5 ways being thankful can improve your life

Some Thanksgiving traditions are best in small doses, like pie binges, chair naps and televised parade coverage. But thanks to a group of scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, the holiday’s namesake spirit of gratitude is quickly outgrowing its November context, fed by research that points to wide-ranging health benefits from a steady diet of thankfulness.

The Greater Good Science Center, based at UC-Berkeley, has been studying “the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being” for 12 years, including a recent study on the science of gratitude. That project aims to explain how feeling thankful affects human health, eventually yielding evidence-based practices to be used in schools, workplaces and medical settings.

“Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions,” UC-Davis psychologist and gratitude expert Robert Emmons writes on the GGSC website. “Despite the fact that it forms the foundation of social life in many other cultures, in America, we usually don’t give it much thought — with a notable exception of one day, Thanksgiving.”

The GGSC recently awarded $10,000 grants to several research projects on gratitude (for which the recipients were surely grateful), and in 2014 will relaunch the online gratitude journal Thnx4.org. The group is also planning a public event that would “help bridge the research-practice gap.” In the meantime, here’s a closer look at some potential benefits year-round gratitude can bring:

1. Less stress, better moods

Grateful people tend to be happier, according to research cited by the GGSC. A 2003 study used a questionnaire to test “dispositional gratitude,” linking it to several measures of subjective well-being and reporting that “grateful thinking improved mood.” A 2010 study tied gratitude to reduced anxiety and depression, stating it’s “strongly related to well-being, however defined, and this link may be unique and causal.” It also noted the potential for gratitude exercises in clinical psychology.

2. Less pain, more gain

Beyond helping us exorcise anxiety, gratitude might also help us exercise. It “encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health,” the GGSC says, and research by Emmons and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough suggests it contributes to a wide range of physical health benefits, including a stronger immune system, reduced disease symptoms and lower blood pressure. It can even make people “less bothered by aches and pains,” the GGSC adds.

3. Better sleep

A good night’s sleep can make anyone thankful, but a 2009 study found the reverse is true, too. Grateful people get more hours of sleep per night, fall asleep more quickly and feel more refreshed upon waking. “This is the first study to show that a positive trait is related to good sleep quality above the effect of other personality traits,” the study’s authors wrote, adding it’s “also the first to show … gratitude is related to sleep and to explain why this occurs, suggesting future directions for research and novel clinical implications.” As the GGSC puts it, “to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

4. Stronger relationships

Expressing gratitude to a relationship partner — whether a close friend, colleague or significant other — “enhances one’s perception of the relationship’s communal strength,” according to a 2010 study. Feeling thankful for a friend’s generosity or a spouse’s patience helps you appreciate the relationship’s mutual give-and-take, as long as gratitude doesn’t mutate into feelings of indebtedness. “Although indebtedness may maintain external signals of relationship engagement,” the authors of another study wrote in 2010, “gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.”

5. Resilience

Misfortune itself is rarely cause for thanks, but Emmons says a broader sense of gratitude — religious or not — comes from learning to take nothing for granted. “Our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, was born and grew out of hard times,” he writes for the GGSC. “The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression.” Even among war veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a 2006 study found that dispositional gratitude predicted things like daily self-esteem, “daily intrinsically motivating activity” and percentage of pleasant days “over and above” the severity of PTSD.

credit:Russel Mclendon

The nuns in this Wisconsin convent have been praying nonstop for 137 years

There are winning streaks and losing streaks. There are running streaks, lucky streaks, straight-A streaks and selling streaks. But did you know there are also praying streaks? At a small convent in western Wisconsin, nuns have been praying nonstop for the past 137 years.

The nuns at the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse have been praying continually since 11 a.m. Aug. 1, 1878. They pray night and day for the ill, the suffering and anyone who sends a prayer request. The nuns haven’t kept track of the exact number of people they’ve prayed for since 1878, but they estimate that they’ve prayed for at least 150,000 in the last decade alone.

And they’re not alone in their pursuit. In 1997, the sisters began asking for prayer helpers due to dwindling numbers at the convent. Today, there are about 180 laypeople who help the 100 nuns continue their round-the-clock prayers.

Known as perpetual Eucharistic adoration in the Catholic religion, constant praying dates back to the 13th century in France. Several Catholic convents have kept up that tradition over the centuries. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are relative newcomers to the tradition, but they are fervently making up for lost time. Over the past 137 years, the nuns have continued praying through floods, a flu outbreak, snowstorms and even a fire at the property next door.

The prayer requests keep coming in person and via phone calls, emails and online forms. So the sisters keep on praying.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Sister Sarah Hennessey said that with all the substitutes and prayer partners, the convent has no trouble keeping up the nonstop prayers. But every now and again there’s a hole in the schedule that the nuns fill by simply continuing to pray past their allotted time.

