The ten major vows of a Bodhisattva

1. A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature.  As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to nurture a mind of compassion and filial piety, always devising expedient means to rescue and protect all beings. If instead, he fails to restrain himself and kills sentient beings without mercy, he commits a Parajika (major) offense.

2. A disciple of the Buddha must not himself steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. No valuables or possessions, even those belonging to ghosts and spirits or thieves and robbers, be they as small as a needle or blade of grass, may be stolen. As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to have a mind of mercy, compassion, and filial piety — always helping people earn merits and achieve happiness. If instead, he steals the possessions of others, he commits a Parajika offense.

3. A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. [As a monk] he should not have sexual relations with any female — be she a human, animal, deity or spirit — nor create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of such misconduct. Indeed, he must not engage in improper sexual conduct with anyone. A Buddha’s disciple ought to have a mind of filial piety — rescuing all sentient beings and instructing them in the Dharma of purity and chastity. If instead, he lacks compassion and encourages others to engage in sexual relations promiscuously, including with animals and even their mothers, daughters, sisters, or other close relatives, he commits a Parajika offense.

4. A disciple of the Buddha must not himself use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie or lie by expedient means. He should not involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that he has seen what he has not seen or vice-versa, or lying implicitly through physical or mental means. As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to maintain Right Speech and Right Views always, and lead all others to maintain them as well. If instead, he causes wrong speech, wrong views or evil karma in others, he commits a Parajika offense.

5. A disciple of the Buddha must not trade in alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of selling any intoxicant whatsoever, for intoxicants are the causes and conditions of all kinds of offenses. As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to help all sentient beings achieve clear wisdom. If instead, he causes them to have upside-down, topsy-turvy thinking, he commits a Parajika offense.

6. A disciple of the Buddha must not himself broadcast the misdeeds or infractions of Bodhisattva-clerics or Bodhisattva-laypersons, or of [ordinary] monks and nuns — nor encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of discussing the offenses of the assembly. As a Buddha’s disciple, whenever he hears evil persons, externalists or followers of the Two Vehicles speak of practices contrary to the Dharma or contrary to the precepts within the Buddhist community, he should instruct them with a compassionate mind and lead them to develop wholesome faith in the Mahayana. If instead, he discusses the faults and misdeeds that occur within the assembly, he commits a Parajika offense.

7. A disciple of the Buddha shall not praise himself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of praising himself and disparaging others. As a disciple of the Buddha, he should be willing to stand in for all sentient beings and endure humiliation and slander — accepting blame and letting sentient beings have all the glory. If instead, he displays his own virtues and conceals the good points of others, thus causing them to suffer slander, he commits a Parajika offense.

8. A disciple of the Buddha must not be stingy or encourage others to be stingy. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stinginess. As a Bodhisattva, whenever a destitute person comes for help, he should give that person what he needs. If instead, out of anger and resentment, he denies all assistance — refusing to help with even a penny, a needle, a blade of grass, even a single sentence or verse or a phrase of Dharma, but instead scolds and abuses that person — he commits a Parajika offense.

9. A disciple of the Buddha shall not harbor anger or encourage others to be angry. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of anger. As a disciple of the Buddha, he ought to be compassionate and filial, helping all sentient beings develop the good roots of non-contention. If instead, he insults and abuses sentient beings, or even transformation beings [such as deities and spirits], with harsh words, hitting them with his fists or feet, or attacking them with a knife or club — or harbors grudges even when the victim confesses his mistakes and humbly seeks forgiveness in a soft, conciliatory voice — the disciple commits a Parajika offense

10. A Buddha’s disciple shall not himself speak ill of the Triple Jewel or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods or karma of slander. If a disciple hears but a single word of slander against the Buddha from externalists or evil beings, he experiences a pain similar to that of three hundred spears piercing his heart. How then could he possibly slander the Triple Jewel himself? Hence, if a disciple lacks faith and filial piety towards the Triple Jewel, and even assists evil persons or those of aberrant views to slander the Triple Jewel, he commits a Parajika offense.

Meditation’s Effects on Emotion Shown to Persist

Meditation affects a person’s brain function long after the act of meditation is over, according to new research.

“This is the first time meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.

“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”

The researchers began the study with the hypothesis that meditation can help control emotional responses.

During meditation, a part of the brain called the amygdala (known for the processing of emotional stimuli) showed decreased activity. However, when the participants were shown images of other people that were either good, bad, or neutral for a practice known as “compassion meditation,” the amygdala was exceptionally responsive.

The subjects were able to focus their attention and greatly reduce their emotional reactions. And over an eight-week period, the participants retained this ability.

