Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Psychobiology of the Breath

As far back as we can trace in history, humans have always associated breath with life and spirit. The Latin words animus (spirit) and anima (soul) are related to the Greek animos (wind), and the Greek word pneuma (as in pneumatic or pneumonia, or the French word for a car’s inflatable tire, pneumatique) also meant spirit or wind. Our ancestors associated the breath with the soul or spirit or life force that “animates” all living beings.

On a strictly biological level, breath is the source of life. It maintains the body’s strength and vitality by enabling gas exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide at a cellular level. The overall health and well-being of our bodies and minds are influenced by how we breathe.

The breath is an autonomic body function, meaning it happens automatically whether we think about it or not—on average, 15 times per minute, 900 times per hour, and 21,000 times per day. But breath is the only autonomic body function that is also subject to voluntary control; you can hold your breath at will, or breathe consciously in any number of ways. Thus, breath is a unique bridge between body and mind, between our outer and inner worlds. Through breathing, we literally take substances from the outside world into the body, and we eliminate other substances back into the outside world.

Metabolically, breathing facilitates the accumulation and elimination of certain chemicals. For this reason, heart rate and breathing are intimately linked. As our body senses the need for more oxygen, the heart rate increases, sending oxygenated blood where it’s needed, and the breathing rate increases in proportion to support the heart. When fear strikes in a dangerous situation, the body responds by ramping up these systems quickly with a spike of adrenaline and stress hormones that facilitate fast reactions.

Our breath conditions our psychological and emotional state, and vice versa. How we breathe shapes our experience, and our emotional temperament shapes how we breathe. The rate, depth and quality of our breath change in response to our emotional and psychological outlook. Thus we can develop dysfunctional patterns of breathing as a result of psychological, habitual ways of responding to situations and stresses in our lives.

In the most simplistic terms, we have two major types of breathing: abdominal and thoracic. Abdominal breathing (aka belly breathing) is when the diaphragm deeply contracts and we appear to “breathe” into the lower belly because the viscera of the abdomen (the guts and internal organs) are pushed downward and bulge out slightly. Thoracic breathing is when we breathe into the chest cavity, using the accessory muscles of breathing to expand the rib cage. In yoga, the practice of full yogic breathing involves both of these actions.

It’s important to understand the difference between abdominal and thoracic breathing because the body and mind initiate these two basic breathing patterns—and respond to them—differently. Thoracic breathing is often more shallow and rapid, and can include a forced exhalation in order to trigger the next inhalation sooner. Thoracic breathing is activated when the body is exercising or under duress and blood needs to be oxygenated and circulated more quickly. It is associated with the sympathetic nervous system and the “fight or flight” response.

Abdominal or belly breathing tends to be more slow and deep and relaxed. When the body is at rest, abdominal breathing is generally considered the most healthy breathing pattern. Abdominal breathing is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system which governs relaxation and the “rest and digest” response.

Both types of breathing are necessary for different situations in life. Sometimes we need to activate quickly, move and respond to the environment, and our cardiovascular activity needs to be proportional; other times, we need to chill out, relax and slow down, and the body’s systems need to support that relaxation.

Problems can arise when we don’t understand how to work skillfully with the breath, and breathing becomes a conditioned behavior that is shaped by our emotional states, stress levels, and so on. For example, we may have a pattern of breathing more thoracically—taking in shallow, rapid breaths into the upper chest—even when we are at rest. This breathing pattern, in turn, keeps our sympathetic nervous system activated, which continually releases stress hormones that help the body prepare for “fight or flight” syndrome even when “fight or flight” is not an appropriate response to what’s happening in our environment.

Developing a deeper understanding of the psychobiology of breathing—how breathing influences mind and body, and how mind and body influence breathing—is essential for any human being who wants to live with a greater sense of health and well-being. For the yogi who practices with the goal of spiritual awakening, breath is the inspiration, the guide and the raw material for the practices of yoga and meditation.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Stop Trying So Hard

In meditation, as in life, some of the simplest lessons are also, paradoxically, the most challenging to learn. The most basic principles can be easily understood in theory but may take the longest time to be metabolized and understood in practice.

Striking the balance between effort and effortlessness is a good example. Perhaps you’ve heard about the Buddha’s famous meditation advice to one of his disciples: like the strings of an instrument, he said, you should fine-tune your meditation in a way that’s “not too tight and not too loose.” Finding that elusive balance between trying too hard and not trying hard enough — between concentrating the mind too intensely and not concentrating at all — sounds simple in theory. But it can take years of practice — falling back and forth from one extreme to the other — to really metabolize this lesson and understand what that balance actually feels like.

Image from DharmaConsulting.com

I recall some vivid glimpses of this when I was first starting out on my path of meditation.

At that time I was attending a meditation center that offered a series of weekend intensive courses in which participants would basically sit and meditate (interspersed with lectures, walking meditation, and other activities) Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday. That's a pretty hardcore immersion into meditation, especially for a beginner. A lot can happen when you sit on a cushion for eight hours and do nothing but work with your own mind.

