summer recommendations to boost your meditation practice

Today is the last day to register for this 21 day free online meditation series, led by Deepak Chopra and Opra Winfrey.  These are guided mantra meditations in the vedic tradition, with a unifying theme, this one 'The Energy of Attraction'.  Very enjoyable.  There's no purchase required but you do need to give your email, and they are hoping you will buy the mp download once the trial is finished.  Here's the site:  

https://chopracentermeditation.com/

Anything by Ram Dass.  If you get on their mailing list, you will also be invited to receive free streamings of his workshops in Hawaii.  They ask you to make a contribution to the Love Serve Remember foundation, but it's not required.  His guests include some formidable meditation teachers - Roshi Joan Halifax, Jack Kornfield, etc.  Here is the site:

https://www.ramdass.org/love-serve-remember-foundation/

Anything by Jack Kornfield, Buddhist meditation teacher.  I love his book, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry", about spiritual practice and 'real life'.  He also has guided meditation recordings, and gives workshops.  Here's the site:

https://jackkornfield.com/

And my first teacher, Sally Kempton, in the yoga tradition, I highly recommend her book, "Awakening Shakti", particularly for women.  She outlines the stories and archetypal attributes of the goddesses in the Hindu tradition and gives mantras, journaling exercises and meditations to connect with those attributes in yourself.  Her website:  

https://www.sallykempton.com/

And that's all, folks!  Enjoy the summer!

 

 

Dharma continued

In our meditation class, we moved on from ahimsa, non-violence, to satya or truthfulness.  We examined the ways in which we are truthful to ourselves and to others, noticing how truth resonates in our bodies and also questioning whether the assumptions we make about others are true or not, and how our assumptions may affect the outcome of an exchange with another person.  We then looked at the interesting question of truth in the spirit of non-violence, or how the truth can harm another depending on the circumstances.  We talked about intention and what makes a 'white lie' acceptable.  

After satya, asteya, or non-stealing.  The question of what belongs to me, and what is the right of another?  Giving credit where credit is due, naming creative inspiration, standing on the shoulders of giants, all of these fall into this category.  And then what about the person who steals for the sake of feeding a child or caring for a sick relative?  Again the question of intention and context.  Food for thought.  

Bramacharya, or restraint, moderation is next.  In a free market, capitalist society, this concept is foreign at best.  Why curb appetites if it's possible to indulge them?  And then, how does the lack of moderation affect our thoughts, our words, our actions?  Can bramacharya also be thought of as a form of ahimsa?  In the yoga sutras, there is some indication that restraint refers to celibacy, the ultimate reason being that sexual energy can feed the spiritual development of the individual when it is not spent.  But perhaps the larger meaning is that, when we are not feeding and consuming the energy of our desires, whatever they may be, we have more space in which to be present, to seek connection and to nourish spirit.  

Lastly, aparigraha, non-greed.  What do I need and what am I hoarding?  Can I recognize that my attachment to material things, my attachment to relationships, even my attachment to spiritual growth might be the very ball and chain that keeps me stuck in one place?  Why do we compare ourselves with others and why do we covet what our neighbors, friends, colleagues seem to have that we are lacking? Again, we tuned into a felt sense of greediness, and imagined how that might color our thoughts, our words, our actions.  

As we summarized, we talked about the relationship between the last 3, asteya, bramacharya and aparigraha, saw resonance, similarities.  In a way, they all relate to a view of the glass as half-empty.  Perhaps, with practice, we can turn our vision around...

As to the how and why of yoga and meditation

As chair of the Holistic Nursing Council at my hospital, I was asked to present an in house workshop on Yoga, Meditation and Stress Relief.  In my research, I came across this video, which I thought I'd share with you.  It beautifully illustrates the reasons we practice as well as outlining the scientific research in layman's terms.  Enjoy!

http://upliftconnect.com/watch-science-behind-yoga/

for all of you bibliophiles out there...

it turns out reading has therapeutic value (which those of us who love to curl up with a good book or won't leave the house without one knew, of course), and you can actually get a prescription!!!