Even when they were not engaged in a meditative state, their emotional responses were subdued, and they experienced more compassion for others when faced with disturbing images.

Around the same time, another group at Harvard Medical School (HMS) began to study the effect of meditation on retaining information. Their hypothesis was that people who meditate have more control over alpha rhythm — a brain wave thought to screen out everyday distractions, allowing for more important information to be processed.

“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” said Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center, both at HMS.

“Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

Both studies used participants that had no previous experience with meditation.

Over an eight-week period and a 12-week period, both groups showed a marked change in their daily normal brain function, while they were meditating and while they were involved in medial activities.

Some researchers believe that meditation might be the key to help ease off dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.

“The implications extend far beyond meditation,” said Kerr.

“They give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is deregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.”

Source:  Harvard University

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma yoga meditation is one of the four main yoga paths which include karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga. All four yoga forms help the yoga practitioner to become aware of, to acknowledge and to accept the true wisdom of the Divine (union with Brahman). Karma yoga encompasses both physical and mental actions carried out from birth till death by an individual. According to the concept behind karma yoga meditation, an individual consists of iccha (desire), jnana (knowing) and kriya (feeling), all three of which formulate his/her karma. The practice of karma yoga involves giving up ones ego and acting in a selfless manner. Karma yoga meditation teaches you to do good deeds without expecting any reward or gain in return. Essentially, it involves the acceptance of the power of the Divine, and the cultivation of the belief that real authority rests in the Hands of the Divine and is not within the reach of mere mortals.

The Main Principles of Karma Yoga

Karma yoga meditation teaches yoga practitioners to accept certain principles which will help them to live a peaceful and good life.

The Importance of Duty

According to this principle, all individuals have the option of choosing good thoughts and actions over evil ones. The challenge is to tune into the path of righteousness and good deeds, and play a positive role in this world.

The Importance of Motive

According to Swami Sivananda, ‘give your hands to work, and keep your mind fixed at the lotus feet of the Lord.’ Your outwardly actions hold no real value if they are not governed by pure and well-meaning motives or thoughts. A good deed that is carried out simply to get fame, importance or praise is not really a good deed in the true sense of the word. The arrogance behind that good deed overshadows and nullifies the intrinsic value of the seemingly positive action.

The Importance of Doing Your Best

Karma yoga teaches the yoga practitioner to perform every action and deed from the heart without any fear of what others might think or whether it will be perceived as being good enough. Your motivation behind any action should be to maximize good and to reduce evil, so keep that thought in mind as you give every action your best shot.

The Importance of Giving Up

This karma yoga principle teaches the yoga practitioner that we humans have no control over the way things pan out in this world. We might perform an action hoping for a particular result, but it is God who controls everything and in the end, things may turn out to be diametrically different from what we expected. Karma yoga teaches the yoga practitioner to give up those expectations. It emphasizes that an action should be carried for its intrinsic value, and that the consequence of that action should be left up to God.

The Importance of Serving

This final karma yoga meditation principle stresses the importance of cultivating and nurturing humility, patience, tolerance, unity, respect and love. Once the yoga practitioner fine tunes these good characteristics, he/she will see karma yoga come into practical use with every action he commits and every thought that he conceives.