“If it’s 11 o’clock at night and it’s my hour and another sister doesn’t show up, I can’t just go to bed,” said Sister Hennessey. “You’re like, ‘It’s 137 years — I have to stay awake.'”

Credit: Jenn Savedge

7 steps to a longer life

Earlier this summer, I attended a conference on “life extension” at Cambridge University in the U.K. Scientists from around the world had descended on this small English city to discuss ways of making immortality a reality.

Some claimed that we could be genetically engineered to make us live forever, while others insisted that progressively replacing worn-out body parts with new ones grown in a lab was the way forward.

Although the field of human life extension is making rapid progress, it struck me that the scientists at the conference had missed one of the most obvious ways of extending human life: mindfulness meditation.

Although mindfulness extends human life by reducing anxiety, stress and depression, it also lengthens subjective life span. That is, because mindfulness helps us live “in the moment” rather than trapped inside a foggy daydream, we fully experience more of life, and therefore our life span is effectively increased.

Let me explain. Without realizing it, most of us spend much of our time trapped inside the “busy-ness” of daily life. We are effectively unconscious to the world and sleepwalk through our days. Being locked inside such busyness can erode a vast chunk of our life by stealing our time. Take a moment to look at your own life:

Do you find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present?
Does it seem as if you are “running on automatic,” that is, without much awareness of what you’re doing?
Do you rush through activities without being really attentive to them?
Do you get so focused on the goal you want to achieve that you lose touch with what you are doing right now to get there?
Do you find yourself preoccupied with the future or the past?
In other words, are you driven by the daily routines that force you to live in your head rather than in your life?
Now extrapolate this to the life you have left to you. If you are 30 years old, then, with a life expectancy of around 80, you have 50 years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment for perhaps two out of 16 hours a day (which is not unreasonable), your life expectancy is only another six years and three months. You’ll probably spend more time in meetings with your boss!

If a friend told you that she had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill her in six years, you would be filled with grief and try to comfort her. Yet, without realizing it, you may be daydreaming along such a path yourself.

If you could double the number of hours that you were truly alive each day, then, in effect, you would be doubling your life expectancy. It would be like living to 130. Now imagine tripling or quadrupling the time you are truly alive. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars — literally — on expensive drugs and unproven vitamin cocktails to gain an extra few years of life; others are funding research in universities to try to extend the human life span. But you can achieve the same effect by learning to live mindfully — waking up to your life.

Quantity isn’t everything, of course. But those who practice mindfulness are also less anxious and stressed, as well as more relaxed, fulfilled and energized, so not only does life seem longer as it slows down and you begin to “show up for it,” but it seems happier, too.

In our book “Mindfulness,” Mark Williams and I map out a path to living a happier and more harmonious life using mindfulness meditation. The technique is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which professor Williams developed at the U.K.’s Oxford University and with his colleagues at the universities of Cambridge and Toronto.

Although the full program lasts eight weeks, here are seven steps that will help get you started:

1. Go for a walk. Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. If you really want to feel alive, go for a walk in the wind or rain!

2. Take time to breathe. Whenever you feel tired, angry, stressed, anxious or unhappy, take a three-minute breathing space. It acts as a bridge between the longer formal meditations in our book and the demands of daily life. See it as a breath of fresh air.

3. Change chairs. Stress tends to drive us in ever-decreasing circles. It’s easy to end up like a hamster trapped in its wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere. You can step outside such stressful cycles by consciously breaking some of your most ingrained habits. So why not see if you can notice which chairs you normally sit on at home, in a café or bar, or at work (during meetings, for example). Make a deliberate choice to try another chair, or to alter the position of the chair you use. You’ll be surprised by how different the world looks and feels.

Mindfulness and appreciating the here and now
4. Appreciate the here and now. Happiness is looking at the same things with different eyes. Life only happens here, at this very moment. Tomorrow and yesterday are no more than thoughts. So make the best of it.

Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities? Consciously write them down and gently resolve to pay them more attention. Can you pause for a moment when pleasant moments occur? Help yourself pause by noticing:

What body sensations you feel at these moments?
What thoughts are around?
What feelings are here?
5. Set up a mindfulness bell. Pick a few ordinary activities from your daily life that you can turn into “mindfulness bells,” that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. Consider turning these moments in your day into bells:
When preparing food. Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness — vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Focus on the feel of the knife as it slices through the different textures of different vegetables, or the smell released as each vegetable is chopped.
When crossing the street. Become a model citizen and use the pedestrian signals as an opportunity to stand quietly and focus on your breath, rather than an opportunity to try to beat the lights.
When listening. Notice when you are not listening, when you start to think of something else, such as what you are going to say in response. Come back to actually listening.
6. Do the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation. Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is my personal favorite; it elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this — deep in your heart — then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes. (You can download the meditation from franticworld.com.)
7. Visit the movies. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies, but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say, 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only once you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected, the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.

