From Huffington Post 09/08/2016 08:35 am ET 
Supriya Venkatesan is a veteran of the U.S. Army, a wellness junkie and a freelance writer

The Ramayana – A New Retelling

 

The ancient epic Ramayana is the most widely read story in the world and many consider it to be the ultimate spiritual guide. The stories are celebrated over fire dancing Kecaks in Bali to reenactments all over India and Thailand. It tells the tale of an enlightened prince who was unjustly banished to the forest for 14 years. But he didn’t go alone. His super devoted wife and brother followed him. The three had encounters with friends and foes—from wise sages to horrific demons to flying monkeys and wise bears. The climax occurs when the prince’s wife is captured by an evil demon-king and the hero must battle armies of demons and liberate the earth from darkness. Noted scholar Michael Sternfeld says in the introduction to The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive (just out from TarcherPerigee), “the Ramayana has been described as the original epic quest—comparable to the Bible, Star Wars, and Romeo and Juliet all rolled into one.”

With the explosion of yoga and meditation in the west, there are readers who also want to understand this story more deeply. The problem is that because the original tome was in three volumes, the translations were very long and cumbersome to read, or were very short and lacked spiritual depth. Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy spent the last 18 years writing this new version to fix that. They wanted to portray the poetry of the original text and still illuminate the profound spiritual heritage of India. This book is so lyrically rendered that you won’t even notice the wisdom seeping in. (Tweet this)

In a conversation with Linda Egenes, she says, “this story has endured because the theme is dharma, a Sanskrit term that refers to living in a way that upholds the path of evolution, maintains balance, and supports prosperity and spiritual freedom.” Adulting would be way more fruitful if we used this guide to achieve balance, abundance, and yogi-hood. (Tweet this)

Linda tells me, “The Ramayana makes the abstract principles of dharma concrete, and the life of Rama, the hero, serves as an example.” In this story we see that even when prince and princess are pressed to their limits, they demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to friends and foes alike. One of the most telling moments happens at the climax of the story when the demon-king has been destroyed. The prince mourns the death and consoles the demon’s brother and tells him, “Death quells all enmity. We have achieved our purpose. Perform his rights with honor, for he is as dear to me as he is to you.” The Ramayana offers practical wisdom to anyone on a spiritual path. The role of meditation and yoga in developing wisdom and enlightenment are clearly exemplified in Rama’s life not only as a prince, but also as a warrior and enlightened yogi.

Linda has been a longtime practitioner of the Transcendental Meditation technique and was fascinated to find that throughout the story, Rama is guided by wise sages who practice meditation and yoga deep in the forests where he is exiled. She says, “It has been an amazing undertaking to work with this manuscript during the past 18 years, and in many ways it has inspired my own journey of transformation and growth.” Throughout the book, the authors use novelistic techniques to keep the modern reader turning the pages and being transported into a land and era that propels the transformation of those who read it. Linda says, “The heart-stopping story of Ramayana unfolds in layers of meaning and feeling, revealing hidden values that transform us and speed us on the path of self-realization. This was my experience, and I hope it will be yours too.”

Linda Egenes, M.A., and Kumuda Reddy, M.D. have collaborated on four other books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda. Linda is an adjunct assistant professor at Maharishi University of Management, and Dr. Kumuda Reddy is a retired professor at State University of New York and practitioner of Maharishi Ayurveda health care. Linda can be reached at www.lindaegenes.com and Dr. Reddy at www.allhealthyfamily.com.

Original Story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57d15a2ee4b0eb9a57b7a0ad?timestamp=1473338566278

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screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-33-31-amTune in today at 11:00 a.m. Central Time at http://delphiinternational.com/donna-seebo-show/ to hear Linda Egenes interviewed on the Donna Seebo Show live! Linda will talk about her new book, The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D., (#TarcherPerigee, Sept. 2016). If you miss the show, check out the archives on the same page!

 

 

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In the Spiritual Garden
July 31, 2014
Our family home and wild flower gardens my parents created in Naperville, Illinois.

Our family home and wild flower gardens that my parents created in Naperville, Illinois.