Source: Fitness Republic

Seven Forms of Hermetic Meditation

The mind all by itself is capable of many amazing operations, some which have been reintroduced to Western audiences in just the last fifty years or so by the influx of Eastern spirituality and their various meditative techniques. Of course, all of these practices have been part of our own Western esoteric tradition for hundreds of years, but for some reason it seems easier for most people to except exotic ideas when they’re being delivered from an equally exotic, far off place. Perhaps this is why it is said that no man can be a prophet in his own land.
            Hermetic Adepts, however, have practiced the following meditative disciplines for ages, and have used these to obtain each of the many benefits promised by the more popular Eastern spiritualities, as well as a few other benefits with which you may not yet be familiar. These seven important forms of Hermetic meditation will each be explained in greater detail below.
Contemplative Meditation
Contemplative Meditation is the studious consideration of any object, idea, or action. This form of meditation is the closest to one’s usual mental operation, although it involves a greater amount of focus being directed inward and onto the subject matter being considered than one is probably accustomed to.
If it’s an image that’s being considered within the mind, then this form of meditation can be much like the astral meditation which will be described latter. One should visualize the object under consideration from a variety of perspectives, such as being very close to it, and from various angles, even from inside. The object should be dissected and subjected to as many outside influences as one can imagine, from elemental influences, such as heat, cold, moisture and dryness, to animal, mechanical, chemical and temporal influences as well. All possible transformations of the object into any other objects should also be considered. One should examine each of its five sensory qualities individually, as well as how each of these relates it to similar objects. Finally, one can even imagine being the object itself. These are only a few suggestions from which one may begin.
Ideas being considered may be complex philosophical issues, riddles or even single words. The mind can free associate or simply concentrate so much attention onto the idea that it becomes simply an object to merge one’s consciousness with completely. As with the object focused meditation above, one’s actual execution of this operation will depend on the goal of the meditation. Is the purpose of the meditation to understand something, or simply to focus and quite the mind itself? Merging with the object of contemplation in such a way would perhaps be better classified as a form of No-mind meditation, which we will examine next.
However, I would be remiss if I ended this introduction to contemplative practice without first pointing out the enormous benefits of applying such contemplative techniques to the study of specific physical actions. This is sometimes referred to as a praxis meditation, and a great number of modern sports psychologists have verified the surprising benefits of simply pre-visualizing physical actions, within the mind’s eye alone, in order to improve one’s performance of the same. Studies have shown that purely mental exercises such as these are actually effective at training one’s muscle memory and, even more surprisingly, can even be used to improve physical skills almost as effectively as conventional physical practice alone. Obviously individual results will vary, based upon what we’ll call one’s contemplative aptitude, but obviously there’s a tremendous value in being able to improve the actions of the body through the proper application of the mind alone.
No-Mind Meditation
No-Mind Meditation involves the quieting of all mental activity for as long as possible so as to become fully present and still. As stated above, some contemplative practices can be adapted to this end, focusing with intense concentration on a single object or a sound, which in eastern practices are referred to as yantras and mantras, respectively. Other popular techniques involve focusing on, or even counting, every breath. Yet another technique is to examine a cube of sugar as it dissolves within a glass of water, and then using this image to help mentally dissolve each of the objects in one’s immediate surroundings, including one’s own body, until there is nothing left.
This practice of forgetting one’s self can be difficult at first, but if one is patient, not allowing the mind to get too disturbed by its own initial reluctance to quiet down, with regular practice one will find it less and less difficult to maintain an undisturbed state of restful inner silence for increasingly long periods of time. As with any meditative practice, or anything for that matter, start small, be patient, and progress will eventually come.
Energetic Meditation
Energetic Meditation involves the gradual development of one’s awareness of, as well as one’s ability to direct, subtle energetic currents within the body. This energy is called different things in various traditions, such as etheric energy, orgone energy, animal magnetism, energeia, élan vital, prana, mana, vril, chi, qi, ki, odic force, or, even more simply, the force. Modern scientific approaches to this energy have equated it to the bio-electrical currents that run throughout the body’s nervous system, although reducing it to such a merely mechanical force undermines a great deal of the psychic applications which are available to those who become adept at the energetic manipulation of this mysterious occult energy.
Energetic meditation can be done in variety of ways. Some people find it easier to visualize this energy; softening their vision and watching it dance across the surfaces of organic, and even sometimes inorganic, objects around them, Some people claim it’s easiest to see it flowing between their own hands as they concentrate on moving the energy between them. Others find it easier to simply feel it circulating inside them, and, as stated above, some can even project this energy from various parts of their bodies, such as from their hands and feet, or from the various chakras located across their bodies. The number of postures, visualizations, and breathing exercises which currently exist to help one awaken his or her awareness of this mysterious energy are far too numerous to list here, but, thankfully, none of these are terribly hard to find if one knows how to use the internet.
Astral Meditation
Astral Meditation involves the mental projection of one’s mind to another place outside the body. This is also known as bi-location, or an out of body experience, or even more commonly, astral projection. The development of one’s aptitude in astral travel is developed by first learning how to become more mindful of and lucid within various dream states. This typically is where one is most likely to encounter and become comfortable with one’s astral body.
Another place where people often encounter the phenomenon of astral projection is in near death experiences, although I hardly suggest that one use this as an intentional avenue for practice. Once again, as with energetic meditation, there are various esoteric groups active today, most of them with an online presence, who are willing to offer a wide variety of specific meditative techniques, all designed to aid one in the eventual acquisition of an out of body experience.
Mnemonic Meditation
Mnemonic Meditation involves the construction and use of memory palaces, which are an ancient mnemonic technique that makes it possible to retain and recall a great deal of information with ease. A memory palace doesn’t have to be a real place, but the usual method is to utilize any large structure with which one is familiar, and use the memory of that location to provide a mental space for the storage of various things that one wishes to commit to memory.
The sort of things that can be memorized with this method need not be restricted to physical objects alone. Classically, this technique was most often used to memorize long speeches or to commit long tracts of poetry and verse to memory as well. To do this, these would first be broken up into shorter segments and then mentally stored at various locations within one’s memory palace. To recall these segments, one would just mentally move from place to place within the palace. Those who’ve learned how to properly operate this powerful mnemonic device have found that nearly any amount of information stored this way becomes surprisingly easy to recall.
Dramaturgic Meditation
Dramaturgic Meditation is the use of a meditative state to conjure and converse with spirits within the mind. This can be done in basically one of two ways, which are known as evocation and invocation. Evocative meditations place the spiritual intelligence being contacted outside of one’s own ego, meaning that one does not psychologically identify with the force in question, even if one technically acknowledges the primary role of one’s own mind in the facilitation of this experience. For this reason, evocations have classically employed the use of a magic circle, or some other geometric shape, into which these intelligences are projected and sometimes even constrained. This, of course, is objectively false, since the entire operation truly takes place within one’s own mind, but such precautions can be very beneficial to preserve the perceived boundary between the spirits mind and one’s own.
Such precautions become irrelevant, however, when one engages in the other form of Dramaturgic Meditation mentioned above, which is known as invocation. Typically one uses invocation to invite the presence of some supposedly higher intelligence, such as a god or an angel, to assume a degree of control over one’s mind, actively identifying with and becoming the divine spirit in question. Some people even do this with demons, although this seems to me to be a far less prudent practice. However, as previously mentioned, anything contacted within one’s mind, in theory, already lies within, so perhaps it’s not as dangerous as one might think. Perhaps.
Moving Meditation
Moving Meditation involve the merging of one’s mind and body together through physical movement to achieve ecstatic states of consciousness. Although similar in many ways to the no-mind state described above, this ecstatic meditation is not preformed in stillness but rather through dance, martial arts, and even sport. Indeed, moving meditation can be integrated into any physical discipline where one might be said to achieve a unique state of focus and dynamic flowing awareness which is completely beyond what one typically experiences within his or her normal human consciousness.
            Suggestions for achieving such a state include, obviously, an intense amount of focus and concentration, but also a certain degree of relaxation is necessary as well. An extensive amount of practice of whatever kinds of movements are being used to carry one into this state may also be necessary, since one must be able to stop consciously thinking about what needs to be done and simply become one with the action. In the case of ecstatic dance, rhythmic bass has traditionally been thought to aid one’s transition into this higher state of consciousness as well.

