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06.07.2014
Science proves meditating restructures your brain and trains it to concentrate, feel greater compassion, cope with stress, and more.
For many of us, accessing that same settled, contented state is more difficult to do in meditation. The current findings are exciting enough to encourage even the most resistant yogis to sit down on the cushion: They suggest that meditation—even in small doses—can profoundly influence your experience of the world by remodeling the physical structure of your brain.
Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, Eileen Luders, a re-searcher in the Department of Neurology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, looks for evidence that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain. Indeed, Luders finds several differences between the brains of meditators and nonmeditators.
More and more neuroscientists, like Luders, have started to think that learning to meditate is no different from learning mental skills such as music or math.
Those structural changes, in turn, create a brain that is better at doing whatever you’ve asked it to do. Over the past decade, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. New research shows that meditation can help you improve your ability to concentrate in two ways.
Some of the most fascinating research on how meditation affects attention is being conducted by Antoine Lutz, PhD, an associate scientist at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in collaboration with Richard Davidson and the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin.
The researchers also looked at whether vipassana meditation training can improve overall attention. To test whether meditation reduces attentional blink, participants had to notice two things occurring in rapid succession, less than a second apart. As a result, Lutz and his colleagues believe that meditation may increase our control over our limited brain resources. Like most of us, the participants in Goldin’s studies suffer from all sorts of disturbances of the mind—worries, self-doubt, stress, and even panic.
In his studies, participants take an eight-week mindfulness-based course in stress reduction. Ironically, the brain-scanning sessions could provoke anxiety even in the calmest of people. Goldin’s interpretation of the findings is that mindfulness meditation teaches people with anxiety how to handle distressing thoughts and emotions without being overpowered by them. Research from other laboratories is confirming that mindfulness meditation can lead to lasting positive changes in the brain.
Together, these studies provide exciting evidence that small doses of mental training, such as an eight-week mindfulness course, can create important changes in one’s mental well-being.
We typically think of our emotional range as something that is fixed and unchanging—a reflection of the personality we’re born with. These meditation techniques may have benefits beyond the experience of spontaneous compassion. As the evidence for the benefits of meditation grows, one of the most important outstanding questions is, How much is enough?
Luders, who was a lapsed meditator when she started her research, had such a positive experience being around seasoned meditators that she was motivated to come back to the practice. Imagine the horizon spanning through your chest with a radiant sun rising in your innermost center—your heart. As you inhale, invite the glow from your heart to expand toward the inner surface of the body. When you feel complete, place your palms together in front of your heart and bow your head. Mindfulness requires concentration, but rather than concentrate on any one object, we concentrate on the moment and whatever is present in that moment. Kelly McGonigal teaches yoga, meditation, and psychology at Stanford University and is the author of Yoga for Pain Relief. Nicki Doane, co-owner and director of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui, share a teaching from the fourth pada of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra.
Hugging meditation, made famous by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, is rooted in the belief that a good hug can have transformative effects.
A: Autumn wouldn’t be complete without rows and rows of bright orange pumpkins, the very color of the fall season. From an Ayurvedic perspective, pumpkin is very balancing for all the doshas — especially fiery Pitta, since pumpkin’s nature is cool and wet.
Jennifer Iserloh, aka the “Skinny Chef,” is a leader in promoting healthy, vibrant lifestyles though a diet of delicious and nutritious easy-to-prepare meals.
When Melody Parker, a former professional volleyball player and the coach of the Santa Barbara City College men’s volleyball team, first introduced her athletes to yoga, they were skeptical.
The mental benefits that yoga offers—learning to stay present, managing stressful situations with the breath, not being tied to the outcome—are invaluable to professional players, since a win or a loss can be decided in a few highly charged seconds. The repetition of certain key motions—winding up for a softball pitch, landing after a volleyball jump serve, and dribbling the soccer ball—can result in an imbalance of strength in the body, which can lead to aches and pains, less efficiency in your sport, and even injury. For yoga that enhances your favorite summer sport, check out these poses for volleyball, soccer, and softball players. At six feet eight inches and 250 pounds, Jason Hirsh looks more like a defensive lineman than a baseball pitcher.
