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December 2011 Newsletter - Training Tips from Dr. Yang Yang

A Training Tip for the New Year: On Meditation

by Yang Yang, Ph.D

Note: 1/15/12 revision of article originally published 12/23/11.

Dr. Yang in Santi Standing Posture

A few weeks ago I taught my last workshop of 2011 at Kripalu Yoga Center. In the past few days, I have been contemplating some questions from this workshop and others of the past year focusing on what is most pertinent to people’s daily practice. One question stands out: how to meditate?

Meditation can generate so many benefits:

  • kindness toward ourselves and the rest of the world
  • enhancement of mental and physical agility
  • better sleep, digestion, bowel function, and sexual function
  • cultivation of tranquility, joy, and resilience in daily life
  • awareness of our mind, body, and spirit
  • awareness of reality
  • acceptance of differences between ourselves and others

However, people often say: "I know the benefits and I tried, but I just could not do it. My mind would not calm down. The more I tried to empty my mind, the wilder my mind became. Maybe meditation is just not for me."

Everyone is the same: our mind wanders, and often has negative emotions. Ironically, this is why we really need to meditate and why meditation can help us in our daily lives to cultivate tranquility, joy, and resilience.

The approach that works best for me is to contemplate a specific and tangible situation. I look at it in two ways as I meditate. I consider how it can make me more aware of truth or reality. In addition, I consider how it reinforces enduring principles that contribute to quality human life.

To cultivate awareness, I meditate on one or another of these maxims, choosing the one that best applies to the situation:

  1. The world is yin and yang, we are all different
  2. Everyone is seeking his/her best interests or happiness, including ourselves.
  3. Nothing is personal
  4. The meaning and purpose of life
As for principles, I work on the following:
  1. Gratitude
  2. Kindness and love
  3. Acceptance of differences between self and the rest of the world, and acceptance of imperfection in life.
  4. Forgiveness
  5. The golden rule

There are no fixed ways to apply these maxims and principles: you can apply one maxim and one principle on one day, and apply another on the following day until you apply all of them. Or you can apply more than one maxim and principle to the same situation. However, one maxim and one principle may be easier for beginners.

Here is the routine I went through this morning: I started with gratitude, still immersed in the rewarding feeling of reading the warm and encouraging comments on evaluations from participants at Kripalu. Contemplating those comments, I felt grateful for all of my generous and kind teachers: Grandmasters Yuan Shiming, Wu Xiubao, Zhang Xitang, Gu Liuxin, Chen Zhaokui, and Feng Zhiqiang, Drs. Karl Rosengren, Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko and other professors at the University of Illinois.

I then thought about how questions from participants in my classes and seminars and discussions with them have improved my understanding of Taiji and Qigong, which has led me to develop as a teacher. I felt grateful for that, and for the support I receive from family and friends, which sustains my resilience in pursuing my dream.

Then I switched to the practice of awareness, asking myself whether there were any negative emotions in my mind? I often focus on the most painful situation I'm facing because such situations can drain significant amounts of energy. I believe that when something or someone is causing negative emotions in you, it is you who needs to improve. Sometimes negative emotions can be so dramatic that they lead to acute anxiety, insomnia, or loss of appetite.

Compared to that, today was an easy one. I had to admit to myself that I was bothered a little bit by a gentleman wearing earphones singing loudly next to me in the subway while on my way to teach at the New York Open Center last week. He was a special person; in addition to the singing, he would suddenly hit the pole in front of him in an excited way which startled a few passengers. Some of them were annoyed and their facial expression further energized the singer and led to louder noises.

Several things came to my mind. First, how can we become more aware of the impact that our behaviors have upon other people near us? How can we cultivate a gentle, quiet, and kind environment for other people, or avoid bothering other people with our unconscious behaviors? These are aspects of the golden rule.

Next, can we accept difference? In this case, this singer and I are different. We can view this difference in our practice as something that makes the world real, interesting, and perhaps offers an opportunity to learn, rather than something to feel annoyed or upset about. It is an opportunity to practice acceptance.

Furthermore, a situation like this can be an opportunity to practice the notion that "nothing is personal." The man did not act in those ways with any specific person in mind. He did not know the name of anyone around him. He was not doing this specifically toward anyone next to him.

The situation also provided a chance to understand the notion that everyone is seeking his or her best interest or happiness, including ourselves. And, it offered an opportunity to practice kindness. He might have just gotten off from a long, hard shift at work and wanted to give himself a break and enjoy the music.

Finally, this encounter offered me an opportunity to learn something about life. The man freely expressed his feelings and joy through his singing. He did not care that some of his notes were way out of tune. I sensed his feeling of being free. It was reminiscent of Gene Kelly's Singing in the Rain. Of course, Mr. Kelly's singing was much more enjoyable.

Another thing I often meditate on is the dream I am pursuing: to study, distill, and disseminate Taiji and Qigong to contribute to the well-being of the general public. Knowing that I have helped people is fulfilling, and knowing that Taiji and Qigong could potentially help many more gives me energy and momentum to overcome the hurdles we all face. With that sense of challenge, urgency, and excitement, I think about one or two major tasks to accomplish on this specific day.

After I have meditated through several of these notions, I feel energized, peaceful, joyful and ready to start out a new day to do something for myself, my family, and my community.

I find this method of categorized meditation leads me easily into quiet. It does this not only by improving my ability to manage my daily stress, but also-and more importantly-by reducing the stressors. Meditation helps me realize that I have created stressors through my rumination, and that those stressors should never have been stressors at all.

New stressors can arise every day. The good news is that we can develop a habitual mental pattern to neutralize them. In this way, we can make some stressors less stressful, and eliminate others entirely. We can reduce the stress of our daily lives. And we can make positive thinking our way of life.

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