How Yoga and Meditation at Work Are Boosting the Corporate Bottom Line

If you heard that something could:

  • help 80% of the managers at work make better decisions
  • make 89% of them better listeners
  • reduce stress levels among all employees by a third,

you and your bosses would probably be busting through doors, racing through aisles and clearing shelves to stockpile the stuff.

But this isn’t a magic pill that can be bought. This miracle drug is yoga, meditation and mindfulness training, all of which are beginning to infiltrate corporate America and improve the functioning and morale of employees. Plus studies are beginning to show that these practices benefit the corporate bottom line.

Read on to find out how these Eastern practices are becoming part of the culture at multinationals as all-American as General Mills (maker of Cheerios), Target and Google–and how you can apply the practices to improve your work life.

From Buddhism to Boardroom

It may not be a surprise that digitally distracted Silicon Valley has embraced New Age principles. The annual Wisdom 2.0 conference gathers the spiritually minded of Silicon Valley every year to get more mindfulness tips, and Steve Jobs famously was a Zen Buddhist who said the teaching’s principles helped shape Apple’s product design.

Google’s mindfulness program is a free seven-week course called S.I.Y. for “Search Inside Yourself,” which is offered four times a year and has trained 1,000 employees in attention training, self-knowledge, self-mastery and the creation of good mental habits. It always has a waiting list of 30 for the 60-student class.

But mindfulness is spreading from the coasts to the heartland. Human resources firm Aon Hewitt estimates that a quarter of large U.S. employers have stress reduction initiatives. Minneapolis-based Target’s Meditating Merchants program has 500 participants who meet weekly for a lunchtime meditation. And General Mills, also based in Minneapolis, is an unlikely leader in this space.

Mindfulness in the Midwest

General Mills’s Midwestern workforce is predominantly white, and its leafy headquarters look like a typical corporate campus. But as The Financial Times Magazine reports, throughout the week, there are decidedly uncorporate elements to the employees’ workaday lives: namely, regular meditation sessions for executives and team leaders and yoga classes for senior employees. Plus, every building on the General Mills campus has a room outfitted with zafus, which are meditation cushions, and yoga mats, so employees can duck in whenever they need a few minutes of child pose.

These Zen amenities are part of a company-wide program called Mindful Leadership, which has so far taught more than 400 executives at the Fortune 200 company gentle yoga and sitting meditation practices from Buddhism; it has even trained 250 outside executives and entrepreneurs.

