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

Body Awakening meets Mánjari Sharma

IMG_0543

The artist, Mánjari Sharma, who captured the essence of Maa Laxmii, Hindu goddess of good fortune, visited Body Awakening on the full moon-lit evening of November. Making our way through ActivSpace, we take some time to get to know each other. Once inside the studio, our conversation journeys visually around the space. Laxmii immediately catches her eye. Her photoportrait is overlooking the studio space, as well as San Francisco.

I take a few moments to elaborate the artist expressions population our vibrant healing space. I highlight the elemental characters on the adjacent wall; water, wind, fire, earth, and the intangible element from four cultures across the globe adorning it. We admire the view to the West over San Francisco. Body Awakening’s paradigm for well-being surrounds a reflection box, upon which a gilded Buddha meditates.

We turn back to the Laxmii’s peacock blue wall adorned with a hand-painted peacock feather. The color and feather spark a conversational tangent where Mánjari and I discuss some of our more poignant dreams and their meanings. We are entranced in each other’s experiential perspectives of our worlds and the messages interpreted out of these; through dreams.

Mánjari and I sit on the midnight purple floor. She, like Laxmii, is generous enough to have brought her portfolio. I anticipate seeing a series of classic photoportraits of Hindu gods. They are there, but first she takes me through a series of emotionally cathartic portraits that emerged before the concept of reproducing Indian classics. I am gripped by the people in her photographs. They are pouring their hearts our in these visual windows of time. The emotional content is palpable. Coincidentally or not, all the photographs were taken between the hours of 11am and 1pm. My jaw drops at the realization that these were taken during the peak time frame for the heart meridian in Traditional Chinese Medicine. We are both awed by this circumstance bringing a moment of emotional outpour for the subjects in Mánjari’s Shower Series. Our chat weaves into a parallel association of massage facilitating emotional catharsis during a vulnerable situation. The people in her photo series find a moment of individual freedom very similar to that of a great massage.

Something about this experiential series inspires Mánjari looks to her roots. She taps into her cultures’ archetypes represented by Hindu gods; recreating, with as much precision as possible, classic images of Laxmii, Vishnu, Brahma, Durga, Saraswati, Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, & Hanuman. She informs me that each scene was “constructed around the person found to assume the role of these deities from scratch.” Without whom, the scenes cannot be developed. According to her, the world develops after the particular god is chosen to play the part. I find this particularly interesting in light of the way our own worlds are populated.  We all have our own unique character, and our environment is enriched by our attributes. These images of Hindu gods represent the same in a timeless, exemplary fashion. It causes me to think about what these deities represent: symbols of the best characteristics of humanity. Mánjari captures this nuance in her Darshan series.

She explains that each person depicting a god came to her through a combination of coincidence and serendipity. Each one had a tendency to honor that god in their own life: fortuitous coincidences. The person portraying Shiva, for example, was raised in Varanasi in a household which has celebrated the gracefully dancing god of destruction for centuries. It is no small task to emulate the character of a god, even for an instant. The subjects donned their roles well, and the result is stunning.

We are grateful to have Mánjari’s photoportrait of Maa Laxmii keeping vigil over our space, pouring good fortune over all in her gaze.

Thank you, Mánjari, for elaborating your passion for capturing characteristics of humanity through your photography, and, once again, visiting our studio. We are honored to have your art residing in Body Awakening.

IMG_0550

*accent added by Author to guide pronunciation of artist’s name

Yoga Transforms the Globe

IMG_5351 San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is hosting a Yoga exhibit which spans the turn of the Common Era to the early 20th Century.

IMG_5326 IMG_5328

Megha and I made a pass through.

IMG_5344

Each of the three rooms compartmentalizes Yoga’s own transition across the globe. It begins with an array of carefully detailed paintings, statues, and bronze cast figures. You’ll see representations expressing the evolution of human understanding of existence and progressive community growth emerging through oral transfer of knowledge. Texts with recordings of sagely wisdom enrobed with intricate borders and complimentary graphics. It’s an entrancing room which tantalizes one’s curiosity as Hindi characters, feminine Yoginis, and ornate wallscapes gracefully tug at your attention.

IMG_5348

Brief relief guides your stride from one room to the next. Here you are confronted with an energized leap into a new era of discovery. Namely, Western Civilization’s draw to Yoga: power, savagery, skill, raw beauty, and the extraordinary. Paintings of war, sages holding challenging poses on journal leaves, a yogini offering wise counsel to a young girl, carnavalesque depictions of Indian culture, and glamorizing barbaric beauty litter the jutting walls of this room. It’s a sensational rush of hyperbolic awe. Yoga has captured the attention of the West.

IMG_5335

Passing on & in to the final room, you’re greeted by a six-screen projection of famed yogis; Iyengar and Krishnamacharya visually immortalized performing incredible feats of human movement and breathing techniques. Once you’re able to break away from their mesmerizing videos, a brief tour around the room will present you with anatomical diagrams pairing both energetic and physiological aspects associating excellent health with the practice of yoga. Titles and pages reiterating the benefits and fluidity of yoga integrated with meditation, good diet, and massage on transparent stalagmites. All bearing the message: “You can have a Yoga body”.

IMG_5330

The exhibit embraces the Art of Yoga. It inspires an appreciating of detail, knowledge, strength, wisdom, dedication, and good health. To this yogi, it is an expression of how the practice of Yoga brings out the best in humanity.

IMG_5354

 

 

Be sure to see it for yourself.