Healing From Within – The Promises and Possible Pitfalls of Meditation and Yoga
Host: Sheryl Glick R.M.T.
Special Guest: Dr. Miguel Farias
In today’s episode of “Healing from Within”, your host Sheryl Glick author of The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love which shares stories miracles and insights into the metaphysical world of Universal Energy for achieving a higher level of consciousness and awareness of our multi dimensional status welcomes Dr. Miguel Farias author of The Buddha Pill which questions both the efficacy and also highlights the darker side of the Mindfulness movement.
Miguel and Sheryl will explore the multi-dimensional aspects of life in both its physical and energetic components in the search for greater awareness of the human and divine matrix of possibilities for creation and evolution.
Miguel explores the human ambition for personal change and its possible illusions with a focus on yoga and meditation. The Buddha Pill is a balanced view of meditative techniques suggesting that personal chance affected by these spiritual practices vary widely from one individual to another and that peace and compassion touted by instructors may not always be the end result or may not be lasting.
Miguel shares a glimpse into his childhood days and writes, “My interest in meditation began at the age of 6 when my parents did a course on Transcendental Meditation..I didn’t realize it then but I was effectively being introduced to the idea that meditation can produce all manner of changes in who we are and in what we achieve.”
Many scientists and teachers claim that this spiritual practice…yoga is one of the most efficient and economic tools of personal change…The Yoga Health Foundation states more than 250 million people practice it regularly and through yoga we learn to notice thoughts feelings sensations the energy within and around us while working with physical postures that open the energy chakras of the body and inner soul essence. Yoga practices include a period of lying or sitting meditation….It was world conditions and the need for personal change in a world moving in many incongruent ways that captured the mind and heart of so many to help them understand and make the necessary changes for their health and personal growth.
In the 1970’s when the Beatles studied with Mahesh Yogi this gave respectability to the practice and benefits of Transcendental Meditation for improved mood well being and perhaps reducing criminality rates. This interest at that time was short-lived until 30 years later a new generation of researchers re-ignited interest with the first neuroimaging studies of Tibetan monks meditating and the first explorations of the use of mindfulness in the treatment of depression.
Miguel tells us of a randomized controlled study with prisoners in the UK where a lack of change in most of the prisoner’s aggressive behaviors after 10 weeks of yoga therapy was noted. Sheryl suggests that perhaps the inmates did not actively chose this activity and change we know is a greater possibility when someone is highly motivated to succeed. Sheryl also suggests that 10 weeks is perhaps not long enough to see long term results.
In America similar studies to see the benefits of yoga and mindful meditation practices were also being explored. A quote by Bo Lozoff American Prison Reform Activist and founder of the Prison Ashram Project and the Human Kindness Foundation “ If we forget that in every criminal there is a potential saint, we are dishonoring all of the spiritual traditions. Saul of Tarsus persecuted and killed Christians before becoming Saint Paul author of much of the New Testament. Valmiki the revealer of the Ramayana was a robber and murderer and became one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist gurus but had killed 37 people before he became a saint…We must remember that even the worst of us can change…
Sheryl asks Miguel about certain interesting scientists such as Sir Alister Hardy Professor of Zoology at Oxford who viewed humans as spiritual animals theorizing that spirituality was a natural part of human consciousness and that an awareness of something other…or beyond…had arisen through exploration of our environment. His goal was to see if people today still had the same kind of mystical experiences they seemed to have in the past. The Hardy Question to the public was “Have you ever been aware of or influenced by a presence or power: whether you call it God or not which is different from your everyday self? Ann Wetherall joined him to collect and categorize people’s dreams visions and other spiritual experiences. Over time she noticed that often it was people who were feeling hopeless or helpless who reported a direct experience of spirituality. She hypothesized that imprisonment might be a context to trigger spiritual experiences. Ann was part of an experiment known as the Prison Ashram Project founded in 1988 encouraging prisoners to know “You are More than You think you are”…. and to encourage spiritual experiences. As the name suggests the central premise that a prison cell can be used as an ashram—a Hindi word that refers to a spiritual hermitage, a place to develop deeper spiritual understanding through quiet contemplation or ascetic devotion…in Christian tradition a monastery…there are a surprising number of similarities between monks and prisioners.. both live ascetic lives filled with restriction and limitation. Ann thought being confined to a cell even against one’s will could be a catalyst for spiritual development.
Bo Lozoff as mentioned earlier was a spiritual leader and prison reform activist doing similar work in the US. He was encouraged by Ram Dass who wrote Be Here Now and he set up a project offering instruction in meditation and yoga to learn all we can to become free. The central theme was it’s not just prisoners who are imprisoned but we are all doing time because we allow ourselves to be restricted by hang ups blocks and tensions.
Miguel shares an interesting story that Ann Wetherall found out about… “Sister Elaine who was a Catholic Zen Master living in Japan for many years and then sent to the Philippines where a leading dissident Horacio Morales was imprisoned. Horacio asked her to teach meditation to him and fellow prisoners who had been tortured…His hope was that the practice would help them cope with the stress of imprisonment and to find inner peace. Sister Elaine professed as did her Buddhist teacher of meditation Yamada Koun Roshi… We do not need to draw a division between different people or religions…There is no separation. We make separation.”
