Category Archives: Meditation

Does Meditation Inhibit Creativity?

A student sent me an interesting article from the New York Times recently about the benefits—and costs—of meditation. The article discussed several meditation studies.  In the first, Amishi Jha, the director of the University of Miami’s Contemplative Neuroscience, Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, taught United States Marines twelve-minute meditation practices that they performed daily.

Marines who meditated twelve minutes or more each day improved working memory and increased their ability to pay attention. Those same skills degraded in Marines that didn’t meditate or meditated less than twelve minutes each day.

A different study (by Michael Posner of the University of Oregon and Yi-Yuan Tang of Texas Tech University) showed that meditation enhances integrity and efficiency in the part of the brain that controls problem solving and rational decision making.

Still other studies have demonstrated that meditation can help improve GRE test scores. Simply put, meditation helps people learn and stay focused, in spite of distraction.

New research, however, indicates there may be a cost to all of that focused attention: creativity.

Jonathan Schooler, who runs a lab investigating mindfulness and creativity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that the most insightful ideas of both physicists and writers came when they were engaged in mindless activities—simple activities that allowed them to “space out.”

This creates an interesting conundrum for me as a yoga teacher/writer. Should I give up my mindfulness practices in order to deepen my craft?  Will my novels be more vibrant and engaging if I don’t try to control the random activities of my mind?

I suspect that the key, as in most of life, lies in balance.  For someone like me—who has suffered from chronic depression and anxiety most of her life—meditation is a powerful, life-changing tool. It trains my monkey mind to focus less on the bad things that might happen in the future, and more on whatever actually is happening in the moment. Meditation helps me stay present and truly take in the delicious world around me—a world that often ends up on the page.

My funniest lines pop into my head when I’m walking my dog—in that sweet, unstructured, daydreamy time that Tasha and I spend together in nature. Time I can only appreciate because of my meditation practices.

Without yoga and meditation, my mind would fill those walks with visions of tragedy and imagined despair. With it, I see more clearly.  Meditation has given me the ability to focus when I need to focus and let my mind wander to the vivid worlds of my characters when I don’t.

So to me, there’s no tradeoff between focus and creativity. Meditation gives me the ability to both.

What do you think?

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Simple, Sweet and Profound: A Beautiful Little Book on Meditation

As a yoga studio owner, I often receive unsolicited promotional material in the mail.  Everything from food samples, to articles of clothing, to CDs, to yoga props. Most of it I promptly give away.  Every now and then a publisher sends me a book for review.

Unfortunately, the books I receive don’t usually align with the Viniyoga methodology or the yoga teachings I’ve been given. Sometimes they’re yoga related, but I’m just plain not interested in their premise.  So normally I take a quick look at them, then give them to someone else or quickly file them in our lending library, hoping one of my students will appreciate them.

A pretty, tiny book arrived not long ago.  I was in a hurry, so I almost didn’t even look at it. I’m still not sure why I did.  But as I was about to walk it to the community bookshelf, I opened it. I’m glad I did.

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Simple Meditation: A Quick and Easy Guide for Learning to Meditate is a sweet little book, only fifty-eight pages long.  The left side of each is a gorgeous full-color photograph.  On the right, A few words, no more than a hundred or so per page, formatted in a way that reminds me of poetry. The book’s presentation is beautiful, although some of the printing on my copy is blurred, and at times the center-justified formatting bothers me.

What really sold me on this book was how aligned it is with my own ideas about meditation.  It was almost like I wrote it myself.

The first thirty-five pages outline general principles on the hows, whats, and wheres of meditation.  The last twenty outline ten simple meditations any beginner can try.  The techniques cover the spectrum of senses: sound, sight, sensation—smell and taste would be nice additions, but that’s a small quibble—and seven of the ten techniques are ones I’ve taught in my own meditation classes.  My new personal favorite is a sweet little meditation on joyfulness. I just might have to steal for my next New Year’s Day yoga class.

The book is available for purchase through Amazon.com.  I’d say look for it on the studio’s bookshelf, but this one is coming home with me.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Lower Fatigue and Inflammation in Breast Cancer Survivors

I doubt many of you know this, but before I opened Whole Life Yoga, I taught yoga classes to women in all stages of cancer recovery through Team Survivor Northwest.  Some of my classes were taught in English; others through a Spanish language interpreter.  Some of my students were currently undergoing treatment; others had been cancer-free for years. But in all cases I was impressed by the resiliency, joy, and courage I saw in my students.

