Chapter One: Introducing Medical Meditation
Just before dawn, in the intense quiet outside my desert home, slight sun and deep shadow swirl together, coloring the eastern sky a streaked gray, with a slash of brightness at the horizon, promising light. This is not the darkest, but the lightest hour of the night.
As the most distant stars begin to blink off, warmth fights the nighttime chill, and the mix of hot and cold twirls in a breeze that touches my face. As the stillness of night gives way, cardinals and finches begin to tentatively test the quiet. In the hills and canyons behind my house, their songs herald the sun. It reminds me of a proverb: "Faith is the bird that feels the light, and sings while the dawn is still dark."
I discovered that if I listened carefully to the birds that lived around my house, and whistled their own cries -- not just generic birdcalls, but each bird's own signature song -- they would often answer. A cardinal calls; I do my best to mimic his cry, and I am rewarded with a reply: "Whit-chewww! Whit-whit-whit-whit!" As we trade sounds, I focus on the exquisite beauty of the desert that surrounds my rural Tucson, Arizona, home. I see that the rugged perfection of the desert, with its infinite capacity for survival, reflects the most fundamental secrets of healing: balance, regeneration, and the ability to change.
I feel certain that if I can help my patients find these powers in themselves, I can help them heal. And on this day I will need these powers badly, because a patient is coming to me who has lost faith that a new day will always dawn for her. She has a terrible medical problem, and fears, quite realistically, that she will be paralyzed for the rest of her life.
Sadly, the grip that paralysis holds on her has practically stopped her life, even while she still draws breath. She is still struggling through the motions of life, but she doesn't have much heart or hope left. She is clinging desperately to her old habits and perceptions, as if change itself were death.
I look to the horizon, now pink with blue, close my eyes, and ask God to give me the power to speak to this frightened person in her own language, so that I can reach her center and reignite the spark that has been snuffed. In my mind I can see the sun, brilliant and pulsing, still on the other side of the world.
A force begins to flow into me as I begin my first mantra of the day: "Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo" ("I bow before my highest self"). It's always my first mantra. On this day, I mean this mantra with all my heart, because I know that only my highest self -- the part of me that can feel the universal spirit -- can help heal my patient's tortured soul and broken body.
As time falls away, I chant, "Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo." I can speak the words in English, "I bow before my highest consciousness," but it would not have the same physical effect. The ancient Sanskrit words that I chant every morning have a very specific physiological action. The reverberative sounds in them vibrate the pituitary, just above the roof of my mouth, which changes the secretions of this master gland of the endocrine system.
Obviously, the ancient yoga masters who devised this mantra had no anatomic knowledge of the pituitary, but they did know that the Ong Namo mantra worked. Quite simply, it made people feel more like themselves -- their true selves, their highest selves. It doesn't concern me that the ancient masters didn't know about the pituitary, because even today doctors don't know why some of their treatments work -- they still don't know why aspirin stops pain, they just know that it does.
The ancient yoga masters taught that this mantra and others should be chanted before dawn. They did not know that the hours just before sunrise are critical to the body's balance of hormones and neurotransmitters, which the pituitary influences. Modern neuroscientists know now that these are the hours during which the endocrine and neurotransmitter balance shifts from relative domination by sleep-inducing melatonin to relative domination by serotonin, norepinephrine, and cortisol. If this shift does not occur smoothly, it can have very distressing, and even disastrous, effects. It can diminish the production of stimulating neurochemicals, and leave people groggy and depressed all day. Or it can have the opposite effect, and cause overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause agitation, immune dysfunction, memory loss, and premature aging. The ancient yoga masters knew nothing of the endocrine system, but they did know that there was something magical and empowering in the predawn hours, which they called the ambrosial hours.
As the sun slowly begins to bathe my face in radiance, my sense of personal power, serenity, and intuition continue to expand. I keep meditating, and doing exercises of kundalini yoga. These exercises heighten the presence of life energy, or vitality, which the ancient masters called kundalini. The exercises are the physical element of meditation, and are every bit as important as the mental element, since mind and body are inseparable.
I finish by chanting the Mantra of Ecstasy, "Wahe Guru" ("Out of darkness, into light"). Suddenly a hot knot of fear hits my stomach, hard as a fist. How could I possibly help heal this young woman? She has a spinal injury that is, by all conventional medical reckoning, beyond help. She clearly wants me to work a miracle, but no honest doctor can ever presume that capability.
I vowed over the phone to do whatever I could to help her. But ever since she called, I've been uneasy. Afraid to be totally honest. I was afraid I would let her down, and add to her emptiness. But I pushed down the fear and rationalized it. I went back to my work. On a conscious level, the fear went away.
During my meditation, though, my fear has resurfaced. Maybe my meditative mental state, which is analogous to a hypnotic state, has allowed the fear to break out. Or maybe the yoga I was doing released emotions that I stored in neuropeptides in my abdominal area. I know it may sound like sci-fi to say that emotions can literally be stored in the gut, but the latest neurological research, by Dr. Candace Pert and others, indicates that this astounding mind-body function is quite real. Many of your gut feelings are literally the results of the neurochemicals that abound in your upper intestine.