What mostly happened for me was a lot of struggle as I sat there waging battle with my overactive mind for hours at a stretch, feeling frustrated that I couldn’t seem to keep my attention focused on the object of meditation for very long. My frustration would grow stronger as the day went on and I tried harder and harder to conquer my restless mind and wrestle it into submission. I wasn’t really aware, of course, that I was trying too hard.

But then one day I noticed something really curious happening. I left the meditation center and got on the subway to go home, my mind exhausted from hours of self-inflicted battle. I was disgusted with meditation, disgusted with myself, and I didn’t want to think about anything — I just wanted to rest. On the subway ride home I sat there and looked around at the people in the car and at the advertisements festooned above them, and — boom! — suddenly, without any effort on my part, I was vividly present and relaxed and aware. The colors around me seemed brighter, the sounds more precise, my mind more open and spacious, no longer bombarded by thoughts and commentary about everything. Right there in the subway, of all places, I was experiencing a spontaneous moment of the sort of pure presence that I’d been trying so hard, all day long, and without much success, to cultivate on the meditation cushion. And it came to me, unbidden, because I had simply given up and stopped trying so hard to create it.

A lot can happen when you sit on a cushion for eight hours and do nothing but work with your own mind.

Over the course of several of those weekend intensive trainings, this experience repeated itself several more times, until the lesson finally began to sink in. Naturally, if you don’t make any effort to train the mind, you don’t experience the benefits of mind-training; but if your practice isn’t balanced and you’re always trying too hard, then your effort is self-defeating, like tying your shoelaces together.

As the Buddha said, “not too tight, not too loose.” Makes sense, right? At least in theory…. ;-)

Fast forward about a decade-and-a-half. These days, my personal meditation practice is largely about effortlessness — about trying (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) to rest the mind in a natural state of awareness that is free from effort, free from manipulation, free from contrivance. This is called the natural state because it’s how the mind already exists when we stop trying so hard to control our experience.

When I first began meditating, I used to sit on my mind like a sumo wrestler who wants to squash his opponent, always trying too hard. These days, I’m more prone to the opposite extreme, not trying hard enough. As I seek to allow the mind’s natural state to emerge into awareness and simply stop interfering with it, my tendency sometimes is to become too loose, to space out and drift away.

But that’s the thing about tuning the strings of an instrument, be it a violin, a banjo, or the mind. You might be able to tune them perfectly for the music you’re playing right now, but then the next time you play the same instrument, you’ll need to tune them again. Strings don’t magically stay tuned forever just because you tuned them perfectly once. Every meditation, and every moment, is a fresh experience.

I guess that’s why they call it practice.


_______________________


Want to go deeper with your practice? There are still a few spots open on our yoga + meditation retreat in Cuba, Feb 6-11, 2016. Click here for details.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Say "Thank You!"

There is a moment at the beginning of Wayne Dyer’s film “The Shift,” in which he demonstrates how he would wake up each morning at around 3:30am. Rolling to the side of his bed, placing his feet on the floor, he lifts his gaze slightly, takes in a deep breath, pauses to appreciate the miracle of being alive, and whispers: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

If you’re anything like me, that’s a far cry from how you usually wake up. You, too, might utter phrases and perhaps even invoke the creator, but it’s not in gratitude for another day lived. It’s probably more like:

“Oh God! I hate getting up this early.”

“Oh God! I wish I didn’t have to go to work today.”

“Oh God! I feel like a truck ran over me.”

“Oh God! I don’t want to go to that meeting / teach that class / cook breakfast / etc…”

“Oh God! My back aches / my head hurts / my allergies / etc…”

The writer Ben Okri once said: “Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” But this happens all the time, not only at night. It happens from the very first moment you wake up. We must always be vigilant about the stories we tell ourselves, and how they alter our world.

What is the first story you tell yourself upon awakening, when you first open your eyes and set your feet on the floor? Is it a story about how much your day is going to suck? Then guess what? Your day is going to suck. You’ve pretty much willed that perception into existence.

But what if you could wake up and tell yourself, instead, a quick little story about what a marvel it is to be granted one more day of life? How would it change the narrative — and how would the narrative change your experience? — if the first thing you articulate in your mind is not a complaint about your day but an expression of gratitude for it?

And when you come home at the end of the day, and you drop your bag and take off your shoes, examine the tone in which you exclaim: “Oh God! What a day!” Are you bitching about it? Or expressing wonder and appreciation for the fact that you were lucky enough to have another one?

Someday soon you will run out of days, and then you will see that each day of your life, beneath the waters of consciousness, the stories you told yourself were, in fact, altering your world. You can’t always alter the circumstances of your life, but you can always alter the story you tell yourself today. Start now.