I knew, deep down inside, that yoga helped my students. Now I have research to back me up. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser—professer of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University—followed two hundred breast cancer survivors. Some of the women participated in ninety-minute Hatha yoga classes two times a week for twelve weeks.  The rest (the control group) were wait-listed for the same class.  All participants were new to yoga, and students were encouraged to practice with DVDs at home.

The practitioners were diverse. Participants ranged in age from twenty-seven to seventy-six, were diagnosed with breast cancer staged 0 – 3A, and were two months to three years past their latest treatment.  The results were impressive:

  • Yoga practitioners had fifty-seven percent less fatigue than the non-yoga group.
  • Inflammation-related blood proteins were twenty percent lower in the yoga group than the non-yoga group.

The researchers were surprised, because similar results have not been seen with studies of other types of exercise.  They now believe that the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga are especially impactful, which is great news for Viniyoga practitioners.  Viniyoga focuses on the connection of body, breath and mind, making it especially breath and meditation-focused. 

The researchers believe that yoga might have similar benefits with other groups of people who suffer from fatigue and inflammation, including patients suffering from coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this just goes to show what I’ve known all along. Yoga works!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Connecting With Your Inner Geode

Yoga isn’t about the body. Not really.

Sutras 1.2 – 1.4 discuss the true purpose if yoga.  Errors in interpretation and translation are strictly mine.

Sutra 1.2 provides the definition of yoga.

Yogas citta vritti nirodhah
Yoga is the process of learning to control the random fluctuations of the mind.

Sutra 1.3 tells what happens when we achieve that state.

Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam
Once we have achieved that state, we are connected with our own true nature (we can see clearly).

Sutra 1.4 tells what we can expect if we don’t.

Vritti sarupyam itaratra
Otherwise, what we experience in life is a product of our own conditioning, not reality.

If that doesn’t make sense, try this Tracy translation on for size.

Yoga is the process of learning how to control our mind, so it doesn’t control us.  In doing so, we finally overcome our conditioning, and we see things, including ourselves, as they truly are.  Otherwise, we remain trapped in the muck of our own emotional quicksand.

Conditioning isn’t all bad. It keeps us safe. It provides the intelligence, the character, and the beauty through with we experience the world.  But it also clouds us, holds us back, and feeds into feelings of jealousy, prejudice, attachment and fear.

The sutras promise that no matter what happens to us—or in the world around us, for that matter—we each have a perfect, clear core somewhere deep inside.  A spirit of wisdom, kindness, compassion, truth.  The tools of yoga—asana, pranayama, meditation, chant and ritual—help us peel away, layer by grimy layer, all that obscures that beautiful being inside us.

The ancients symbolized the mind as a crystal.  I like to think of it more as a geode, each with its own emotional fingerprint.

The outer layers of our awareness are dark, clouded and dull.  Like the rings of a tree, our inner layers vary and have been formed by influences starting when we were young. Some layers are bigger—more impactful—than others.  Some layers are dark and stressful, others bright and happy.  But all of us, deep in our core, possess the same inner clarity.  All of us, deep in our core, know truth. All of us, deep in our core, are perfect.

Yoga helps you connect with your true self. It’s not easy. It’s often not fun. It usually has nothing to do with stretching your hamstrings. But those moments when you glimpse into that perfect, clear space?  They make it all worth it.

This simple meditation practice can help you get started.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

A Meditation To Deal With Difficult People

We all have people who challenge us in some way, often those closest to us. The yoga teachings say that no matter how much we’d like to, we can never change  someone else.  All we can change is how we react to them.

Fortunately, that’s usually enough.  I learned the wonderful meditation below when I took yoga therapist training many years ago.  Give it a try. You might be surprised at the results!

Pratipaska Bhavanam Meditation: Replacing with the Opposites,

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling.  Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable and your spine is in “neutral.” 
  2. Allow your eyes to close and your focus to go internal.
  3. Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it.  Feel the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils.  Allow your mind to focus on and pay attention to this feeling of the breath.  This will be your anchor and where you will invite your attention whenever your mind wanders.
  4. Bring to mind an interaction that was stressful or contentious in some way in a relationship that’s important to you.  Something that challenged you and in which you reacted with anger, fear, stress or frustration.
  5. Try to really feel and “re-live” that interaction.
    • What did you feel in your muscles?
    • How did your breath change?
    • What sensations did you feel in your jaw and face?
    • Were you hot or cold?
    • What sensations did you feel internally in your throat, your stomach, your chest?
    • Were your hands, toes, or teeth clenched?
    • What facial expression do you imagine you wore?
    • What was your “inner dialogue” like?  Did you attribute intentions or motives to the person with whom you were interacting?
    • What message did your energy send to that other person?
  6. Now, imagine what it would have felt like—been like—had you instead reacted to the other person with the energy of love, light, and understanding.  
    • What do you feel in your muscles?
    • What is the rhythm of your breath?
    • What sensations do you feel in your jaw and face?
    • Are your hands, toes, and jaw relaxed?
    • What sensations do you feel internally in your throat, your stomach, your chest?
    • What facial expression do you imagine you are wearing?
    • What is your “inner dialogue” like?  Do you attribute intentions or motives to the person you are interacting with?
    • What message does your energy send to the person with whom you are interacting?
  7. If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose.  Then return to your peaceful place and begin again.
  8. Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Safe Place Meditation for Relaxation