As quickly as my fear hit, it evaporated. I felt much better, as I always do when meditation lets me release fear or anger. Some people think that meditation is nothing but sitting around feeling blissful, like a latter-day Buddha with a big enlightened smile. But it's not like that. Meditation means opening yourself to the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts.
After I faced my fear, I found myself focusing on my patient in a much clearer, sharper way. Meditation is excellent at removing the obscuring screens of your own personal concerns, and letting you see things the way they really are.
What I see now is a young woman who is suffering more than most people can bear, and who would be grateful for any help she could get. If I can just give to her -- give anything -- and stop worrying about how much I can give, perhaps I can help her heal.
I open my eyes and feel a rush of compassion for my patient, warm as a wave in the Caribbean. The compassion does not feel like sadness. It feels like joy.
I stand up, and hear the beauty of birds in full concert. The desert, yellow now and vibrating with sun, is alive with the new energy of heat. My day has begun. I am ready. I have gone out of the darkness, into the light.The Ancient Science and the New Application
When my teacher, Yogi Bhajan, the only master of white tantric yoga in the world, was a boy in India, his yoga master told him to climb into a tree. At that time, it was his teacher who was the only living master, or Mahan Tantric, of white tantric yoga, which is the ultimate yoga to purify and uplift one's being. Therefore Yogi Bhajan, who was then known merely as Harbhajan Singh, dutifully climbed the tree. His master left -- and remained gone for three days and three nights. When the master finally returned, his dedicated student was still in the tree. The master asked the student what he had learned. The boy replied that he had learned how to collect water from the rain showers, and which branches the monkeys liked to sleep on. His master nodded, and spoke no more of the experience. But the master continued to teach the boy the secrets of advanced meditation, which had been taught to him -- in utmost secrecy -- by the yoga masters of the prior era.
For this continued teaching, Yogi Bhajan was profoundly grateful. He felt he was paying a small price for this important knowledge, which had been personally passed from master to student for centuries, and zealously guarded.
The secrets of advanced meditation were shrouded in secrecy because of respect for, and even fear of, their innate power. Just as governments guard state secrets of power, the ancient yoga masters guarded these secrets of spiritual power. They believed that power has the capacity to corrupt, and that it would be disastrous for the wrong person to learn these secrets.
Therefore, these advanced meditations were hidden from the common man, and made available only to disciples proven to have pure hearts. Proving one's purity, of course, required great discipline. For example, as young Yogi Bhajan, or Harbhajan Singh, rose in worldly status -- as a prominent athlete, government official, and military officer -- he was continually tested by those who guarded the secrets of advanced meditation. Once, when Harbhajan Singh was a high-ranking military officer -- and already a renowned yogi -- he sought to learn a particular set of meditations, or kriya,
from an erudite teacher. He called on the teacher for months, but was never given an audience. Finally, the teacher sent a message that Harbhajan Singh should personally make him a carrot pudding, and deliver it to him, five miles on foot, barefoot, every day for one week. Each day the respected officer left his car and driver five miles from the teacher, took off his boots, and walked the dusty, hot path in his starched uniform, carrying the pudding. At last, he was granted the knowledge.
After many more years of practice and service, Yogi Bhajan was recognized as the Mahan Tantric, the world's leading authority on yoga and meditation. As such, he became the most recent member of the golden chain -- the lineage of yoga masters, just one every generation, who have carried forward the practice of advanced meditation.
Then, in 1969, Yogi Bhajan undertook a revolutionary act. Having moved to America, he broke with tradition and began to teach the secrets of Medical Meditation to anyone who had a sincere interest. He offered a simple explanation for breaking the code of silence: "We are in the desert, and I have some water."
Since that time, partly as a result of Yogi Bhajan's efforts, the American interest in meditation has grown geometrically. Currently, over 50 million Americans, or 19 percent of the population, engage in meditation.
Until very recently, most of the interest in meditation has been focused on the most basic, fundamental forms of meditation: Transcendental Meditation, popularized by the Beatles, and the relaxation response, popularized by Harvard's Dr. Herbert Benson. Dr. Benson, who directed a postgraduate course I took at Harvard Medical School, was chiefly concerned with isolating the most obvious healing aspect of meditation, and therefore focused his research almost solely upon simple, worry-free relaxation. In so doing, he made meditation palatable to the medical community. Due to Dr. Benson's work over the past twenty-five or thirty years, a large body of studies has indicated clearly that basic meditation, including the relaxation response, is an extremely viable treatment approach. Hundreds of studies have been performed, and they indicate the following:
- Meditation creates a unique hypometabolic state, in which the metabolism is in an even deeper state of rest than during sleep. During sleep, oxygen consumption drops by 8 percent, but during meditation, it drops by 10 to 20 percent.
- Meditation is the only activity that reduces blood lactate, a marker of stress and anxiety.
