Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beyond the Relaxation Response (Part 2)

The particular genius of Dr. Benson (see Part One of this post for background) lies as much in his packaging and marketing approach as it does in the actual process. The first two steps in his method, The Relaxation Response, discussed in Part One are common to most serious Western meditation methods imported from the East.
However, many teachers, including Dr. Benson, appear to gloss over or avoid one of the most challenging issues of all meditation methods and that is how to control wayward thought processes, the issue Dr. Benson identifies in his second step as "passively disregarding interfering thoughts."

Sitting next to one another we are connected, yet separated
Down time Is Self-Remembering Time

As opposed to the techniques in his method that he deems active, or "physical transformation processes," this process is defined by many, including Dr. Benson, as a passive process. He says so in the wording of his second step: "Passively disregarding interfering thoughts." Contrary to Dr. Benson, I believe the practitioner must take an active approach in quieting mental activity during meditation.

This uncontrolled mental activity has many names; one of the most colorful is Taoist expression: "the ten-thousand things." There are others like, the inner dialogue, monkey mind — all the crazy secret thoughts and schemes, the dialogs with ourselves interferes not only with meditation, they also 
stifle our endeavors to realize our full potential.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to control the mind directly, almost impossible to tell the mind to just "shut up" or try what Dr. Benson calls "passive disregarding." We need a kind of subterfuge or "handle" to stop the mind from running wild. Each teacher has his own approach. Yet frequently, the discussion over the best approach devolves into acrimony. I recommend two approaches to "handling" the 10,000 things. It’s an attempt to "sidestep" the mind completely by giving it something banal to do.

And that is letting the little voice in your head — what psychologists call “inner speech” — count your breaths to yourself as you breathe. So, in a series of four beats, you would count: On inhale, one-two-three-four; On hold, one-two-three-four; On exhale, one-two-three-four; On hold, one-two-three-four. Start over. Inhale-four, hold-four, exhale-four, hold-four. Start over. This counting activity occupies the mind just enough to forestall the 10,000 things. Some practitioners have even found that the counting drops away of its own accord after a while as diaphragmatic deep breathing becomes second nature.

A second approach to counting entails walking, that is, timing the breath cycle over a given number of strides, always breathing through the nose, of course. So you would time one breath cycle over a series of steps, for example, inhale one breath over four steps, hold that breath over four steps, exhale that breath over four steps, hold over four steps. Start over. In this way, the activity of walking and counting occupies the mind even more than inner speech alone does; it compounds its efficacy, especially if the practitioner lets himself become mindful of the oneness of nature and his being, the sights and sounds of nature come alive in him, thereby subduing the diversions of material life.

Now for the third transformational step and the physical changes it produces. Adding this next step takes the meditation process "Beyond the Relaxation Response." And it involves implementing “the backward-flowing method.”

My familiarity with the “the backward-flowing method” stems from extensive first-hand experience with Taoist meditation, detailed in my book Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a Time. Written in narrative form, the book describes how I was given a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower by a stranger in Paris during the early 1970s.

I was a bad actor at the time, so I put this book away for over a year. Then one day, as my life began to spin further out of control, I picked up the book and began reading it. Soon after, I started to meditate. At first, I didn't understand the text. Slowly, however, I began to "figure out" what to do.

I became so involved in the meditation that I left Paris to live in a small village in the south of France. The experience was one day, one page at a time; I didn't know what to expect, had no idea there would be a dramatic outcome. I had never heard the word, Kundalini. This was 1972. And Gopi Krishna's book wasn't available yet, not in my tiny French village, that is.

