It’s hard to believe that in 2005, I could barely walk, and now I can ski down black diamonds and trek in the Himalayas. It’s hard to believe that I once thought meditation was a bunch of Southern California woo-woo hippie talk, and now I research its effectiveness. It’s hard to believe that less than a decade ago, I thought meditation was a waste of time, and now all I want to do is share the practice with others—especially with those who question its worth.
How did that transformation occur?
The Story Leading Up to the Miracle
Nine years ago, I was an Assistant Vice President at Texas A&M University; I had no interest in associating with anything that slowed me down. So, when my dear friend and colleague, Jan, invited me to yoga and meditation classes, I looked at her as if she had three heads. While I admired Jan’s grace and elegance under fire, I didn’t want to have anything to do with anything that sounded so “unproductive.” My workout regimen was aggressive and included daily running and weight lifting—that was how I dealt with stress. So I kept coming up with excuses to leave the yoga class before it barely started … and to avoid any meditation class at all. Soon, however, my excuses would come to an end; my opportunity for awakening was upon me.
In 2005, I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder, the prior four months leading up to that diagnosis, the use of my legs had been claimed, and the strange numbing sensation was moving into my core cavity. My daily workout routine was no longer possible, and the doctors could do nothing but offer me medication to manage my pain and growing anxiety. They weren’t sure how far the numbing sensation would progress or how to reverse its progress, but they kept telling me to be grateful that the disorder wouldn’t kill me and that I could learn to live with whatever would become of my once very athletic and active body. I was too weak and in too much pain to even react.
The Onset of a Miracle
My dear friend, Jan, came to my side. Realising that I could no longer manage my stress and uncertainty with running and working out, I could also no longer run away from the yoga classes she had previously invited me to attend. I finally listened to her invitation to be still. Jan graciously and gracefully sat beside me and taught me how to focus on my breath. With the increasing challenge of breathing, I now found this very still practice incredibly fascinating.
I also found the practice of focusing on my breath to be productive. Within weeks, the disease stopped progressing, allowing gifted physical therapists and Eastern trained nutritionists to do their work. Less than two years after Jan taught me how to focus on my breath, I walked into my first yoga class and this time, I stayed until the end.
Four years of yoga practice fuelled my yearning to discover more. At this point I was a tenured, full Professor at San Diego State University, and I was convinced there was much more to this “stillness stuff,” and I wanted to find out what it was. This marked the beginning of my studies at the Chopra Center.
Spreading Miracles and Inspiration
After experiencing this miracle, reversing my fate, and recovering from the disorder, I received a calling to inspire and teach others to overcome their barriers.
In 2012 I had the joy and honour of becoming certified in Primordial Sound Meditation. I use this training, along with my experience as a certified yoga instructor, a Search Inside Yourself teacher-in-training, and a Professor at San Diego State University to bring this knowledge to others. I get to experience all of these worlds coming together in practice … and they do so in beautiful perfection.
The Research to Back Up the Miracle
The practice of all of this has culminated in a fascinating research project where I get to teach undergraduate and graduate students focused breathing (meditation), focused movement (asana/yoga), and other mindfulness and inquiry practices in 16-week programs. The results of the research have been compelling. Here’s what we’ve found:
- Significant decreases (with large effect sizes) in students’ stress and anxiety
- Significant increases in students’ ability to pay attention, observe, describe, act with awareness, regulate their emotions, and practice non-judgment, non-reactivity, and compassion
- Significant increase in students’ confidence in their reasoning
- Significant increase in overall students’ well-being and conscious choice-making
- See www.integrativeinquiry.org for more details and statistics
It’s been quite a journey from a sceptic to a believer; and not just a believer but one who is gathering the data about how transformative the practice of meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, and compassionate choice-making can be for everyone. Working with an amazing team of neuroscientists, psychologists, monks, yogis, students, and sceptics, we are discovering just how interconnected the body is with the mind.
Now, I happily stand corrected: I no longer believe that the practice of meditation is just for southern California hippies, nor is it just for those looking for a miracle. The practice is for anyone who wants to observe their mind—whatever that may mean to you—and invite in a compassionate, gracious, non-judgemental perspective of your mind. When we learn to become aware of what the mind observes, we can then invite in more conscious choices.