Say “Thank you.” Say it three times, when you first wake up, before doing anything else. It may feel phony at first. You might even feel like a new age Pollyanna. Try it anyway. And see if that story doesn’t alter your world for the better — just a little bit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Warrior Flow Yoga + Meditation Retreat in Cuba

February 6-11, 2016.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore yoga and meditation while immersing yourself in the unique culture of Cuba. This is not your average yoga retreat, and Cuba is unlike any other destination.

Organized by Pure Yoga, the retreat will include daily yoga and meditation with Adrian and Dennis while you explore the heart of old Havana and the stunning beauty of the Viñales region of the island.

Spaces on this retreat are limited and it’s expected to fill up very quickly.

Click here for more information and itinerary, and email Laina Jacobs at Pure Yoga (laina.jacobs@pureyoga.com) to arrange your deposit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Civilization and Its Discontents

"People who are really happy with themselves are f***ing boring. The worst word in the world is content."

— Kevin Spacey, who turned 56 on Sunday

I think maybe I understand what Kevin Spacey meant by that statement. Drive and personal ambition are important American values. Always aiming higher, not settling for less. More, better, stronger, faster. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Spacey plays (so very, very well) one of the most evil, Machiavellian, greedy, power-obsessed characters on television, in the disturbingly good Netflix series “House of Cards,” which provides a devastating and hair-raising glimpse into American national politics.

But I disagree with Spacey’s statement. Because I think it’s actually incredibly, incredibly rare for human beings to experience true contentment. And contentment is one of the secret, neglected keys to spiritual awakening and self-realization.

Most of us live our lives chronically caught up in a pervasive feeling of what ancient yogis and Buddhists referred to as “dukkha,” a Sanskrit word that (unfortunately) is often translated as “suffering” but could be (more accurately) rendered as discontentment, dis-ease, imbalance, a sense of lack and insufficiency that plagues us and leaves us—no matter how much good stuff we get—always wanting more.

The ancient yogis and Buddhists said that on the flip side of this coin that is our human experience is the opposite of dukkha: sukha. Sukha, (again, unfortunately) is most often translated into English as “bliss,” which sounds like some kind of fuzzy, pleasurable state that is assumed to be the opposite of suffering. (By that definition, a junkie strung out on heroin could be experiencing sukha.) But there are much better choices for rendering “sukha” into English: contentment, for one, or a sense of ease and well-being, balance, things working smoothly and harmoniously according to the natural order.

Contentment is one of the magical, golden keys to a life well-lived. Without cultivating a basic sense of contentment and gratitude for what we have, we cannot unlock the doors that keep us trapped in our self-made prisons of resentment, jealousy, greed, and all the other afflictive emotional patterns that diminish and discolor our human experience. We don’t have to rest on our laurels and become doormats, but developing a greater sense of contentment and appreciation for what we already have is a really good place to start.

— Hunter


“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others.
Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval.
Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
― Lao Tzu

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
― Socrates

Monday, July 6, 2015

Freedom's Just Another Word

This weekend, as a nation, we celebrated Independence Day. This got me thinking about the notion of freedom, which was the theme of my meditation class last night.

Ordinarily when we talk about freedom we’re talking about something that comes from outside. It’s given to us, or we fight for it, or we earn it somehow. We often think of freedom as the right to do whatever we want (within reasonable limits imposed by law and society).

But the kind of freedom we talk about on the spiritual path doesn’t come from outside. It isn’t given to us by anyone else, and it doesn’t even really depend all that much on external circumstances. Freedom in a spiritual sense is an inside job. It’s less about being free to do what we want and more about setting ourselves free from all the forms of internal conditioning that keep us imprisoned in psychological and emotional suffering.

The spiritual teacher Adyashanti writes:

“Human beings have a drive for security and safety, which is often what fuels the spiritual search. This very drive for security and safety is what causes so much misery and confusion. Freedom is a state of complete and absolute insecurity and not knowing. So, in seeking security and safety, you actually distance yourself from the freedom you want. There is no security in freedom, at least not in the sense that we normally think of security. This is, of course, why it is so free: there's nothing there to grab hold of.

The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don't experience it that way, it means you're not resting there; you're still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you're choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast.”

What happens when we drop down beneath our habitual drive for security and safety? We touch in with the vast, open Mystery that was always there, and in that Mystery there is a freedom that surpasses understanding. Imagine what this very moment would feel like if we could suddenly drop beneath our protective shell and taste that freedom right here, right now.

Imagine experiencing this very moment free from the mind’s obsessive thinking. What if we could drop into a natural stillness and silence in which the mind is aware and relaxed, without chatter, without commentary?

What about freedom from troubling emotions — greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, and so on? What would this moment feel like if the waters of the mind were not whipped into a frenzy of emotion?

Freedom from judgment — that’s a big one. Look at how we constantly judge and evaluate ourselves and others. What if, for one moment, we could just drop our compulsive need to be the judge of everything?

And can we even imagine being free from caring what other people think? How much time do we spend trapped in worrying about other people’s opinions of us, and trying to manipulate perceptions to make a good impression? We don’t have to let ourselves go to seed and become the Crazy Cat Lady, but wouldn’t it be sort of glorious to experience, if only for this moment, the freedom of not being quite so concerned with everyone else’s opinions of us?