Five years ago, Hirsh enrolled in a six-week yoga program for elite pitchers led by Alan Jaeger in Los Angeles.
Although his schedule during the regular season doesn’t allow him a full hour of daily yoga practice, he practices certain postures, like Warrior Pose II, on his own. Baseball and softball require a great deal of twisting—keeping the lower body stable while the upper body winds around. The most important principle for twisting and moving the body efficiently when you play softball or baseball is to maintain your overall stability, especially in the lower body, while your upper body is in motion. This pose builds foot and lower leg strength, which is the foundation of a strong structure. Ideal for softball players, this pose also incorporates the strong, steady legs required to play soccer and the shoulder alignment important for playing volleyball.
Keep the legs strong, the top of the arm bones back, and the shoulder blades firmly pressed into the upper back. Side Angle Pose promotes both strength and flexibility in the lower body and strengthens the ankle joints.
Place your right forearm on your right thigh, or place your fingertips on the ground outside the right foot. When stretching the hamstrings, the importance of keeping both legs and pelvis engaged is often overlooked.
Volleyball requires quick and balanced reflexes, the ability to jump high and dive low, and strength and flexibility in both the upper and lower body. These shoulder stretches are the first step to getting the most power and range of motion for serving, setting, and spiking. From there, interlace your hands behind your back, straighten your arms, and repeat the same actions: Keep the head of the arm bones back and the shoulder blades strong on the back while you take 5 deep breaths. Next, come to a wall and place your right forearm on it, elbow at shoulder height, fingertips facing the ceiling, and palm open. Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and backs of the hands on the ground.
Environmental activist and author Joanna Macy gets into what compassion really means—and how to apply it in daily life. Teacher Alexandria Crow explains why yoga’s biggest benefits have nothing to do with mastering advanced asanas and everything to do with mastering the mind. If you've struggled with meditation but buy into the benefits, it's time to try yoga nidra. Your yoga teacher says a little ghee will help loosen up tight hamstrings, and your Ayurvedic physician recommends ghee for a host of ailments ranging from poor digestion to memory loss. Ayurveda places ghee, or clarified butter, at the top of the oily foods list, as it has the healing benefits of butter without the impurities (saturated fat, milk solids). Long a favorite of yoga practitioners, ghee lubricates the connective tissues and promotes flexibility, says Dr.
Even better than ghee is aged ghee—up to 100 years—which treats alcoholism, epilepsy, fever, and vaginal pain, according to Ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda. Yoga instructors want to bring the full experience of yoga to others—the health benefits and the mental benefits—and to connect people with an ancient practice that has been effective for them. Scientific research into stress-reduction techniques supports the idea that if you teach what works for you, it will work for your students.
Whether you create a class around a simple series of asanas or include a variety of breathing and chanting sequences, your students will experience mental as well as physical benefits. You can create a contemplative mood by starting class with a quiet, seated meditation to help everyone clear their minds and prepare their bodies for the practice. If you have questions, confusion, or general discomfort with chanting, San Francisco bhakti yoga teacher Janet Stone can answer them. Practice these backbends and inversions for increased flexibility and strength and feel the freedom of greater range of motion in your chest and shoulders. You can begin to experience the benefits of stretching the pectoralis minor in a pose like Camel Pose. Balancing on the hands requires mobility and strength in the shoulders, in addition to a strong core. Eventually, strong shoulders, openness in the chest, and length in the spine allow the grace and flexibility for advanced inverted backbends like Vrschikasana B (Scorpion Pose B or Handstand Scorpion).
