20110601-health-0101Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Whether searching for meaning in life, hoping to relieve emotional or physical pain or seeking a spiritual path, meditation improves your health and well-being. By Sue Schleifer
Photo by Robin May


The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has pioneered the integration of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and health care. The center was founded in 1995 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., whose books include Wherever You Go, There You Are. Kabat-Zinn also developed mindfulness-based stress reduction, commonly referred to as MBSR.

Kabat-Zinn and many other researchers have been studying the effects of meditation on stress, pain relief, brain plasticity and more. One recent study appeared in the April 6, 2011, Journal of Neuroscience and reported on in WebMD. “This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said researcher Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness is often the term that is used for the secular practice of meditation. Meditation practice is a primary component of Buddhism, though many people who meditate are not Buddhist.
 
Meditation is a practice for waking up to our emotions, thoughts and the world around us. Most commonly people think of the process of meditation as sitting still and focusing one’s attention on breathing. It is also common to encounter meditation in a yoga class, as many instructors start their class with a brief period of meditation.
 
People become interested in meditation for a wide variety of reasons, but often it involves a search for meaning in life, a desire to relieve emotional or physical pain, or out of curiosity about a spiritual path.

In Acadiana, there are several centers that offer opportunities to learn about meditation and to participate in a community of like-minded people.

Dr. Margot Hasha, an instructor in the Sociology Department at UL, was introduced to meditation through attending retreats at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau 20 years ago. Since then she has participated in a meditation retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master, writer, human rights activist and founder of Plum Village, a Buddhist community in exile in France. She also trained in MBSR with Kabat-Zinn. These personal experiences led her to write her doctoral dissertation at LSU on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness for stress reduction.

Hasha started the UL Lafayette Meditation Group in 2009. “I started the group to introduce mindfulness to students and because I enjoy sitting with other people. We usually have about three to 10 people in attendance,” she says.

The group meets on campus in the student union during the academic year. The hour consists of 10 minutes of meditation instruction, two sitting periods of 20 minutes separated by five minutes of walking meditation and a short period of discussion.

Chuck St. Romain became interested in meditation after a near death experience as the result of a hunting accident. He was shot in the head. In a matter of seconds, “I went from feeling terrified, to deep sadness at the thought I would never see my wife and daughter again,” said St. Romain. “Then it shifted to an incredible consciousness of my breathing.”

Once he was aware that he would survive, St. Romain knew that he could not go back to his life and work in the same way. He began a personal journey that included meditation among other healing modalities. He found that Insight (Vipassana) Meditation appealed to him most. His primary teacher is Jack Kornfield, one of the founders of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California.

With the encouragement and support of his wife, Barbara, and others in the community, St. Romain began to offer meditation practice in Acadiana in 2000.

With a vision of offering a wide range of spiritual practices, Spirit Path Meditation and Spiritual Enrichment Center was founded in 2009. In addition to weekly meditation sittings, Spirit Path offers half-day or day-long visiting teacher and film study retreats. St. Romain also teaches a class on Insight Meditation through UL’s continuing education program.

Barbara St. Romain facilitates group and individual Holotropic Breathwork (another process of healing and spiritual self-discovery) sessions. Spirit Path is also in the process of forming a local chapter of Coming To The Table, an organization that seeks to acknowledge, understand and heal the persistent wounds of slavery and its aftermath. Both Chuck and Barbara are licensed psychotherapists.

The Spirit Path brochure explains that: “Insight Meditation begins with focusing the attention on the breath. The practice improves awareness and mindfulness. As one awakens, one is able to live more fully present in each moment.”

The Acadiana Shambhala Meditation Group currently meets at a private home in Lafayette on Monday nights. The hour includes a short period of chanting, two sitting periods, a walking meditation and a short guided meditation. Bob Williams, a retired Air Force colonel, began sitting with the group in 2000, shortly after it formed.

The group transitioned from a mindfulness sitting group to following the Shambhala tradition a few years later. The Lafayette group is part of a global network of 170 meditation groups and centers founded in the 1970s by Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and now headed by his son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
  
Two times a year, a teacher from the Shambhala tradition visits the small Lafayette group to give teachings and lead meditation sessions. Many of the core group in Lafayette have visited the Shambhala centers in Colorado, Nova Scotia and closer to home in Texas.

On East St. Mary Boulevard in Lafayette is another Tibetan Buddhist Center. This one is centered in the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism. Katog Choling Tibetan Cultural Center was founded in 2004 by traveling teacher Khentrul Lodrö Thayé Rinpoche to provide a place for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture in Lafayette.
 
Cece and Fenyx Sloan were living in Ashland, Ore., in 2003 when they first met Rinpoche. Originally from Louisiana, they decided to move back home and asked their teacher to come to Lafayette. “When I came there was an overwhelming response. We decided to start a practice center here which has gradually grown,” said Rinpoche through his translator. In similar fashion, 20 centers around the country and in Canada have started. He now also has a retreat center in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

“I focus on mind training and meditation,” Rinpoche said. “People have found that it is of immense value and benefit in their life. It is based on logic and reason and in accordance with our experience, and it helps one’s life improve. And because people have experienced that personal benefit and value in their lives then they keep coming. ... I have a definite way that I teach that is sequential.”

Rinpoche visits Lafayette twice a year. Approximately 30 people attended a teaching he led in early April, and ongoing sessions led by local lay practitioners are offered on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights — each focusing on a different type of meditation and with chanting in English and Tibetan.

There is a sizeable community of Laotian immigrants who reside in and near New Iberia who have established Theravadan Buddhism centers in Broussard, New Iberia and St. Martinville. Wat Thammarattanaram of New Iberia, actually located in Coteau, holds a Laotian New Year’s celebration each year during the Easter weekend, and the public is welcome to attend. The New Iberia Buddhist Temple is another area Laotian temple. They hold meditation sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., which includes 45 minutes of meditation followed by a Dharma talk, a public discourse on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher.

“First I think that people should learn a little bit about meditation in general, its purpose and how to do it,” says Katog Choling Tibetan Cultural Center’s Rinpoche. “Then focus on cultivating the qualities of love and compassion. And that really acts as the basis for any further practice.”


Meditation and Buddhist Resources in Acadiana

ULL Meditation Group
Student Union, Derrick Room
Contact: Dr. Margot Hasha
337-482-6520
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Spirit Path Meditation and Spiritual Enrichment Center
714 E. Kaliste Saloom Road, Suite C-3
Several meditation periods each week
Contact: Chuck St. Romain
337-233-5127
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Acadiana Shambhala Meditation Group
Currently meets at a private home in Lafayette
Mondays, 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Contact: Bob Williams
337-407-9530

Katog Choling Tibetan Cultural Center
901 E. St. Mary Blvd.
Sundays, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Thursdays, 7 p.m.-8 p.m.
http://katogcholing.com/ratnaling.php
337-453-4000
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Additional Resources
Kwan Um School of Zen - http://www.kwanumzen.org/
San Francisco Zen Center - http://www.sfzc.org/
Everyday Zen Foundation - http://www.everydayzen.org/index.php
Mindfulness practice is also being taught in schools. To learn more: http://mindfulschools.org/

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