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The Incredible, Fast-Growing Popularity of Meditation – Good Thing or Bad?

We’re entering an age where meditation centers seem just as popular as Starbucks.

A few years ago, I could’ve never imagined today’s influx of meditation centers. When I opened my own center in New York in 2010, it was a rare sight to behold. Not anymore!

I often ask myself, “Is meditation just as available now as a Starbucks coffee?” The availability to find a cup of coffee fast is a good thing; but the availability to find and pay for access to meditation may not be. I meet a lot of people who express happiness about this sudden interest in meditation. I also meet a lot of people displeased with it. Some people believe that meditation’s wide availability through apps, websites, and studios can do only good. Meditation has encouraged people to relax and find moments of calmness in chaos. The other side of the argument: Concern that meditation has become only about a teacher’s own personality and perspectives, and that it may not even be meditation at all. I have my own take on the debate.

One thing is clear: Meditation is truly becoming very popular.

Here’s why I love meditation’s far and wide popularity:

“If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” –Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is wise! And with meditation’s increasing reach, more people than eight-year-olds are learning to meditate. The amount of people practicing meditation is increasing, and the practice seems set to only continue to grow in popularity.

I first experienced the power and benefits of meditation through my Guru. I received many opportunities to meditate at various tantra shrines in India, at the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharamshala, and at several other shrines with a multitude of Gurus. I’ve come to understand that many people don’t have this type of access to gurus, or they are uncomfortable visiting monasteries and tantra shrines. That knowledge inspired and motivated me to quit my finance job on Wall Street and launch Break the Norms, my nonprofit organization that offers meditation access to those who truly want to learn.

Since then, I have trained many students to meditate, and the results have been great. I’ve followed along with the launch of several new apps that help interested seekers meditate on their own. I live in LA, a city home to some of the country’s best-looking meditation studios. I lead weekly talks at Den Meditation, a cozy and beautiful space that offers various styles of meditation every day. I chose to practice at Den because I love and believe in the owner’s mission to present meditation in an authentic and accessible way. I’ve seen many transformations since I’ve started meditating there. These honest, genuine meditation centers are encouraging. In words of Tal Rabinowitz, the founder of Den Meditation, “As meditation grows in the world, it will only help and benefit everybody. Part of the reason we started the teacher training is to help bring up the new, modern day meditation teachers in a responsible way. I’m all for the modern meditator and meditation teacher. I think that will only connect with more and more people, however I do want to make sure that they are properly trained and educated.”

… and here’s why I’m concerned about it:

 Some say anything in excess is bad. But how could an excess of meditation possibly be bad? It isn’t. But, an excess of unqualified people teaching meditation is bad … and damaging. Meditation isn’t just about breathing in and breathing out. Meditation hits you where it hurts, awakens your suppressed self, and demands healing. If you can’t heal or don’t know what to do once you’ve reached that point in your meditation journey, you’re stuck.

Many self-proclaimed “meditation teachers” carry around a lot of their own unresolved issues. They find a great way to escape them is through teaching. But when those issues spark, it creates a complicated mess. I come from a Tantra lineage; I’ve been studying meditation since childhood, and have built my life around it for 13 years. Even with over a decade of experience, I still have a long way to go. I’ve led meditation workshops around the world, but my heart still races before every public talk and individual session. I worry about doing meditation justice and helping others with my teachings. I’ve been teaching meditation full-time for more than seven years and this nervousness still hasn’t diminished. But it keeps me on my toes.

Here’s the problem with some of today’s new “meditation teachers:” They think they can learn the art of meditation overnight. They don’t realize that it might take decades to become even mildly good at the art of teaching meditation. The books, teacher trainings, videos, and courses are only meant to inspire you. You must drop your ego, embrace your patience, and do some serious work if you really want to promote meditation as a public service. Teaching mantras and meditation, and guiding the masses is a huge responsibility.

My friend and fellow teacher Heather Prete, a UCLA Certified Mindfulness Facilitator, says it very well: “It would be insincere and, possibly, harmful to teach ‘mindfulness’ without understanding the application of the term about practice, and if one has not utilized this process in their own awakening. Ultimately, mindfulness is a psychology that utilizes neuroplasticity and has the potential to create seeming ‘miraculous’ change in one’s being, and therefore also can be mis-taught, causing more difficulty for the student. Mindfulness is in the process of being federally regulated for such reasons. I call for all teachers to check their motivations for sharing the practices.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tantra vs. Yoga: Which Spiritual Path is Right for You?

 

Many of my students face the same choice: Should they use tantra or yoga when seeking out and cultivating their spirituality? It’s a big decision, one that you should make only after consulting with a qualified master.

Since childhood, I’ve been insanely obsessed with tantra’s techniques for helping me find self-realization. Thankfully, my Gurus accepted me as their disciple (even though that took years!), which strengthened my tantra practice. Of the eight limbs of yoga, I try to practice every one except asanas (physical postures). Some of my students, those who visit yoga studios often, have often told me, “Yoga prepares me for tantra”. I find that statement quite right and apt. Tantra requires many hours of meditation and the ability to channel energy through breathing. Yoga does help set a lovely foundation for you to immerse yourself deep into tantra.