Main Street St. Jean, l'Herault, france
St. Jean, The House Where I practiced GFM in 1972

Page by page I worked my way through The Secret of the Golden Flower until one day, while meditating, I noticed something different in my breathing. In Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a Time, I describe the moment thusly:

“Observing my breath as I sit one morning, I am aware that it has the property of direction. At each inhalation the hitherto imperceptible wind in my belly appears to eddy slightly at the bottom of my abdomen as it descends before taking an upward circular course. Or so it appears to me. Down the back, then up the front, in a circular motion.
"Something clicks. I remember the words ‘backward-flowing method’ in The Secret of the Golden Flower. Words I'd passed over a hundred times, never having a clue as to what they meant, never imagining they might be important. I break off to look for the passage. In two quick flips, I‘ve located the text, ‘At this time one works at the energy with the purpose of making it flow backward and rise, flow down to fall like the upward spinning of the sun-wheel…in this way one succeeds in bringing the true energy to its original place. This is the backward-flowing method.’”
Yes, diaphragmatic breathing is the key to stabilizing heart rate, but the key to causing the energy to flow upward to the brain is the ‘backward-flowing method.’ Again it works like pump-priming, that is, reversing the direction of the breath begins the process of drawing distilled seminal fluid (cervical fluid in the case of a woman) up the spinal column. This passage from my book describes what happened after I reversed my breath:
“I visualize a plumb-line and close my eyes half-way. I command the breath to change direction and it obeys. I am elated at receiving confirmation from the book. What I don’t yet realize is that this is the last time I will direct the meditation process. From now on I am on automatic pilot. I remember the words of Ram Dass: At first, you do it; later, it does you. Action to attain non-action.
For a week I observe my breath circulate in the opposite direction without noticing any effect. I go back to my uninspired routine: walking, cooking, meditating. Then, two weeks later, about the length of time it takes the backward-flowing process to become permanent, there’s something new. On the day in question, I feel a sensation at the base of my spine like the cracking of a small egg and the spilling out of its contents. For the next month, I observe the fluid-like contents of the egg trickle out of its reservoir and slowly begin to climb my spine. What is this fluid? I can’t describe it exactly. It seems to emanate from the base of the spine and press upward. Each time I sit to meditate it has risen a half an inch higher.”
I believe — and I discuss it in detail in my book — that The Secret of the Golden Flower contains the safest, most reliable method of taking one's meditation practice beyond the Relaxation Response, so much so that I have modernized it into a method for contemporary practitioners. I call it Golden Flower Meditation or GFM. Of course, there are many methods; it's impossible to know them all; some, it seems, are very close to GFM.

Now the ‘backward-flowing method’ may be the key to arousing kundalini. But it’s a big step to consider because there’s no turning back. I got confirmation of this fact first hand, for shortly after I willed my breath to change directions, the Kundalini activation process began. Yes, there were glitches, but overall using The Secret of the Golden Flower to activate my Kundalini has been a restorative process — physically, mentally, psychically, spiritually. And I believe it can be so for others.

When I met with him in Kashmir during the summer of 1977, Gopi Krishna termed my experience, “One of the most far-reaching, permanent Kundalini awakenings I’ve encountered. Rare, very rare, indeed.”

The Backward-Flowing Method, The Secret of the Golden Flower (Routledge & Kegan Paul)

I ascribe the positive results I achieved in activating the restorative powers of Kundalini to the secret “backward-flowing” technique in The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Adding this one extra step to the two-step Relaxation Response process wakes up the hidden powers of Kundalini and primes the body for restoration, renewal, and an explosion induced by a flood of psychic fuel into the nervous system. So I prescribe a three-step transformational process:

  1. The development of systematic diaphragmatic breathing.
  2. The use of diaphragmatic breathing to control heart rate.
  3. The moment you detect the property of movement, change the direction of your breath — the backward-flowing method.
The transformations that results from employing the “backward-flowing method,” the secret techniques in ancient Taoist texts that I ultimately deciphered, were used by the ancients for reliable Kundalini arousal. In a future post, we’ll examine GFM from a scientific perspective and learn how it produces standardized results.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Beyond the Relaxation Response (Part 1)

Until recently, meditation was considered a “spiritual” activity, a perception that caused many people to turn away from or avoid it altogether. In the 1970s, however, research led to the development of the Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson’s technique for promoting stress reduction and worker productivity. By borrowing techniques from Transcendental Meditation and other Eastern meditation methods and re-purposing them, Dr. Benson discovered a creative way of popularizing meditation.

