News

Knowing When It's Time to Move on... November 23, 2018 17:46

Sometimes, when you let go of something, you make room for something even better to come into your life. Giving yourself time to start small and practice a new skill set, paying attention to clues along the way as you continue to practice, and honoring clear patterns and synchronicities can help you determine the right course of action in whatever you do.

How Mantras and Memorization Benefit the Brain February 1, 2018 18:30

I spent nearly a week memorizing a new mantra. Most of the mantras I work with are in Sanskrit, but I came across a Tibetan mantra that resonated with me. The Guru Rinpoche mantra is only eight lines long, but learning it was slow-going and challenging. I don't read the Tibetan language (same is true for Sanskrit), so memorizing a transliterated text is a lot like learning a language within another language, and as a visual learner, it offered a new set of challenges for me. The sounds were new. The combinations of syllables were clumsy and awkward at first. From the outset, memorizing eight short lines seemed very daunting. 

I work as a tutor at a local high school, so in between student sessions, I listened to an audio recording of a lama chanting the mantra over and over again (thank goodness for YouTube). My commute home is usually 30-45 minutes long, depending on traffic. Each afternoon I chanted two lines of the mantra while driving home. On Monday, I worked with the first two lines. Tuesday, the second pair, etc The chanting was very slow at first. There were long pauses and hesitations as I worked to find the right sounds in the right order. I had to remain intensely focused, not only on driving, but on reciting each line over and over again. Slowly, over the course of the week, I was able to chant the entire mantra. It required time, effort, and painstaking dedication, but it was worth it. Not only do I have another sound tool to play with in my energetic repertoire and practice, but I did something good for my brain, too. Here are some of the benefits of memorization:

* Mental Flexibility and Agility

Just as consistent, challenging exercise benefits the body, memorization is a useful way to stimulate the brain. Functioning like "mental gymnastics," memorization makes the brain more quick, agile, and flexible.

* Improved Neural Plasticity

Medical research has found that rote memorization benefits the hippocampal foundation, which is crucial for episodic and spatial memory in humans. In a recent Irish study of participants aged 55-70, researchers concluded that repeated activation of memory structures in the brain promote neural plasticity in the aging brain. In other words, we need to use it, or we're going to lose it.

* Improved Focus and Creativity

Working memory involves storing, focusing attention on, and manipulating information for a relatively short period of time. According to Paula Fiet of Weber State University, working memory is essential for learning to occur. Completing exercises (such as memorizing a new mantra) that are aimed at building short-term memory benefits our capacity to learn and to focus. 

Working memory is also important for creativity.  Dutch researchers have concluded that those who learn to focus and develop their working memory through memorization tasks can free their mind in order to pursue other creative tasks.

* Delayed Cognitive Decline

Researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging (NIHA) found that adults who engaged in short bursts of memory training maintained higher cognitive function delays. Memorization and other memory training exercises can delay cognitive decline for 7-14 years. So, memorizing mantras can help you stay sharp for years to come.

Over the next forty days or so, I plan to work with this new Guru Rinpoche mantra along with a mala (not while driving, though :). I like the idea of starting the New Year with a new mantra and a new sadhana. I'm looking forward to seeing where this mantra will take me in my practice--how it will benefit my subtle body as well as my mind and body. I'll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, find a mantra that resonates with you, and commit it to memory. 

 T

  

the data mentioned in this post came from the following source:

*"In Praise of Memorization: 10  Proven Brain Benefits" (http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/in-praise-of-memorization-10-proven-brain-benefits/)

 

  


The Subtle Side-Effects of a Chanting Practice March 2, 2016 15:00

Everything we are, and everything that is, is vibration.  All sentient beings and all inanimate objects in the cosmos are teeming expressions of vibrational flow.  When this flow is disturbed or disrupted, disharmony is the result.  A mantra or chanting practice can help restore harmony and balance again by kneading the cells of the body with sound. One of the best ways to recalibrate and reboot your own system is through a regular practice of chanting Sanskrit mantra.

I've been practicing forty-day sadhanas with various mantras over the course of the last two years, and upon reflecting on this practice, I've noticed some interesting side-effects.

* Increased Presence

I'm finding it's much easier to stay in the present moment.  This can be both a blessing and a curse. For example, I'm not writing nearly as many lists on Post-it notes, and I'm not as caught up in the trance of future thinking--the endless streams of  "I have to do this," and "I have to do that," etc.