In the spring of 2011 my aging parents moved from their beloved home of 52 years to live in an assisted living facility near my sister in California. We had moved my parents only after their dementia progressed to the point where they could no longer stay in their own home. Up until this time I  think I still felt, in the deepest part of my heart, that if only I could give my mom and dad enough love, enough healthy foods, enough Omega 3s and other healthy supplements, structure enough exercise into their days, that they could reverse their aging and dementia and recover.

That summer, my husband and I had the emotional task of clearing out family home and selling it. Saying goodbye to our family home, which my father had designed and built with his own hands, was like saying goodbye to a living, breathing member of the family.

All this left me feeling exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed, to say the least.

Yet when I returned to my own home in Fairfield in the middle of the summer, there was the garden. We’d planted the seeds and seedlings before I’d left in early June, and at that time the garden was mostly underground. It had grown up in the weeks I was gone, all by itself. The beans were a foot high, the tomatoes flowering, the zuchini fanning their giant leaves and yellow blossoms turning into long green striped squashes.

It was a reminder that life goes on, despite our gains and losses. New life will always take over. And growth happens without us having to do much. We toss a few seeds in the soil, wait for a few rains to come and the force of nature itself creates a garden of Eden.
Viewing the abundance of my garden, I was reminded that Mother Nature was caring for my family in the same way. Without us doing anything, we would all be okay. The well-being of my parents didn’t, in reality, rest on my shoulders, or my sister’s, or anyone’s. It’s the nature of life to grow, to progress, to move forward, and the sheer force of nature itself would take me and my family wherever we needed to be. Spending time in my garden was a powerful balm to my soul.

My mother with my niece, Carina, enjoying one of my parents’ wild flower gardens

I think this spiritual feeling that comes with being close to growing plants, to nature, was a big influence in the lives of many of our forbears in the past. As a nation, we were 98% farmers and rural folks until the end of the last century. Now less than 20% live in rural communities or on farms. Yet people still surround themselves with the spiritual garden, whether it’s their indoor plants, atriums or urban rooftop gardens.

I know the Amish hold a deep reverence for their land. They talk about this a lot. “I feel closer to God when I’m farming,” said Leah Peachey, an Amish woman I interviewed in North Carolina, who appears in my book Visits with the Amish. I know I feel closer to my roots, to my family, when I’m in the garden. My mother was an amazing gardener who always placed cut flowers from her many flower gardens in every room of our home. Her father grew up on a farm and kept a huge and prolific vegetable garden all his life.

There is an old hymn, “In the Garden,” about the times we commune with God while in the garden or in nature. My best friend from childhood, Sue Kettell, just passed away after a struggle with cancer while her sister stroked her hair and sang that beautiful hymn. I guess for all of us, the garden is a primordial place of solace, creativity and rebirth.

Below are my childhood memories of Sue, which I shared at her beautiful memorial in June. Sue was a wonderful gardener herself. I love you forever, Sue. Rest in peace.

 

Memories of Susan Lynn Kettell

December 28, 1952-June 23, 2014

 

Sue and I were blood sisters. I remember that day we exchanged blood with a pin-prick to our fingers (kids can’t do this now in the age of AIDS). We commemorated the ceremony by sewing little velvet bags and filling them with our fourth-grade photos, a piece of tree bark and a stone from the woods we explored together in our long childhood sumers.

Perhaps it was the blood, or perhaps the fact that we shared an idyllic childhood, wandering for hours among the wild flowers, birdsong and strength-giving oak trees that surrounded our homes in Brenwood Estates, but we shared a bond that I have yet to fathom fully.

As childhood friends often do, we went our separate ways after high school, but somehow we kept finding our way back to each other, me visiting Sue after her youngest son Tom was born, she visiting me in Iowa where my husband and I made our home. When I posted a booksigning on Facebook a few years ago, Sue surprised me by jumping into the car and driving the 256 miles to Iowa to be there for my special moment. As always, she didn’t want to be a bother and spend the night, so after the festivities she jumped in her car and drove all the way back. It was a gesture of pure love.