My own research has uncovered benefits that go way beyond the Relaxation Response, and point to meditation as much more than a spiritual activity: it's physical exercise, albeit, a less-is-more form of aerobics, which, by the way, if practiced scrupulously, leads to metaphysical encounters and higher consciousness.

By adding one simple step to the Relaxation Response, or any other serious meditation method, I have designed a system with tangible therapeutic and restorative health benefits. I call it, Golden Flower Meditation or (GFM), not for religious or spiritual affiliation reasons, but out of deference to the ancient Chinese who developed and practiced the method.

The key to GFM is “the backward-flowing method.” Adding this one step to a meditation practice like the Relaxation Response opens the door to a safe, permanent Kundalini awakening, after which, self-healing, higher consciousness, stable life style, and emotional control are probable by-products.

After researching energy cultivation techniques for many years — and getting nowhere — I obtained a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, an ancient Taoist text from a stranger. Eventually, I spent two years mastering the intricacies of the method, especially the arcane “backward-flowing method.” Ultimately, success unleashed a powerful transformational force that rooted out all traces of illness and malformation in my body.

Through GFM my nervous system was stimulated such that the natural chemical substances of the body were recombined and used for healing. Is this remarkable meditation technique capable of bestowing similar therapeutic benefits on all those who master it? I believe it is. As long as the method is implemented correctly, many disabilities related to the nervous system are susceptible to treatment by this method. No, degenerative illness like heart disease and stroke cannot be cured by GFM because, just as the term degenerative suggests harm done to the body by poor diet and bad habits cannot be reversed.
If the Relaxation Response establishes a healthy climate for combating stress, consider the extended benefits of GFM. GFM is not only about becoming a healthier person; it's also a useful ingredient in the pursuit of self-actualization. Once the practitioner has mastered GFM, his ability to avoid addiction, to make well-reasoned decisions, to manage health, and to live naturally will improve dramatically. Who is suited for GFM? I believe it particularly interests doctors, trainers, researchers, scientists, nurses, students, laymen in all walks of life — in hospitals, businesses, universities, schools, progressive learning centers, and clinics.

Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a Time is the story of my discovery of the “backward-flowing method.” As for "the secrets," this book is not a laundry-list of techniques; it's an account of one individual's trial-and-error discovery and practice of GFM. Why take this approach? In teaching the GFM method, I've discovered that:
  • People are impatient; they want get to the payoff without putting in the work. The method is a series of dependencies. You must master each step in turn; you cannot skip steps,
  • In the past, even though I offered a meticulously prepared list of steps and how to apply them, many people either got lost, misunderstood, or misapplied the steps in practice,
  • The book allows would-be practitioners to get a sense of what's involved, not only in the practice of the method, but also in what to expect afterwards. I've been living with kundalini for 40 years; that prospect is not something to be taken lightly. 
Although some of Dr. Benson’s acolyte’s have divided the method into many sub-steps, Benson describes the critical steps as being:
  1. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, "ONE", silently to yourself. For example, breathe IN ... OUT, "ONE",- IN ... OUT, "ONE", etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
  2. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "ONE." With practice, the response should come with little effort.
He sums up the two steps as follows:
  1. Focusing the mind on a word, phrase, or sound.
  2. Passively disregarding interfering thoughts.
According to various write-ups, “Herbert Benson, M.D. coined the phrase (Relaxation Response) after studying people who practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM). Benson took the principles of TM and removed them from their Eastern religious context in order to make them more accessible for westerners.

“The Relaxation Response represents a form of meditation which has been practiced for many years. The technique can be found in every major religious tradition. It is a simple technique, but it is not easy to practice or to incorporate into your life. You will find your mind wandering, and you will probably find it difficult to set aside the time to practice. It feels like setting aside 20 minutes a day to sit and do nothing."