And our own opinions! How heavy are they? We seem to have opinions about everything under the sun, and we take our opinions so seriously, as if each one is the gospel truth. When we relate openly to the Mystery that underlies our experience, we start to see our own cloud of opinions as a cloud of biting insects, an irritating drain on our attention and a veil that obscures reality.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lost in Translation

Yoga and meditation have taken American society by storm. Starting from a few transplanted Indian teachers and their ashrams, countless styles and schools of yoga have evolved to address every niche market and demographic: bootcamp-style hot power vinyasa classes; body-image oriented yoga for glutes and abs; traditional Bhakti devotional yoga done in front of murals and statues of Hindu deities with chanting and incense, wearing white clothing; corporate yoga done in front of computer screens or at office desks, wearing suits and dress socks; yoga for children; yoga for the elderly; yoga for overweight people; yoga for women; yoga for men; prenatal yoga; postnatal yoga; alignment-based yoga; Christian yoga; dance-based yoga; pilates-based yoga; yoga for sleep; yoga for sex; martial arts-based yoga; acro-yoga; aerial yoga; and, yes, even hot nude yoga.

In the realm of meditation, something similar is now taking place. Starting from a few Buddhist meditation centers established by teachers transplanted from various Asian countries, “mindfulness” (and a host of related practices) has grown into a cottage industry and a household word in mainstream society. Mindfulness is taught at Google and in Wall Street banks to help employees be less stressed and more productive; it’s taught in hospitals to help patients cope with pain and illness; it’s taught in classrooms to help students concentrate and perform better on tests; it’s taught in church basements to help addicts in recovery and in therapists’ offices to help patients regulate mood disorders; it’s taught in temples to help spiritual aspirants reach towards enlightenment and in boutique meditation centers to help busy urban professionals find a time to slow down and relax; it’s taught by the military to help soldiers cope with the stresses of warfare.

With yoga and meditation finding their way into so many corners of American society, and taking on so many new — and frequently materialistic — manifestations, it may be time to take a step back and assess whether something essential is being lost in the translation of these ancient Eastern traditions into American culture. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

NEW! The Audiobook Version of You Are Buddha

We are all looking for greater meaning and wisdom in our lives. The problem is that we search for these things outside ourselves. The most profound teachings of the Buddha say that the wisdom we search for does not come from outside. It is already within us; it is our very nature. The spiritual path is simply a way of helping us uncover and manifest the wisdom we already have.

Filled with personal stories, guided meditations, and more, You Are Buddha offers a practical guide to learning meditation, working with thoughts and emotions, becoming more deeply embodied, understanding the nature of mind, developing ethical conduct, and becoming an authentically mature, awakened human being.

Available in paperback, ebook and NEW audiobook format (narrated by the author).  Select a format below for details.

















Or listen to a 5-minute sneak preview of the audiobook here on YouTube:




_______________________

In the NYC area? Join me this Sunday for meditation class at Yoga Agora.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Enjoy the Silence

Do you ever get tired of the sound 
of your own voice in your head? 
Squawking endlessly like a sports commentator 
on everything that arises in your experience, 
an endless torrent of judgments, comparisons and projections. 

Do you grow weary of your own restlessness, 
always fidgeting away from the present moment? 
Pride and regret about the the past,
hope and fear about the future.
Is it painful, this constant struggle to “be someone?”

The remedy is not that complicated, and
I say this to you with tremendous love:
Sit still and shut up.

Drop all the interference. Stop squawking. 
Stop fidgeting. Give up control. Right now.
Let the breath and everything else happen on its own.
Stop manipulating your experience in any way.
No effort. Only witness what is happening now.

In this very moment, offer yourself that great kindness.
Allow yourself to experience the gift of simple presence.
Free from commentary. Free from agenda.
Free from the compulsive need to be someone.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Nine)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 9:  “ I never thought meditation could be so powerful...”

STUDENT 9 took an interesting approach by journaling her experience after meditation on three separate occasions. In the process, not only did she gain insights into herself and her past, but she recorded how her own views of meditation and experiences with it radically shifted over the course of a few weeks.

March 18, 2015
Honestly, I do not meditate in the traditional sense. I sometimes feel I am meditating while I am baking but clearly I am not still nor is my mind clear because I know I have to take the cookies out of the oven in ten minutes so I’ll wash the dishes in the meantime. However, baking comes easily to me and is practically a routine, I am quite relaxed even though I am very conscious of time.

My very first experience meditating was at the age of 8 when my parents dropped me off at our Buddhist Taoist temple after school to keep the elder company. Pastor Chiang had a practice of meditating daily. The only guidance she gave was to sit on this chair with my hands on my knees, eyes closed and to be quiet. I think we sat for an hour.  Of course, I opened my eyes from time to time to look at her to see if she had her eyes closed, but also to look around the room. I remember waiting to see what would happen – maybe the room would change, maybe she would change – I was not scared, just curious.  I cannot remember much more from that experience, however, whenever I think of meditation, I cannot help but to relate this to Pastor Chiang.

