Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Irish Independent News: Keep calm and de-stress

The online newspaper Irish Independent featured an article in the Lifestyle > Independent Woman > Health & Fitness section on Monday Jan 28 2013, titled: Keep calm and de-stress.

Here a few quotes:
"Josephine Lynch, who teaches mindfulness at the Irish Institute of Counselling and Psychotherapy Studies and helps run mindfulness.ie, explains that it's all about being physically and emotionally present and "being aware of the moment in a kindly, friendly way".
She stresses that it's simply about recognising and acknowledging your thoughts, not trying to change things. "You're not trying to manipulate anything, but a change in how you view things is created."
[...]
The beauty of mindfulness lies in its simplicity; there are no expensive fees or strict class schedules to stick to. "You can mindfully make a sandwich, paying attention to what you're doing as you butter the bread and slice the cheese," says Susannah. "You can tune into your surroundings as you walk through the park. You can sit quietly and pay attention to your breath, even if you're sat on a bench in a busy part of town."
[...]
Being mindful is free, but it's something you have to work to cultivate. "The brain responds to experience and can make new pathways," explains Josephine. "But it won't happen out of the blue and does require effort." It's all about creating pockets of time during the day to be mindful and aware of your surroundings. Stopping to smell the flowers – literally – really can reduce stress and increase calmness."

BBC News: Can 'mindful' meditation increase profits?

 On 29 January 2013, the online BBC News Business section hosted a video report titled: Can 'mindful' meditation increase profits?.

Here is the blurb which accompanied the video report:
"In amongst all the talk of boosting the global economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, something called 'mindfulness' crept on to the programme for the first time.  The form of meditation's proponents say it can make you a better and more effective leader, and companies are beginning to take note.  Janice Marturano from Institute For Mindful Leadership explained to the BBC's Tanya Beckett how the technique can improve commercial performance."

Insight Calligraphy: Mindfulness Character 念 (Niàn)

"The Sanskrit word for mindfulness, smriti, means "remember." Mindfulness is remembering to come back to the present moment. The character the Chinese use for "mindfulness" has two parts: the upper part means "now," and the lower part means "mind" or "heart."" - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p64.

The ancient Chinese Bronzeware calligraphy character for mindfulness was a speaking mouth above a heart:
Ancient Chinese Bronzeware Style character for 'mindfulness' - Niàn 念 - by Insight Calligraphy teacher Paul Wang, Beijing.

My Insight Calligraphy teacher, Paul Wang, told me that this originally represented the spoken teachings of the heart. Language was spoken before it was written, so the spoken form is considered the purest. As ink became  used to write on bamboo strips, this character evolved and an early more fluid cursive (zhāngcǎo 章草) form of the character looked like this:

Ancient Chinese Early Zhang Cao Style character for 'mindfulness' - Niàn 念 - by Insight Calligraphy teacher Paul Wang, Beijing.

Later, an even more fluid cursive version was written like this:

Ancient Chinese Later Zhang Cao character for 'mindfulness' - Niàn 念 - by Insight Calligraphy teacher Paul Wang, Beijing.

This video shows myself writing the two cursive characters:

video

Here is a comparison of the two cursive characters written in the above video by myself (left) alongside my teacher's (right):
Mindfulness - Niàn 念 written in ancient Chinese Early and Later cursive calligraphy style.

As one writes, if one must write the same character more than once, then it's structure must be varied. Unlike in the West, where handwriting is seen as something which requires uniformity and consistency in strokes, chinese calligraphic writing requires just the opposite. Here are some examples of variations in the later cursive zhang cao style for the character for mindfulness that Paul Wang wrote for me to show variation within the form:

Ancient Chinese Later Zhang Cao character for 'mindfulness' - Niàn 念 - by Insight Calligraphy teacher Paul Wang, Beijing.

This character is also used in Chinese to mean the word 'remember'. Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes of the role of remembering relative to mindfulness practice as follows, in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p94:
"I like the words remember and remind because they imply connections that already exist but need to be acknowledged anew. To remember, then, can be thought of as reconnecting with membership, with the set to which what one already knows belongs. That which we have forgotten is still here, somewhere within us. It is access to it that is temporarily veiled. What has been forgotten needs to renew its membership in consciousness. For instance, when we "re-member" to pay attention, to be in the present, to be in our body, we are already awake right in that moment of remembering. The membership completes itself as we remember our wholeness. The same can be said for reminding ourselves. It reconnects us with what some people call "big mind," with a mind of wholeness, a mind that sees the whole forest as well as individual trees. Since we are always whole anyway, it's not that we have to do anything. We just have to "re-mind" ourself of it."