“If you incorporate this or any relaxation technique into your life, you may notice at least the following four benefits:"
  • "You will gain increased awareness of whether you are tense or relaxed. You will be more "in touch with your body."
  • "You will be better able to relax when you become stressed-out.
  • "You may even reduce the resting level of your autonomic nervous system - walking around more relaxed all the time.
  • "Your concentration may improve. By repeatedly bringing yourself back to the meditation you are strengthening the part of your mind that decides what to think about.”
That’s a third party take on the Relaxation Response. The big news here is his finding that meditation impacts health in a positive manner. This is no surprise to those already familiar with meditation, but the scope of Benson’s project, its scientific methodology demonstrates the enormous potential of meditation.

What about Benson himself? What does he think? According to him, “The Relaxation Response seemed to cure or help any medical condition or illness to the extent that condition or illness was caused or exacerbated by stress. Because this physiological state was accessible to everyone, I became convinced that the Relaxation Response was the opposite of, and perhaps the antidote for, the stress-induced, fight-or-flight response.

“I found that anyone who employed the two steps could elicit the physical changes of the Relaxation Response.”

More important than his health claims is Benson’s insistence that meditation induces physiological changes, or transformation.

First of all, whether a basic meditation method like the Relaxation Response contains two steps or two hundred, its immediate purpose is to produce the physiological change and transformation observed by Dr. Benson. So instead of judging a method by the number of steps, we need first to understand the physiological changes a basic two-step method hopes to induce and how efficient that method is in inducing them.

The physical changes produced by a basic two-step meditation method are:
  1.  The development of systematic diaphragmatic deep breathing.
  2.  The use of diaphragmatic breathing to control heart rate.
In a little while I will propose a third, and even more powerful transformational step, but first I want to discuss the two steps mentioned above, both of which require physical intervention on the part of the practitioner.

In Step One you encounter the notion of diaphragmatic deep breathing or the training of the diaphragm to regulate and improve your breathing. Unfortunately, since you cannot control or even isolate the muscles of the diaphragm directly, you must find a "handle" that allows you to do so indirectly. That handle is the belly or abdominal muscles.

 If you push the belly out to pull in air on inhalation and pull the belly in to expel air, you are embarking on a regimen of abdominal and diaphragmatic calisthenics. Starting this activity for the first time — whether sitting, walking, or lying down — you may feel a burning sensation. That is the muscles of the abdomen and diaphragm telling you that you're breathing correctly. Using the belly muscles is like pump priming, i.e., using the handle of a pump (the belly) to activate the pump mechanism (the diaphragm). More on the method and the importance of "centering yourself."

Step Two uses the acquired diaphragmatic deep breathing skill as a means of slowing down the heart rate, which has the effect of relaxing the body, hence the achieved goal of the Relaxation Response. Again, since you cannot influence or control the heart rate directly, you must use a subterfuge or "handle" to accomplish it — in this instance, you use your mastery of Step One (diaphragmatic deep breathing capability) to make the breathing more profound and more regular. What do I mean by more regular? Regular means both rhythmic and deep.

Because you’ve acquired the diaphragmatic deep breathing skill, you can now take in more air during each breath cycle. How does this work? Shallow breathing merely fills the lungs. Deep breathing fills the lungs, the diaphragm, the belly, even pockets behind the kidneys. With diaphragmatic deep breathing you not only take in more air, you slow down the inhalation/exhalation cycle to the point where breathing is entirely silent. The Secret of the Golden Flower says, “Only the heart must be conscious of the flowing in and out of the breath; it must not be heard with the ears.” Like the diaphragm, the heart is a muscle you cannot isolate or control directly. Once again you use a “handle” to control the heart (the source of emotion). As The Secret of the Golden Flower says, “The heart cannot be influenced directly. Therefore, the breath-energy is used as a handle."

Stay tuned for Part 2 — The Backward-Flowing Method.