Then suddenly about 4 years ago we both found ourselves back in the ‘hood. She was living in her in an apartment at her parents’ and I was spending a lot of time at my parent’s home as they aged. When my dad’s health declined precipitously and my mom broke her hip, Sue was there by my side, supporting me during a really difficult time and helping my parents as a private nurse.

This was when I got to see Sue’s professional side—and what an amazing nurse she was! Once when my dad fell and his fragile skin tore, she helped me get him to Dr. Rozner’s office at 9:00 a.m., where despite a waiting room full of patients, the doctor showed us to the only room available, a storeroom. Sue immediately gloved up and became Dr. Rozner’s ad hoc nurse, efficiently locating and handing him the scissors and anesthetic and needle and thread which he used to give my dad 16 stiches on the spot. I

Later she helped my sister Cathy move my parents to an assisted living near Cathy’s home in California. I can’t describe what a comfort it was to have Sue there during this difficult transition as my parents left their beloved home and neighbors of 52 years behind—for my parents, Sue was someone they trusted and loved her like their own children.

In the end, Sue was not only a blood sister but a soul sister to me. It’s not like we spent hours talking about our common political views, our common interests in yoga, meditation, and spirituality. We just found our hearts, again and again, sharing the same space in this journey of life. I am so grateful that I was able to visit Sue two months ago. I found her to be filled with quiet dignity despite being in physical pain, meeting each challenge with inner fortitude and peace in her heart. I feel grateful that she was surrounded by her loving family, who unselfishly nursed her and lavished her with love during these difficult last months. Sue has given me so many gifts, and I feel fortunate and humbled to be Sue’s friend.

Last week I was with my mom in California and I ran across a birthday card that Sue had sent to my mom a few years ago, right after my parents moved across the country. She wrote, “When I walk through the woods and pick the wild flowers, I think of you.”

And that is how I will always think of Sue, a gentle spirit, and when I walk through the woods and pick the wild flowers, Sue will be there with me.

 

 

 

 

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TM, Stress and Addiction
June 30, 2014

 

400px-Fireworks_on_Canada_DAYOn the 4th of July I watched the fireworks from the Oakland hills, where I enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire San Francisco Bay area. From that broadened perspective, the chaos of civilization looked like a perfectly coordinated organism, the ever-flowing traffic the veins and arteries, the pulsing Golden Gate bridge display as the heart, the firework displays of at least nine different townships firing off like neurons in what appeared to be a beautifully coordinated synchrony.

Sometimes I wish that researchers and doctors—who focus so intently on a particular fragment of the human body, on one broken or painful area—could draw back and see our minds, bodies and emotions from a wider perspective, as a perfectly functioning organism with every part working in perfect harmony with the other.

It seems that the cost of the modern, fragmented approach to medicine, which rarely views the individual as whole person, is becoming unsustainable, both monetarily and in terms of human suffering. Take a recent feature aired on Good Morning America by Aditi Roy, which revealed that there is a sharp rise in deaths in women who have overdosed on pain medicine. The stats are alarming:

  • More women die from prescription pill overdose than cervical cancer.
  • A new report from the Centers for Disease Control says that a woman is admitted to the ER for a prescription pill overdose every three minutes.
  • The number of deaths from prescription pain-pill overdose has jumped 400% between 1999 and 2010.

Why the dramatic rise in death in women from overdosing on prescription drugs, especially painkillers? First of all, doctors say that women are more likely to suffer from painful conditions such as fibromyalgia and migraines, often treated with prescription pain pills. And from there women are more likely than men to overdose due to lower body mass. So some women are taking the medications for their prescribed purpose, to relieve pain, with fatal consequences. Clearly we have a healthcare crisis when a patient with a headache takes the prescribed medicine and ends up dying.

More worrisome, CDC experts report that there doesn’t seem to be a significant rise in conditions that might require severe prescription painkillers. “Rather, the pills are increasingly used to treat moderate pain that might well be eased by other means, like physical therapy,” the New York Times recently reported. In other words, a pain problem that could be cured through therapeutic massage and exercise is being treated with pills that can kill.

The CDC recommends that doctors educate their patients on the risks of painkillers. Surely, this is a good idea. Yet words about the dangers of addiction are not going to cure the underlying stress that makes a woman become addicted to painkillers in the first place.

