There seems to be a lot of buzz these days about meditation, yoga – mindfulness, etc., etc. This is good news. It’s a feeling I have, that’s being backed up by what I’m reading and hearing, that healing and our overall wellness is a hugely inside job, and the tools that help us manage, decrease, and obviate, our stress levels are THE tools to be looking at, helping our clients and students understand, and using ourselves.
In this post I’m going to begin the conversation about using yoga and meditation as wellness tools. I’m starting with Kirtan Kriya because there is quite a body of research materials about this Kriya and its positive effects on the human body/mind.
Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa wrote his book Meditation as Medicine in 2001. That’s long enough ago that many people have had the opportunity to prove Dr. Dharma’s point – that medical meditation can heal not only the body, but also the mind and the soul. The foundation of Dr. Dharma’s premise is kundalini yoga and its combined practices of asanas (postures), pranayam (breath work), meditations, and mantras.
What is Medical Meditation?
From Meditation as Medicine, pp9-11: Medical Meditation is not the simple, word-based meditation used to elicit the relaxation response. That type of therapy can be very helpful, and is widely practiced. But it is, in effect, the kindergarten version of Medical Meditation.
Medical Meditation uses advanced meditations, which consist of these unique attributes:
- specific breathing patterns;
- special postures and movements, including exact positioning of the hands and fingers;
- particular mantras, consisting of distinct, vibratory sounds; and
- a unique mental focus.
These various attributes fully involve the mind, body, and spirit of the meditator. The combination of all of the attributes exerts a synergistic effect, and endows Medical Meditation with far more power than standard meditation, which often involves simply relaxing.
Dr. Dharma has been President and Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, since 1993. In 2003, he testified before Congress about his pioneering work in the area of lifestyle influence on Alzheimer’s disease, and called on Congress to fund a national education and outreach campaign designed to inform the public of the benefits of an integrative medical approach to Alzheimer’s. After his testimony, Dr. Khalsa received the support of U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D. (See Wikipedia)
Kirtan Kriya as Medical Meditation
From Alzheimer’s Research Foundation website:
Kirtan Kriya (which is pronounced KEER-tun KREE-a) is a type of meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition, which has been practiced for thousands of years. This meditation is sometimes called a singing exercise, as it involves singing the sounds, Saa Taa Naa Maa along with repetitive finger movements, or mudras. This non-religious practice can be adapted to several lengths, but practicing it for just 12 minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase activity in areas of the brain that are central to memory.
What do the words Kirtan Kriya mean?
In Sanskrit, a kirtan is a song, and kriya refers to a specific set of movements. In the Eastern tradition, kriyas are used to help bring the body, mind and emotions into balance to enable healing.
What do the sounds Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa mean?
The mantra that is repeated while practicing Kirtan Kriya is designed to be uplifting. The sounds come from the mantra ‘Sat Nam’, which means “my true essence’.
Is it essential to use these sounds during the meditation or can other sounds be used as a substitute?
From an Eastern perspective, it is believed that the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while making these sounds stimulates 84 acupuncture points on the upper palate. This causes a beneficial bio-chemical transformation in the brain. In addition, Western research has revealed that utilizing the fingertip position in conjunction with the sounds enhances blood flow to particular areas in the motor-sensory part of the brain.
Clinical research has shown that practicing Kirtan Kriya for just 12 minutes a day can improve cognition and activate parts of the brain that are central to memory. Replacing the Kirtan Kriya sounds with other sounds, or replacing the meditation as a whole with other relaxing tasks, has not been shown to be effective.
What Can Kirtan Kriya Do For Me?
According to Dr. Dharma’s research, here are some of the changes that can happen as a result of the practice of Kirtan Kriya practice:
- Reduce stress
- Reverse memory loss
- Maximize well-being
- Decrease depression
- Increase energy
- Improve mood and sleep
- Lengthen telomeres, the end of chromosomes that control aging
- Reduce inflammation
- Turn on the good genes, turn off the bad genes
- Create a healthy anti-aging effect on the brain
And Yogi Bhajan says of Kirtan Kriya:
Practicing this meditation is both a science and an art. It is an art in the way it molds consciousness and in the refinement of sensation and insight it produces. It is a science in the tested certainty of the results each technique produces. Meditations have coded actions to their reactions in the psyche. … Through this constant practice, the mind awakens to the infinite capacity of the soul for sacrifice, service, and creation.
Kirtan Kriya (PDF / Kundalini Research Institute)
In Conclusion …
Meditation as medicine is a different way of thinking about healing, and presents a different concept of healing altogether. Can our minds heal our bodies? The answer is ‘YES’ the mind certainly can, and has been proven in varied circumstances, to be both sole, and adjunct partner in the healing process. Meditation is another very powerful tool in our personal wellness toolbox. We just need to learn about, become comfortable with, and make the tool our own.
– Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation Research page
– Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation White Paper on Yoga and Medical Meditation as Alzheimer’s Prevention Medicine
– Profile of Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD – (Life Extension Foundation)
– An Easy Meditation Practice to Reverse Memory Loss (Huffington Post)
– Kirtan Kriya (links to several articles; Huffington Post)