Unfortunately, when Pastor Chiang comes to my mind, I can’t help but also think of all the pain she caused my family. But I have grown and do not associate meditation and Pastor Chiang together. However, I have kept my distance from stepping foot into any temple and meditating since my father passed. My father devoted his life to that temple and helping Pastor Chiang but all she did was cause us tremendous pain, especially to my mother.

I am a busy body and feel like I have to make use of all 24 hours in a day so I spend every minute accomplishing something. While I have not practiced meditation because I have not looked at it as an act of accomplishment, I am willing to do my homework and try to meditate daily for 10 minutes and see where it takes me.

March 19, 2015
Wow. I did my first 10 minute meditation last night. I realized that I had associated meditating to not just Mrs. Chiang but more so to all the hurt she caused my family and that I don’t think I have forgiven her for this. Taking the time to clear my mind allowed me to think more clearly afterwards. I realized I had suppressed these feelings of anger.

April 8, 2015
I can finally say I have meditated for 4 days in a row now – my longest stretch since Yoga Teacher Training started. And I find 10 minutes is not long enough. Usually, the monkey mind is still wild the first 5 minutes or I am still getting myself into a comfortable seated position. So out of the 10 minutes, I’ve only had 5 minutes of quality meditation. So last night, I upped it to 15 minutes.

“Alert! Alert! Yet, relax! Relax!” This is so on-point as to how I feel after I have meditated. Four weeks ago, my attitude was I’m so tired at the end of the day, I don’t have time to meditate. I have so much to do and I need to get some sleep - I don’t want to spend 10 minutes of time not being productive. What I have come to realize is that because not only is my mind so active with planning and reminding myself of all the tasks I need to do each day and actually doing all that I do each day, it actually is very productive to force my body and mind to stop and rest. Even more surprising is how relaxed and energetic I feel after I meditate. It’s like we all need a break from training. When training for a marathon, you need to build up the miles gradually, incorporate speed work but also take rest days and let the body and muscles recuperate. My mind is working every waking moment that it also needs to take a rest break. Before meditating, sometimes I have to reread the same paragraph two or three times to really grasp the meaning of the words. I think this is because my mind is so tired or cluttered with so many thoughts it cannot concentrate as well. But after meditating, my mind is clearer and more focused - I understand it the first time around. I have always believed in quality versus quantity but never thought this applied to my mind as well. After meditating, I benefitted from both quantity and quality with my reading.

I have also found myself to be a calmer person after meditating. The past three weeks have been quite challenging with issues I’ve encountered at work. I find myself quite angry in my work environment and have decided I need to leave this environment. I will never be happy here and should not subject myself to this harmful environment but am better able to deal with the situation until it changes. Meditation has helped me see that my personality just will not jive with my coworkers. And my supportive husband has helped me to meditate each day because he feels he needs to get back at me for always nagging him. After I tell him about yet another bad day at work, he immediately tells me to meditate.

Wow, I never thought meditation could be so powerful.

_________________________________


Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Eight)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 8:  “ Regaining focus and clarity...”

The main benefit of mediation for me is to regain focus and clarity of the mind. In the world we currently live in, clarity and focus seem like “old school” concepts because it’s virtually impossible to stay away from screens (iPhones, computers, T.V’s). There are not many opportunities for us to stay focused on one thing for a long period of time or to just look around you and appreciate what goes on. Even for a minute. Just an example of a few distractions that happen daily and within minutes: you are at work writing an email, the phone rings, you get on the call and hang up, back to regain focus on writing that email, another email pops up, and you read the first few lines and you already think of what your response should be, then back to finish the first email, you get a text and you decide to respond to it later but then… what if I forget? ok let me respond to this, back to the email and now the boss is telling you what needs to be done. You see where I am getting at? Not to mention, after 8 hours of all this, you get home and what is the thing you turn on when home to fill that constant clutter/noise of the mind? The T.V. After the long commute home which is spent on the phone checking still more emails or on Facebook. Luckily, I am not so much like this anymore. I am usually the one in the bus or train looking around seeing the horrible sight of people only looking at their phones. But it makes me so sad and depressed when I do that.

Fortunately with the help of yoga/meditation and having moved to a bigger apartment, I am very proud to say I have rarely turned the T.V on or been on my computer at home for the past 8-9 months; which is also when I started to meditate. Having just a bit more room in the apartment made wonders to our lives; we have an extra room for meditation, home office and yoga. We even have a bigger couch now so we can both be comfortable when reading. Before we would go to work, go to the gym and then eat in front of the T.V. The apartment was so small that you couldn’t do anything else other than sit down and look at the T.V. What a trap life can be when you just do what you are supposed to do and don’t question the status-quo. This society feels like a well-run machine in which focus and clarity are hidden away from you. Unless you are smart enough to realize there is much more than this mundane daily routine of capitalist activities. But unless you do things like yoga and meditation or travel, you can’t quite realize that there are more things in life other than work, T.V, mindless shopping, stuffing your face with alcohol, food, etc. So many people are like this that it’s almost impossible to not be somewhat depressed about the world....