However, there are quite a few differences between yoga and tantra. These are two of the most intriguing:

1. Indulgence vs. Suppression

Tantra teaches indulgence with awareness. Tantra asks you to be completely aware when you indulge in your desires, greed, and ego. Do whatever you want, tantra says, but do it with as much awareness as possible. My favorite part of tantra: When you do something with complete awareness, you will never do it wrong. Try to desire something with complete awareness – you’ll relax knowing how silly your desire was. Tantra gives you the freedom to act, knowing that freedom comes with responsibility.

Yoga teaches suppression with awareness. Yoga asks you to be completely aware when you suppress your desires, greed, and ego. Suppression is not a negative thing here. Rather, it means you are bringing a strong sense of self-discipline to the elements that rule your life. Two of the eights limbs of yoga – Niyama (self-discipline) and Prtayahara (the withdrawal of senses) – focus on the fine art of suppression. When you are aware of the fact that you are suppressing your senses, divine revolution can happen within. (Side note: How many modern yoga studios really teach this practice?)

Sexual Energy

Tantra asks a seeker to channel energy from sex. Sexual energy dominates the human awareness more than any other energy. However, it’s just energy, like other energies revolving in the human consciousness. Tantra asks you to dismiss the taboos you’ve learned about sex, and transform them into positive sexual energy. Ordinary minds sometimes have trouble digesting this. But if you can understand how to appropriately transform your sexual energy, you can experience a powerful awakening. Tantra’s not saying, “Be sexually promiscuous.” It’s actually telling you to go beyond sex. In my opinion, tantra is a revolutionary way of teaching that can help prevent sexual abuse and create a healthy understanding of sexuality.

Yoga asks us to suppress sexual energy. Yoga believes that we should suppress sex because it creates havoc in our senses and prevents us from experiencing higher states of consciousness. Of course, yoga doesn’t speak of this sexual suppression in a negative way. But, yoga does warn about how sex can butcher your senses. Most of us are conditioned to look at sex from a narrow perspective. If yoga says to suppress sex, you may find that right and apt. That’s the reason why many people enjoy advanced yoga. When you practice yoga correctly, it can offer some amazing insight into the calming and ceasing of sexual energy. Seek out a yogi who has mastered the practice first, and then ask him to guide you.

These are two small differences between yoga and tantra spiritual paths. And while their insight on spiritual truth may look different on the surface, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that yoga and tantra have a lot in common. Both can help you reach the same destination – each just has a different route for getting there. If you are serious about building a disciplined spiritual path, meditate to figure out which of the above works for you. Or, simply ask divinity to guide you. She’s never wrong.

Connect with author to get guidance.

Here’s Why You Should Never Let Anyone Tell You That You’re “Broken”

“I felt like I had known you for so long,” Tom said.

“How?” Tina asked. “It was our first meeting.”

“Well, the broken always recognize the broken,” Tom answered.

I witnessed this conversation during a healing session with my students, Tina and Tom.* This was during one of my first meetings with them. After Tom said that the broken always recognize the broken, I held up my hands to interrupt them.

“You are not a piece of furniture that breaks and then looks for a fix in someone else.” They both stared at me blankly. “If this was a romantic comedy, I might have let that go or even laughed a little bit. But I can’t let you both think that you are broken.”

They told me later on that many of their past spiritual teachers, yoga gurus, and therapists often validated the fact that they were “broken souls who needed healing.” This is a major part of the problem. These people – who are supposed to be healers – are terrifying their clients and students! This is a total “Spiritual Healing Marketing 101.” It’s the classic “You’re broken” spiritual sales pitch.

Being told that you’re broken can do a serious amount of damage, but many religious and spiritual sects run their shops and make a fortune by telling people just that. “Life isn’t fair,” you start to think. Eventually, you end up not only believing that you’re broken, but you start to live a broken life as well.

You are you. Nothing about you needs to be fixed. We are born with infinite potential, and only a human consciousness can possess that. Look at the dogs, cats, and other animals around you: They were born with a limited sense of awareness and there’s not much else they can do to evolve. (But truth be told, animals are already amazingly evolved. Their level of growth just has its limits.) Humans, on the other hand, are born with the power to transform themselves. You can be born as an ordinary human, but die as a Buddha consciousness. But in order to experience your highest potential, you have to stop believing this idea that you are broken. And rather allow yourself to simply bloom in harmony with your awareness. When you meditate and stay conscious, you will continue to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

You do not move from imperfection to perfection – you move from perfection to perfection. You are fine the way you are. Meditate on accepting yourself and every single one of your weaknesses and strengths. Fully accept the fact that only you are responsible for your suffering and your happiness. Calling yourself broken will not solve anything – all it will do is attract people who will validate this label. Instead, look at yourself as a part of the universe. Accept your life through all its seasons, and use each rainstorm or sunny day to guide you down your path. Makes sense?

Now, the next time somebody tries to tell you that you’re a “broken soul,” I hope you know how to answer!

*names have been changed.

Get Chandresh's book Break the Norms: Questioning Everything You Think You Know About God and Truth, Life and Death, Love and Sex