoga-based meditations. The accompanying blog informs on research.

Currently, Mahasri Yoga conducts free Happy Circle meditations through Parks and Recreation, The Village Hall, Ridgewood.

Contact: Meena Modi info@mahasriyoga.com

www.mahasriyoga.com and www.yogamedblog.wordpress.com

New Moon Zendo

The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood

113 Cottage Place, Fellowship Room

Ridgewood, NJ 07450

The Zen group New Moon Zendo is led by Carl Viggiani, Sensei, on Mondays from 8 pm to 9:30 pm. New arrivals must call ahead and come at 7:30 pm for instructions. The contact person is Marcia Spitz at 201-652-0313, phone contact preferred (email mbpianopots@aol.com) or Ralph Pleasic at pleasic@optonline.net.

Ridgewood Meditation and Buddhism

Christ Episcopal Church

105 Cottage Place

Ridgewood NJ 07450

Classes held on Wednesdays from 7:30 pm to 9 pm, $15, no registration. Ridgewood meditation and Buddhism classes are offered by the Dharmachakra Buddhist Center, and are suitable for both beginners and more advanced meditation practitioners. These classes offer meditation techniques and teachings on the fundamentals of Buddhism, with an emphasis on their practical application in everyday life. The center also offers classes through the Ridgewood Community School on certain Tuesdays. Please call the Community School for those details.

Contact: contact@meditatenj.org phone: 973-847-5421

www.meditatenj.org

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Happy Circle May 26 Yoga Nidra is cancelled as it is the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. We will meet Friday, June 23, from 2-3 PM at the Senior Lounge, Village Hall, and then regroup in the fall. Please email me any thoughts, questions you may have.

Have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend!

We meet Friday April 28 from 2-3 PM at the Senior Lounge, Village Hall. As it gets warmer, it may be more comfortable to lie on the floor for those who wish to do so.
This will be a special meditation with new elements. Please come a few minutes early to settle in. Here is a poem for contemplation for the meditation:
Green Mountain
You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care
As the peach blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown
I have a world apart that is not among men
By Li Po (translated by A S Kline)

White Ownership of Buddhism

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Southeast Asians may add yoga and meditation to this title as well. In the US, 67 percent of Buddhists are Asian. Yet, the face of American Buddhism is predominantly white as Asians have been marginalized. Funie Hsu, an assistant professor of American Studies at San Jose State University and a board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, addresses this in a frank and forthright manner in the Lion’s Roar. This post highlights major points but interested readers should read the whole article. As we resist the inequality, racism, and bigotry, let us not forget that they all exist even in the space of mindfulness and meditation–in complete contradiction to the teachings. It is worth contemplation! Hsu suggests: deep contemplation on this can help shatter the fragility of the false self and the delusion of racial colorblindness. 

The points Hsu makes are valid in many ways to yoga which includes meditation. A major difference is that Southeast Asians did not suffer the internment that the Japanese Americans went through.

Hsu writes: it’s time we recognize the contributions of Asian American Buddhists and address the racism and cultural appropriation that marginalizes their ongoing role in transmitting the dharma in the West.

White supremacy has systematically alienated Asian and Asian American Buddhist communities and diminished the validity of our relationship to Buddhism in the U.S. The erasure and exclusion of our communities is not merely about a lack of inclusion; to put it so simply would be dismissive of the facts of history. The exclusion of Asian and Asian American Buddhists from conversations on American Buddhism is cultural appropriation. It renders invisible our foundational role in establishing and maintaining Buddhism in America despite white supremacy. Thus, such erasure denies our right to claim our deep and specific connection—indeed, our centrality—to American Buddhism. It appropriates our historical authority in order to promote the white ownership of an indigenous Asian practice for liberation.

The white ownership of Buddhism is claimed through delegitimizing the validity and long history of our traditions, then appropriating the practices on the pretext of performing them more correctly.

Hsu concludes: In the U.S., that path (the three gems of Buddha, dharma, and sangha) includes the liberation of suffering from white supremacy. This is American Buddhism.

It is also American yoga and meditation.