One of my favorite meditations allows me to transport myself to a place I love. Sometimes I imagine sitting in front of a roaring fire. Sometimes I walk along the the ocean. Sometimes I feel the rough surface of a dock I used to frequent over 20 years ago. Our bodies respond similarly whether we actually visit our favorite locations or simply imagine ourselves there.

The next time you need a vacation, there’s no need to wait save up money or accumulate vacation hours. Try this simple visualization meditation instead. The more senses you involve, the more deeply you will immerse yourself in the experience.

Safe Place Visualization Meditation

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable and your spine is in “neutral.”
  2. Allow your eyes to close and your focus to go internal.
  3. Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. Feel the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils. Allow your mind to focus on and pay attention to this feeling of the breath. The breath will be your anchor.
  4. Bring to mind a place in which you feel calm and at peace, whether real or imaginary. Any place will work as long as it feels serene and safe to you.
    • A cabin next to a crackling fire
    • Your grandmother’s kitchen
    • A beach, lake, or other body of water
    • Cuddling in your living room with your dog, cat, or favorite human.
  5. Imagine yourself in your peaceful place using all of your senses.
    • What do you see? Be as specific as you can, down to the details of colors, textures and individual blades of grass.
    • What do you smell? Freshly mown grass? The brackish smell of the ocean? Vanilla candles? The delicious aroma of baked cookies?
    • What do you hear? The crackle of a fire? Purring of kittens? The breath-like sound of the ocean? Birds singing or chirping?
    • What sensations can you feel?  What textures can you feel under your fingertips? Is your skin warm or cool? Are your muscles tight or relaxed?
    • What do you taste? Is your tongue bitter, sweet, salty?
    • What do you feel internally? Are you hungry? Satisfied? Do you feel happy, relaxed, or peaceful?
  6. If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose. Then return to your peaceful place and begin again.
  7. Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

No matter where you are, you take this safe place with you. Visit it any time you need to feel safe.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Meditation for Better Grades

Want to improve your GPA? Try meditation!

A recent study published in the April, 2013 edition of Mindfulness Journal showed that practicing simple meditations before college lectures can help students improve focus, retain information, and increase test scores.  Meditation practice (or lack thereof) even predicted which students passed and which ones failed post lecture quizzes.

In the study—performed by professor Robert Youmans of George Mason University and doctoral student Jared Ramsburg of the University of Illinois—students were randomized into two groups. One group followed basic meditation exercises before lecture, the other did not. The meditation group had significantly higher post lecture quiz scores than the control group. This meditation effect seemed to be the most significant in classes with a high proportion of freshmen students, likely because freshmen students often have more difficulty focusing than their more senior classmates.

Most astounding to me was the minimal time and effort required to get significantly improved test scores. I’ve long told my students that ten-minute meditation practices done consistently can change your life.  This study shows that you might not even need to spend that much time. Students in these studies were only asked to meditate for six minutes before class.

Give it a try!  This simple meditation practice is a great way to get started.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

The Meditation Myth

Today’s blog article was written by  guest author Ashley Josephine Herzberger and was inspired by her new book The Unconventional Beginner’s Guide to Yoga, an e-book introduction to yoga practice for those who are wary of stepping on the mat. Ashley also guides an online community for busy women looking to relax, release stress, stretch and connect at http://ashleyjosephine.com.

Ashley Josephine HerzbergerThese days, the benefits of meditation grace the pages of scientific news journals, national newspapers, thoroughly researched magazine articles and entire books. Meditation is indeed becoming mainstream as more and more doctors start to prescribe the practice as a remedy for anxiety and its host of symptoms. But with the mainstream, comes the propagation of a myth that meditation must be done the  “right” way for it to be as effective as the medical journals say it can be.

The Downfall of Meditation

As any curious yoga student, I had been hearing enough about meditation to believe that I could benefit from its wide array of soothing solutions. A few years back, I decided I should probably start a meditation practice. I didn’t know much about it, but the several silent moments I’d spend in yoga classes every day quieting the mind seemed to me as good an introduction as any.

