Archive for the ‘Online Resources’ Category

Following through on the previous post, music (not just kirtan) can have a profound role in some diseases like Alzheimer’s  with the accompanying memory loss and dementia. Here is the lead to a scientific documentary:

Slowly, inevitably, Alzheimer’s disease robs a person of profound memories, like the names and faces of loved ones. Right now, there’s no cure. But one researcher thinks he may have found a way to help mitigate the effects of the disease—using music. Listen in to learn how.

Check out this moving and inspiring PBS documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/alzheimers-music-au.html.



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This is the first time I have come across the term “medical meditation”. A specific meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK) looks very promising if the numerous research studies cited in “A White Paper: Yoga and Medical Meditation™ as Alzheimer’s Prevention Medicine” , by The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation‘s Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., are well-designed and statistically valid. The foundation offers a structured prevention program, online resources and information, and offers this background:

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects 5.4 million Americans and many more millions world-wide. As baby-boomers age, these numbers are predicted to sky-rocket to 16 million in the USA alone by 2050. Women especially bear the brunt of this raging epidemic, both as caregivers and patients. They are twice as likely as men to develop AD in their 60’s. A  woman’s lifetime risk for AD is higher than for breast cancer: 1 in 6 vs. 1 in 11. AD costs society as much as heart disease and cancer. Every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with AD. It is our 6th leading cause of death. Two-thirds of all AD patients are women.

The paper goes on to make a long series of claims, with brain images or charts, supported by studies cited at the end of each claim.

  • reverses memory loss
  • enhances mood and well-being
  • provides anti-aging effect on the brain, body, and genes
  • leads to less tress, increased telomerase, and reduced depression
  • dramatically increases telomerase activity
  • down regulates inflammatory genes
  • up regulates 19 health-promoting genes
  • replenishes vital neurotransmitter and brain chemicals
  • improves sleep
  • promotes clarity of purpose
  • enhances psychological and spiritual well-being
  • activates the whole brain

Kirtan Kriya uses the four stages of mantra japa (repetition of a mantra) with the Sikh mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa (Sat Naam) coordinated with finger movements and visualization. Readers interested in all the details should go to the paper via the link above. The practice from the paper is reproduced below but we cannot reproduce the figures that illustrate the movements.

How To Do Kirtan Kriya

KK is a 12-minute singing exercise that people have been practicing for thousands of years. It brings together several actions: breath work, singing or chanting, finger movements (mudras), and visualization. Hence, it is a multifaceted, multisensory exercise that engages the whole brain and increases cerebral blood flow.

Posture: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Alternatively, you can sit on the floor with your legs crossed, although older adults are not likely to choose this option. The essence of the posture is to be comfortable and sit with the spine straight with only the natural curvature.

Breath: Breathe naturally as the meditation unfolds.

Eyes: The eyes are closed.

The Chant, or Mantra: The chant uses the sounds, Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa. These ancient sounds taken together mean “my true identity” or “my highest self.” The tune to which these sounds are sung is the first four notes of the familiar children’s song, “Mary had a Little Lamb.” That is, the notes are “Mar-y had a.” See Figure 1.

The Mudras, or Finger Movements: The thumb is touched to each of the other four fingers in sequence. Both hands perform the same mudra set simultaneously. 

 On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to the thumbs.

On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.

On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs. 

On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.

Always go forward in sequence: thumb to index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky; never go backwards. 

The Visualization: Visualize energy coming down from above into the middle of the top of the head, proceeding straight down into your brain, and then changing to a lateral direction so that it comes out of your head at a point in the middle of your forehead in the center, lined up with the nose (the spot referred to as “the third eye” in some Eastern traditions). Hence, the energy is visualized as following the path of a capital letter “L.” One may think of this action as sweeping through like a broom. 

The Sequence: Sing the sounds Saa Taa Naa Maa while also performing the mudras with the fingers of both hands. At the same time, visualize the sound flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead in an L shape.

1. For two minutes, sing out loud.

2. For the next two minutes, use a stage whisper.

3. For the next four minutes, say the sound silently to yourself.

4. Then whisper the sounds for two minutes and then out loud for two minutes, for a total of twelve minutes.

To come out of the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale.






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Here are three links to online forgiveness meditations:

Bhante Gunaratana:

Metta Meditation begins with an extensive forgiveness component and training the mind by reconditioning it through the practice of forgiveness. This website is a treasure trove of teachings and meditations. This is a much longer talk interwoven with practice–a live recording from a retreat. Bhante is an outstanding teacher and Bhavana Society is one of the last organizations offering the teachings freely to everyone in true spiritual tradition. Voluntary donations are so important to keep these authentic teachings alive for all of us.

Jack Kornfield:

The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness is a 56-minute talk with a 10-minute forgiveness meditation at the end.

