Sunday November 18, 2018

Mirabai Bush speaks on Right Livelihood & Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (Part 4)

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By Nithin Sridhar

mirabaiDuring a time when people across the world are struggling hard to manage work-related stress and balance professional and personal lives, Mirabai Bush has helped thousands to harmonize their lives and optimize their outputs through contemplation and mindfulness practices.

She is the co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind and Society and teaches contemplative practices and develops programs that apply contemplative principles to organizational life. She had also helped Google create its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program, and was one among those who introduced Buddhist practices in the West in the 1970’s.

She traces her spiritual practices to her root-teacher, Neem Karoli Baba and other masters in India from whom she learned various Hindu and Buddhist meditation practices. In an exclusive interview with NewsGram she spoke about her life, her work, and her stay in India way back in 1970’s.

Interview with Mirabai Bush- Part 4

Mirabai Bush and the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Mirabai Bush is a co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and served as its Executive Director until 2008. Her website describes her work with the center thus: “Under her direction, The Center developed its programs in education, law, business, and activism and its network of thousands of people integrating contemplative practice and perspective into their lives and work.”

Speaking more about this, Bush said: “Back in the early 1990’s, meditation, yoga, and other practices were beginning to be used in health and healing. It became clear that they were very effective. So, we thought that maybe these practices could be beneficial in other sectors of American life as well. At that time nobody was doing that. So, we just started giving retreats. We invited people sharing common interests and common professions. We started with people who were kind of successful, mid-career, or those who were at the top of their field. For example, in law we would get partners from major firms, professors and judges. The way we did it in the beginning was just people who knew other people. We did not put out an ad or anything as nobody at that time would have responded.

In the beginning we started by creating the only retreat centers in this country that were simple and funky as people at that time were not used to these practices. So, we had to create places where they could lay on a couch or have food that they recognized. We did everything we could to eliminate resistance and just allow them to experience these practices and it was amazing.

“We started by giving grants so that people can develop a course that integrated some of these practices into their coursework. For example, an economics professor who became more meditative and contemplative himself, realized that at the heart of every economic decision is desire. So, he taught his students a basic mindfulness practice of noticing how desires arise and then falls away. After making the students practice, he would take them to a mall. When they walked through the mall they began noticing the sensations in their bodies and how they got pulled by something that they liked.

“This made them more sensitive to desire. And then they started looking at how economic decisions could be made and how economic theory could be developed. The realization that desire is ephemeral and is just a thought, it changed their understanding and made their study of economics much more personal.

“So, basically the Center has helped people to apply the concepts of mindfulness and other meditative practices in their own lives and professions.”

Mirabai Bush on Right livelihood

Speaking about the concept of “Right livelihood” that is promoted through her various courses and retreats, Mirabai Bush said that “Right livelihood” essential means that people must make sure that their work should not harm others and they should use the work as a vehicle for personal spiritual growth as well as for creating an environment wherein other people can also grow and contribute to the group as a whole. One way she has accomplished this is by meditation and yoga into the professions of people and then discussing the running of the whole organization starting from its mission by keeping in mind about helping everyone to grow in beneficial way.

More in the Series:

Mirabai Bush speaks on Mindfulness and its application in Google (Part 1)

Mirabai Bush speaks on her stay in India and the Guatemala Project (Part 2)

Mirabai Bush speaks on Yoga and its uprooting (Part 3)

Mirabai Bush speaks about her root-teacher Neem Karoli Baba (Part 5)

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New Study Shows Link Between Meditation And Greater Focus

Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size.

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Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health.

Pranayamic breathing – an important part of yoga and meditation – has a unique ability to strengthen our focus and a new study by Trinity College Dublin has unlocked its secret. The researchers note that pranayamic breathing affects the levels of a natural chemical in the brain called noradrenaline. The latter is released when we are challenged, curious, focused, or emotionally excited. When present at the right levels, noradrenaline helps the brain grow new connections and helps us concentrate better on important tasks.

The old masters were on the right track

The researchers noted: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. We looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims.” The researchers did so by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is affected by stress; when we are worried or anxious we produce too much, and cannot concentrate. When we feel lazy, on the other hand, we produce too little and once again, focus is lost. One way to boost levels is through yoga; another method which can complement the latter is the consumption of medical grade focus supplements, which contain compounds such as octopamine (which has a similar effect to noradrenaline).

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Conversely, those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain. Pixabay

Pranayamic breathing aces the right balance

In the above study, researchers noted that brain activity in the part of the brain where noradrenaline is produced raises slightly when we inhale and drops slightly as we exhale. Thus, balance is achieved and we can focus on what we have set out to do. Pranayama not only boosts concentration but also produces “changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator.”

What is Pranayamic breathing?

Pranayamic breathing involves controlling and extending breath, with a view to manipulating your vital energy, battling stress, and improving your mood. It is often used in meditation and yoga and interestingly, many yoga experts rank pranayama as even more important than asanas (the postures performed in a yoga session). In yogic tradition, breath is said to carry a person’s life force. Interestingly, scientific studies back this assertion to the extent that pranayamic breathing is able to boost brain function and change the actual structure of the brain. In recent studies, pranayamic breathing has been found to lower or stabilize blood pressure, lower stress, and reduce anxiety and depression.

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In order to comprehend better the Indian seers constructed the special “BOAT” – named Yoga/Meditation.

Implications of the study for aging

The researchers are excited that their findings could signal a way to prevent brain aging. They stated that if brains typically lose mass as we age, practices such as pranayamic breathing greatly reduce the rate of brain shrinkage, thus potentially helping keep dementia and related diseases at bay. Because keeping noradrenaline levels at an optimal level can help the brain grow new connections, meditation is an ideal activity to pursue.

Pranayamic breathing is just one way to improve brain health. Supplementation, a healthy diet, and daily exercise are key, with recent studies showing that aerobic exercise also increases brain size. To make the most of the effect of breathing on focus, consider joining a yoga class or learning the essence of pranayamic breathing online or through an app like Prana Breath or Universal Breathing.