And clearly, for many women who are overdosing due to addiction or other problems, rising stress levels are a major component. Stress and addiction go hand in hand. Case in point: in the NY Times article “Sharp Rise in Women’s Death from Prescription Drug Overdose of Painkillers, reporter Sabrina Tavernise says that Appalacian women who were addicted to painkillers “blamed the changing nature of American society. The rise of the single-parent household has thrust immense responsibility on women, who are not only mothers, but also, in many cases, primary breadwinners. Some who described feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities said they craved the numbness that drugs bring. Others said highs made them feel pretty, strong and productive, a welcome respite from the chaos of their lives.”

In other words, the painkillers were not only removing the pain, but providing emotional support for women who are under tremendous stress. But at what price? Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that women are more likely than men to be given prescriptions of psychotherapeutic drugs, like antidepressants and antianxiety medications—and thus many of the overdose deaths are due to taking a combination of these drugs and pain medication.

It seems to me that doctors and researchers need to step back a moment and look at the whole woman, to see what will ease her stress and pain in a holistic and natural way. What a woman under stress needs is a way to relieve anxiety, depression, pain and addiction all at the same time—without the harmful side effects.

That sounds like a tall order—impossible, really. Yet by stepping back and seeing the whole woman, you can see that if we had a way to dissolve stress, to go deep within and experience our true nature, which is unbounded, infinite and whole, then every aspect of our lives would improve. A little like taking care of a plant—if you water the root, every part of the plant will blossom.

The Transcendental Meditation technique allows us to do exactly that—to transcend and experience our true nature which is unbounded, infinitely happy and powerful; to release stress and heal our minds, bodies and emotions.

The research backs this up—showing that women who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique experience significantly less addiction, pain, anxiety and depression. Let’s look first at addiction: Norman Rosenthal, M.D., an NIH senior researcher and clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School who has a private practice in Washington, D.C., has prescribed the Transcendental Meditation technique to his patients who suffer from anxiety, stress, depression and addiction. In his book Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation, he writes about the research on TM and addiction, “Transcendental Meditation showed a large effect in treating both cigarette smoking and addiction to street drugs, with other treatments examined coming in a distant second.”

Dr. Pamela Peeke, M.D., Ph.D., also an NIH researcher and author of The Hunger Fix, read Dr. Rosenthal’s research on TM and addiction and decided to start TM herself. From there, she was so impressed with the results that she decided to study how TM made it possible for people to overcome addiction by enhancing the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps us to say “no.”

“I found that TM practice had a profound influence on the ability to maintain vigilance and calm,” she says. “It also helped people do the one thing that is so difficult in addiction—to adapt to life’s stresses without resorting to self-destruction. TM helps them stay on track by augmenting the pre-frontal cortex.”

The research on Transcendental Meditation as a means to relieve anxiety, depression and the fight-or-flight stress response is equally strong.

And it’s important not to forget that the practice of Transcendental Meditation has been shown to directly relieve pain itself. According to Dr. Christopher Clark, M.D., co-author of Contemporary Ayurveda, “Research shows that regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique reduces back pain, headache and chronic pain. The TM technique also resets the body’s perception of pain and anticipation of pain. Research also shows that the Transcendental Meditation technique will reduce pain-related stress, insomnia and even depression. These chronic symptoms are often associated with low back or chronic back pain, which afflicts up to 40% of the population at some point in their lives.”

For thousands of women today, the practice of TM is like an oasis in the desert. It gives us that important re-charge time, when we can dive within and get in touch with our deepest, most authentic selves, and at the same time draw back from the hectic daily rush and experience the exquisite beauty and harmony of mind, body and spirit. We not only deserve this time for ourselves, but we need it to stay healthy and strong in a changing world.

Linda Egenes is a health writer and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, September 1 2013. Reprinted with permission. Photo © Leafsan67, used with permission from Wikicommons.)

 

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Keeping Kids Healthy
June 20, 2014

IMG_0020When you look at health statistics for children, there is a heartbreaking trend toward more disease during the past two decades. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control tell us that 9.5% of children currently suffer from asthma, 8.4% have been diagnosed with ADHD, and a shocking 18% are not just overweight, but clinically obese.