When you travel the streets of India or Indonesia, you’ll notice that many people hang out—cooking street food, reading, waiting for the bus—crouched in a squat position. When Westerners embraced sitting—in cars, at desks, in front of the TV—we started to lose suppleness and strength in the legs and flexibility in the calves, ankles, and outer hips. Many of us experience a less intense version of Malasana in yoga class, in which our feet are hip-distance apart and our spines extend straight up. In the final pose, you are in a squat, feet together and knees apart, with the arms wrapped around the shins and the head lowered to the floor. It is important that the heels are in contact with the floor or blanket in order to create the action of pressing downward, which lengthens the inner thighs and allows for a deeper exhalation. Continuing to press down through your heels will stretch the ankles, outer hips, and gluteal muscles, allowing the weight of the pelvis to fully descend. Aim to get the tricep of your extended upper arm past the knee or shin of your bent leg as you reach forward. Separate your feet about 6 to 8 inches, and place a folded blanket under your heels until you are able to lower your pelvis and maintain balance.
Place a thinly folded blanket ?on the front of your thighs and reach your palms forward while ?ex–tending the ?lumbar spine. Alexandria Crows teaches Bow Pose in her "new, backwards way," to target all the tight and weak places that might be holding you back.
Whether you prefer an intense and sweaty vinyasa practice, a gentle but deliberate Viniyoga practice, or something in between, all systems of hatha yoga provide a contented afterglow for the same reason: You sync your movement with your breath. It’s not easy to watch the mind reveal its worries, its self-criticism, or its old memories. Thousands of years ago the sage Patanjali, who compiled the Yoga Sutra, and the Buddha both promised that meditation could eliminate the suffering caused by an untamed mind. Western scientists are testing the wisdom of the masters, using new technology that allows researchers to study how meditation influences the brain.
Read on to find out how, and then put each finding into practice with meditations by yoga teachers Christopher Tompkins, Frank Jude Boccio, and Kate Vogt.


In a study published in the journal NeuroImage in 2009, Luders and her colleagues compared the brains of 22 meditators and 22 age-matched nonmeditators and found that the meditators (who practiced a wide range of traditions and had between 5 and 46 years of meditation experience) had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. First, it can make you better at focusing on something specific while ignoring distractions. Their work has shown that concentration meditation, in which the meditator focuses complete attention on one thing, such as counting the breath or gazing at an object, activates regions of the brain that are critical for controlling attention. The findings, published in PLoS Biology, reveal that the meditation training improved the participants’ ability to notice both changes, with no loss in accuracy. EEG recordings—which track patterns of electrical activity in the brain, showing precise moment-by-moment fluctuations in brain activation—showed that the participants allocated fewer brain resources to the task of noticing each target.
To anyone who knows what it’s like to feel scattered or overwhelmed, this is an appealing benefit indeed. Philippe Goldin, director of the Clinically Applied Affective Neuroscience project in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, uses mindfulness meditation in his studies. But people with anxiety disorders feel unable to escape from such thoughts and emotions, and find their lives overtaken by them.
An fMRI scanner tracks which brain areas consume more energy during meditation and, therefore, which regions are more active. After the mindfulness intervention, participants have greater activity in a brain network associated with processing information when they reflect on negative self-statements.
Most people either push away unpleasant thoughts or obsess over them—both of which give anxiety more power. For example, a recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University put 26 highly stressed adults through an eight-week mindfulness-based course in stress reduction that followed the same basic format as Goldin’s study.
But research is revealing the possibility that we may be able to cultivate and increase our ability to feel the emotional state of compassion. To find out, Lutz and his colleagues compared two groups of meditators—one group whose members were experienced in compassion meditation, and the other a group whose members were not—and gave them the same instructions: to generate a state of love and compassion by thinking about someone they care about, extend those feelings to others, and finally, to feel love and compassion without any specific object. But the more experienced compassion meditators showed a larger brain response in areas important for processing physical sensations and for emotional responding, particularly to sounds of distress.
A study by psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan, found that a seven-week lovingkindness meditation course also increased the participants’ daily experience of joy, gratitude, and hope. Or, from the perspective of most beginning meditators, How little is enough to see positive change?