Most of us only go to see a film when there’s something specific we want to watch. If you turn up at a set time and then choose what to see, you may discover that the experience will be totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you’d never normally have considered. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness and choice.

And when you watch the film, forget about all this and simply enjoy yourself!

Credit: Danny Penman

Maybe we don’t need so much sleep after all

The only thing more worrisome than our lack of sleep is how stressed out we are by our lack of sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. The agency goes so far as to link lack of sleep to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes and even “motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.”

It’s no wonder we’re worried about not sleeping the recommended eight hours each night. But a new study has found that maybe we don’t really need as much sleep as we thought.

The modern theory on sleep deprivation is that healthy amounts of sleep went down the toilet along with the invention of the lightbulb. Once artificial light came along, people no longer listened to natural cues about when it was time for bed. Today’s explosion of electronic gadgets and round-the-clock work schedules has exacerbated the problem.

But a new study published in the journal Current Biology took a look at the sleep patterns of three communities that serve as good examples of what life was like in the developed world before lights and distractions. Researchers evaluated the sleep habits of people in three tribes — the Hadza and San tribes in Africa, and the Tsimané people in South America — that currently live without electricity or any other modern electronic innovations that have been linked to poor sleep. And guess what? They sleep even fewer hours each night than most Americans, yet they don’t suffer from any issues of obesity, diabetes or occupational errors.

Researchers found that the people in these hunter-gatherer communities were relatively fit and healthy. Even without lightbulbs to keep them awake, they stayed up three to four hours past sunset often with only a small community fire to provide light and warmth. On most days they rise at least an hour before the sun. On average, the members of these tribes sleep for about six and a half hours each night — less than the average American.

Perhaps most importantly, the members of these tribes were not stressed about sleep. Despite sleeping less than the amount recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, they did not worry about their lack of sleep. And while chronic insomnia affects 20 percent to 30 percent of Americans, only 2 percent of the hunter-gatherers had trouble sleeping. The San and the Tsimané did not even have words for sleep problems in their languages.

The takeaway from the study is that we should all quit worrying about the numbers and focus on getting the amount of sleep we need to wake up feeling refreshed.

credit: Jenn Savedge

What is hypnobirthing?

Advocates of hypnobirthing prize the technique’s emphasis on getting out of the body’s way during childbirth and allowing it to perform its natural processes.

Today, more than 50 percent of women giving birth in hospitals choose to have an epidural during childbirth, a testament to just how many women are terrified to go through labor and delivery naturally. Sure, many hospitals recommend new moms take Lamaze classes before their babies are born, but much of that education flies out the window when the first really painful contraction hits. Another lesser known birthing method, hypnobirthing, could help those women who’d like to have a natural childbirth but are just too scared. The method is based on knowledge that fully accepts and acknowledges those fears.

Hypnobirthing operates under the concept that muscles under tension create the experience of pain; conversely muscles that are in a relaxed state do not. “It’s like when you lift your arm without holding anything in your hand – it doesn’t hurt,” explains Rivkah Estrin, childbirth educator and postpartum doula, who herself practiced hypnobirthing successfully though five deliveries. “But if you’re holding something extremely heavy in your hand and then you try to lift your arm, then you feel it.”

So how does hypnobirthing work?

The method allows you, over the course of your pregnancy, to practice relaxation techniques that allow your uterus to function as it’s intended to. “The first part of the process is just about releasing your own fears and understanding the mechanics of the labor process,” Estrin says. “The more you know and the more you educate yourself, the more confident and relaxed you are.”

You can either take a local class or if one isn’t offered near you, buy the book “HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method” together with the guided meditation CDs. “You practice every night — either by doing guided meditations with your partner or alone. The more you use those meditations, visualizations, and affirmations, the more you end up really believing them, and the more empowered you become,” Estrin says.

Then, during labor itself, you create the environment that is most calming for you. For Estrin, it was dimmed lights with candles lit. She found that place within herself where she was most relaxed and allowed herself to breathe through a contraction — or a surge as it’s referred to in hypnobirthing. “I felt pressure but no pain,” Estrin says. “I still feel like that labor and delivery was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”

There are two kinds of hypnobirthing — the Mongan method (named for Marie “Mickey” Mongan, who pioneered hypnobirthing) and HypnoBabies, which uses the same method for hypnosis used by people preparing for surgery without anesthesia (called hypno-anesthesia).