In a Huffington Post piece, “The Last Well Child,” pediatrician Lawrence Rosen, M.D., remarks that he recently saw a healthy child in his office, which was such an unusual event that it got him thinking. He wonders if our health care system isn’t actually a disease-treatment system in disguise—and with so much emphasis on labeling, classifying and treating disease, we are doing our children (and ourselves) a great disservice.

Dr. Rosen whimsically wonders if he shouldn’t start each appointment with the question, “Tell me what is right with your child today.” He wonders if researchers aren’t creating a disease mindset by establishing ever-stricter parameters for disease diagnosis (for example, children with a cholesterol score above 170 are diagnosed with and treated for hypercholesterolemia; that same disease used to start with a score above 170). When insurance companies pay doctors more for cases involving disease treatment than it does for health prevention, doctors are forced to code every complaint as a disease, which then leads to treating children for conditions that wouldn’t have been treated in the past.

Personally I agree—there is something wrong with a society in which disease is considered the norm rather than the exception. Yet we not only have to think more in terms of wellness, we have to give parents and children scientifically proven tools to improve wellness—tools for keeping kids healthy. There is greater awareness today about diet and exercise, for instance, but we all know that talk is not it enough—it takes a certain consciousness for parents and teachers to create an environment in which healthy choices are easy for the child. And at some point in every child’s growth, it takes a heightened awareness of their own to make healthy choices when outside the safe environment of the home.

That’s why practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is a marvelous way to improve well-being for children and adults alike. Children and adults who practice TM lower their stress rates and improve their ability to think clearly—and thus find themselves spontaneously making healthier choices. When kids are able to dissolve stress instead of store it in their minds and bodies, they find it easier to realize their stomach is full and stop eating before the third cookie. When, as a parent, you take time to meditate and recharge after work, it could be a lot easier to spend time exercising together as a family after dinner instead of flopping in front of the TV in exhaustion.

And there are other side benefits of practicing the TM technique. Research shows that it helps kids raise their grades, stay focused, overcome ADHD, say “no” to substance abuse, and lower blood pressure. In fact, it helps bring balance to many areas of life—mind, body, behavior and even the environment. Which makes me think we need a new definition of wellness—not only the absence of disease, not only “a patient who has not been completely worked up” by his doctor (as Dr. Rosen defined it), but a person who is happy, successful, free of stress and disease, and thriving. It doesn’t seem too much to expect for ourselves or our children.

(I originally wrote this post for the Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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Redefining Success
May 7, 2014

513QV5WaCbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When I was in fourth grade in the 1960s my parents gave me a volume that I still keep in my library, and which is still in print, Living Biographies of Famous Women. My parents felt that my sister and I should be able to go to college, have a brilliant career, and rise to the top, just like Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, and Florence Nightingale, all featured in my book. And they wanted me to know that I could be as successful as any man in that pre-women’s liberation era, when few women had careers.

I think I took something away from reading their stories that was different from what my parents expected, though. I noticed that while these women were indisputably powerful and successful, many of them lacked one important thing: a satisfying personal life. Only one, Madame Curie, the famous scientist who did pioneering research on radioactivity, seemed to have a happy family life and a full career at the same time.

Somehow, I felt, there must be a way for women to find happiness in both spheres of life. A way to be successful without sacrificing family and friends. A way to make a living without burning out.

I’m not sure if this book became a factor in my search for a different approach to life, but I do know I decided early on to focus on personal development as the cornerstone of both fulfilling relationships and a successful career. At age 19 I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and have spent time meditating twice daily every day to release stress and recharge creatively.

In fact, I count the time I’m meditating to be part of my “office hours,” because it helps me think more clearly and avoid the writer’s block that plagued me when I was younger. And of course, when you spend time tapping into that reservoir of inner happiness, it’s going to help every part of your life—including your family relationships.

This approach worked so well for me and many of my friends that I was happy to hear Arianna Huffington talking frankly about the need for women to recharge and rejuvenate in her 2013 commencement address to Smith College graduates.

