The Urban Monk – Meditation Workshops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWanderingYogi has spent the past 30 years exploring all major types of meditation on her path to samadhi. From buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas and Thailand, to yogis in Australia, Singapore, India and the US,  I believe I have managed to sort the massive breadth of knowledge about what makes meditation work for the everyday into digestible pieces for those of us who are curious, on the path.

Given my background before a yoga teacher, I like to think I can teach in a way that is not the usual big training manual, and loads of talking up front by a ‘figurehead’.  Like all real learning, it does take discipline from yourself, some insight and self-awareness, too!

Our Urban Monk Series has been developed collaboratively in part with participants and other yoginis.

There are four basic elements for a successful meditation ‘seat’ (breath, focus, posture, and mental attitude).  I continue to mention stuff like good sleep, diet, full body movement (like yoga), and a healthy mind set in all my workshops.  And there is also that I call ‘the cream on the cake’ – the mallas, chanting, mudras, singing bowls, crystals.

I run 3 workshops in the Urban Monk Series.

Tapas for Everyday Meditation

This is a regular weekly meditation practice of 45 minutes.  It involves a different approach or style of meditation each week.  Sometimes outdoors open air, and sometimes in a sala. Details of when and where are regularly publicised here.     Each session also looks at one or two of the basic elements of  successful meditation. Sort of like a tune-up.

“I really need the weekly practice to help me stay focussed when I practice on my own. ” (WanderingYogi meditation workshop feedback)

Breath to Thrive – Breath and Meditation Workshop

There is a saying – breath is the first thing that connects you to this world, and the last thing that helps you pass on.  So vital, yet we only breath about 20% of our capacity for air and prana.  Which says a lot about why we need some practice in really firing up our pre-frontal cortex with a natural boundless form of energy (forget coffee).

A series of 4 sessions where I guide you in the energetic breath practices of meditation, drawn from Zen, Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, and Indian yogic traditions.

“Informative, insightful, great meditation voice, and a sense of humour “(WanderingYogi meditation workshop feedback)

Malas, mudras and mantras

Tantric meditation often involves the recitation of major stories of buddhist dieties. The chanting is the way for each monk to focus on their own internal path for enlightenment – they choose a deity and then visualise themselves as that deity.  This is up at Dharmashala, the Gyoto Monks of Tibet franchise outlet (lol). Dropped in and stood out like a sore thumb (being a woman).  They were so polite.

Hardcore meditators learning to have fun class.  This is new, and I cannot wait to explore these esoteric concepts in meditation with those who are curious.  Over three weeks, 1 hour a week, we learn about each, practice meditation incorporating at least two different styles of their use.  My favourite is mantras, but that is my Buddhist background asserting itself.

Who is interested in these workshops?

Anyone who wants to learn to meditate, maybe struggled with maintaining a regular practice.  Someone who has been following some techniques, and not certain why they are working, or no longer working.

The Science of Meditation

My knowledge on meditation has to be continually updated, so much has changed since I started 25 years ago, and also so much of it has changed my life. When I first started meditation, most people thought I was attempting to either ‘zone out’ or ‘get high’ naturally (this was the naughty nineties). I didn’t wear the compulsory fishermans pants either, preferring to stay in my Olivia Newton-John tights with silver leg warmers.

There was not much science around then, but as a regular practitioner, I could see what it was doing to help me balance myself, become a little less attached to certain feelings.

So here is the latest research on meditation, for the doubter in all of us.