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Fox News: Improve job satisfaction with mindfulness

Another conservative news service has published a positive article on indfulness, this time FoxNews.com, with a piece titled:  Improve job satisfaction with mindfulness by Laurie Tarkan in the health section on  January 24, 2013.

Here are the quotes I found most interesting:
"If you find yourself emotionally spent at the end of your work week, you may want to consider practicing an old Buddhist tradition called mindfulness.
A new study shows that being mindful at work can reduce your level of emotional exhaustion, help keep your emotions on an even keel, and increase your job satisfaction. The good news: You can reap the benefits in just a week or two of practice.
[...]
The current report, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, included two studies. The first was an observational study, which asked 219 workers to write in a diary twice a day for five days. The participants worked in service jobs, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, retail stores and public offices—jobs that often have emotionally charged encounters.
[...]
The more we try to suppress these emotions or the thoughts that accompany them ('I can't make it, I will fail, I am going to explode'), the more energy it requires,” said Hugo Alberts, a co-author of the study. “Instead of attempting to avoid or reduce a negative emotion, mindfulness requires willingness to stay in contact with the emotion and allow it to be.
[...]
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She has authored several health books..."

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mindfulness: The Essence of Yoga (Part1) - Opening Up

"In focusing on the breath when we meditate, we are learning right from the start to get comfortable with change. We see that we will have to be flexible." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p49.
Shaolin Monk ShiFu YanLei demonstrating his flexibility.
It seems our modern use of the word 'yoga' most often brings up images of classical Indian calisthenics - stretching the body, cultivating subtle energies, and seeking a meditative mind-body connection. What appears to separate yoga from mere physical stretching of the body is the mindful or energetic component taught within the various poses. As the author of Meditation for Dummies (2006) states, p47-48:
"...“poses” are just one component of the traditional path of classical yoga, which includes breath control and meditation. [...] The practitioner of classical yoga aims to withdraw from the material world, which is considered illusory, and merge with the formless but ultimate reality of consciousness. After preparing the body with asanas (the familiar hatha yoga poses), cultivating refined energy states through various breathing practices, and excluding all external distractions, the yogi focuses on an intermediate object, such as a mantra (repetition of a meaningful word or phrase) or a sacred symbol, and then on consciousness itself. Finally, the yogi arrives at a state known as samadhi, where all traces of separation dissolve and the yogi blissfully unites with consciousness. Compiled and codified by Patanjali (a sage of the second century A.D.), the philosophy and practices of classical yoga gave rise to numerous and, at times, competing schools over the centuries. Most of the yogis and swamis who have taught in the West trace their lineage to classical yoga."
As a philosophical concept, the word 'yoga' means unifying the body and mind. MBSR founder Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn writes of the Sanskrit meaning in his book Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p101:
"Yoga is a Sanskrit word that literally means "yoke." The practice of yoga is the practice of yoking together or unifying body and mind, which really means penetrating into the experience of them not being separate in the first place. You can also think of it as experiencing the unity or connectedness between the individual and the universe as a whole. The word has other specialized meanings... but the basic thrust is always the same: realizing connectedness, realizing wholeness through disciplined practice."

 

Dr. Kabat-Zinn's mindfulness practice, originating in East-Asian Zen (see Coming To Our Senses (2006), p38), was the result of Indian religion (and thus Indian practices and concepts) passing into China. The Chinese people, having their own indigenous spiritual, philosophical, and mind-body calisthenics traditions (i.e. Daoism), used their existing perspectives to interpret the Indian ideas and practices filtering into their culture from the West.

