Glide Lunch & Learn: Benefits of Meditation

I was honored to be invited to give a presentation at Glide about the benefits of meditation.

Glide’s clinic provides health care to the residents of San Francisco in the Tenderloin District, with intention to break the cycle of poverty and marginalization.

Here is a summary of the information I covered.

I have been meditating since 2008 and learned from a Zazen practitioner, Gabriel Rogers.

Yoga as it pertains to meditation:

Yoga has eight limbs, many of which encapsulate aspects of meditation. Asanas focuses on mastering the body by way of holding poses.

Limbs five, six, seven, and eight; Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi (respectively) may be interpreted as practices of different types of meditation.

5 – focuses on controlling senses

6 – involves concentration & cultivating inner perceptual awareness

7 – specific meditation on the Divine

8 – union with the Divine

The practice of Yoga has a similar culminating journey toward Nirvana (bliss) in Buddhist meditation.

Scientific Benefits of Meditation

Sourced from links on Dr. Emma Seppala’s webpage. I found it to be an excellent source of scientific research and evidence of the many benefits of meditation.

  • Increases Immune Function – subjects meditating in a compassionate, mindful manner demonstrated increase antibody production to combat influenza.
  • Decreases pain – guides our mental processes to interpret the experience of pain in a more manageable way.
  • Decreases Inflammation on a cellular level – participants at suffering from cardiovascular disease demonstrated a decrease of stress and CRP (c-reactive protein) levels.
  • Improves memory, creativity, and attention span – subjects who meditated for four continuous days for twenty minutes each day showed an improved capacity for memory construction, creativity, and focus.
  • Increases grey matter – subjects who meditate show a measurable increase in grey matter density in certain cortices.
  • Increases volume of brain tissue in centers of emotional regulation, self-control, and positive emotions.
  • Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention.

Summaries from the ArtofLiving.org list these benefits and more:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Regulates seratonin production
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Lowers blood lactate; reducing anxiety.

The question was posed: What are some different ways to meditate?

My answer: there is no wrong way to meditate. One can meditate laying down, seated, in traditional full/half-lotus postures, on a seiza (meditation bench). One can meditation by focusing on breath, with prayer beads, counting finger segments, using a mantra (focus phrase), holding a mudra (hand position), or an combination of these and more.

Conclude with a brief meditation exercise. Follow-up with insights and observations from group.

Thank you for your warm welcome, attention, and participation in today’s presentation.

Medical Journals and Articles sourced

Psychoneuroendocrinology

Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune & behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. 2009

Journal of Neuroscience

Brain Mechanisms Supporting Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. 2011

Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

Workplace based mindfulness practice & inflammation: a randomized trial. 2013

Neuroimage

The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. 2009

Psychosomatic Medicine

Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. 2003

Neuroreport

Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. 2006

Cognitive Therapy and Research

The effects of mindfulness meditation on cognitive processes and affect in patients with past depression. 2004

General Hospital Psychiatry

Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. 1995

A refreshing trip to the Earth’s Root Chakra: Mt. Shasta

A trip to an energy vortex is a must for each soul. This is exactly what we did over a few days to refresh ourselves after a summer of hard work. We read a while ago that Mt. Shasta is considered to be one of the Earth’s seven energetic chakras; the Root Chakra. As residents of San Francisco, this was an easy excursion. On our first night at camp, as we lay in our tent, I looked out the mesh window and saw a shooting star pass right through the constellation Taurus: a good omen. Throughout that night we acclimated to this greener climate, and listened to the sounds of the environment around us. Every twenty minutes or so we would hear a great rushing breeze swooping from the mountain tops down into the valleys below, refreshing our lungs and fueling our dreams.

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During our most explorative day, we ventured up the mountain to a cluster of trailheads near the end of the paved road. Upon recommendation from the kind people at the Visitor’s Center in Mount Shasta City, we made our way along the Panther Meadows trail. At the head of this trail is a message board which offers a brief history and survey of the mountain meadow. We discover that this meadow is considered a sacred healing space by the indigenous people. They still perform healing rituals here. Previous foot traffic had destroyed the meadow, however, it’s been recently restored by the park service to our our delight.

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The forest service has been working diligently to restore this meadow, and kindly asks its patrons to enter and stroll mindfully. We are more than happy to do so. As we enter, the landscape is bordered with coniferous trees and boulders. The first opening is rather stoney, as well. Continuing on toward the upper meadows aspect of the trail, we walk through another tree-lined boulderous region. A quick jaunt through this part spills us out over the upper edge of the meadow. The view is breathtaking; tree covered rolling ridges in the background, cloud-speckled pristine blue skies overhead, supremely refreshing breezes abundantly flow over us, and the flower and mountain grass laden meadow before us.

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The Panther Meadows spring is just a few feet beyond this point, so we venture over to it. It is protected by a stone barrier shaped like a keyhole. At the center of the bulbous aspect, the gentle burbling of the water pushes up from the depths Shasta. It quickly becomes a quiet babbling brook, which adds to the astonishment one experiences knowing that this water creates this immaculate meadow. We sit and soak-in the energy from this special place for a few minutes. One feels the purity of this place, and understands its sacredness.

 

I am reminded of my trip to Lago Titicaca (Lake Titicaca) in Bolivia/Perú, during which I had the honor of visiting the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) and drinking the Agua de la Fuente de la Vida (Water of the Fountain of Life). That experience, though nineteen years prior, is still sharp in my mind. With equal respect for this mountain spring, I stretch my legs across the short gap in stones over the brook, stoop down, take a full double-palm of water, and let it flow into my mouth, filling me with its essence. It is crisp, fresh, and pure. Swallowing, I savor this moment; appreciative.