Read on:  

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/can-reading-make-you-happier?mbid=social_facebook
 

And one of my favorite sites for a good read and a little bit of intellectual history:  

https://www.brainpickings.org/

 

hazardous to your health

We think a lot about what and what not to eat and drink.  Lately, however, we've been getting more educated about what might be doing us damage in the commercial household cleaning and beauty products we use, which are not as tightly regulated because we don't eat them, but which often contain harsh chemicals that we breathe in, or soak up through the skin.  Less is more, and I have come to appreciate the simple products:  baking soda and diluted white vinegar (with or without a few drops of peppermint, lemon or lavender essential oils for a pleasant scent) for cleaning almost anything; coconut oil for a moisturizer; olive oil soap or castille soap (Dr. Bronner's at most health food stores) for shampoo and body wash.  Most of these alternative cleaners are much less expensive than commercial products, and readily available.  The only products I spend a little more on, for convenience sake, are laundry detergent (7th generation), and toothpaste (kiss my face), because the baking soda can wear away enamel over time.  

Here are a couple of lists of things to avoid:

household chemicals:

http://www.greenlivingonline.com/article/six-household-chemicals-avoid

beauty products:

http://www.womensvoices.org/avoid-toxic-chemicals/15-toxic-trespassers/

 

Non-toxic Alternatives:

household cleaners:

http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm

beauty products:

https://wellnessmama.com/5801/diy-beauty-recipes/

And for you germophobes, keep in mind the latest research on the importance of a complex skin and gut flora and the role they play in the immune system and the nervous system.  20 years ago my pediatrician said she noticed that families who were super-cleaners tended to have sicker kids.  She would hold off prescribing antibiotics for ear infections unless absolutely necessary.  Here's recent research, confirming her good instincts;

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/

 

Happy Women's Day!

More often than not, the women in the family are the healers as well as the nurturers, the providers, the keepers of the hearth.  Celebrate yourself and/or the women in your life today by doing something good for your heart!  Particularly close to mine is the Ornish Program, founded by Dr. Ornish and widely prescribed for heart patients across the US.  His is one of the first nationally recognized, effective and truly holistic medical approaches around.  Here's a sample:

https://www.ornish.com/zine/women-and-heart-disease-three-days-can-change-your-life/#

Meditation class

March 6, 2017

At the start of the new year, the regulars of my YMCA meditation class and I discussed how, after 2 years of practicing together, we might up the ante on our search for connection.  In this divisive political environment, we wanted to see how meditation might help us cope with the stress of living in an uncertain world, and also how it might help us be better, more benevolent citizens of a world in distress.  Here's what we came up with:

We agreed to renew our commitment to meditation practice.  For many of us, life takes over once we leave class and makes it a challenge to get to our daily seat.  We recognize that we have to keep trying anyway. Forgiving ourselves generously for the times we skip or fall asleep, we keep getting to the cushion or to the chair to practice meditation;  5 minutes, 15 minutes, a half-hour, on the bus, or in our bedroom or garden, whatever we can muster.  It all adds up exponentially, coloring our experience of the everyday, the large and small events of our stories.  

We also decided to add in a dharma talk every week.  This had been a casual thing, brought in spontaneously, but now we are doing it 'for real', guided by the yamas and niyamas of the yoga tradition.  We talk about one of the principles and agree to write down whatever thoughts, words or actions come into our awareness during the week.   This journaling is purely private, meant to enhance our understanding of the mind and its effect on words, actions and feelings. The first yama is ahimsa, non-violence.  We looked at ways in which we can be judgmental, towards ourselves, towards others, imagined how that might lead to divisive or harmful words or actions, and did the following meditation:  

Identify a judgmental or hurtful thought;

Feel where and how it resonates in the body;

Soften and expand our mental state, bringing awareness to the heart space and noticing the shift in resonance/feeling.  

 

Anyone interested in knowing more, can get a nice summary of the yamas and niyamas from the following blog:

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-8-limbs-of-yoga-explained

The source, of course, is Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras, required text for all serious yoga practitioners.  

Sources of inspiration

Thinking about ideas as nourishment....what is fueling our sense of hope in turbulent times?  I take a lot of my inspiration from things I hear about on public radio - wnyc here in NYC and Newark.  On Being is a favorite, and also Radio Lab, This American Life, and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me for a riotous take on current events.  Here's what blew me away this morning:

http://onbeing.org/programs/margaret-wertheim-the-grandeur-and-limits-of-science-2/

Particularly relevant, she offers a striking example of the impetus to create and illuminate beauty as the best, most effective way to be an activist.  Offering an alternative, making connections.  Small, individual action may be limited in power, but when combined with those of others, amazing things can happen. Have a listen