“At the moment, our society’s notion of success is largely composed of two parts: money and power,” she said. “But it’s time for a third metric, beyond money and power—one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder, and to give back.”

How refreshing—the idea that “well-being” and “wonder” and “giving back” would be part of a definition of success!

As Huffington points out, the current focus on money and power is not sustainable for anyone—men nor women. Stress is mounting, and “it’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure,” she said.

Huffington went on to note that women pay a higher price for stress than men—women in stressful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease, and a 60 percent greater risk for diabetes. And in the last 30 years, as women have made strides and gains in the workplace, self-reported levels of stress have gone up 18 percent.

In her speech Huffington humorously advised the Smith graduates to literally “sleep their way to the top,” citing research that shows how important sleep is to health and making good decisions. She noted that at the Huffington Post, they provide “nap” rooms where people can take time out to sleep or meditate to recharge during the day. She also advocated disconnecting regularly from the electronics that tend to run our lives.

She said, “What I’m saying is: learn to regularly disconnect from technology in order to connect with yourself. Learn to unplug in order to recharge. I’m convinced that we all have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength.”

I think anyone who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique can identify with this experience—how great it feels to shut down the cell phone, shut the door, and take time to dive deep within the transcendent, the source of infinite creativity, happiness and bliss that resides quietly inside all of us.

After this speech, Huffington went on to sponsor an entire conference called The Third Metric of Success. As part of the programming, she interviewed George Stephanopoulos about his daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Stephanopoulos said. “I’ve been meditating for about two years now—consistently. I did it for reasons that we’re discussing here—to manage a frenetic life…

“I was always over-tired, over-stressed, feeling that kind of constant low-level impatience that is always ready to burst out, and I didn’t like it.”

Stephanopoulos said that part of the reason it’s now easier for him to get up at 2:30AM for work each day, is that he’s getting up to meditate. “It’s the equivalent of a couple hours more sleep,” he says. “And then in the middle of the day you get another boost. But beyond the practical benefits, I feel more space in my life, more of a cushion. “It’s easier to tap into that quiet when you have to make a decision—or in my case in breaking news situations, it’s easier to be calm, it’s easier to find that space.”

But back to the Smith College talk. Huffington encouraged the Smith graduates to find that place of well-being within. She said, “When we’re in that centered place of wisdom, harmony and strength, life is transformed from struggle to grace, and we are suddenly filled with trust, no matter the obstacles, challenges and disappointments. Because there is a purpose to our lives, even if it is sometimes hidden from us, and even if the biggest turning points and heartbreaks only make sense as we look back, not as we are experiencing them. So we might as well live life as if—as the poet Rumi put it—‘Everything is rigged in our favor.’”

I loved this, because it touches on an important point. When you feel less stressed, when you are living in harmony with yourself and nature, you gain something Maharishi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, calls “support of nature.” It’s a feeling of grace, of being in the right place at the right time. Of opportunities presenting themselves to you like candy on a plate, of being able to accomplish more than you thought possible.

As for myself, the key to that state has been my daily practice of TM. Like drawing an arrow back on the bow to its stillpoint in order to send it the farthest distance, the more I go inward in my daily mediations, the easier it becomes to accomplish my goals in life. To me, the key to going upward is going inward first. So Huffington’s attempt at redefining success resonated with me, especially when ended her talk by saying, “And now, Smith College class of 2013, onward, upward and inward!” And surely the modern woman, with multiple responsibilities in the home and in the workplace, needs this ability to dive within, to harness the support of nature to help her to effortlessly do less but accomplish more every day—a secret weapon to help live a full life at home and in the workplace too.

Linda Egenes is a health writer and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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IMG_0561Heart disease used to be considered a men’s ailment. With women balancing more pressures at work and at home, cardiovascular disease now affects more women than men, and is responsible for 40 percent of all deaths in American women.

Clearly, preventing and lowering heart disease is something every woman needs to think about, for her own health and her family’s. A recent research study showing that the Mediterranean diet lowers heart disease is a huge breakthrough in natural solutions to heart disease. The five-year study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that people age 55 to 80 who ate a Mediterranean diet—including vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil—had 30 percent fewer heart attacks and stroke than control groups that ate a low-fat diet or a typical red-meat and junk food American diet.