Some positive aspects of this study over 25 years and 10,000 letters from prisoners in the project benefits reported ranged from increased self-awareness better sleep and reduced dependence on drugs, medication or cigarettes..to improved emotional management and reduced stress. After looking into the Merseyside study which tracked the increasing number of people practicing TM over a period of several years concluded that TM was a potentially cost effective intervention in the reduction of crime. Of course this was said from an economists point of view.
Miguel says that historically meditation has been used as a tool to break down a person’s ego. Sandy Chubb in her experiences with prisoners said… “Prisoners are all perfect. While perfect is not the adjective we might not immediately think of she felt in her worldwide spiritual view that the divine nature of each of us including criminals and we are interconnected to all people…therefore the concept of unity or non-duality which is a central theme in some Eastern spiritual belief systems effectively eliminates the us and them mentality…there is no other and there are no bad people and meditation and yoga can help people realize this.”
Many mental health professionals know that changing people’s attitudes perceptions and behaviors is a slow and challenging process…the study of personality is heavily focused on what we call traits or patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings that we use to characterize people such as one person may be outgoing and adventurous..an extrovert and another moody and oversensitive (neurotic and these tendencies will be astonishingly consistent throughout their lives…we are essentially creatures of habit.
Miguel mentions examples of retreats gone wrong when students were overcome with increased anxiety confusion and restlessness after achieving a meditative state… In several studies twitching convulsions and intense depression also appear to be major problems not just for beginners, but for practiced mediators as well. Miguel and Sheryl suggest that people work with experienced teachers learn correct ways to achieve maximum benefits and protective methods to ground and refocus the body after meditation. Like any new skill there are procedures and tried and proven ways to move forward and enhance your practice.
In 1976 only one year after Maharishi announced the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment and the use of Transcendental Meditation as the approach to altered states of mind two new studies were published that compared the concentration of stress hormones in the blood of mediators and those who had never practiced meditation and the results showed no difference between the groups or for the Transcendental group before. Another study examined the physiology of five experienced transcendental meditations and there was an unexpected result: the measures of brain activity suggested that the person meditating spent a substantial part of their meditation sleeping. This concludes that meditation gives rise to different mental states but there is nothing physiologically extraordinary about it.
The Buddha Pill seeks to not only prove that there are negative as well as positive results of mindfulness but to give us a more thorough understanding of these techniques and the reality of personal change. (Perhaps the promotion of meditation as a kind of pill for peace of mind and happiness is not altogether accurate or for everyone….) Understanding that built into life are factors that disrupt inner calm and generate and maintain anxiety and researchers have found that one of these factors is the de-synchronization of circadian rhythms, daily rhythmic changes in physiological functioning…Periodic inactivity is the single commonality among the variety of highly effective growth and therapy techniques including progressive relaxation, biofeedback training, autogenic therapy, self-hypnosis meditation and yoga to bring the body back into alignment and balance.
Miguel describes this type of meditation as… “The practice of sitting down twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes eyes closes can let the mind relax or go where it wants to The Important thing is to remain physically inactive. Do not talk walk around or change chairs. You may engage in an occasional action such as shifting your position or making yourself comfortable, scratch, then open your eyes and breath.”
Miguel has pioneered brain research on the pain alleviating effects of spirituality and the psychological benefits of yoga and meditation. More than 40 years after the publication of the first TM studies and with more than 600 studies analyzing its physiological psychological and sociological effects the current verdict shows enormous merits. TM like other contemplative techniques will work better or worse according to individual temperaments, the teacher and the reasons you meditate. If you are generally anxious or emotionally unstable TM will help you to a moderate extent. And will be more effective than simple relaxation. If you have high blood pressure The American Heart Association recommends TM although physical exercise such as swimming or running would be better…If you are interested in self exploration and personal development regular TM will almost certainly produce altercations in consciousness. TM may work well alongside work with a therapist.
Sheryl and Miguel have explored the history beliefs benefits and possible negative aspects of a growing interest at the present time in personal development and in examining the tools of meditation and yoga to assist those interested in learning more about themselves, the mind and the nature of healing and well being through the use of these various methods and practices. There is merit in the many ways we approach our deepest needs dreams and realities, either scientifically motivated or spiritually guided, each person seeks to know themselves more completely and to understand the world and those around them in a more fulfilled and intimate way. “A Buddha Pill” as Miguel has suggested in the title of the book may be what we wish to discover about life in general.
Miguel wrote…. “I was stuck to notice that a Benedictine monk had used almost exactly the same words as a Hindu ascetic…we could meditate for 22 hours a day but during those 2 remaining hours all kinds of un-enlightened and selfish actions were possible..this brought to mind a prisoner I had met who told me he had been a Buddhist for years and nevertheless in prison now for committing an armed robbery. I liked their non-pragmatic approach to the spiritual life. Neither of them believed in magical solutions to personal change rather they believe it takes persistence hard work, as well as an element of luck, fortune and for God’s grace.”
Sheryl wonders if this realization is at odds with our culture which wants and insists on immediate results which some people hope to get through meditation and if meditation then is a Buddha pill?
Miguel and Sheryl would hope you begin to go within and explore the wisdom and beauty of that place that connects your inner soul being to a higher realm of intelligence that does have your best interest at heart and through your own awakening process say “Yes” to using certain tools or techniques that aid that process to explore the world of your spiritual essence as well as the physical world….The choice is for you to ask yourself what is truly important and to listen to that answer.