- The calming hormones melatonin and serotonin are increased by meditation, and the stress hormone cortisol is decreased.
- Meditation has a profound effect upon three key indicators of aging: hearing ability, blood pressure, and vision of close objects.
- Long-term meditators experience 80 percent less heart disease and 50 percent less cancer than nonmeditators.
- Meditators secrete more of the youth-related hormone DHEA as they age than nonmeditators. Meditating forty-five-year-old males have an average of 23 percent more DHEA than nonmeditators, and meditating females have an average of 47 percent more. This helps decrease stress, heighten memory, preserve sexual function, and control weight.
- 75 percent of insomniacs were able to sleep normally when they meditated.
- 34 percent of people with chronic pain significantly reduced medication when they began meditating.
As the body of research on meditation has grown, it's become evident that meditation confers not just strong psychological benefits but also profoundly important physiological benefits. I will go into greater detail on these studies and others in chapter 3.
Another phenomenon that has emerged is that not all meditation is equally effective. For example, most doctors consider techniques such as visualization, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and affirmations to be forms of meditation, but these techniques lack the medical efficacy of the relaxation response. Similarly, the relaxation response has been shown by studies to be less effective than Transcendental Meditation. A meta-analysis of several hundred studies indicates that Transcendental Meditation exceeds the relaxation response in reducing psychophysical arousal due to stress, decreasing anxiety, increasing mental health, and decreasing drug use. Other studies show that Transcendental Meditation is more effective than the relaxation response at reducing hypertension, reducing mortality in the elderly, and decreasing outpatient visits and medical expenditures.
parSimilarly, a smaller number of studies indicate that advanced meditation, including Medical Meditation, is more successful than any other form of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation. Some of these studies, though, are ongoing, and have not yet been published. The strongest argument for the superiority of advanced meditation comes from empirical evidence, gleaned from individual clinical practices, such as my own. In my own practice, advanced meditation has clearly outperformed any other form of meditation. When it is used, results are generally more striking, and more immediate.
Due to the progressive nature of my practice, I tend to attract patients who have already participated in other forms of meditation, and these patients are uniformly impressed with the unparalleled quality of Medical Meditation. Quite simply, it succeeds where other forms of meditation fail. Because of this inherent success, there has recently been a grassroots, word-of-mouth movement among the public toward advanced meditation. This approach is much more popular than it was even ten years ago, as is evidenced by increasing enrollment in classes that involve kundalini yoga where Medical Meditation is taught. Also, more books and articles on the subject are in print than ever before, although almost all of them until now have been printed by small specialty publishing houses.
Medical Meditation surpasses the more mundane forms of meditation, I believe, because it more fully addresses every element of our physical and ethereal makeup. It is, to put it plainly, a more full-service approach. It nurtures every aspect of our being.Medical Meditation
So what exactly is Medical Meditation? It is one of the newest and most cutting-edge advances in the field of integrative medicine. Medical Meditation is the use of advanced meditative techniques in a modern clinical setting. During approximately twenty-five years of medical practice -- in which I have specialized in the areas of anesthesiology, pain management, brain regeneration, and integrative medicine -- I have adapted and refined the use of kundalini yoga, combined with meditation, as a modality that I refer to as Medical Meditation.
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.
Because there are so many variables in each Medical Meditation, there are dozens of different Medical Meditations, for a wide variety of medical conditions and illnesses. I have adapted each of these Medical Meditations from ancient advanced meditations that were employed for healing long before the advent of modern medicine. I combine Medical Meditation with the best modern medical techniques.
Each Medical Meditation has a specific physiological effect. There are specific Medical Meditations for arthritis, for heart disease, for AIDS, for cancer, for migraines, for asthma -- and for nervous system regeneration. All of these I will share with you.
The clinical precision of Medical Meditation is extraordinary, and is simply not present in standard meditation. Make no mistake: standard meditation is extremely valuable in medical treatment. It has helped effect many recoveries from serious illnesses, when used as an adjunctive therapy, and sometimes even as a stand-alone therapy. Furthermore, standard meditation has a long history of clinical research, and has been studied by modern clinicians far more than Medical Meditation. Nonetheless, in my clinical practice, I have employed both standard meditation and Medical Meditation, and have found Medical Meditation to be considerably more powerful, and more predictable.
The greatest advantage of Medical Meditation is its specificity. Because Medical Meditation channels healing energy so precisely, each meditation has a sharp focus. Each is a veritable knifepoint of healing power. Each Medical Meditation solves a distinct, specific problem by bringing energy to targeted organs, glands, and systems, and also to the specific areas of the ethereal body, known as the chakras.
Some researchers believe that the ethereal body can bring healing power to the physical body, and that the physical body can bring healing power to the ethereal body. But even this view, I feel, imposes an artificial distinction. I see no barriers, nor any contradictions, between the physical and ethereal. We are all one, in body, mind, and spirit. We are all physical beings, and we are all ethereal beings. Medical Meditation treats us as such.
Copyright © 2001 by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.