During one two-hour extended session at General Mills, about 50 people sporting comfortable clothing (including bright yellow Cheerios gear) sat cross-legged or kneeling on meditation cushions. The leader, Janice Marturano, rang Tibetan prayer bells three times and said, “Take a posture that for you in this moment embodies dignity and strength. Allow the body to rest, to step out of busyness, bringing attention to the sensation of each breath.”

The executives sighed, letting stress fall away (the company’s first mass layoffs had just been announced) and listened to Marturano’s instruction to focus attention on their breath and to sensations in the body. After 30 minutes, the group also engaged in a half hour of gentle yoga poses and then listened to a talk by Marturano on mindfulness … and the layoffs. “When we’re in any kind of transition in our lives it’s so easy to get into the swirl and get lost,” she said. “Use this practice to gain stability in the mind.”

Evidence That Mindfulness Makes for Better Workers

Mindful Leadership began in 2006 when Marturano took 13 General Mills executives on a five-day retreat at a bed-and-breakfast. “There was quite a buzz when that first group went through,” says Beth Gunderson, General Mills’ director of organization effectiveness.

Since then, the program’s anecdotal success led the company to look into its efficacy, and the initial results should make executives across the country sit up and take notice. As the FT reports, “After one of Marturano’s seven-week courses, 83% of participants said they were ‘taking time each day to optimize my personal productivity’–up from 23% before the course. Eighty-two percent said they now make time to eliminate tasks with limited productivity value–up from 32% before the course. And among senior executives who took the course, 80% reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions, while 89% said they became better listeners.”

Other companies conducting mindfulness programs have also found good results. A study in which Aetna partnered with the Duke University School of Medicine found that one hour of yoga a week lowered employee stress levels by a third and cut health care costs by an average of $2,000 per year.

How to Bring Mindfulness to Your Workplace

The General Mills and Google programs have found so much success that the founders of each are branching out. General Mills’s Marturano has founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership, a non-profit that will train executives in these techniques, and Chade-Meng Tan, the Google S.I.Y. teacher, came out with a book, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace),” which was published in 17 markets around the world.

But even if you don’t have a mindfulness program at work, here are some principles you can use to ease your stress:

  • Sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight.
  • Close your eyes and observe the physical sensations in your body.
  • Notice the thoughts that flit through your mind, but don’t react to them.
  • Watch these fleeting sensations, not judging yourself for your thoughts.

In time, developing the habit of detaching from your thoughts and watching them will start to quiet the mind and reduce stress. Studies have shown that meditation reduces the brain’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Two practices from the Google program will help you prioritize your tasks at work. One asks everyone to name three core values. “It centers you,” one participant told The New York Times. “You can go through life forgetting what they are.” The second is to write nonstop for seven minutes about your vision for your life in five years.

And when it comes to dealing with workplace stress and annoyance, you can also start using a tool nicknamed the Siberian North Railroad but really called S.B.N.R.R. for Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond.

Google director of executive development Richard Fernandez told The Times that after taking the S.I.Y. course, “I’m definitely much more resilient as a leader. I listen more carefully and with less reactivity in high-stakes meetings. I work with a lot of senior executives who can be very demanding, but that doesn’t faze me anymore. It’s almost an emotional and mental bank account. I’ve now got much more of a buffer there.”

We’ll have some of what he’s having.

Putting Meditation Back on the Mat

Seated cross-legged on a black cushion atop a yoga mat, I struggled to keep my eyes closed and repeat the Sanskrit mantra in my head: ham-sa — I am that. Outside, on Third Avenue, police sirens wailed and cars honked as I tried to sit still in a room with eight other meditation students, keeping my breath slow and steady. Just as I was about to lose the focus on my breath, a soothing voice nearby chimed in: “You can hear the noises without getting attached to them. The attention comes from the inside.”

The voice belonged to Michael Bartelle, a tall, slender yoga and meditation teacher. The city kept up its racket, but for the next 18 minutes, Mr. Bartelle thoughtfully guided our midday meditation, occasionally offering encouraging comments. It was part of a one-hour class at Ishta Yoga that included movement and breathing exercises.

Ishta Yoga, with studios in Greenwich Village and on the Upper East Side, is one of a growing number of yoga centers in the city that are reporting increased meditation on the mat.

The asanas, or poses, of yoga are traditionally meant to prepare the body for meditation. But as yoga has been consumed by the gym and physical fitness industry in recent years — to the tune of an international yoga championship — many people have come to yoga for the workout, period.

Still, once they are there, they are often introduced to meditation, as well.