What advice would Estrin give to new moms interested in learning more about the method? “Absolutely pursue it, learn about it, educate yourself, and become your best advocate,” she says. “It’s about advocating for yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking questions or changing providers, who will allow to have the birth be what you want. It’s with any learned skill in life — once you’re educated and empowered, the fear really goes away and you focus on what you can do to assist your body in its natural process, rather than get in the way.”

Credit: Chanie Kirschner

5,000 year old holy tree persists as a place of enlightenment.

The sacred banyan tree in the town of Jyotisar is said to be more than 5,000 years old. According to Hindu teachings, the god Krishna delivered the messages of the scripture known as the Bhagavad Gita to the warrior prince Arjuna before the battle depicted in the broader epic text, the Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita contains the Hindu doctrines of Karma and Dharma.

Local tradition says that the banyan tree is actually an offshoot of the original. The current tree has persisted for centuries and is visited by thousands of people every year. But the Times of India found that two groups are fighting over control of the holy site and the tree is suffering as a result. The Hindu Mission, which has cared for the tree for many years, and the Kurukshetra Development Board (KDB), which represents the district in which Jyotisar is located, have gone to court to see which organization will retain control of the tree.

In the meantime, the Times reports that the holy tree is suffering. “The area surrounding the tree has been covered with marble pavement and it can’t draw nutrients for its growth,” the paper reports. “Fancy lights and lamps are fitted with nails on the tree for lighting during night and big bells are tied all over it.” A nightly light and music show recreates events from the Mahabharata for tourists visiting the tree.

In addition, holy threads tied to the branches by visitors seeking wish fulfillment have covered the lower branches, impeding their health. The paper also found that caretakers have unscientifically pruned many branches “without any expert advice.”

An agricultural scientist contacted by the paper said that old branches would be replaced if they were pruned properly and that the tree should be periodically treated for pests and diseases.

Pandit Sukhpal of the Hindu Mission says scientific preservation methods would create “problems” for the holy area. He also said the KDB wants to establish a fee on anyone who visits the site.

The KDB has landscaped the area around the tree in recent years, adding a mango-shaped lake, bathing ghats, a restaurant and flowering bushes.

In addition to the marble pavements under the tree, a marble chariot representing Krishna and a Shiva temple can be found beneath its branches.

Banyan trees play major roles in Hinduism and Buddhism. The god Krishna is said to reside in the leaf of the banyan tree. In the Bhagavad Gita he says, “There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.” The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Buddha is said to have received enlightenment under a variety of banyan tree in the region now known as Bodhi.

5 ways to banish negative thoughts

Whether it’s every once in a while or almost all the time, negative thoughts can barrel their way into our brains. It’s obviously not healthy if you let them fester, so it’s key to find a way to stop them. Here are five good ways to deal with negative thoughts when they’ve invaded your head.

Talk about it.

Most people try to push negative thoughts out of their minds with little success. It’s like the old joke goes, if I tell you not to think of purple polka-dotted elephants, you’re going to think about just that! A study published in 2005 in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy finds that the best way to get rid of negative thoughts for good is not to suppress them, but to accept them. Talking about those feelings, getting them out of your head and giving them words and labels instead of pretending they don’t exist, can go a long way toward easing your emotional distress.

Write about it.

Similar to the tactic mentioned above, writing about your feelings may help you get rid of them for good. University of Virginia psychologist Tim Wilson tells Business Insider that writing about your negative feelings as often as three times a week can help you let go of them for good. Putting pen to paper is another form of acceptance, because by writing the thoughts down, you’re acknowledging their existence.

Practice mindfulness.

What is mindfulness exactly? Psychologist Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it in his book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” like this: “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” A new study being conducted over the next 7 years in the United Kingdom by psychologists and neuroscientists at Oxford University and University College London is attempting to discern the effects of mindfulness on adolescents. Said the study’s lead author, William Kuyken, “Just as going for a run is a well-known way of protecting general physical health, mindfulness exercises develop mental fitness and resilience.”

Focus on the good.

In her book, “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline,” internationally recognized expert in childhood education and developmental psychology Dr. Becky Bailey describes one of her tactics for building a better relationship with your kids. By focusing on the positive aspects of disciplining your children, i.e. what you want to happen as opposed to what you don’t, you can break the cycle of negativity in your home. She puts it this way, “What you focus on, you get more of…. Learning to focus your attention on the outcomes that you desire will bring you enormous power. It is probably the most important technique you can learn for living peacefully with children (and with other adults) and finding joy in life.”

Distract yourself.