  • Improves critical thinking – Frontiers in Neural Science published research in 2012 on how meditation improves the cortical folding of the brain (this is the stuff of our cognitive processes we have to use everyday for work, family, oh, just about everything in this rational world).   Loads of other studies also showing that is good for helping us to reduce our cognitive bias (the way in which we decide which news is ‘real’ and which news is ‘fake’).  Goodness knows, we need loads more of this in the world at the moment.
  • We become less fearful, and more centred – in May 2013, Psychology Today published research by Dr. Rebecca Gladding, which demonstrated that, over time, the connection between our fear and ‘me’ centres (read major neural pathways, part of the autonomic nervous system, too!) withers away with regular meditation. I like that idea a lot.
  • Ever had the pounding heart and sweaty palms, your stomach dropping – I get it every time I start a meditation workshop!  Reduced stress and anxiety – Meditation is incredibly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. One study found that mindfulness and zen type meditations significantly reduce stress when practiced over a period of three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying.
  • Would you love to add razor-edge focus to your life? Research shows meditation increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus. One study tested a variety of different meditation types, including Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation and Hindu Meditation, and found that they all improve focus by varying degrees.

“I used to think coffee was the best way to get focused – now I meditate.” Lee Carsley, WanderingYogi

Most people come to meditation as an emergency repair device.  Something has gone drastically wrong, a bad temper, a rotten relationship, drug or alcohol abuse.  Most people stay here, and if practiced regularly enough it will help us over these humps.

But over time, and based on my teeny research, the effect begins to fade, it is like meditation divorces you and leaving you wondering what you saw in it in the first place.  Because you couldn’t commit to regular date nights, that’s why.

In meditation, it is not long before you realise on a spiritual path – even if you started simply wanting to get a better night’s sleep. Meditation demands are – are you taking care of your mind, spirit and body? This relationship with ourselves is the longest and potentially the most enjoyable peaceful of them all.

For those who fall by the wayside, the excuses we give to ourselves and others … I don’t have the time (we spend up to 3 hours a day on social media), I don’t have the ‘right’ space (monks sit under trees or in caves, these are not the ‘best’ places to meditate despite the romantic image), family commitments (we all have them, and yet we still continue to achieve our goals and ambitions), simply point to how hard it is to commit to something so deeply personal and life-changing.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist teacher.

The Elements of a Successful Meditation Practice

“There are the five elements for a successful meditation practice, which are not related to physiology at all.  They are faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and insight.” Lee Carsley

Meditation requires repetition, constant attention to the experience, learning from it, feeding this back into your next practice.

thoughts

Feel like this sometimes? Meditation can help…

The fact that meditation works beyond the body, into the mind and soul, is probably the reason why so many people fail, and why so many people also rave about it.

Are you a good candidate for meditation?

The most successful learner meditators I have taught tend to be committed to the process, regardless of what is happening when they first start meditation. Very outcomes-focussed, determined, often high performance people in something else.  Which is often why they are learning meditation.  They know, in their hearts, it will not only balance them, but improve their clarity and performance.

 If you want to know more about the five elements of successful meditation, check out this video from the Zen Buddhist community, known as Plum Village. A dharma talk from Brother Huu, a monk since 14 years of age, and Thich Nhat Hanh personal’s assistant for a decade or more. Click video here

Red Tibetan Buddhists dressed in Dharamsala, India

These guys are smiling for a very good reason…. they live a deeply spiritual life, and they meditate every day!!!  Laotian Monks Big Day Out.

And the following comments from another blogger on what has happened as a result of his meditation practice says it all for me.

“If you’ve ever read the book Bridge to Terabithia (or seen the movie), then you are familiar with Terabithia – an imaginary world that the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, create as a safe haven. It is somewhere they can go to be free from the cares and worries of the world.

Meditation has given me a Terabithia. I have created a clearing of calm and tranquility that I can enter into within seconds whenever I feel the need. I have a refuge no matter where I am or what I am doing. The worries of the world no longer threaten me.

Except this mental place isn’t imaginary, and it isn’t populated with trolls and wild creatures – it is as real as the world we live in.

Since starting my meditation habit, my brain has literally been rewired for happiness, peace and success. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • I rarely become angry.
  • I find happiness in unexpected places.
  • I form deeper relationships and build friendships more easily.”

Who wouldn’t want this?