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@ Calm serenity is the human base-line emotional state – Alfred’s progress

Please see (1) to know about Alfred.

“I have not sent you much lately but it is not because I have neglected my meditation practice. I am still at it for about an hour a day and continue to reap the rewards. Here is a short essay that, I think, encapsulates where I am at currently.

The Purpose of Meditation
Because of the strong interest I have developed in meditation I had begun to read about it. Some of what I read has been rewarding in that others have expressed insights that I had arrived at independently. This makes me feel that I am on a good path. However, much of the literature is contradictory and can create confusion. For example some practitioners of mindfulness meditation insist that you should be in a sitting posture and your eyes should be open. Others say any posture that is effective can be used and the eyes can be shut. Confusion sows doubt and doubt erodes successful effort. So, for now, I have stopped reading and am following my own path.

My path
What keeps me most focused is always bringing back to mind the purpose of my meditation. This purpose was always there but, with practice has clarified. I believe that the calm serenity I often achieve through meditation is the human base-line emotional state. When the business of life overwhelms us this tranquility is superimposed upon by agitation, excitement and stress. I also believe that emotional honesty and wisdom are best accessed from the tranquil base-line state. This fairly simple premise is the purpose of my mediation and by keeping it in mind I can redirect my attention appropriately when I stray.”

(1) Alfred

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@ “Thoughts are like dead leaves blowing in the wind” – Alfred’s progress

See (1) to know about Alfred. 

Practices

I had begun to worry about some aches and pains in my neck and hips and so I met with Elisa Cotroneo, a yoga teacher and somatic movement specialist. She was great and gave me some good advice on modifying my morning routine. I have begun to implement these changes and am already feeling an improvement. I have continued to develop the asana which I made up and am finding ever deeper relaxation from its practice.

Regarding your suggestion about extending the sitting meditation
It is interesting because I have begun to do that as a sort of natural progression.  When I find an asana (yoga posture) that makes me particularly tranquil, I will stop counting and continue the pose for some time.  I think these extended time frames are usually only 10-15 minutes now because that is about how long my total meditation time has increased.

Ideas

The Tree Metaphor
When meditating try to experience all those things a tree experiences- the touch of a breeze, sunshine, bird song, roots reaching into the earth, branches to the sky, the weight of being. Avoid all those human overlays such as anger, anticipation, and regret.

Thoughts  vs Ideas
Because we cannot just turn our minds off (and it would be dangerous if we did) I have begun to differentiate between thoughts and ideas as I meditate. My definition of a thought is that it is a fragment of an idea. Thoughts come and go, some good, some bad, like dead leaves blowing in the wind. An idea is a whole thing. It can stand alone like a large smooth rock on the ground. It can be looked at from different sides. The glue that holds an idea together is intuition. Here is an example of an idea – that the tranquility experienced from meditation is a baseline. To achieve tranquility is simply opening a door to a new space. The exploration of that space is what counts. When I meditate I concentrate on that idea (as well as my breath, my body sensations and my state of mindfulness). Keeping that idea in focus allows me to ward off distracting thoughts and achieve tranquility more efficiently.

Results
  • I took a long and stressful (busy traffic and bad weather) car trip helping my son move into a new apartment in Brooklyn. The rented van had extremely uncomfortable seats and we drove for over 7 hours. I used body awareness techniques I have learned from my asanas and ended the trip with no residual body stiffness.
  • I find myself striking up conversations with strangers or people who I hardly know more often.
  • Also, I think I am listening to other people better.

(1) Alfred

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Related posts: Alfred’s progress

@ Breathing in and breathing out as a continuum …Alfred’s progress

See (1) to know about Alfred. 

“I am still keeping at it and expanding my practice every day. My core routine is 10 postures, each held for a minimum of 30 breaths. In between, I stretch in ways my body tells me to, some times rocking gently to loosen things up.

I always play soothing music or chanting; there are great chants on you tube. I was burning incense but have stopped because I find it a distraction.

Each day I discover new ways to attend to the present while meditating. Every day I feel a benefit; sometimes great, sometimes subtle.

