Archive for April, 2011

A Shamatha meditation study done in Colorado, written up in the UK newspaper the Guardian, suggests that meditation techniques can protect chromosomes from degenerating. The article cites many possible benefits of a regular meditation practice and the “jaw-dropping advances in the last decade or two” in the brain-body research.

Long-term retreats, such as the one in the study, are not feasible for most.  However, short “bursts” of meditation  during the day can be very effective as well. For mini-meditations that can be done throughout the day, the breathing meditation practices of pranayama are available as free downloads at Mahasri Yoga.

Here are some salient points extracted word-for-word from the article, though this article is highly recommended to get the full context.

* One result in particular has potentially stunning implications: that by protecting caps called telomeres on the ends of our chromosomes, meditation might help to delay the process of ageing.

* Reported physical effects (of meditation) include lowering blood pressure, helping psoriasis to heal, and boosting the immune response in vaccine recipients and cancer patients. In a pilot study in 2008, Willem Kuyken, head of the Mood Disorders Centre at Exeter University, showed that mindfulness meditation was more effective than drug treatment in preventing relapse in patients with recurrent depression. And in 2009, David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that it slowed disease progression in patients with HIV.

* So how could focusing on your thoughts have such impressive physical effects? The assumption that meditation simply induces a state of relaxation is “dead wrong”, says (Charles) Raison (Emory University in Atlanta). Brain-imaging studies suggest that it triggers active processes within the brain, and can cause physical changes to the structure of regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and cognitive processing.

* The question of how the immaterial mind affects the material body remains a thorny philosophical problem, but on a practical level, “our understanding of the brain-body dialogue has made jaw-dropping advances in the last decade or two,” says Raison. One of the most dramatic links between the mind and health is the physiological pathways that have evolved to respond to stress, and these can explain much about how meditation works.

* Meditation seems to be effective in changing the way that we respond to external events. After short courses of mindfulness meditation, people produce less of the stress hormone cortisol, and mount a smaller inflammatory response to stress. One study linked meditators’ lower stress to changes in the amygdala – a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

* For those of us who don’t have time for retreats, (Elissa) Epel (University of California, San Francisco) suggests “mini-meditations” – focusing on breathing or being aware of our surroundings – at regular points throughout the day. And though meditation seems to be a particularly effective route to reducing stress and protecting telomeres, it’s not the only one. “Lots of people have no interest in meditation, and that’s fine,” says Creswell. Exercise has been shown to buffer the effects of stress on telomeres, for example, while stress management programmes and writing emotional diaries can help to delay the progression of HIV.

* For a scientific conclusion it sounds scarily spiritual. But researchers warn that in our modern, work-obsessed society we are increasingly living on autopilot, reacting blindly to tweets and emails instead of taking the time to think about what really matters. If we don’t give our minds a break from that treadmill, the physical effects can be scarily real.

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All content on the website  http://mahasriyoga.com is now free.  We invite everyone to visit. Mahasri Yoga is the vision and belief that the universal, timeless practices of the yoga tradition can benefit people everywhere. By creating physical, emotional, and mental harmony, we create a more peaceful and prosperous environment for everyone.

The practices given here are not all widely taught. Yoga meditation is not within everyone’s reach. In fact, few have knowledge or access to it given the way yoga business models have developed. With existing technology, it is possible to change that. Two or three dedicated people can provide excellent yoga meditation practices to anyone in the world (hospitals, colleges, schools, corporations, families) who has access to a computer and the Internet.

Our intent is to make a difference by providing information and support. On-line, step-by-step practices are progressive and easy to download. We know from experience, as well as studies, that these practices are significantly helpful in managing pain, stress, trauma, and in healing. They are extremely meaningful to people’s lives. We believe they belong to all human beings.

In order to maintain our objective independence, the site does not accept advertising. Nor is it associated with any organization, institution, or center. The entire space is devoted to presenting unbiased information. It is aimed at helping readers understand yoga, its purpose, and its relevance to every life, free of any ideology or brand name.

We want to make a global difference by making available methods and practices for inner peace to everyone.  If you already share our belief, please help spread the word and invite others to visit and use the website frequently. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

Mahasri Yoga does not claim or aspire to be yet another brand or style of yoga! The information here has been given and taught by gurus for centuries. We respect all gurus (remover of darkness) of every tradition.

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Fasting is part of the spiritual tradition of all religions.  It also has physiological, psychological, and metabolic implications that affect health. A fast means different things in various religions–from the Jain fast where there is no food for 36 hours to partial fasts that allow one main meal and beverages and fruit. There are indications that some form of fasting may have physiological benefits but it must clearly be done in consultation with a doctor.  Many medical tests require some type of fasting that we know cause metabolic changes.

Looking and sifting through various sources for information on fasting, the following are some of the most informative ones.

Hindu Science of Fasting by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati is about the spiritual significance of fasting as a form of purification. The lunar cycle plays a major role.