“Yoga is the gateway that opens the door for people to try modalities that they normally wouldn’t,” said Beth Shaw, founder and president of YogaFit, a fitness education program, based in Los Angeles that trains many of the yoga teachers at the city’s more than 50 New York Sports Clubs. A team from the clubs recently discussed with YogaFit the possibility of a meditation workshop at its annual conference for fitness professionals, which will be held in November in New York.

Cyndi Lee, the owner of Om Yoga near Union Square, which recently announced it would close its studio in late June, has an explanation for the seemingly greater enthusiasm for meditation among yoga students.

“The yoga community in New York City has matured,” Ms. Lee said. “I remember a time when we started with five minutes of meditation and a woman got annoyed and said: ‘I want to move. I want to sweat.’ Now they want to meditate.”

In August, Om Yoga introduced a meditation teacher-training program and has been running twice-weekly meditation classes. The Integral Yoga Institute, Jivamukti Yoga School and Pure Yoga, all in Manhattan, are among other centers reporting more students in their meditation classes.

At Ishta Yoga, Alan Finger, the founder and co-owner, said: “There’s a flood of more people wanting more meditation. I used to have about three classes a week — I stepped it up to five.” (A sixth is taught by Mr. Bartelle, alternating with Peter Ferko.)

Mr. Finger says that students often get a sense of what meditation is like by being in savasana, or corpse pose, at the end of a yoga class.

“At first, when people are in savasana, they may have a little snooze, but as they come and get more into it, they start to feel a different presence and say, ‘That was like meditation,’ and they start to explore more.”

Though most studios charge a fee for meditation classes that involve instruction, some, like the Jaya Yoga Center in Brooklyn, include meditation on their schedule simply to provide a time and space for people to come and sit, free.

“When people come in after a day of work or wake up in the morning, they are happy to shift their attention to something that’s a little more relaxing,” said Carla Stangenberg, who owns one of Jaya’s studios and co-owns the other. “Focusing on the breath and some phrases just calms you down, especially in New York City, where everything is just spinning around.”

A staff member keeps the time, and the rest is up to you and your breath. But why not just do it at home if you’re not getting guidance?

For many people, meditating in a group provides a deeper, more satisfying experience.

“Meditation is kind of like a dance class in that it’s better with other people,” said David Grotell, a student at my Ishta Yoga class. “There’s something about the energy. It would seem that if you’re not talking to people you’re not in contact, but you somehow feel close to others when you are meditating in a way that is not obvious.”

The heightened interest in meditation in yoga studios may be part of a larger movement toward the practice, which is clearly more mainstream than during the transcendental meditation craze of the 1970s.

When Sharon Salzberg, a meditation expert and teacher, began giving meditation workshops at Tibet House in the Flatiron district in 1999, about 30 people were in attendance. This winter, her class filled the room to its capacity, 135 people, with the overflow crowd finding space to sit on the floor.

“Meditation is no longer seen as fringe, esoteric and weird,” Ms. Salzberg said. “Its main association is now its link as a stress-reduction modality, and not just for coping, but also for flourishing.”

The Art of Living Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, once offered a single meditation workshop a week at its office in Midtown; it now has four a week because of rising demand.

In addition to offering workshops at its Manhattan office, I Meditate NY, an initiative of the foundation, has teamed up with partners to offer meditation at various branches of the New York Public Library and at Whole Foods’ Wellness Club in TriBeCa. The next event, currently in its planning stages, is a meditation workshop in Central Park.

City College of New York is scheduled to begin a 10-week evening class next month called Introduction to the Organic Meditation Process. Part of CUNY’s Continuing and Professional Education Program, it will be open to those with and without meditation experience.

“Meditation helps you learn how to not be controlled by your emotions,” the teacher, Antonia Martinez, said. Or as Ms. Lee of Om Yoga put it, “People are realizing that meditation is a way to work with your mind, and the benefits are said to bring strength, stability and clarity.”

Meditation’s Antianxiety Effects Visible on Brain Imaging

Individuals with no experience in meditation who participate in mindful meditation training sessions for as little as 4 days show changes in specific brain mechanisms that correlate with a reduction in anxiety, a new imaging study shows.

“There is plenty of evidence that meditation can improve a host of issues, such as pain and cognitive function, and anxiety is perhaps at the top of the list,” explained lead author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“But what we’ve been able to do is to correlate, through imaging, changes in specific brain regions that are related to anxiety, even in a cohort of people with no anxiety or depression.”

The findings were published online April 24 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Buffer to Anxiety

For the study, Dr. Zeidan and his colleagues recruited 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of anxiety and no experience in meditation to participate in 4 20-minute training sessions to learn the technique for mindful meditation.