Indeed, it will take time for science to catch up to the wisdom of the great meditation teachers.
As though being melted by the solar warmth, release tension in your shoulders and across your throat. Bring attention to your breath by placing your awareness at your belly and feeling it rise and fall. Instinctively and correctly, yogis believe that seasonal foods are part of Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet — and pumpkin actually contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help keep us healthy.
Yoga can help bring your body back into balance by making overused muscles suppler and underused muscles stronger.
Elements of the pitching motion are echoed in the movements of a fielder or a batter at the plate.
Moving with your breath and maintaining your alignment, on an exhalation reach your left hand back to the right outer shin and twist.
For soccer players, he recommends postures that strengthen the connective tissue around the knees, shins, and ankles, while cultivating flexibility in the quadriceps and hamstrings. This will enable you to move your left thigh back and widen it away from the midline of the pose.
Keeping your left thighbone back, scoop your tailbone toward your pubic bone until your feel your abdominals tone and lift; your left thigh muscles will engage and root the right thighbone.
The secret to maintaining alignment in this pose is to focus on the bottom leg when stretching the top; to keep your hips even, focus on pressing the back of the bottom leg toward the ground as you stretch.
Keeping the left leg flat on the ground (or lengthening toward the ground) with the muscles engaged, extend the right leg up. Your feet—or kneepads, if you’re sliding along the floor—take you to the ball, and then your arms pass, set, or spike it. Parker notes that the shoulders, which enable you to thrust your arms up quickly for a set or bring them down hard on a spike, are typically tight in most volleyball players. A three-part shoulder stretch opens up the chest and upper back in preparation for strengthening the muscles around the shoulder blades. Using the same three actions—deep breath, head of the arm bones back, and shoulder blades strong on the back—stretch the muscles at the front of the right shoulder and upper chest by slowly turning the torso away from the wall.
It is rather an expression of your larger being and can be understood as integral to your belonging or interbeing in the sacred living body of Earth. In other words, share with us how we can learn to be passionate about certain subject matter and evangelize with grace. The voice that people most need to hear does not belong to me—or to some outside authority—it’s the voice from within them.
But to keep myself honest I do my best to stay a little more focused and  knowledgeable about one cause.
One is Vipassana, which has been a steady friend since the 1960s, when we lived in India with the American Peace Corps and I was taught by Ven.
The Susruta Samhita, an Ayurvedic classic, claims ghee is beneficial for the whole body, and recommends it as the ultimate remedy for problems stemming from the pitta dosha, such as inflammation.
Medicated ghee (ghrita in Sanskrit), meanwhile, combines clarified butter with healing herbs.
But Katie Silcox explains that when you pay attention to your cravings, they begin to change. But in cold weather, a warm bowl of soup feels more like comfort food than a "cleanse." And that's exactly the point. Historically, chanting has been an integral part of this practice, and many teachers include it in a class to create a feeling of spirituality. Students who want a class with an Eastern flavor will seek out someone who draws from those traditions; people who are interested in a physical or therapeutic practice will stick to someone more focused on working with the body. Donal MacCoon, a therapist and research scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, explains that both his work on mindfulness-based stress reduction and a meta-analysis (an analysis of many different studies) by Bruce Wampold, also at UW-Madison, suggest that what matters in healing practices (yoga with asana, meditation, mindfulness psychotherapy) is not the specific ingredients but what they have in common.
McGrath says, “I use a lot of storytelling in my classes, from the Mahabarata, the Bible, from many different traditions. Music is also useful and you can choose pieces that include chanting, so that students hear the language and get a sense of how the rhythm affects the physical movement. Improving your flexibility in the clavipectoral fascia will allow greater range of motion in your shoulders, chest, and spine. Regularly practicing the pectoralis minor wall stretch will eventually lead to better alignment vertically, even if you’re upside-down in Handstand. For instance, some poses are uplifting and energizing, while others are soothing and stabilizing. The abdomen and lower back muscles also suffered when we started sitting on chairs, because backrests allow us to slack off and neglect our core muscles. The challenge of Malasana in its fullest expression is that you have to drop down into a squat while simultaneously bending forward. Bend both legs, one at a time, until the knees are pointing to the ceiling and the calves come close to the back of the thighs. With the feet touching, maintain pressure through the heels, press the thighs and knees together to tone the outer legs, and start to strengthen the abdomen by keeping the torso upright and lifted. Bend one leg, bringing the knee closer to the chest, and the calf to the back of the thigh. Press your heels to the floor, and allow the knees to spread in order to move the torso forward betwe–en the knees.