Some ideas
  • We can be slaves to time. Being constantly aware of the clock and where you need to be an hour from now, robs you of the present. While meditating, do not fall into the trap of counting breaths, as if they are grocery list on which you are striking off items. Immerse yourself in each breath and adhere to your body’s natural relaxed breathing pattern. Time can become quite elastic when you are not measuring it in your mind. I suspect that the perfect present is infinite.
  • If you have trouble stilling noisy thoughts, try some mental exercises.
    • When you breath in, think of what it feels like to exhale and then, as you exhale think of the feeling of breathing in.
    • Think about the sound of wind on your face, of how sunshine smells and what the color green tastes like. Imagine that your body is floating or rotating slowly. Imagine you are slowly melting into the ground.
  • I realize as I try to attain complete tranquility while meditating, that the way I breathe can disrupt this goal. I have found at times a great rush of peace as I slowly exhale but, as I transition to breathing in, I am susceptible to errant thoughts. In order to avoid this undesirable distraction, I have begun to try to think of breathing in and breathing out as a continuum, rather than a transition. As I breath out and feel peace flow in, I concentrate on holding that feeling and I begin to breath in. I do not concentrate on the change of direction of my breath. This is helping me sustain and deepen the feeling of calmness over multiple breath cycles.
Benefits  I gained
  • I went to a social event where I knew nobody. I felt more relaxed than usual in this situation and felt like I was more focused on the person I was talking to at any given moment.
  • During the day when a worrisome thought clouds my mind, I am better at addressing it and filing it away where it belongs, rather than have it put me in a foul mood.
  • I am more easily amused.”
(1) Alfred

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* Feedback from Grade 3-5 Students

The school counselor of a local school searched on-line for Yoga classes to help the students reduce stress before and during the state tests. She found my website and requested me to train the students in grade 3 to 5 in the ‘Focusing on breathing’ technique (1) as an optional after school activity. I conducted two classes on April 17 and 24, 2013 for 9 students.

In the first class I demonstrated different modes of the technique and we all practiced each of the modes on one hand. In the  second class I asked for their verbal feedback on how they practiced the technique after the first class. I asked each of them to demonstrate any one mode and corrected the wrong demos. Several of them said they liked the ‘Staring mode’ (3) or the  ‘911 mode’ (4).

At the end of the first class, I collected feedback from them in a simple form with 3 open ended questions. The scanned images of the completed feedback forms are presented at (2). A summary of their responses is presented below.

When I practiced the breathing in today’s class, I felt … 

  • Calm and relaxed – 3 responses
  • Calm/ Really calm – 3
  • Good and happy
  • Relaxed
  • Relaxed, Calm, Focused

I want to try this technique when I …

  • Go to sleep – 2
  • Am mad – 2
  • Mad or tired
  • Stressed with school
  • Mad at my sister or stressed
  • Mad, angry and stressed
  • Am taking a  test

I think this practice will help me for ….

  • NYS test/ Tomorrow before the state tests – 2
  • Calming down, Stop being stressed, angry and mad
  • After being bullied
  • Getting up in the morning
  • When my sister is mad at me
  • Settling down
  • Falling asleep and calming down
  • A lot of things

The principal also participated in the class and gave the following feedback in the same form –
During the class she felt relaxed, calm, focused and stress free. She wanted to try this technique when she needed to refocus, before running a race and after a stressful day. She felt that this practice will help her in refocusing and training.

Feedback from the school counselor after the first class: “I heard great things about your class from the principal and the students.  You will be here again next week for the conclusion. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to provide a stress free learning opportunity for our students!”

Honorarium: Before doing the classes the counselor inquired about my charges. I said I loved teaching the simple technique to children and if the school was happy with the classes, they could offer me whatever they like. I am thankful to the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) of the school for the generous compensation they offered me. My plan is to follow up this group of students till they adopt the technique as their own, practicing it whenever they needed to  calm themselves or maintain their focus.

(1) How to be Calm and Focused? – Handout for children
(2) Scanned images of the feedback forms
(3) Staring mode
(4) 911 mode

Related page
Training children

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* ‘Counting breaths’ during childbirth

‘First of its kind’ feedback from Emily Marynczak, (1) the mom of my grand daughter’s classmate at Robert C.Parker School (2). She herself practices the technique, finds it useful and teaches it to her clients.

“In my work as a childbirth educator, I have been teaching different modes of ‘counting breaths’ technique (3) to my clients. I direct my clients to practice twice a day – once in the morning and once at bedtime. I also direct them to the ‘countingbreaths.com’ web site for further study.

Many of my clients report back that they find the techniques useful on a day to day basis, for calming themselves. I have also had at least a couple of women report back after their births that at various tough moments during their labor, they used counting breaths effectively, for pain management.

When the mind has an anchor, fear is reduced. When fear is reduced in childbirth, the sensations are much more manageable – and potentially even enjoyable.”

(1) Emily Marynczak AAHCC, Bradley Method Childbirth Educator, (518) 478-0062,
(2) Robert C. Parker School, Wynantskill NY
(3) How can I focus on breathing?