Forgiveness Meditation is the 10-minute forgiveness meditation, for those who don’t want to hear the whole talk.

Gil Fronsdal:

Guided Meditation on Forgiveness is a short 15-minute meditation, very similar to Jack Kornfield’s. The recoding is not very good (which is understandable given the shoe-string budget many operate with) but what is different is the beautiful poem at the end.



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As I prepare for tomorrow’s meditation, here is a link to a very human and fresh meaning of forgiveness which is different from the article in the last post. I recommend that everyone coming to our meditations read this as it applies to all of us.

In “What is Forgiveness?“, also from the Greater Good blog at Berkeley, Fred Luskin (Director, Stanford University Forgiveness Projects) makes the case that before you can forgive, you have to grieve. Forgiveness is the resolution of grief. He explains the connection, grief, and its three stages.

Luskin’s definition of forgiveness “is the ability to make peace with the word ‘no'”.

He explains what he means:

It is so important to be able to understand the universal experience of this–of objecting to the way life is and trying to substitute the way you want it to be, then getting upset when your substitution doesn’t take. The science of forgiveness is being resilient when things don’t go the way you want to–to be at peace with “no”, be at peace with what is, be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life. Then you have to move forward without prejudice.

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To answer this question, a good resource is the article “The New Science of Forgiveness” on University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good blog. It may naturally be followed by, What is unforgiveness? As we continue to go deeper into this emotional state in our meditation practice, it can be very helpful to have some understanding and begin to think about it at a personal level. Fortunately, scientists and the research world take these areas now much more seriously than they did it in the past. This gives us multiple perspectives. Is the scientific understanding different from our personal, cultural, national, and religious understanding of forgiveness?

We may have some intuitive idea of what is forgiveness, but as scientists need to define and measure, it appears that there are some differences on what forgiveness means even to the academic world.

The author of the article Everett L. Worthington, Jr., and his colleagues Michael McCullough and Kenneth Rachal have this to say about forgiveness in close relationships:

The forgiving person becomes less motivated to retaliate against someone who offended him or her and less motivated to remain estranged from that person. Instead, he or she becomes motivated by feelings of goodwill, despite the offender’s hurtful actions.

In a close relationship, we hope, forgiveness will not only move us past negative emotions, but move us toward a net positive feeling. It does not mean forgetting or pardoning an offense.

Not surprisingly, the three researchers say that “Unforgiveness, by contrast, seems to be a negative emotional state where an offended person maintains feelings of resentment, hostility, anger, and hatred toward the person who offended him.”

The research done suggests unforgiveness can take its toll on physical, mental. relational, and even spiritual health. By contrast, forgiveness can benefit people’s health.


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When the contemporary Christian musician and Grammy Award winner Matthew West’s song Forgiveness is passed around Jain homes during the holiest week of Paryushan ending in Samvatsari (the most important day of universal forgiveness), we may be moved by this essential human commonality. Many thanks to Malini for sharing the link to the song.

We now come to the holiest day of the Jewish faith–Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Jews ask for forgiveness for sins against God as well as fellow humans. My Jewish friends and I have sometimes talked about the similarities (the most important religious time, fasting, intense prayers, time spent at the temple) as well as differences (Jews asking forgiveness from God versus Jains asking forgiveness from all living beings, from life with one sense to five senses, and ending with personally asking forgiveness from all relatives and those who have been hurt).

No human life is possible without inflicting or receiving hurt (as we discussed in our special session Insight into Problems in July), whether it be done knowingly or unknowingly. We ask for forgiveness for our sake, to release the pain and sorrow that keep us from moving ahead. It is  often difficult for all of us to appreciate that we forgive wholeheartedly to be free. Nothing is altruistic (or very little is!) and so this can be a rational act, not sentimental emotion, in our self-interest. Sometimes we are not able do it when the hurt is too deep. But those who have strong religious faith may be able to forgive through the love of God, or a higher entity. And so we have the Grace of God, the Mercy of Allah, the compassion of Buddha, the micchami dukkadam of the Jains, the forgiveness embedded in all faiths and cultures.

Our Fall Mindful Meditation session this year begins with understanding and meditating on forgiveness. It is the most potent mental and emotional cleanse, an essential release in meditation. A mental cleanse as part of our mental well-being may be even more essential than the intense preoccupation with the body. There is some research to back the benefits of forgiveness.

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The Science of Happiness is an eight-week, free, online course that starts September 9. Readers can register through the University of California at Berkeley blog Greater Good : The Science of a Meaningful Life at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/news_events/event/the_science_of_happiness. The course will be taught by two professors and participants may be able to get 16 Continuing Education credits.

The course “explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives.

Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course zeroes in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.

What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.”