Increased gray matter typically makes an area of the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information.
Neuroscientists now know that the brain you have today is, in part, a reflection of the demands you have placed on it.
And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others. Second, it can make you more capable of noticing what is happening around you, giving you a fuller perspective on the present moment. A more dramatic example would be a car accident caused by your thinking about a conversation you just had and not noticing that the car in front of you has stopped. In fact, the meditators spent less mental energy noticing the first target, which freed up mental bandwidth for noticing what came next.
Even though your attention is a limited resource, you can learn to do more with the mental energy you already have. The general practice is to become aware of the present moment—by paying attention to sounds, your breath, sensations in your body, or thoughts or feelings—and to observe without judgment and without trying to change what you notice. Goldin’s research shows that mindfulness meditation offers freedom for people with anxiety, in part by changing the way the brain responds to negative thoughts.
The training includes mindfulness meditation, walking meditation, gentle yoga, and relaxation with body awareness as well as discussions about mindfulness in everyday life. In other words, they pay more attention to the negative statements than they did before the intervention. Brain scans were taken before and after the intervention, along with participants’ own reports of stress.
Researchers have found that feeling connected to others is as learnable as any other skill. As each of the participants meditated inside the fMRI brain scanners, they were occasionally interrupted by spontaneous and unexpected human sounds—such as a baby cooing or a woman screaming—that might elicit feelings of care or concern. The researchers also observed an increase in heart rate that corresponded to the brain changes.
And many studies show change in a matter of weeks, or even minutes, among inexperienced meditators.
And even with the advances in brain technology, there are changes both subtle and profound transmitted only through direct experience. Some people swear by cooking their own fresh pumpkin from scratch, but I find canned pumpkin to be a simple solution that has similar health benefits. Cooler months usually mean more hunger pangs for everyone, so high-fiber pumpkin that can help to steady your blood sugar gets a thumbs-up for every dosha. The athletes meditate, participate in challenging mat sessions, and then integrate those practices into postyoga pitching sessions. As a result, the hamstrings and quadriceps can become tight, which can contribute to back pain and knee strain.
Your core abdominal muscles help make all of these things happen by acting as a link between your arms and your legs. Parker describes the ideal shoulders for playing volleyball as strong but fluid enough to move gracefully and easily. L-Pose targets the areas around the shoulder blades, and Revolved Abdomen Pose draws on the shoulder opening and strengthening of the two preceding poses and adds an element of core strengthening. For the first shoulder opener, stand with your hands interlaced overhead, palms up, and elbows bent.
Take a deep breath, draw the top of the shoulders back (into the ground in this case), and press your shoulder blades strongly against your back. So it’s more productive to ask a person nonthreatening and non-accusatory questions that invite them to speak from their own experience.


Traditionally, the preparation has been used to promote memory, intelligence, quantity and quality of semen, and to enhance digestion. As with many changes to the yoga tradition—from opening the discipline to women to widening the variety of asana practiced—mantras are just one ingredient from the past to include in a modern, Western sequence. Both approaches provide mental as well as physical benefits, so no one is missing out by choosing one type of yoga over another.
Pranayama is highly adaptable and can help soothe and calm students after a rigorous sequence, focus their minds for a specific meditation, or prepare them to move into Savasana (Corpse Pose). Malasana has a grounding quality—it taps into a downward-flowing energy known in yoga as apana vayu—and is a good pose to practice whenever you need to bring on calm. In it you utilize the complete range of motion of the legs by bending the knees fully until the pelvis is resting at the back of the heels. When a garland is placed over someone’s head, it hangs from the neck, and flowers adorn and encircle the heart.