From doing meditation I can already see that I regained some of that clarity and focus I lost along the way. I cannot tell if it’s because of the yoga/meditation combination or meditation only. It’s most probably the combination of both. Regardless, this is a very small fraction of all the benefits that are still to come. It’s a long process, as anything else that has value in life.

_________________________________


Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Seven)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 7:  “ Breathe now, think later...”

Before I developed a regular meditation practice, I often thought meditating meant…to take a time out, to chill, to sit still, to escape, to breathe, to relax…all those things we often associate with the practice of meditation.

The more I practice meditation, the more layers and more nooks and crannies I find within the practice.  It is so cool!

Sometimes when I meditate, I feel as if I am playing a game of tug of war.  My mind wants to think and problem solve, and I have to say, “breathe now, think later.”  I repeat and use that as my mantra.

Sometimes when I meditate I watch the thoughts and use the practice as a gathering of information.  What are these thoughts about? Are they random silly things? To do list things? Big life things?  A combination?  Sometimes I use  meditation as an investigative tool and barometer to see what’s going on.

Other times when I meditate, I play the pranayama breathing game.  How many breathing sequences can I initiate and complete in a 10 minute session.  I just focus on breathing, alignment and posture.

Sometimes I listen and identify all the sounds in the room and how they come together.  This morning was, the cat grooming herself, the dishwasher cycling, the drilling outside and the heater, all at once.  I thought how fortunate am I to be in this present moment which will never exist again.

As I meditate more, the practice is unfolding.  Meditation means so much more to me now than my initial impressions which were to chill, to sit still, to escape, to breathe, to take a time out. Presently, meditation is all that and much much more.  Each and every time I sit, I get to go a little deeper, make up a few more games, see a new level and become more inspired.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Six)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 6:  “ Listening…like a reverse prayer…”

Meditation for me is a time set apart from the everyday tasks; it’s a time out to tune in, to explore, listen, become aware, feel, pray, look, observe, think, relax the thoughts, try not to think to much and simply be with myself, breathe in quiet contemplation and sit with whatever comes up. Each time is different.

When I meditate I feel like I’m diving into the ocean; its vastness can never be known – just as the vastness of my own mind; and I’m learning to appreciate the process. Sometimes it’s fun to watch thoughts — like oh, where did that thought come from? — and then watch them float away.  I feel a little lighter after meditation as if part of the dense fog in my mind has lifted and I can see a little more clearly and relate to myself and others a bit more wholeheartedly.

Sometimes when I meditate I have the purpose of listening – like a reverse prayer – I don’t ask for anything, I just want to listen and feel my heart beating. Other times during meditation, my mind is a torrent of thoughts and emotion and it feels overwhelming, my breathing becomes more like hyperventilation and it’s in these moments that I become very aware of just how I want to move away from these moments, because they feel like I’m in the middle of storm in the ocean! But, when I allow myself to stay, with tissue box by my side, to hold to my seat and “ride the waves” so to speak, well then I become amazed because at some point I calm.

Meditation helps me to connect to my joy as well as my pain. It offers me the opportunity to find appreciation for life’s ups & downs and helps me to cultivate compassion for myself and for others.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Five)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 5:  “ Nothing to grasp, nothing to measure…”

Let meditation be what enables us to put the cart before the horse. Let us believe; let us put our faith in the unseen; let us trust the universe to guide us. Let the child in all of us emerge through our practice – the child, for whom imagination is everything. Let our imaginations not be limited by our experiences, for our experiences are simply one version – one manifestation of reality in a universe of infinite possibility. Let our eyes not limit what we see.

I have a history of OCD that simply means my mind is always trying to quantify, compartmentalize, control. Meditation allows me to tap into something that I cannot prove, cannot make sense of, cannot logically explain. And yet I feel it, feel the way it stirs me in ways I never thought possible. Not even my OCD can compete with that.

I believe that meditation is more real than anything I’ve ever experienced. I believe in the way it empowers as it teaches humility. I believe that if we believe, then we allow our faith to transform us. The magic of life becomes something tangible, something that becomes a part of our soul. That magic belongs to no one just as much as it belongs to everyone – it belongs to the universe, and as humans we embody it just long enough to realize that life is love. And if we allow that love to radiate through our souls, we begin to connect to one another, to help one another, to exist as one.

In this world that we live in, there's so much instant gratification available. We are almost conditioned towards a sense of entitlement; maybe that means being annoyed when the train is running late, or when the wrong food is delivered, or when you have to wait in line for soup at lunch. Everything is SO available to us. And it gives us a false sense of control.

I know that for me, my OCD has really flared up since being in New York despite the fact that I had it under control (for the first time in 9 years) just 8 months ago. Because there's so much for it to feed on, in a way.