However, I'm finding that I immerse myself completely in the most mundane tasks.  I'm totally engaged in loading the dishwasher or flossing my teeth, and time slips away from me.  Last week, I spent twenty minutes in the produce section at Target--totally mesmerized by the colors, shapes, and smells of fruits and veggies, as if it were an art exhibit at the IMA.

*Managing Difficult Emotions

When anger, frustration, fear, resentment, and general crankiness rise to the surface, I'm able to stay with these unpleasant feelings for longer periods of time  without casting judgment or pushing them away. I can sit (stand, walk, or drive) with them with an objective heart and mind--simply noticing and holding space for these feelings--until they dissipate on their own.

This morning as I was driving to school, a man in an old pick-up truck tailgated me all the way down Morgantown Rd. Every time I glanced in my rear view mirror, he made various aggressive hand gestures, clearly indicating his disapproval of me driving the speed limit. Instead of responding with equal and opposite frustration, though, I remained calm and focused, and when he barreled past me across the double line, I didn't take it personally, and I didn't feel the need to speed up and chase after him, which is evidence of significant growth for me.

*New Teachers and Adventures

 One of the most pleasant side-effects of my mantra practice is that it has been sending new teachers and adventures my way.  I've met amazingly creative,supportive,and nourishing people outside my usual circles who have helped me learn and grow in so many ways.  They've helped me stretch beyond my comfort zones, offering guidance and encouragement at just the right time.

For a long time, I've wanted to visit the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and in the last few months, I've visited several times, attending various pujas, lectures, and events there.The monks have been very kind and warm-hearted, and their welcoming and open spirits have been both inspirational and refreshing.

In addition to honoring the Divine that dwells within, I've found that the heart of a regular mantra practice also includes elevating your vibrational frequencies.  Each forty-day sadhana brings new experiences and insights, and each spiritual formula has its own unique lessons to teach.  I'm looking forward to exploring the treasures that dwell in the next Sanskrit mantra.

 


The Perks of Completing a Forty-Day Mantra Sadhana September 12, 2015 17:04

I recently completed a forty-day mantra practice.  My intention was to invite more abundance into my life, so I chose Om Shrim Maha Lakshmiyei Swaha.  I chanted daily, sometimes with, and sometimes without, my mala, I sang this mantra in the car while I was driving to work, and I even wrote it down repeatedly in a small notebook.  I also kept observational notes in a separate notebook, and at the end of the forty days, I reflected on what I had experienced and learned.

Here are some highlights:

* While driving, I kept noticing chocolate brown cars (all different makes and models) while I chanted.  I don't use my mala while driving--it's too distracting for me, but the beads on the mala that I used for this sadhana are chocolate brown. (I'm embarrassed to say it took me a week to make this connection, but I eventually sorted it out :).

* I didn't win the lottery, but I won a few free tickets, and I found a quarter on the sidewalk. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this practice is that abundance is not limited to finances.

*I had amazingly vivid and powerful dream images during this time period. Not only were they visually captivating, they were also instructive pieces of relevant guidance.

* I spent an amazing day at a Buddhist center in Bloomington with a dear friend. The ceremony was beautiful, the catered food was delicious, and, at the end of the retreat, a posse of Tibetan monks blessed my mala.   

*Books found me--the right books, at just the right time--Tosha Silver's Change Me Prayers, Tara Brach's Radical Acceptance and True Refuge, Bruce Lipton's The Biology of Belief.  An abundance of wisdom took hold.

*My discoveries and revelations, however, were not always positive.  Similar to an asana practice, a mantra practice can stir up da shit.  Unresolved issues with friends and colleagues rose to the surface and demanded my attention, unexpected technology glitches occurred, traffic jams and crazy drivers seemed to follow me on some days.  This abundance of insanity was also instructive, and my reactions to these "surprises" had evolved as well.  Instead of getting caught up in the drama and spinning inside a vortex of anger and frustration, I paused, I allowed, I waited, I chose thoughtful words, and I didn't take any of the craziness personally.

This mantra sadhana was extremely beneficial.  Even though it pushed my buttons at times, and the discipline of the practice was tedious or inconvenient on some days, I persevered, and I did, in fact, receive abundance--an abundance of wisdom, guidance, humor, spontaneity, creativity, friendship, and self-respect.  Even though the abundance I received did not come in the form that I was expecting, it definitely came in the form that I needed, and I can't wait to start my next forty-day sadhana.   TM