This involves a focus on breathing and a conscious acknowledging of distracting thoughts and emotions, combined with a decision not to react to them.

“You’re trained to focus on keeping a very straight posture and the sensations of the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you breathe,” Dr. Zeidan explained.

“If your mind becomes distracted, you acknowledge the distraction, let it go, and focus back on the breathing. You are regulating your emotional responses.”

Before and after each meditation training session, the participants, who included graduate students and faculty, received brain activity imaging with pulsed arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The participants also were administered the State Anxiety Inventory, a 20-item subscale of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory, before and after the brain imaging.

While the participants reported meditation-related reductions in anxiety ratings by as much as 22%, the MRIs showed anxiety relief to be associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which show decreases in activity when anxiety is present.

The vmPFC is also implicated in the alteration of contextual evaluation of affective processes, the authors write.

“Activation in the vmPFC is associated with modulating higher-order affective appraisals, including cognitive regulation of negative emotions.”

In addition, reports of greater anxiety correlated with greater default-related activity (ie, posterior cingulate cortex) on MRI, “possibly reflecting an inability to control self-referential thoughts,” the authors write.

The brain mechanisms related to the reduction of anxiety through mindful meditation in healthy people have never been identified, so the findings help confirm that the changes do occur, said Dr. Zeidan.

“It shows that mindful meditation can be sort of this buffer to anxiety. After just a brief training, you can reduce this ruminative thought process, change your attention, and change the context in how you respond to things,” he said.

Potential Payoff

Amit Sood, MD, director of research and practice in the Mayo Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, said that such changes are not unexpected over such a short period.

“I’m not surprised to see the correlations with reductions of anxiety in 4 days — other studies looking at brain structure have reported seeing these changes after just 4 to 6 hours of training,” said Dr. Sood.

“What I would be surprised to see, however, is if they were still doing it on their own after 6 months,” he noted.

“People can learn it quickly, but then they forget. A change in habit requires a lot of effort. People have to carve out the time in their busy days, and what tends to happen is will power depletion.”

The study demonstrates, however, the potential payoff, he added.

“I wouldn’t call this a landmark study, but it does validate the overall theme we’re seeing in this field,” Dr. Sood said.

“It adds another bullet point of how we can understand emotional and brain states, and eventually this may help us better classify people based on what is actually happening in the brain, beyond their displayed symptoms.”

Do Our Thoughts Have the Power to Affect Reality?

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” —Attributed to Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha

According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, every time we learn or experience something new, hundreds of millions of neurons reorganize themselves.

Dr. Dispenza is known throughout the world for his innovative theory concerning the relationship between mind and matter. Perhaps best known as one of the scientists featured in the acclaimed 2004 docudrama “What the Bleep Do We Know,” his work has helped reveal the extraordinary properties of the mind and its ability to create synaptic connections by carefully focusing our attention.

Just imagine: In every new experience, a synaptic connection is established in our brain. With every sensation, vision, or emotion never explored before, the formation of a new relationship between two of more than 100 thousand million brain cells is inevitable.

But this phenomenon needs focused reinforcement in order to bring about real change. If the experience repeats itself in a relatively short period of time, the connection becomes stronger. If the experience doesn’t happen again for a long period of time, the connection can become weakened or lost.

Science used to believe that our brains were static and hardwired, with little chance for change. However, recent research in neuroscience has discovered that the influence of every corporal experience within our thinking organ (cold, fear, fatigue, happiness) is working to shape our brains.

If a cool breeze is capable of raising all the hairs on one’s forearm, is the human mind capable of creating the same sensation with identical results? Perhaps it is capable of much more.

“What if just by thinking, we cause our internal chemistry to be bumped out of normal range so often that the body’s self-regulation system eventually redefines these abnormal states as regular states?” asks Dispenza in his 2007 book, “Evolve Your Brain, The Science of Changing Your Mind.” “It’s a subtle process, but maybe we just never gave it that much attention until now.”

Dispenza holds that the brain is actually incapable of differentiating a real physical sensation from an internal experience. In this way, our gray matter could easily be tricked into reverting itself into a state of poor health when our minds are chronically focused on negative thoughts.

Dispenza illustrates his point by referring to an experiment in which subjects were asked to practice moving their ring finger against a spring-loaded device for an hour a day for four weeks. After repeatedly pulling against the spring, the fingers of these subjects became 30 percent stronger. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was asked to imagine themselves pulling against the spring but never physically touched the device. After four weeks of this exclusively mental exercise, this group experienced a 22 percent increase in finger strength.