And yet I've realized recently that I really feel different when I'm meditating daily. The ups and downs can be observed and detached from in a way, since there's an understanding that the highs and lows are proof of our existence. That doesn't make sense to the OCD part of my mind - the OCD part of my mind likes to associate emotions and feelings with things that I can control and thereby increase or decrease the prevalence of those behaviors to affect my happiness and well being. Last night, after I finished, it really struck me how this practice is the only thing that my OCD can't wrap it's tentacles around. Because there isn't quite anything to grasp, nothing concrete or measurable about it. It's just there. My mind yearns to attach numbers to everything, and yet my meditation practice is untouchable. I didn't realize it until last night, but that's the power of meditation to me, right here, right now. And I also realize that that won't always be how my practice serves me, because everything is fluid and always changing. So it's important (for me) to not get attached to a certain set of benefits because then I limit future possibilities.

And most importantly, I hope that meditation will help me become the best version of myself so that I can serve others with love and compassion.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Four)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 4:  “Doing just one thing…”


The first benefit I’ve observed is that it allows you to give your mind some time to rest and recharge.  These days everyone is busy – in my case I attribute it to work, meetings, to-do lists, surviving in NYC and trying to squeeze a little time in here and there to catch up with friends and family.  But even my 60-something parents, retirees living in a Midwestern suburb, are perpetually busy (in a very Seinfeld-esque way).  Whenever I call they are wrapping up breakfast, heading to the library, walking the dog, going to the store, or doing something else that most would consider unimportant but keeps them busy nonetheless (and always seems to give them lots to talk about on the phone)!  Regardless of how we define “busy”, we need to find time to rest the physical body every so often by sleeping at night or even just taking a quick nap during the day. It would make sense that the same holds true for the mind – we need to rest it periodically in order to operate at peak performance.  However, when we are recharging physically (i.e. sleeping) our mind is often busy at work as evidenced by our dreams.  I often have very vivid dreams, waking up disoriented and/or stressed out from being so completely engaged in them, that I feel meditation is probably more restful to my mind than actual sleep!

The other key benefit I’ve observed from my meditation practice is that through meditation, you can work to improve your ability to focus.  Again with our society’s emphasis on multi-tasking, we rarely take time to do just one thing as that may be thought of as “inefficient” in some bizarre way.  That makes meditation practice difficult in that it takes a different type of concentration than we are used to, and forces us to actively try to clear a mind that has been conditioned to instead do as many things at once as humanly possible.  This act of meditation as “going against the grain” results in us often letting thoughts creep in at some point, which then allows us to be compassionate with ourselves, re-engage in our meditation, and once again accept and be thankful for where we are at this point in time, not analyzing the path we took to get here or what might/might not come to be in the future.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Three)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 3:  “A chance to sit with God and just be still…”

Meditation is calming the busy-ness of our minds. It’s rooting ourselves. It’s finding a time each day to recognize how small we are and how large the universe is. It’s remembering to be humble and reminding ourselves that we are not the centers of the universe, but rather part of everything in the universe. When we meditate, we clear the jungles of our minds and make room for peace and wisdom and insight.

Meditation is hard. It is a practice and a discipline. Sometimes sitting with our own minds makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes the easiest thing to do would be to run away. The beauty of meditation, however, is in its consistency. The more one meditates, the more peace and calm he or she will find. The paradox is that often when our lives seem most turbulent, when we most need meditation, we tend to run away from it. That is where the practice comes in. It must be consistent. It must be a ritual.

As a practicing Catholic, I also believe meditation is a practice that transcends religious affiliation. If one believes in a higher divinity in the way that I do, meditation only serves to compliment and enhance his/her beliefs. Meditation provides me with a chance to sit with God and just be still. I believe others might have a similar experience sitting with whatever power they believe in. I believe we can do this together, no matter what we believe or don’t believe. 

Though I have dabbled with meditation in the past, this is the first time I have made a more consistent, solid effort to develop a practice. I almost find myself too much of a neophyte to really be able to describe meditation at all, yet here I am offering my humble thoughts. I am sure that my own definition of meditation will continually transform as my practice continues to develop. I am excited to see how my own definition of meditation will change.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Two)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 2:  “I thought it would be easy…”

Why Meditate?

Because it’s hard. Because I know if my mind was at the place I want it to be, it wouldn’t be this hard. For me, meditation has so far been about quieting my mind to a place where meditation is no longer so difficult.

I thought it would be easy for me. I was wrong.

I don’t know if the path of awakening has a definitive end point, but I’ll know I’ve come a lot closer when the thought of sitting quietly by myself for 10 minutes no longer terrifies me.

It was never supposed to be this hard. But, then again, I guess I never knew I needed it this much.

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Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part One)

I teach many groups of meditation students but they’re usually drop-in classes. People come and go, and there’s often not a lot of interaction outside of class. It’s hard to know whether they are practicing at all in their daily lives, and even harder to gauge the effects that meditation might be having outside the classroom or yoga studio.

