by Megha Nancy Buttenheim
I lived a 24/7 spiritual life in a yoga ashram from 1984 to 1996. Karma Yoga, or selfless service, took us through eight hours of the day. Yoga and meditation practices occurred from 5:00–6:30 am, three meals per day were eaten in meditative silence, and afternoon yoga and meditation practices were followed by evening meditation, discourse, and chanting.
In that era, there was no real scientific data to show that we were on to something remarkable. We used to wonder, “Could yoga and meditation ever become mainstream one day?” Now, if you Google “meditation research,” you will see enormous amounts of literature on the topic.
With the national political climate growing more extreme and divisive, hate crimes adding up, and many people living in fear and unrest, there could not be a better time to jump-start your yoga and meditation practice, coupled with a focus on positive psychology.
If you already have a practice, and/or go to yoga class, great! I recommend a class that offers a spirit of kindness as soon as you walk in the door; a compassionate, knowledgeable teacher; and a practice that includes both breath and meditation, rather than simply barreling through a bunch of intense poses without the true meaning of yoga to back them up. A good ongoing yoga class should include the ancient, core ethical practices of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, as well as metta meditation (more on that below).
I have noticed four themes that a good yoga experience should offer:
A heart that is happier
A mind that is calmer and more serene
A spirit that is refreshed and ready to live in the world with new habits
A body refreshed by time-honored practices of yoga and breath.
As our brave new world roils around us, I increasingly find that the practices of yoga, dance, and meditation, informed by the extraordinary field of positive psychology, are crucial to-dos for sanity and clarity. For me, metta meditation, the ancient Buddhist practice of lovingkindness, is essential when seeking solace and serenity. Metta gives us the opportunity to send lovingkindness to ourselves and to all beings. When I teach, I include metta both at the beginning and end of the practice.
The research on lovingkindness practice is extensive. I use primarily the work and teachings of the greatest living instructors on earth: my teacher Sylvia Boorstein (her book Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake is filled with teachings on metta); Pema Chödrön (her writings on meditation are prolific); and Sharon Salzberg (author of LovingKindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation); as well as Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Thich Nhat Hahn, and the Dalai Lama. There are many other next-generation teachers, some from the positive psychology world: our own Tal Ben-Shahar, Sonja Lyubormirsky, Barbara Fredrickson, and researcher Kristin Neff of the University of Texas, whose work and research on self-compassion shows that those who practice self-love suffer less depression.
Here is Sylvia’s version of the metta meditation offering. With her permission, I rewrote the third line. It’s a limerick, so you can easily memorize it. It bears repeating for a lifetime—or lifetimes, if you believe there are more to come!
May you be protected and safe
May you feel contented and pleased
May your body—mind—spirit be lifted in Grace
May your life unfold smoothly with ease
Speaking of memorization, here is the latest Rainer Maria Rilke poem I memorized in honor of going within and seeing the light from within the darkness. Rilke writes:
You darkness, of whom I am born,
I love you more than the flame that limits
the world to the circle it inhabits,
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
Shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people and nations—just as they are.
It lets me imagine a great presence stirring beside me.
I am in love with the night.
There are so many tools to guide us on our way. The best tool is the one that we practice. The best practice is the one that we love. My wish for you is that you fall deeply in love with your practice.
Megha guides an experience of embodied positive psychology, using Let Your Yoga Dance and moving meditation to delve into the heart of compassion, at the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu, May 1–4.
Megha Nancy Buttenheim, MA, E-RYT, is CEO and founding director of Let Your Yoga Dance® LLC, and author of “Expanding Joy: Let Your Yoga Dance, Embodying Positive Psychology”. A lifelong singer, dancer, and actor, Megha is a longtime teacher-trainer at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, where she has trained thousands of people in yoga, holistic health, and dancing yoga. She is director of movement and meditation for the Wholebeing Institute, and has created interventions to bring the teachings of positive psychology into the body through Let Your Yoga Dance. Megha also leads trainings for those wishing to teach special populations, as well as kids and teens. Megha’s credo: “Everyone is a dancer.” letyouryogadance.com