The hardest part was finding the time to do it. Once I decided I would spend 10 minutes before bed every night quietly contemplating nothing, I was ready to start practicing.

Except I kept looking at the timer, convinced that I had forgotten to set it or that it had somehow malfunctioned and I’d actually been sitting for hours instead of minutes. I couldn’t slow down my mind and my thoughts wouldn’t disappear, no matter how much I willed them to go away.

And then there were some nights I was just so tired…so my meditation practice fell by the wayside.

A month or so later, I’d try again, but the same things kept happening. I got frustrated and decided meditation wasn’t working.

Then I met a teacher. He gave me a personalized meditation practice but that still wasn’t enough.

What I came to learn through personal experience and through teaching beginning students is that meditation can be a formal practice but it doesn’t have to be.

The myth of meditation is that it must be done a certain way. The name confers a practice, when in fact we engage in contemplation every single day in our own unique way.

How To Find Your Own Meditation Practice

To find your own meditation practice, you need not look for special teachers or particular practices.

To start building your own meditation practice, look around in your life and see what it is you already do to reflect. Consider the following activities and ask yourself if you can perform these with more intention, awareness and focus.

  • Praying
  • Writing in a journal
  • Drinking coffee or tea
  • Preparing meals
  • Taking a walk
  • Working out
  • Going to yoga class
  • Listening to music
  • Gardening
  • Reading a book
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Working on a project you love
  • Playing with your kids

Notice how the activity changes and how you feel when bringing more focus to it. Notice the relaxation qualities and the struggles to maintain focus.

Let go of the need to practice something formal all the time. Be compassionate with yourself if you skip a sitting session for whatever reason.

Now that you know meditation isn’t so scary, formal and pretentious after all, email this post to a friend or two who has complained they don’t have time to start something new.

Ashley

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join Tracy Weber’s author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

A Meditation Proven to Invoke the Relaxation Response

In last week’s blog, I shared some of the benefits of a consistent mediation practice and briefly discussed Herbert Benson’s early research.  This week, I’d like to prove how simple an effective meditation technique can be.

The meditation below was used in Benson’s research.  I’ve stolen it from his book The Relaxation Response.

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles.
  5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say “Oh well” and return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10-20 minutes.
  8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.
  9. Practice once or twice daily.

If it seems like I’ve been writing about meditation a lot lately, I have.  But only because I strongly believe meditation has the power to transform your life and the lives of those around you.

Enjoy, and practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

The Relaxation Response

What if there was an exercise that you could do for as little as ten minutes a day, three times a week that was proven to:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce or prevent migraines
  • Combat heart disease
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Decrease premenstrual symptoms
  • Decrease alcohol consumption
  • Decrease pain
  • Boost immune system functioning
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease adrenaline production, thereby lowering the “fight or flight” response
  • Decrease anxiety and stress
  • Boost creativity
  • Improve relationships
  • Provide an overall feeling of health and well being
  • Increase your ability to recover from sudden stressors
  • And much, much more

Would you do it?

Better yet, what if you could do this exercise virtually anywhere—at home, riding the bus, even sitting at your desk at work?  And what if you never even had to break a sweat?

That exercise not only exists, it’s been used for thousands of years.

I’m talking, of course, about meditation.

Meditation has been studied extensively in the West, much more so than yoga’s other tools.  Herbert Benson, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, was one of meditation’s research pioneers in the 1970s.

Studying something as New Age as meditation wasn’t exactly kosher forty years ago, so Dr. Benson worked under the cover of darkness. He snuck experienced meditators into his research facility late at night, measured physiological markers, and mapped brain wave patterns.  The results were impressive. Meditators showed measurable changes in brain wave activity that allowed them to manage the stresses of life much more effectively than non-meditators.  Benson called meditation’s health and emotional benefits “The Relaxation Response.”

Many other researchers—including Joan Borysenko, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Dean Ornish—have replicated and expanded on these results. Their work has shown that a variety of meditation methods are equally powerful, and that effective meditation doesn’t require hours of time, a Zen-like yoga space or Tibetan master teacher.  To meditate, you simply have to sit quietly for ten minutes a day, three times a week and focus on a word, phrase, idea, or image.

Start with this simple breath focused meditation or go online and Google the word “meditation.” You’ll find literally thousands of sites with hundreds of techniques, one of which is bound to appeal to you.  Of course we also offer a Meditation 101 class at Whole Life Yoga, and my Yoga for Anxiety class teaches meditation techniques that have been proven to reduce anxiety.

Give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised at the results!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!