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From this mountain meadow spring we venture on to the nearby town of McCloud in pursuit of a swimming hole to splash the end of the day away. We trekked along an elevated pathway overlooking the Upper and Middle Falls; spectacular and alluring. People are swimming in each fall-carved well along the way. The scene is idyllic as the sun begins to rest. Soft breezes caress the adventuring spirits reveling in this natural splendor. The swimming hole is a little ways up from the falls. It is a quaint space to spend some time basking in the sun and cooling off in the pool created by a make-shift dam.

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Once we feel refreshed we return to our campground to spend our final night at Lake Siskiyou. Our camp is lit by a perfect half-moon, an awesome array of stars, and the nebulous haze of the Milky Way; things hidden by our light polluted metropolis. We rest, and sometimes sleep. I open my eyes frequently to absorb the passage of the twilight sky, further imprinting memories of this wondrous place; hoping they will stay sharp until our next excursion into the flora of this beautiful earth.

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As we disembark the following morning, I am overcome with a great sense of hope. This trip has shown me how forgiving Mother Earth is. Though many have trod ill across her, we can make amends. The future of our planet rests in our hands.

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A special thanks to the National Park Service for curating these spaces which we enjoy so much. Happy 100th Birthday!

Shasta Selfie

 

Condition the Psoas, Strengthen your Core

Body Awakening takes a Core-centric approach to the body. This means we focus on the core as a way to facilitate overall health. If you can release tension in the core, you can release tension everywhere. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on your deepest, and most important core muscle; the psoas.

In order to understand why this muscle is so important, it is helpful to know its location and function. The psoas is a cylindrical muscle which begins at the anterior (front) surface of all five lumbar vertebrae. It then travels through the hip complex, lays over the pubis, and attaches to the lesser trochanter (upper, inner aspect) of the femur. It is the body’s primary hip flexor, creates (in part) the lordotic curve of the lumbar vertebrae, and flanks the Hara (Sacral Chakra & center of gravity). It is our philosophy that it is the source of all movement. With this information one is able to see the importance of this muscle.

While you are not in massage, practicing several exercises will help strengthen, stretch, and condition your psoas. We’ve made a series of videos which demonstrate some of these activities.

Our first exercise gently strengthens the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, encourages natural belly breathing, and softens the lumbar region of the spine. This exercise is called ‘Bellows’. Lay on your back, and rest your knees in your palms. Inhale and feel your abdomen open, expanding your whole body, causing your knees to press into your palms. Exhale, and compress the abdomen. This will draw your legs into the chest. Continue to rest your palms on you knees, but let your breath do the work.

Our next recommendation for healthy hip flexors is a strengthening exercise. Continue to lay on your back. Place your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. This eliminates any curvature, or angle, in the lumber spine, and is called zero-position. From here, bring one knee toward your chest. Stop when you’ve reached a 90 degree angle with you hip and knee. Lower your foot to the floor and raise the other leg. As a progression, extend both legs and alternate raising them to as close to 90 degrees at the hip as possible. This exercise is great for hip alignment, as well. Continue to alternate leg raises as many times as you wish. We suggest 10-30 repetitions.

Just as important as strengthening, is stretching. Stretching helps muscles achieve their ideal length and condition, so that you can recruit their fullest potential. We recommend a kneeling lunge to stretch the psoas. From a kneeling position, bring one leg forward with the foot flat on the floor and the knee at a slightly obtuse angle, about 100 degrees. Shift the knee that is on the floor back a little. With the back knee rooted into the floor, gently tug your body forward with the forward heel while rolling your sacrum forward. You should feel a stretch in the psoas of the kneeling leg. Hold this position or take the stretch further with an oppositional rotation; twisting away from the planted knee and raising the arm of the same side. As a general guideline, hold stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds, and breath deeply into the abdomen.

The following exercise comes from Yoga. This pose is called Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Hanuman Pose). It is similar to the kneeling lunge. However, instead of having the forward foot on the floor, the front leg is extended so that the leg is straight and the heel is anchored to the floor. The back leg is also taken a further back. The knee is still the anchor for the back leg. Draw the to anchor points toward each other energetically and your hips will rotate slightly, approaching proper alignment. From this position, focus your breath into the base of the abdomen and stabilize your hips. You will feel a stretch in your forward hamstrings as well as the psoas on the opposite side. This posture is fantastic for simultaneously stretching and strengthening the psoas, as well as other core-related muscles. It is also a precursor to a full splits position.

In the next exercise, we stretch and strengthen the psoas again with another Yoga pose, Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). Laying prostrate on the floor, bend your knees, bringing your feet toward your head. Grab your legs at the ankle or blade of the foot. Inhale and let the breath expand your body as you press your feet away from your head. This will raise your torso and legs off the floor. Keep your arms straight as tension cables, allowing your legs to draw the body further off the floor with each breath. Your weight will being to teeter on your hip bones. This position opens the anterior aspect of the body, especially the psoas. Due to the oppositional force created by this position, you’ll also strengthen your hip flexors (and arms) as you hold this pose.

Finally, we draw upon another Yoga position to stretch the psoas. This pose is called Ustrasana (Camel Pose). From a kneeling position, activate your glutes to stabilize and protect the lumbar spine. Inhale and arch your back as you raise your arms overhead (this helps mobilize the spine). Exhale and fan your arms down and rest your palms on your achilles tendons or heels. If this is too much, rest your palms at the top of your hips, just above the glutes. Breath deeply, opening the anterior abdominal wall and hip flexors. Hold this pose as long as you’re comfortable.

Practicing these exercises will help you maintain a healthy psoas, and therefore, healthy core.