Distracting yourself with a feel-good activity can also be an effective way to free your mind from negative thoughts, especially if you’re just trying to get rid of them for a short period of time. For me, this is especially true on a plane, where my larger-than-life fear of flying once led me to scream out for the entire plane to hear, “We’re all going to die!” when we hit a bit of bad turbulence. (Oh how I wish I was making that up.) But I find it much easier to fly with my kids, distracting myself with occupying them with snacks and games as opposed to letting myself wallow in my negative thoughts. And what I know anecdotally to be true is backed by science. Says Dr. Becky Weinberg, Pittsburgh-based clinical psychologist, “Distracting yourself with something like exercise or another pleasurable activity can definitely help you shift focus.”

We all have negative thoughts, so the next time you do, try one of the strategies above to banish them for good.

 

everybody say AUM

EVERYBODY SAY A-U-M

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Holy Bible

In its simplified jist, the Superstring Theory states: at its’ ultimate indivisible level (all) matter is made up of wiggly energy strings that may mingle or migrate away from other strings.
And the Superstring Theory is by majority an accepted and established facticity.
Which implies that you and I and the roof under which we are right now are, essentially, at the fundamental level, made of twisted vibrating energy waves. So what is it that makes us and other things different?
It is the rate of vibration of these strings.
Everything in the universe is made up of pure pulsating energy vibrating at its’ own personal frequency, called resonant frequency. (A secret of matter which makes up one of the seven Hermetic Principles: everything is in motion; everything vibrates.)
As Pythagoras put it, everything from atoms to celestial bodies produces sound vibrations. There is an underlying harmonic principle behind everything.
Even as we sit still and silent, our cells are buzzing a frequency as our strings vibrate.
But as human species, our hearing is limited to the audibility range of 20-20,000 vibrations (20 Hz-20 kHz). Which is merely 2% of available sounds, the rest being cut off from our ears as sub or ultra sonic.
Sound effects over matter and the environment have been proven by many:
Ernst Chladni-German Scientist and father of modern acoustics provided visual proof of sound vibrations over sand, creating geometric patterns.
The Swiss Doctor, Hans Jenny, who carried out cymatic (wave phenomenon) experiments.
Dr. Masaru Emoto, Japanese scientist, who proved how different positive sounds create the most unique geometric water crystals.
The French Bio-energitician Fabian Maman, who discovered that the benign human voice was capable of detonating even rogue cancer cells, destabilizing them and energizing healthy ones.
In fact even as far back as 1665 in recent history, the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens discovered the phenomenon of Entrainment – synchronizing an object to a particular vibration- by means of one powerful object upgrading the vibration of another lesser vibrating object.
Hence, it is a proven fact that :
Different frequencies produce different sounds.
These sounds have different form correlates (as seen by oscilloscopes).
Sound energy has the power to alter molecular structure.

Of Ages Past
The sound A-U-M is not a copyright of any religious denomination. It predates religion- is as old or as new as the eternal Dharma that runs the web of the wide, wide world. It is an existential sound.
But credit must be given where it is due and as regards this, full credit goes to the Pre-Vedic Rishis or sages of yore, who , while surfing in mystic ecstasy the quantum non-local hyperspace, heard this Anahat Nad or Unstruck Sound.
Unstruck- as it was not produced by two objects striking each other.
As they abided in the primal energy-pool of existence, they heard this trinity of sounds ringing out clearly; a trinity that arose from the uber-dynamic, silent-stillness of the Absolute Unity. (Or as the Hindus put it simply- the Brahman)
A-U-M.
These three sounds rose up from beyond the boundaries of existence.
And just as there are three primary colors in nature that give rise to all subsequent ones; these three are primary sounds, which in various permutations give rise to all others.
From that supra-conscious plane, the rishis brought this arch string sound to the gross planet for the benefit of all sentient creatures, so that one would anchor in it, and thereby elevate to the divine reality of which this was a living symbol. They gave us Nada Yoga, or Yoga of Sound.
Sanskrit has never been a linguistic language. It was always a phonetic, sound-driven means of communication, intended to cause the cells to beat at a higher frequency, to reach a higher level of consciousness.
And since it was known even then as it is now, that sound travels almost five times faster in water than through air, the physical human apparatus was deemed an optimum conductor of sound energy, 70% of it being constituted by water.
This triad is pregnant with the mysteries of creation and all existential truths. Since it is existential, it is unbound by time, meaning it contains the past, the present, the future in a continuum of eternity.
A-U-M can respectively mean the waking, dreaming and dreamless state. And the fourth element- the silence that follows the three, signifies the Turiya- the state of superconscience.
The ancient Indian text Kathopanishad states: Whoever knows this, obtains whatever he wishes.
It has also been said : He who knows this becomes the gratifier of desires.
Kindly note, the stress is on knows, as opposed to chants, repeats, drones…etc.
And why so?
Because this esoteric triple sound attunes us to the secrets of matter on the physical axis (knowing which one can have mastery over) and attunes us with the higher cosmic reality to which we are all connected (not just random acts of factory production after all, eh).
Where A= creator, U= preserver, M= destroyer.
It is the power behind all and everything, therefore, it liberates.
It has aptly been called the Pranava in Hinduism, as the vibrations swim discreetly throughout the vital breath, prana.
But it has been erroneously mistaken to be a word- which it is not.
It is an intonation, one literally has to fall into tune with it. In it.
And in so doing, we feel each and every cell of ours pulsating actively, for therein we are in harmony with the cosmos.