For years, scientists have been examining the ways in which mind dominates matter. From the placebo effect (in which a person feels better after taking fake medicine) to the practitioners of Tummo (a practice from Tibetan Buddhism where individuals actually sweat while meditating at below zero temperatures), the influence of a “spiritual” portion of a human being over the undeniable physical self challenges traditional conceptions of thought, where matter is ruled by physical laws and the mind is simply a byproduct of the chemical interactions between neutrons.

Beyond Belief

Dr. Dispenza’s investigations stemmed from a critical time in his life. After being hit by a car while riding his bike, doctors insisted that Dispenza needed to have some of his vertebrae fused in order to walk again—a procedure that would likely cause him chronic pain for the rest of his life.

However, Dispenza, a chiropractor, decided to challenge science and actually change the state of his disability through the power of his mind—and it worked. After nine months of a focused therapeutic program, Dispenza was walking again. Encouraged by this success, he decided to dedicate his life to studying the connection between mind and body.

Intent on exploring the power of the mind to heal the body, the “brain doctor” has interviewed dozens of people who had experienced what doctors call “spontaneous remission.” These were individuals with serious illnesses who had decided to ignore conventional treatment, but had nevertheless fully recovered. Dispenza found that these subjects all shared an understanding that their thoughts dictated the state of their health. After they focused their attention on changing their thinking, their diseases miraculously resolved.

Addicted to Emotions

Similarly, Dispenza finds that humans actually possess an unconscious addiction to certain emotions, negative and positive. According to his research, emotions condemn a person to repetitive behavior, developing an “addiction” to the combination of specific chemical substances for each emotion that flood the brain with a certain frequency.

The body responds to these emotions with certain chemicals that in turn influence the mind to have the same emotion. In other words, it could be said that a fearful person is “addicted” to the feeling of fear. Dispenza finds that when the brain of such an individual is able to free itself from the chemical combination belonging to fear, the brain’s receptors for such substances are correspondingly opened. The same is true with depression, anger, violence, and other passions.

Nevertheless, many are skeptical of Dispenza’s findings, despite his ability to demonstrate that thoughts can modify a being’s physical conditions. Generally associated as a genre of pseudo-science, the theory of “believe your own reality” doesn’t sound scientific.

Science may not be ready to acknowledge that the physical can be changed through the power of the mind, but Dr. Dispenza assures that the process occurs, nevertheless.

“We need not wait for science to give us permission to do the uncommon or go beyond what we have been told is possible. If we do, we make science another form of religion. We should be mavericks; we should practice doing the extraordinary. When we become consistent in our abilities, we are literally creating a new science,” writes Dispenza.

Meditation Beats Anxiety By Activating Certain Brain Regions, Study Finds

Mindfulness meditation — nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and emotions — is known for its anxiety-busting powers, and now scientists are getting a better understanding of why it has this impact in the brain.

Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that meditation has effects on activity of particular brain regions, namely the anterior cingulate cortex — which controls thinking and emotions — and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex — which controls worrying. Meditation seems to increase activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and decrease activity in the anterior cingulate cortex.

“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” study researcher Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at the medical center, said in a statement. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”

The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, included 15 people who had normal levels of everyday anxiety (with no history of anxiety disorders) and who had never meditated before. The participants underwent brain scans to track their brain activity at the start of the study, and also had their anxiety levels measured, before taking classes to learn how to do mindfulness meditation.

After the training — which consisted of four 20-minute classes — researchers measured the participants’ anxiety levels again, and also had them undergo brain scans again.

Researchers found that anxiety levels decreased by up to 39 percent after the mindfulness meditation training, and that those decreases in anxiety seemed to be linked with the activation and deactivation of particular brain regions.

“These findings provide evidence that mindfulness meditation attenuates anxiety through mechanisms involved in the regulation of self-referential thought processes,” the researchers wrote in the study.

 

Yoga Sharpens Your Brain

You know that yoga is good for your body—it increases flexibility, tones your muscles, massages your internal organs, and even helps your body detox—but now new research is showing it may be seriously good for your brain, too! In fact, it might sharpen your brain even more than other exercises.

According to research by the Exercise Psychology Laboratory at the University of Illinois, a single 20-minute Hatha yoga session can improve brain function better than moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise.

In the study, researchers measured the reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks of 30 female participants after they’d done yoga for 20 minutes, and after exercising for 20 minutes on a treadmill. After doing yoga, the women were better able to focus and process information quickly and more accurately. They were also better able to learn, hold and update pieces of information than after the aerobic exercise.

The reason? Breathing! According to Professor Neha Gothe, lead researcher: “The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath….Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.” The breathing and meditation also helps calm anxiety and reduce stress, which can also help cognitive function.