Mahayana Buddhism was one such tradition enthusiastically embraced by the Chinese, and some of the schools within Mahayana Buddhism were deeply concerned with what they referred to as 'yoga' relative to the practice of being/becoming a Bodhisattva (a person wishing to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings). Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes of Chinese 'Buddhist yoga' practices in his book Understanding Our Mind (2001), p1:
"Both Vijñanavada and Yogachara were early Mahayana Buddhist schools based on the study of the nature of consciousness. Vijñana means literally “mind” or “consciousness.” [...] Yogachara means “application of yoga” or meditation, particularly the meditative practices of the perfections (paramita), the essential qualities of a bodhisattva." 
A graphic at the beginning of the Buddha Nature Treatise (佛性論).
The Buddhist text called the Buddha Nature Treatise (佛性論), of which only extant Chinese copies remain, attributed to the translator Paramartha (of Indian origin, living in China in the 6th Century AD), refers to the Buddhadharma (basic Buddhist teachings) as being yoga. Buddhist scholar Sallie B. King, in her book Buddha Nature (1991), presents a translation of a passage thus, p66: 
"This Dharma is the Tathagata's asrayaparavrtti. That is why it is named the end of dharani; it is also called yoga."
She writes of this passage as follows, p67:
"At the end of the passage, nirvana is directly identified with practice, specifically with yoga, with asrayaparavrtti (which, as we saw earlier, is the foundation of the Buddhist path, the destruction of defilements, the fruit of mature contemplation and the attainment of Thusness) and with dharani (recollection, meditation, and wisdom)."
A Buddhist monk sat in Lotus Posture - a yoga pose.
With regards to understanding the Yogaracara school of Mahayana Buddhism in ancient China, King says the Buddha Nature Treatise is of serious value, p27:
"The text is remarkably useful today as an introduction to the Yogacara-related foundations of Chinese Buddhist philosophy. Many of the views articulated in the text, and especially the overall standpoint from which the author speaks, are very much in harmony with widespread ideas in Chinese Buddhist thought as they are expressed in the various indigenous Chinese Buddhist schools. This is especially true of Chan [Chinese Zen]..."
Around the same time as the translator Paramartha was in China, the First Patriarch of Zen and the legendary founder of Shaolin KungFu, Bodhidharma, was apparently teaching yoga to Buddhist monks, as I outlined in my posts: YiQuan: 'Mind Fist' / Chinese Visualisation Yoga and Mindful 'Tai Chi' and YiQuan's Shì lì 試力 and Mócā bù 摩擦步 Exercises - Moving with the Air.

The famous Shaolin Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic (Yìjīnjīng 易筋经) is said to be part of the yoga taught by Bodhidharma. The Chinese YiQuan Martial Art Master Wang XiangZhai (1885 - 1963), who linked YiQuan to Bodhidharma's original practice, gave instructions in his book, The Right Path of YiQuan (Translation, 2001), for the practice of his art which are not unlike instructions from a modern yoga teacher, p11:
"When exercising, you must let nature lead the course of all the joints of the whole body, do not have even the slightest sluggish place. The bones must be agile, the muscles and tendons must stretch, the flesh must be at ease, and the blood must flow freely like a spring that brings the water to a well. Only in this way can one learn the way of the whole body and the all-pervading strength..."
A Classical Indian dancer and the author's YiQuan teacher (Cui Rui Bin) in similar stances.
Even though the shapes assumed by one's body during YiQuan may not be the same as Classical Indian yoga at times, the essence of the teaching appears to be identical, and therefore it seems the term 'yoga' could be broadened to include such meditative calisthenic arts as YiQuan. Thich Nhat Hanh appears to embrace this potential broadness when he talks of 'mouth yoga' in his book The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (1998), p70:
"There are more than three hundred muscles in our face, and when we know how to breath in and smile, these muscles can relax. This is "mouth yoga." We smile and we are able to release all of our feelings and emotions."
Kabat-Zinn also supports this view, although reserving the explicit term 'yoga' for Hatha Yoga as part of his MBSR - probably not to confuse readers. In his book Full Catastrophe Living (2005), in the chapter titled: 'YOGA IS MEDITATION', he states, p95:
"There are many different ways to practice being in your body. All enhance growth and change and healing, especially if they are done with meditative awareness."
Ancient Daoist Yoga postures.
The physical benefits of yoga are well documented - apparently more famous than any psychological benefits, since the subtle dimensions to the Indian yoga has often utilised references to mystical energy such as prana (an elusive substance acting beyond what we consider standard psychological patterns of behaviour). In exploring the physical body with open and focused awareness, one of the most obvious physical benefits is that one becomes more aware of one's physical limits. Kabat-Zinn, in Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), writes of this feature of yoga as follows, p157:
"Yoga folds movement and stillness into one another. It is a wonderfully nourishing practice. As in the other forms of mindfulness practice, you are not trying to get anywhere. But you are purposefully moving right up to the very limits of your body in this moment." 
Knowledge of one's limits allows one to access more of one's potential, and remain flexible when situations could be overwhelming. Kabat-Zinn outlines this feature in Full Catastrophe Living, p304:
"...you will be able to catch things as they change and be flexible enough to modify what you are doing when necessary to accommodate your changing situation."