Fasting for Health and Spiritual Development by Swami Satyananda Saraswati briefly touches on the psychosomatic and  hormonal effects; effect on  meditation; and the important days for fasting. However, some spiritual beliefs and discipline regarding fasting are not suitable for most of us.

Psychophysiology of Fasting by Dr. Swami Karmananda Saraswati is a brief summary of fasting and the brain, nervous system, and endocrine system.

Some fasting may reduce cancer risk as indicated by the study on WorldHealth.net.

The following abstract from a study from the National Academy of Sciences summarizes the health benefits for alternate-day fasting which is impractical and unrealistic on a long-term basis.

Abstract: Dietary restriction has been shown to have several health benefits including increased insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, reduced morbidity, and increased life span. The mechanism remains unknown, but the need for a long-term reduction in caloric intake to achieve these benefits has been assumed. We report that when C57BL/6 mice are maintained on an intermittent fasting (alternate-day fasting) dietary-restriction regimen their overall food intake is not decreased and their body weight is maintained. Nevertheless, intermittent fasting resulted in beneficial effects that met or exceeded those of caloric restriction including reduced serum glucose and insulin levels and increased resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic stress. Intermittent fasting therefore has beneficial effects on glucose regulation and neuronal resistance to injury in these mice that are independent of caloric intake.

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The rituals of  Spring hold the same importance in yoga and meditation as they do in all religions. They make space for all the positives to flow in. The dormant gestation of winter ends. The perfect balance of Spring is associated with the birth of the golden egg of light and life, hiranyagarbh.

Spring and Fall equinoxes are when Earth is in a state of balance. Day and night are equal, light and darkness are balanced. Heat and cold are equipoised. It is this state of equilibrium that gives birth to evolution.

For yogis, it is a perfect time to begin a new practice, to renew the commitment to a spiritual growth. We clean our homes, our bodies, our minds, and revitalize our energy levels. Clutter and unnecessary baggage is discarded at all levels to clear space for positive energy to flow in.

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Today is World Health Day.  It  fits well with yoga spring cleaning of body and mind. Personal hygiene, cleanliness, sanitation of environment is one aspect of saucha (cleanliness).  Spring cleaning the home and environment is important in three ways:

*Psychologically–declutters the mind by sorting thoughts and emotions associated with belongings/relationships and creates a more clear mental space

*Physiologically–more hygienic, sanitary personal space

*Environmentally–a less toxic, less infected, more sanitary, and more disease-free community space

As increasingly more people travel to India on yoga trips, and some have returned quickly after becoming really sick, the  link below will be interesting.

I am unable to hyperlink the story today on Bloomberg online about  Delhi Belly and the numerous microbes in India that are resistant to antibiotics. You may see it at http://www.bloomberg.com today.

World Health Day: Antimicrobial Resistance

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1. Question: What did the sign in the window of the yoga master
searching for a new disciple say?

Answer: Inquire within!

2. When teaching Kapalabhati breathing: If you begin to feel faint or dizzy, stop breathing and relax.

3. Question: Why did the yogi refuse anesthesia when
having his wisdom teeth removed?

Answer: He wanted transcend-dental-medication.

4. Question: How many Iyengar yogis does it take to replace a light bulb?
Answer: Only one ! But, the one will need: a sticky mat, a backless chair, two blocks, five blankets, a bolster, six ropes, two belts, six assorted benches, a bandage, a slant board, two quarter rounds, three weights, one wooden horse, a certificate.

The jokes are from http://www.lucid-dreams.com/yoga/yoga-jokes.htm.

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In yoga, cleaning and purifying the mind is the third step in spring cleaning.  Having cleaned and energized the body and breath, the revitalized energy can be directed to the mind more effectively.

Yoga exercise for gentle mental cleansing/purification of the mind beneficial for everyone: trataka (steady gaze) on a candle flame (link to track on Mahasri Yoga).

The word trataka means a steady gaze. The yogic practice withdraws the senses from the external environment to the internal space within. It clears the mental space and uses an external flame to trigger the vision of the internal flame. Trataka is a soothing and comforting yoga meditation. Cancer patients and people with chronic illnesses find strength and peace in it. Trataka is a yoga meditation for focus and concentration.

Yoga meditation for moderate mental cleansing/purification of the mind:Yoga Nidra with chakras and bija mantras (seed sound vibrations).

Yoga meditation for advanced mental cleansing/purification of the mind through chakras and elements: tattwa shuddhi, also known as bhuta shuddhi (purification of the elements) for the very advanced.

The practice of tattwa shuddhi is described in detail in the book Tattwa Shuddhi by Swami Satyasangananda of the Bihar School of Yoga. Some of us have practiced this together over several weeks in the past. The link for bhuta shuddhi is to a CD from The Himalayan Institute. ( The blog and website are independent of all organizations and institutions.)

After cleaning out the body (see the blog post Yoga Spring Cleaning: Digestive System), practice the appropriate pranayama (see the blog post Yoga Spring Cleaning: Respiratory System), and then end with a  meditation.

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