I’m currently teaching meditation in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, which is quite a different experience. Developing a daily meditation practice has been part of the students’ homework. With guided meditations during our group sessions, assigned readings from my book You Are Buddha, regular check-ins, and a short writing assignment, it has been amazing to see how meditation is opening the trainees’ hearts and minds.

Often, students who come to a Yoga Teacher Training already have a strong physical practice of yoga, but they might have little or no previous experience with meditation. Meditating in a sustained way for several weeks, for as little as 10 minutes a day, has been a life-altering experience for many of them.

One of the major themes that has emerged clearly is how meditation puts us in touch with our vulnerability, our soft spot, what Chogyam Trungpa called the “genuine heart of sadness.” It’s the source of our innate tenderness and compassion, which normally lies hidden and shielded beneath the tough, carefully crafted persona we project to the outside world. Meditation slowly peels away our outer shield and leaves us feeling more exposed but more honest about who we really are.

One student after another has approached me during the past several weeks to share that they have found themselves crying during or after meditation. Sometimes just talking about this experience brings them to tears while we’re talking. Each time, they look at me with surprise and a smile when I tell them: “That’s fantastic.” “You’re doing really great.” Through meditation, they are getting in touch with something that wants to be seen, wants to be felt — something that might have been stuck for years in the shadows, waiting for its chance to be acknowledged.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Truthfulness in Yoga and Buddhism

This is part one in a series of articles examining key principles of Yoga and Buddhism.

Today many people in the West approach Yoga primarily as a physical practice for training the body, and meditation as a tool for subduing the mind's noise and cultivating peace. These are fine goals in themselves, but they really only begin to scratch the surface.

Looking at Yoga and meditation in this way is sort of like looking at the small tip of an iceberg that sits above the surface of the water and believing you’ve seen the whole iceberg. There is so much more hidden down below — in fact, you may be missing about 95% of the iceberg.

In a gym Yoga class or in a contemporary mindfulness seminar, you’re not likely to hear the teacher speak much about morality and ethics. But that’s actually where both of these paths begin.


In Buddhism (which is the source of most contemporary meditation and mindfulness techniques), meditation is actually the second of three areas of training: Shila (Ethical Conduct), Samadhi (Meditation), and Prajña (Insight or Wisdom). Without the foundation of following certain ethical principles, it’s difficult or impossible to cultivate the higher states of meditation and insight that lead to spiritual freedom and awakening.

In the classical Yoga tradition, the same is true. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lay out an eightfold path called ashtanga, more commonly known as the eight limbs of Yoga (ashta = eight and anga = limb). The first limb of Patanjali’s Yoga is Yama, the ethical standards that a Yogi should follow. The physical asana practice is the third limb, and its intention is not only to care for the body but to cultivate the discipline and focus necessary to approach the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th limbs of Yoga, all of which are concerned with meditation and insight.

To put it simply, without ethics your life is a mess — and you are haunted by the mess. You harm yourself and others with your thoughts, words and actions, and the consequences of this behavior torment your mind and body. The apple is rotten from the inside, and no amount of polishing its surface with asana practice or meditation is going to make it edible. The ethical precepts in Buddhism and Yoga restore the apple to a wholesome state, from the inside out.

The ethical principles from each tradition are largely the same. I’ll focus here on just one of them: Truthfulness.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Paper Bags

A birthday poem written by the old bag labeled Dennis Hunter.

This being human is a paper shopping bag.
Inside the bag is a parcel we carry from womb to tomb.
Most of our lives are spent staring at the bag,
identifying with the label it represents: “me.”
We build our lives around a brand, a fiction,
proudly sporting it through the world
and comparing it to other people’s brands.
We all want to have the best brand, to be seen
carrying the shopping bag with the finest label.
We have forgotten the purpose of a shopping bag,
and confused the bag and the brand with what's inside.
Stop for a moment, dissociate yourself from this bag of bones
and all the labels and brands it represents, and look inside.
Try to remember why you picked up a shopping bag
in the first place, and what it contains.
It’s raining now, and your paper bag is wet.
Already its fibers are weakening; soon it will break
and spill its contents into the street.
Don’t wait until then to open the parcel and see what's inside.
Open it now!
You’ve forgotten you ever went shopping in the first place,
and here you are, crying out against the rain,
holding a disintegrating bag from the great Store.

But this is where the metaphor breaks down…

The parcel in your bag is not something you bought,
for you cannot acquire or own what you are.
The parcel is you, and you never left the Store with it.
You only carried it around for a little while
in a shopping bag made of space, time and flesh,
from one part of the Store to another:
this laughable parade of paper bags and colorful logos.
You can neither purchase nor shoplift yourself.
Nothing ever leaves the Store, but everything returns to it.
Remember this, and be free from the illusion
of imprisonment inside a crumbling bag of bones, skin and personality.
Forget your brand, remember this, and embrace the deathless state.
The great Store, and everything in it, is you.