The Power and the Glory
Since the universe is infinite, each of us- I/You/He/She/It, are the centers of it actually.
And as all sounds emanate out from a point, in attuning to this primal vibration, we too become centers of creation. The very source itself. The heartbeat of existence. That’s one more secret uncovered.
By default, any mantra needs intrinsically to be without any meaning. It needs intrinsically to be just pure sound, that which invokes a feeling.
Therefore, A-U-M.
It is added as a catalytic prefix to all Buddhist and Hindu mantras, lest they render ineffectual.
Just as all sounds have a form corresponding, they have a “feeling” correlate as well. Thus, mantras do away with the thinking process and incite only feeling. A mantra will (gradually) open up a thought-free zone wherein only feelings prevail, making it hospitable for the higher consciousness to descend.
New Age Gurus like Osho suggest that A-U-M is something we strive to become, not monotonously chant x times. Mindless number-oriented repetition only induces sheer ennui, lethargy and well, instant sleep. Not worthy consequences of so omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent a mantra.
The slower we take it, the deeper we move in into innerspace, and the more alert/aware we are, we find it permeating our cellular level, entering our heart chakra. And then, the purpose has been fulfilled.
We need not make any more effort here on, we feel it! We hear it! We be it!! Ultimate!!
But we must start where we are now, here, (which is technically nowhere). So we must first intone it to get anywhere.

Benefits of A-U-M
ჱ Intoning the mantra allows a freeflow of natural pranic energy throughout the body, thereby removing energy blockages, resolving stress and tension.
ჱ Entrainment of the body at the atomic level increases resonance and wholeness. The cells heal and regenerate on their own, regaining their purity.
ჱ A realignment and rebalance of spiritual/emotional/physical bodies takes place. As it clears and empties the mind of toxicity (translate as thoughts), there is an ascension of energy to the higher chakras or planes of consciousness.
ჱ Alpha and theta brainwaves are impacted and stimulated to therapeutically decelerate the rate of respiration, heartbeat and bp. An overall peaceful calm ensues; anxiety, insomnia, indigestion, depression, trauma and pain are all holistically dealt with.
ჱ Diseases occur when there is disharmony in the body. The purifying effect of the tri-sound is a serious disease deterrent.
ჱ Human sound therapy has been seen and proven to be effective in treatment of life threatening cancer and even being used as a palliative cure.

By listening and/or sounding the holy A-U-M, one is adding to the already potent pool of cosmic vibration, an energy system that has been since space-time energized by all those whose rhythms were one with the universe. We can aggrandize that rich tradition by personal application, both for self-gain and the larger good.
For everything we say or hear has an effect on us, others, the environment.
So every time you and I get that natural urge to spit out our favorite four letter word, let’s become a tad bit aware and breathe in these three syllables instead (and tune into the famed Pythagorean music of the spheres).
Feel it now-
Everybody Say A-U-M.

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How meditation changed a couples life

In 2007, Nick Seaver and his wife, Michelle, did something slightly nuts — or epically wise and prudent, nding on your perspective. They boxed up their belongings for storage, headed out to the Colorado Rockies, and disappeared into mountain silence for 18 months as part of the first substantial study on the physical and emotional impacts of meditation.

Nick Seaver speaks while holding a microphone “We were your typical over-busy, striving professionals living in New York City,” Seaver, at right, says. “If you’d asked me 15 years ago if this is something I’d ever do, I would have said ‘no way.'”

The couple’s decision to drop out and tune in not only changed their lives, but has since helped scientists document what mystics and monks have quietly understood for millennia: meditation (even 10 minutes a day) can be a powerful antidote to the negative influences our bodies and minds endure while navigating the stresses of daily life.

Destructive emotions

It all started in 2003 when Seaver happened upon a back-section New York Times article by author Daniel Goleman about the emotional benefits of mindfulness meditation. “I thought, if this is accurate, it should be front-page news,” he recalls.

