Sunday November 18, 2018

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

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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 3

Mirabai Bush on parallels between Yoga and Aikido

Mirabai Bush is well versed with both Iyengar Yoga and Aikido having learned both of them from teachers in respective traditions. Speaking about the common elements between them, she said: “They both are really grand in Ahimsa or non-harming. In the practice of Aikido, unlike other martial arts, no attack is taught. It is not only about defending yourself, but also about protecting the other person from creating bad karma for himself by hurting you. In the same way, in Yoga, by coming into harmony and balance with the body, mind, and soul, you come into a place of non-harming. So in that way, they are the same. You know the activities are very different, but both teach strength, flexibility, and centering.

“When I was practicing Aikido in a Dojo, during the time of practice, I did not had one thought in my mind expect the practice. It was partly because I was scared that if I did not pay attention, then I would get hurt. Anyways, in the same way in Yoga also, I had to pay so much attention to the body and the postures that other thoughts didn’t come in. So, by the end of either practice, I felt a kind of calm, clear and centered.

When asked about her personal philosophy and spiritual practices, Bush said that her personal philosophy is directly from Neem Karoli Baba’s teachings. She also does Buddhist meditation, Kirtan (chanting) and goes to retreats. Lately, she said, she has been doing practices that open up the heart. The practice involves just resting in loving awareness and repeating ‘I am loving awareness’.

Mirabai Bush on the uprooting of Yoga and meditation from their roots

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When asked about her opinion regarding how some teachers in US teach Yoga and meditation by uprooting them from their roots, Mirabai Bush said: “First of all I will say that I think of these spiritual practices as human practices. I mean, really at their depth, they are not Hindu or Christian you know. They are for us to wake up as humans. That being said, you should know that, in America there is an undeveloped sense regarding the roots or history of things. America believes like we developed everything from the scratch. Partly that was because, a lot of people immigrated here in order to start a new life and they tried to forget about their origins. This attitude kind of permeates American culture.

“Though everybody says Namaste at the end of practicing Yoga, most don’t understand its meaning. Also, in many cases, only the Asanas (postures) alone are taught without their philosophical roots. And this has happened in meditation as well.”

Bush narrated an incident in which she gave a presentation to a group of 60 participants about the origins of mindfulness and her stay in India with Neem Karoli Baba. After the presentation, around 20 participants who were from different parts of Asia came to her and said that they never knew that mindfulness came from Asia and that they always thought that it was an American thing. Bush said that she felt stunning when she heard what those Asian participants told her.

Bush added: “It’s not that people need to know geographically where a practice came from although that’s certainly helpful, but people need to know about the philosophical roots. So, that they don’t get caught in this superficial understanding of the practices. There is a potential in these practices for causing a deep transformation and now there are quite a few people who know that and who are writing and talking about it.

She further said that one must keep in mind that to some extent the practices themselves transmit the essence even though when taught in a secular setting. She gave the example of how Asanas if practiced properly one will learn a lot from within, even though the Asanas may be taught by a very secular teacher. But she added that: “It is just a shame to lose the opportunity to study and learn the philosophy and spiritual frameworks. Because, it increases the possibility of (inner) transformation. It’s not that it is terrible to teach the practices without their philosophical roots, it is just shameful to lose such richness.

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 Right Livelihood & Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (Part 4)

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.