It was the first time a specific diet was proven to have positive effects on lowering heart disease, which is interesting considering how many diets and health foods—often contradictory—are constantly being pushed on us by the media and the medical profession itself. As Dr. J. Sanford Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania said recently in the New York Times, “Diets are an extreme case of accepting evidence we want to believe.”  That includes doctors, he added, who overlook that the evidence for the low-fat diets they often recommend is the sort “we would never accept in the practice of medicine.”

Now doctors all over the country are calling for more clinical trials since nutritional advice has been chaotic, contradictory and confusing for themselves and their patients. “As we go on, we realize we know less and less,” Dr. Michael Lauer, the director of the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in the article. “We can despair and just make things up, or we can celebrate and say we have a real opportunity to grow here.”

As consumers, we don’t have to wait until then. There is another natural and easy way to lower heart disease that has been widely researched in dozens of studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH): the Transcendental Meditation technique. In fact, a new study on the TM technique—sponsored by the NIH and published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes—showed that African-Americans with heart disease who regularly practiced TM reduced their risk of death, heart attack, and stroke by 48%. That’s amazing news—a natural, scientifically proven technique that lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly 50 percent!

Dr. Cesar Molina, Medical Director of the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA., recommends the TM technique to his heart patients. “Actually, I recommend the Transcendental Meditation technique to anyone, because you don’t have to be sick to meditate,” he says.

He goes on to say, “The Transcendental Meditation technique is a very simple mental technique, and when practiced regularly, it is associated with a decrease in blood pressure and improved neuro-physiological integration and endocrine integration; therefore, it is a process in which you can decrease high blood pressure, decrease atherosclerosis, and at the same time become more awake, alert, bright and happy.”

Linda Egenes is a health writer, blogger and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, July 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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photo_mystory01As the number of women in the military increases, the number of returning female vets who end up homeless is also soaring. According to a recent NY by Patricia Leigh Brown, of those veterans staying in homeless shelters, 10 percent were women in 2011, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In California, where one fourth of our nation’s veterans live, there has been a 50 percent increase in homeless women since 2009.

While homelessness among male veterans often results from PTSD and drug usage, women vets face additional challenges. Sadly, the path of many women from active duty to homelessness starts with military sexual abuse, resulting in severe PTSD and a downward spiral into drug usage, joblessness and homelessness, the article reports. Other issues specific to women increase the chances of homelessness—the higher percentage of women who are single parents, for instance.

Fortunately, many women vets are turning to a safe and effective way to heal PTSD and empower themselves to start a new life. Supriya Vidic served for six years in South Korea and Iraq, where she was promoted to sergeant by age 22. Later she worked in the signal corp as a telecommunications officer in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and as project manager for her unit.

Despite her success, Supriya says that as a woman she was affected by combat stress in ways that were not always recognized.

“While in Iraq, for weeks on end, a single hour would not pass without being bombed by mortars and rockets,” she says. “This level of combat stress affected my physiology to the point of changing my reproductive system.”

As a leader, Supriya helped the female soldiers that she served beside deal with issues such as balancing motherhood with active duty, and dealing with military sexual harassment and assault.

“We’re trained as women in the military to see no difference between ourselves and our male counterparts,” she says. “But the truth is it’s a very complex process, to balance being a woman with being a soldier.”

After leaving the army, Supriya noticed that her friends and fellow vets were experiencing a rough transition into civilian life, spiraling into alcohol abuse and despair. Looking for a better way to live, she learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and attended Maharishi University of Management.

“I had witnessed first-hand how PTSD affected many of the soldiers I was in charge of,” she says. “It wasn’t always that easy for me to deal with those who had been so severely affected by stress. It wasn’t until I learned TM and saw my own compassion and humanity unfold that I realized how stress affected me and how stress affected others at all levels.”

As part of her studies, Supriya worked with veterans who had learned TM. “The transformations I saw in those veterans when they learned the TM technique were so powerful, so deeply moving, that it created a profound transformation within me as well,” she says. “That’s when I realized, I have to become a TM teacher.”