Seaver ordered Goleman’s book, “Destructive Emotions,” which is based on a dialogue between Buddhist thinkers, including the Dalai Lama, and leading Western cognitive scientists about using meditation to overcome negative, world-damaging emotions like hatred, greed and violence.

Inspired, the couple began setting aside daily meditation time in the midst of their turbo-paced lives. “For me it was torture,” Seaver says.

Then that Christmas, Michelle surprised him with a special “gift”: a 10-day silent meditation retreat. “It seemed crazy — I was sure it was a cult, but I went,” he says.

The sustained meditation was tough — few participants managed it — but the Seavers tasted enough to sense its power. They felt calmer, centered, and filled with a deep sense of well-being.

“It was like I’d been looking at the world through a frosted windshield but hadn’t realized it because that’s all I knew,” Seaver says. “Suddenly, I was able to wipe it clean and see the world differently.”

A sign outside the Shamatha Project building where Nick and Michelle Seaver engaged in their silent meditationA sign outside the Shamatha Project building where Nick and Michelle Seaver engaged in their silent meditation (Photo: Adeline von Waning)

The Shamatha Project

The dramatic effects waned, but not the memories of what might be achieved with enough silence.

In 2006, the couple saw an announcement for a three-month meditation study called the Shamatha Project. Shamatha is a Buddhist meditation practice used to calm the mind. They applied on the spot, assuming they probably wouldn’t get in. Months later, they were surprised to receive acceptance emails.

Family and friends thought they’d lost their minds, but the time seemed right. “I was wrapping up a work project and Michelle was looking to change jobs,” Seaver says. The couple also needed a breather from their ongoing infertility struggles.

They seized the opportunity and settled into eight to 12 hours of daily silent meditation. Researchers regularly took participants’ blood and saliva, gave them psychological tests, and measured their brain activity using EEG (electroencephalogram) caps.

“People often associate these practices with someone sitting at a spa, but they’re actually really hard work,” says Seaver. Especially initially when repressed negative memories and emotions often bubble up, shaking unprepared participants to their core.

“Part of what you learn is to allow these hobgoblins of the mind to arise and pass without giving them attention or grasping onto them,” he says.

Nick Seaver wearing an EEG cap at the Shamatha ProjectNick Seaver wearing an EEG cap at the Shamatha Project (Photo: Nick Seaver)

Rewiring the brain

The prolonged experience of quieting their minds was so extraordinary that the Seavers extended their stay to 18 months. The decision to return to “engaged” life came only after they to pieces of life-changing news: Michelle was pregnant with twins, and Nick’s dad died suddenly a week later.

“We’d been off the phone and Internet and away from TV, living at 8,000 feet, and suddenly we were in the buzz of Manhattan for these really intense events around my father’s death,” Seaver recalls. “Everything felt kind of garish, like Las Vegas. You see so vividly how we’ve built a culture that’s all about distraction — surrounded by flashing billboards, buzzing smartphones, 8-second soundbites — anything to take you away from the realities of your own heart and mind.”

Despite his re-entry revelations, Seaver felt more emotionally available to grieving family and friends than ever before. Though reluctant to hold himself up as special (meditation is designed to dissolve the bonds of ego), it was one of many lasting benefits that he and others experienced.

“You’re actually changing the physiology of the brain,” he says. “So when you cultivate qualities like loving kindness, compassion and empathetic joy, you’re really recruiting neurons to parts of the brain that are involved, like growing a muscle.”

In fact, the Shamatha Project spawned several important scientific findings about the seemingly permanent advantages of long-term meditation. Physical benefits included improved ability to sleep, better immune function, and a slowdown of cellular aging. Psychologically, participants experienced increased executive function (greater ability to maintain focus and absorb and retain information), as well as better emotional regulation away from negative emotions (anger, jealousy, low self-esteem and depression) toward more positive emotions (joy, happiness, compassion and a sense of wonder).

Perhaps most interesting were the deeper shifts toward greater purpose and meaning. “Many people found it changed their sense of the nature of reality, which also changed their sense of what’s meaningful,” Seaver says.

Nick Seaver speaks at TEDxNick Seaver speaks about his experiences with meditation at TEDx BeaconStreet. (Photo: Dave Rezendes)

Joining the ‘In-action’ team

A self-described “dad, commuter and busy professional,” Seaver now works at an investment firm focusing on purpose-driven companies, and the couple is raising twin daughters. A fairly typical American life by most measures — except that it’s different.

For one thing, the Seavers meditate daily, usually with their girls, employing kid-friendly approaches from Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of “The Mindful Child.” The couple also helped co-found a secular meditation group last year with two friends in New Canaan, Connecticut, called the Community Mindfulness Project.