Press the inner thigh and knee against the outer arm or side of your body, wherever it is touching, to compact your outer hips and support the torso with your thigh. Your attention turns from your endless to-do list toward the rhythm of your breath, and you feel more peaceful than you did before you began your practice. And they believed that it was possible to change one’s mental powers and emotional patterns by regularly experiencing meditative states. Luders believes that the increased gray matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices. People learning to juggle, for example, develop more connections in areas of the brain that anticipate moving objects. If you were able to reduce your attentional blink, it would mean a more accurate and complete perception of reality—you would notice more and miss less. They are then asked to reflect on different statements about themselves that appear on a screen in front of their face.
And yet, they also show decreased activation in the amygdala—a region associated with stress and anxiety.
The participants who reported decreased stress also showed decreases in gray -matter density in the amygdala.
These findings suggest that the meditators were having a genuine empathic response and that the experienced meditators felt greater compassion.
Participants also reported a greater sense of self-acceptance, social support, purpose in life, and life satisfaction, while experiencing fewer symptoms of illness and depression. Fortunately, all you need to get started is the willingness to sit and be with your own body, breath, and mind. Inhaling, invite the light to touch the parts of you that interact with the world—your eyes and ears, the voice center in your throat, the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet. Once you feel settled, widen your awareness to include all the sensations in your body as well as any thoughts or feelings. If you’re going to do fresh pumpkin, be sure that it’s ripe, since unripe pumpkin is hard on digestion and blocks all three doshas. Her team was quickly convinced by both the asana and meditation portions of the yoga sessions. Rayburn, who teaches yoga workshops for athletes, developed the sport-specific asanas on these pages. But these days, he moves his limbs as gracefully as some of his smaller teammates, thanks in part to yoga. Push the feet powerfully into the ground and steady the legs with strong muscular engagement.
Spread your toes and, without actually moving the feet, isometrically draw them toward the center. Position your hands shoulder-distance apart, so that the creases of your wrists are straight across and your feet sitting-bone-distance apart (or slightly narrower than your outer hips).
The knees, which take the brunt of quick direction changes, are also vulnerable to injury if the muscles and ligaments around them do not support them. Cultivate a strong foundation by feeling your weight evenly distributed between the four corners of the feet—the base of the big toe and pinkie toe and the inner and outer heel. Keep the left thighbone rooted and keep the natural arch in your low back as you scoop the tailbone and extend through the raised leg. Place your right hand on your thigh, or place your fingertips on the ground directly in front of you.
Take a deep breath in, so deep that it feels as though you’re overinflating your lungs. Keep your arms and legs straight and check to see that your feet are pointing forward and your index fingers point straight up. Next, take your knees to the right, bringing them about halfway toward the ground for the duration of 1 complete breath. The second is a Tibetan practice given to me 25 years later (and almost 25 years ago now) by the head Tokden or yogi of the Tashi Jong community in northwest India.
Modern science tells us that ghee also harbors phenolic antioxidants, which bolster the immune system. Ayurvedic beauty expert Pratima Raichur suggests it as a massage base to calm sensitive pitta-type skin. It works the quadricep, hamstring, gluteal, and calf muscles of the legs, plus, it strengthens the lower back and core. Practicing the prep poses here and, eventually, the full expression of Malasana will help you regain this primary and essential movement, and help tone and strengthen the legs. Practicing the first, a modified squat with the feet together, will help you increase range of motion in the knees, hips, ankles, and calves, and build the stability you’ll need when you start to bend forward. Spread your collarbones to open the chest, and move the back ribs inward in order to keep length in the spine. Keep the extended leg firmly in Dandasana, pressing down with the heel and keeping the toes flexed. By clasping the ankles with your hands, you will be able to broaden the collarbones, pull the elbows wide apart, and open the chest so that the upper spine can continue to lengthen and extend. On your inhalation, hug the torso with your inner thighs, and on your exhalation release the pelvis and head downward. Medical students undergoing periods of intense learning show similar changes in the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for memory.