Supriya now teaches the TM technique in New York City.

“Being involved with teaching the TM technique, I have witnessed the transformation of many individuals, and this gives me hope for the future of our country,” says Supriya.

Linda Egenes is a health writer, blogger and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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Help for Kids with PTSD
January 27, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 5.16.34 PMRecently John Christoffersen wrote in the Huffington Post that mothers are still struggling to calm their children after the Sandy Hook disaster. Even though the children have been moved to a different school and have received the best counseling available, the children and teachers are still spooked by loud noises, which make them think another intruder has entered their school. Nightmares and trouble concentrating are other problems that linger.

Between 8 to 15 percent of those who experience traumas such as mass shootings develop PTSD, said Russell Jones, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech who counseled survivors of a mass shooting at his school. Fortunately, about half of them no longer have the symptoms after three months, he said.

But what about the other half, who, like many of our veterans with PTSD, struggle to recover years later? And what about the thousands of kids in our country who witness shootings in their own neighborhoods and suffer silently from PTSD without any treatment or help from the community or school?

I was discussing this article with my husband, who is professor of Sanskrit at Maharishi University of Management (MUM), while on our morning walk the other day. He pointed out that the experience of PTSD—where sounds and smells trigger memories of a stressful event and even create the same fight-or-flight reaction—was described by Shankara, a great teacher of ancient India who lived more than two thousand years ago.  Shankara called it “superimposition” (in Sanskrit, adhyāsa). One reality gets superimposed upon another reality: memory gets superimposed upon perception.

The example Shankara gave was a snake and a string. A woman sees a string, but thinks it’s a snake and stress hormones flood her body, her heart races, she runs away or screams. In other words, she’s playing old tapes in her mind, and then reacting to those tapes, rather than the present perception.

Modern science has located a physiological component to this, called the amygdala. When a person is stressed, the amygdala area of the brain becomes hyperactive. The amygdala is helpful for us when we are in danger, as it is responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction. This response can save your life if you have to leap out of the way of an oncoming car, or can save your child’s life by giving you the adrenalin rush needed to snatch her out of the stream of traffic.

The problem comes when, due to exposure to trauma, a war veteran or a traumatized child constantly senses danger even when nothing bad is actually happening. They find it impossible to turn the hyperactive amygdala off.

Counseling may offer some relief, but the hyperactivity of the amygdala usually continues even after counseling, because counseling cannot restore balance to the amygdala.

That’s where the Transcendental Meditation technique comes in. Brain research shows that when a person practices TM, the activity surrounding the amygdala eases off and switches to the pre-frontal cortex. After meditating for some months, the amygdala only switches on when there is an actual danger. It’s calm the rest of the time.

Dr. Fred Travis, a neuroscientist and colleague of my husband’s at MUM has conducted many research studies on the TM technique. He says that to recover from PTSD, we need an experience that is the opposite of trauma—an experience that is holistic and not fragmented, an experience that is silent and not chaotic. When a person transcends, they move beyond thought and emotion. During meditation the fear signals from the brain get turned off.”

study of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD demonstrated that after three months of doing the Transcendental Meditation technique, symptoms such as alcohol usage, high startle response, emotional numbness and anxiety decreased as compared to a control group who received only psychotherapy. Research indicates that meditation has a positive effect on problems that often arise in PTSD sufferers, such as hypertensiondepression, and substance abuse.

And TM works with children too. In urban schools in Detroit, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and all over the world, children are learning the Transcendental Meditation technique to release the anger and stress that comes from living in stressed environments.

As one child in a homeless shelter where TM is taught says, “Meditation feels good. Your body feels relaxed. It gets rid of negativity and anger. You forgive people. I have changed a lot.”

Back to Shankara’s explanation: meditation breaks the illusion. The memory no longer overpowers perception. So when a person goes to a movie, they enjoy the movie. When they go swimming, they enjoy swimming, because the active mind is now a quiet mind.

And children with PTSD can let go of the trauma that they have experienced, and become children again.

Linda Egenes is a health writer, blogger and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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