In addition, Seaver recently gave a TEDx talk on the couple’s retreat experiences and hopes to continue bringing what they learned “down from the mountain and into the suburbs” to inspire and awaken others.
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which meditation technique is best for you?

The data is in, and meditation works; not only does it help us live happier, less stressful lives, but it has measurable effects on physical health too. But if you’ve tried and (feel like you’ve) failed at meditating, it might be because you haven’t found the right meditation type for you. Below, you’ll find seven different ways “in” to a meditation practice; the benefits of each type are similar once you are practicing regularly — whether you find your way into meditation via walking and chanting, taking a class from a Transcendental Meditation teacher, or via meditation paired with your existing faith.

The most important part of meditation is not doing it a certain way, wearing particular clothes while doing it, or being in a specific place — or whatever your preconception of the “right” way to meditate is. It’s about finding what works with your life. Unlike a spin class, there are no rules you have to follow (though it’s useful to get a grounding in how other people meditate). There is only the regular practice and sticking with it, day-by-day. Think of meditation more like making a positive, life-long shift to a healthy eating, rather than a specific diet program (with celebrity endorsement and a thick book) that you follow for a month and then abandon. A truly beneficial meditation practice will take time and persistence.

So check out the styles of meditation below, and try them out — play with what works for you, and what doesn’t. Don’t be rigid about what meditation is, or looks like, or what you think it’s going to feel like. Ask yourself questions: Do you like to move, or does stillness work better for you? How about vocalizations? Do you want to focus on something or nothing? Your particular way into meditation may be different, but the stress relief, reduced anger, feelings of well-being, lowered blood pressure, and other benefits are available to everyone

Focused meditation is an umbrella term for any kind of meditation that includes focus on some aspect of the five senses, though visualizations are the most popular. Focusing on an image of a flower, a flame, or moving water are all ways to keep the mind gently focused so you are less likely to become distracted. You can also try concentrating on the feel of something — your fingers against each other, the way your breath feels moving in and out of your body, or the alignment of your spine. Focusing on a simple sound (a gentle gong, a bell, or music) or sounds from nature are another option.

Guided meditation is a focused meditation that is led by someone other than yourself and usually includes one or more of the techniques in focus meditation, above. You will get led through breathing instructions and some kind of visualization, body scan, or sound, or perhaps a mantra (see below).

Spiritual meditation is interchangeable with what most of us understand as prayer. If you are already part of a spiritual tradition, this may be an easier way into meditation, because you have already been practicing some elements of it. You can try it as an extension of what you already do in your place of worship if being in the church, sanctuary, mosque, hall or synagogue helps you dive into a quieter, more reflective state, or you can conjure up that feeling at home or in another place. Start with the words you have heard or said yourself, but instead of stopping at the end of a prayer or song, keep sitting quietly. You can ask a question and listen for an answer — sometimes people feel that an answer comes from outside of them; or you can enumerate what you are grateful for. Use your experience of prayer to access that quiet, meditative mind space.

Mantra meditation is when you use a sound or a set of sounds, repetitively, to enter and stay within the meditative state. It may seem like a contradiction to make noise when meditating, because many people have the idea that meditation equals silence, but that’s not the case at all, and mantras have a long history within the tradition. Of course, you can chant quietly, or even whisper your set of words, draw them out, make them more sing-songy, or even quite loud. You can say them in your head and maintain outer silence. You can choose a word or words in any language: (Peace and love and happiness, for example), or a sound like “Ohm.” You can make up sounds or words if you like or take them from another language; the sound or words you choose are really up to you and are simply a way to prevent distracting thoughts.

Transcendental Meditation (often abbreviated as TM by practitioners) is the type that’s most likely been studied by scientists when you hear about the various physical and mental benefits to meditation. With over 5 million practitioners worldwide, it is considered the most popular form of meditation, with the bonus being that it is usually easy to find free or low-cost classes in most places. It is a little more formalized than some of the other meditation types mentioned here, but it useful for beginning or exploring meditation if you are new to it. According to their site, TM is: “… a simple, natural, effortless procedure practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle.”

Movement meditations are exactly what they sound like; instead of sitting quietly, you get to move around the room, the house, a woodsy path, or the garden (or wherever) — usually in a relatively simple and calming way. Walking meditation, most types of yoga, gardening, and even basic housecleaning tasks can be moving meditations. This meditation type is great for people who already sit all day at work and want to move and meditate when not at a desk, and for those people who find sitting still to be a distraction from being able to meditate at all.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that is an ongoing part of life, rather than a separate activity. A great way to address stress in the moment it is happening, and over time becomes more like a mental skill than a time separate from the rest of life. It can be easier to get into a mindful state of mind if one has already been practicing meditation separately.

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