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Meena Modi | Being in Flow  Meena Modi | Breathe Fully Live Free
Both CDs are now at the Ridgewood Library and can be checked out through BCCLs in Bergen County.


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What do we mean by each of these words when used in the context of meditation: feelings, sensations, emotions?  Why does it matter? It matters in terms of clarity of instruction to know what the instructor means. Feelings and emotions “color” the mind.  Emotions can create false perceptions and are obstacles in clear reasoning and thinking. So one way or another, it is important be aware of them whether the distinction is made or not. And Sanskrit and Pali do not make the distinction but English (and English instruction!) does.

These terms come up frequently in meditation practice instructions as they are a big part of the practice. The question came up, specific meaning and distinction between feelings and emotion, during the online Coursera course on Buddhism and evolutionary psychology offered by Professor Robert Wright at Princeton. The way I see it, he makes a distinction but also uses them interchangeably, the way I have done in my teaching. It is probably true of many of us.  Clarity of usage could prevent potential confusion and distraction when used in meditation instructions.

For me, when practicing and teaching yoga meditations, feelings are sensations in the physical body–heat/cold, heaviness/lightness, pain/pleasure and all other sensations in the body. Feelings and sensations (we sense the feeling) are the same in this respect. Emotions are “feelings or sensations” in the mind space or mental body–fear, anxiety, joy, mental pain/pleasure, mental heaviness and lightness, jealousy, greed, etc. And as the mind and body are a continuum, feelings are associated with emotions and vice versa. This also explains why we intuitively use them interchangeably and perhaps why some languages don’t make a precise distinction.

In the Blogginheads.tv interview with Robert Wright, Joseph Goldstein who is leading American Buddhist explains that from the Buddhist point of view, feeling is the “flavor” of an emotion–pleasant, unpleasant, neutral.  I hear that as the way we categorize an emotion. We seek/crave/thirst for it, avoid/avert/not crave it, or simply ignore it. In yoga, this is raga (attraction/pleasure) and dwesha (repulsion/pain) (Yoga Sutra 2.7 and 2.8).

In colloquial Indian languages, there is no distinction made between the three and the closest word is more “feeling” and not “emotion”. The closest “generic” is bhava in both the Sanskrit and Hindi dictionaries. In both Sanskrit and Pali, the word vedana is translated as “feelings” in English.

In the Stanford article “The Concept of Emotion in Classical Indian Philosophy” readers will find more information regarding Vedanta, Samkhya, and Buddhist views.

While there is no equivalent for the term “emotion” in Sanskrit, the concept nevertheless plays an important role in Indian philosophy. Terms used in Sanskrit texts include vedanā (feeling) and bhāva (feeling) as well as names of individual emotions, such as rāga (love, attraction), dveṣa (hatred, aversion), harṣa (joy), bhaya (fear) and śoka (sorrow). One of the reasons why emotions are philosophically interesting in India and the West is their relationship with the mental phenomenon of vijñāna or jñāna which is translated as “cognition”. The relationship between emotion and cognition is important for any account of reason and rationality. (Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=concept-emotion-india)

Here is what Wikipedia writes:

Feeling is the nominalization of the verb to feel. The word was first used in the English language to describe the physical sensation of touch through either experience or perception.[1] The word is also used to describe experiences other than the physical sensation of touch, such as “a feeling of warmth“.[2] and of sentience in general. In Latin, “sentire”[3] meant to feel, hear or smell. In psychology, the word is usually reserved for the conscious subjective experience of emotion.[4]

In psychology and philosophy, emotion is a subjective, conscious experience characterized primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states. Emotion is often associated and considered reciprocally influential with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.[1] It also is influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, cortisol and GABA. Emotion is often the driving force behind motivation, positive or negative.[2] An alternative definition of emotion is a “positive or negative experience that is associated with a particular pattern of physiological activity.”[3]

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Starting Wednesday, March 20, Princeton University’s lecturer Robert Wright is offering a six-week free online course titled Buddhism and Modern Psychology. The course is made available through the online education platform Coursera. To register, please go to https://www.coursera.org/course/psychbuddhism. It takes less than a minute and it is available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Thanks to Bonnie for sharing this.

Robert Wright is a visiting lecturer at the Department of Religion and Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Here is a short course description:

“The Buddha said that human suffering—ranging from anxiety to sadness to unfulfilled craving—results from not seeing reality clearly. He described a kind of meditation that promises to ease suffering by dispelling illusions about the world and ourselves. What does psychological science say about this diagnosis and prescription—and about the underlying model of the mind?”

Yoga psychology, described in detail in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and Buddha’s teachings are based on Samkhya philosophy (as is Jainism). They share so much. It is so easy to overlook that yoga is not just asana or physical poses–it is really the science of the mind and psychology. It was the mind that was the object of contemplation and research.

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