Previous research had revealed that trauma and chronic stress can enlarge the amygdala and make it more reactive and more connected to other areas of the brain, leading to greater stress and anxiety. In other words, compassion meditation appears to make the brain more naturally open to a connection with others. This study provides strong evidence that chipping away at the illusion of separation can open us up to a far more meaningful connection to life.
More practice leads to greater changes, both in the brain and in a meditator’s mental states. If you find yourself swept up in a thought or emotion, notice it and simply return to the breath.
Moving with your breath, strongly extend both arms overhead and then down into prayer position in front of the heart. As you exhale, keep the head of the arm bones back and push your shoulder blades powerfully onto your upper back, opening the chest. The farther you move your knees down to the right, the more difficult it will be to keep your left shoulder pressed on the ground, so go only as far as you can while maintaining that alignment.
And you have this precious moment to get close to the suffering and see what it has to tell you.
In ordinary conversations in daily life I like simply to share an experience or a concern, including how I feel about it. Centered on a wrathful form of Manjushri, the celestial bodhisattva of wisdom, it strengthens one to deal with wisdom-gone-wrong and was bestowed in relation to my antinuclear activism. The Indian Materia Medica, a widely respected source book for Ayurvedic remedies, recommends ghee, sometimes mixed with honey, as an application for wounds, inflammation, and blisters. In everyday life in Western culture, however, we rarely see someone in a full squat outside of the gym.
Squatting is also believed to help with digestion: As the pelvis descends, you encourage the downward flowing energy of apana vayu, which, according to some yoga traditions, helps the body eliminate waste and clear the mind. And the second prep pose, a variation of Marichyasana I, will help you find the extension in the torso you need for full Malasana.
When you practice Malasana, your own arms become the garland, your head bows forward, and your attention is drawn inward. In this pose, the emphasis is on extending the torso forward while maintaining a lift in the chest and length in the spine. On an exhalation, press down through the heels, ?pull the navel region back, and descend the hips while extending the torso forward. And mathematicians have more gray matter in regions important for arithmetic and spatial reasoning. But extremely experienced meditators (who have more than 44,000 hours of meditation practice) show less activation in these regions, even though their performance on attention tasks is better. This study is one of the first documented cases showing change occurring in the opposite direction—with the brain instead becoming less reactive and more resilient.
So while a minimal investment in meditation can pay off for your well-being and mental clarity, committing to the practice is the best way to experience the full benefits.
The key is to pay attention to the ever-changing process of thinking rather than to the contents of your thoughts. On an exhalation, twist toward the right knee and place your left elbow on the outside of it. Keeping your shins strong, place the right hand on your right hip and twist to the right, doing your best to keep the sacrum level. As you continue your exhalation, extend the interlaced hands skyward, holding the shoulder blades strong on the back. Keeping the arms straight, move the torso closer to the wall, so that the arm bones move back into the shoulder sockets. Rotate the knees up to center on an inhalation and over to the other side on the exhalation. The explanation for this, in Lutz’s view, is that the meditation training can eventually help reduce the effort it takes to focus your attention. As you begin to see that they are indeed just thoughts, they will begin to lose their power.
Hold for a few breaths, maintaining power in the feet and shins, and then twist a little deeper.
Moving with the breath, twist back and forth with the knees, 6 times per side, feeling both the upper body and the abdominals work. Compassion is what impels you to act for the sake of the larger whole—or put more accurately, it is the whole acting through you.
Just remember that ghee is fat, and only a certain amount of total fat is necessary in the diet. Continue to watch and become mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations for 5 to 20 minutes. This suggests that people can immediately enhance concentration by learning a simple meditation technique, and that practice creates even more progress.



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