Related pages
Emily’s previous report
Lamaze breathing

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* Breathing breaks in the class room

This is a report from Lynn Schuster, a dedicated and innovative class teacher for grades 2/3 in Robert C. Parker School, Wynantskill, New York State (1). On my request, she shared with me how she developed the basic  technique of ‘focusing on breathing’ (2) to suit the needs of her students and herself in the class room. It is a wonderful model that has brought out the immense potential of this simple technique!

“I was introduced to ‘Counting Breaths’ along with my 2nd-3rd grade students four years ago. I watched my students, and felt myself, relax tremendously within a matter of moments as C.S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) taught us the technique. The practice is now an essential part of the daily life in my classroom. We begin our ‘Morning Meeting’ each day, by “going into our silence.” Students are asked to “unplug” from their friends and to give themselves the opportunity to breathe quietly. We sustain this silence for at least three minutes. This year, I conclude this silence with what I’m now calling our five magical breaths. I count and students follow as we breathe deeply, a minimum of five times, together.

Even children who find quieting down extremely challenging can achieve silence through the peer influence that comes with group practice. I sometimes have to be patient and wait until we’ve all quieted down. In the afternoon when focus can be difficult, I usually have to add in soothing words of encouragement and very deliberately lead them through our counting out a minimum of five deep breaths. I will roam the room, praise individuals and the class. Everyone comes around.

This year, I’ve consciously incorporated breathing breaks throughout our day—at every transition and before starting anything new. This translates into a minimum of 5-6 breathing breaks a day. This year, I also committed to pausing what we are doing when I see even one student getting antsy or moody. In the past, I would have plowed through my agenda and put up with interruptions or a less-than-focused atmosphere. It has been proven to me through my commitment to taking breathing breaks that these breaks do only take a couple minutes. BUT their impact is profound and can carry through big chunks of time. Breathing together brings almost every child immediately into a relaxed mindset. I feel impatience and stress wash away too. We become a community again, working together.

I must thank YOU for teaching me to pause, breathe and help my students relax. I used to think the fun and laughs we had–and the connection/trust I strive to create with each student–would ensure focus when the time required it. But from your guidance and teaching, I saw that I needed to do something more. You’ve changed the way I live in the class and made me pay closer attention to what’s really happening in front of me.”

+++

I am grateful to Lynn for developing this great class room model of the technique. She helped me realize the dream I have been nurturing since the year 2002, ever since I realized the great potential of this technique in helping children calm themselves and focus.  I am  also grateful to Meg Taylor, Head of the school who let me, an uncertified and unlicensed person, experiment with this technique, unknown in the educational field and for creating an environment that lets such innovations flourish. I am happy they both let me publish their names.

I dream of more teachers drawing inspiration from this model and developing their own versions. They will be helping their students develop self awareness, the ability to calm themselves whenever they become aware of their anxiety or stress and act with self control. I feel these skills are more fundamental than reading, writing and counting and will be of immense help to them throughout their life.  Parents can also use this model at home to reinforce the class room experience. I feel when these children grow up, they will become better moms and dads with this additional technique in their parenting tool kit.

When I was working in a paper mill in India, I used this technique when I conducted small group meetings.  We all breathed together for a couple of minutes in the counting mode. It helped us focus better and be good listeners.

(1) Robert C. Parker School
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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Relevant pages
Endorsement by Meg Taylor – Head of sdchool

Parent page: Training children in ‘Focusing on breathing’

* I am now able to manage stress

Feedback from a man in New Jersey who is under extreme stress, due to his wife’s mental illness (1).

Before knowing ‘Focusing on breathing’
My wife refused to see reason due to her bi-polar problem though she has been under medication. I did not know of any way to convince her. I used to get excited and angry at her, aggravating stress for both of us. It was unbearable.  Under such situations, I was going to the gym and workout, for at least 2 hours. Even then, I was not getting relief from the stress. I used to wonder if I had to work out whole day.

Now
I do not run to the gym or go crazy. I respond to her unreasonable behavior without losing my cool. I am able to argue with her calmly and patiently, trying to convince her. This is defusing the situation for both of us. My life has become bearable, thanks to the breathing technique.

I am now introducing this technique to my wife at bedtime, as she does not have good sleep. She is not able to practice the technique on her own. When she needs to sleep, I sit by her side  and help her practice the ‘Tip mode’ (2). I hold her fingers and give verbal prompts, at each step of the practice. She accepts this help and is now able to sleep peacefully, thanks to this technique.

(1) His previous feedback “This meditation has saved my life”
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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