A Chinese Daoist BaguaZhang practitioner holding a pose. BaguaZhang is famous for embracing constant change.
This state of being open to change - accepting everything as it comes, and reacting with sensitivity and fluidity requires kindness and love to be directed towards oneself and others. This approach spans both the mental and physical dimensions of yoga practice, and it is in this way that the approach to opening the body for physical health can be also seen to be parallel to opening the mind for mental wellbeing. Kabat-Zinn makes this explicit comparison in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p167:
"Love and kindness are here all the time, somewhere, in fact, everywhere. Usually our ability to touch them and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our greed and our hatreds, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are truly separate and alone. By invoking such feelings in our practice, we are stretching against the edges of our own ignorance, just as in the yoga we stretch against the resistance of muscle, ligament, and tendon, and as in that and all other forms of meditation, against the boundaries and ignorance of our own minds and hearts. And in the stretching, painful as it sometimes is, we expand, we grow, we change ourselves, we change the world"
Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki also emphasises the need to stretch and open oneself during meditation practice, in his book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p43:
"You must stretch out your arms and legs as wide as they will go. Form is form. You must be true to your own way until at last you actually come to the point where you see it is necessary to forget all about yourself. Until you come to this point, it is completely mistaken to think that whatever you do is Zen or that it does not matter whether you practice or not."

Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi sat in zazen meditation posture.
In Coming To Our Senses, Kabat-Zinn further extends the definition of yoga to the way we approach our normal, everyday life, p91:
"Taking up the challenge of waking up to our lives and being transmuted by wakefulness itself is its own form of yoga, the yoga of everyday life, applicable in any and every moment; at work, in our relationships, in raising children if we are parents, in our relationships with our own parents, whether they are living or dead, in our relationship with our own thoughts about the past and the future, in our relationship to our own bodies. We can bring awareness to whatever is happening, to moments of conflict and to moments of harmony, and to moments so neutral we might not notice them at all."
This "yoga of everyday life" which wakes us up; opens our eyes to new understanding and a broader concept of mind and body, is referred to by Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, with reference to 'small mind' and 'big mind', p33:
"Zen practice is to open up our small mind. So concentrating is just an aid to help you realize "big mind," or the mind that is everything. If you want to discover the true meaning of Zen in your everyday life, you have to understand the meaning of keeping your mind on your breathing and your body in the right posture in zazen. You should follow the rules of practice and your study should become more subtle and careful. Only in this way can you experience the vital freedom of Zen."
And on p115:
"Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are. When our thinking is soft, it is called imperturbable thinking. This kind of thinking is always stable. It is called mindfulness."
Zen calligraphy by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
Since our mind and body are intimately related - existentially related, emotional manifestations and physical manifestations are not separate from one another. The same method of working with pain, stiffness, tension, etc., in a yoga studio can be applied to our negative emotions. Here is Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living, p319:
"The key is to be willing to inquire into your suffering, to observe it, to open up to it consciously, in the present, and work with it just as you would with a symptom, with physical pain, or with a thought that surfaces repeatedly."
He goes deeper into this 'opening up to pain' in the same book on page 295:
"In some moments when you go into your pain and face it openly, it may seem as if you are locked in hand-to-hand combat with it or as if you are undergoing torture. It is helpful to recognize that these are just thoughts. It helps to remind yourself that the work of mindfulness is not meant to be a battle between you and your pain and it won't be unless you make it into one. If you do make it a struggle, it will only make for greater tension and therefore more pain. Mindfulness involves a determined effort to observe and accept your physical discomfort and your agitated emotions, moment by moment"
If we can do the above, then, as Kabat-Zinn teaches, we can obtain levels of health and wisdom never experienced before, p179:
"To bring calmness to the mind and body requires that at a certain point we be willing to let go of wanting anything at all to happen and just accept things as they are and ourselves as we are with an open, receptive heart. This inner peace and acceptance lie at the heart of both health and wisdom ."
The role of working with the physical relationship between mind and body is looked into more deeply in Part 2: Releasing Tension


The author playing in a waterfall on Hainan Island, China, 2008.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Scientific American: Focus on Yourself to Alleviate Social Pain

In the Mind & Brain section of the Scientific American website, and article on mindfulness was posted on January 3, 2013, by

"In one of the new studies, published in the October 2012 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 55- to 85-year-old adults were randomized to either receive MBSR or be put on a waiting list for the program. The loneliness of the participants who received MBSR decreased after training, whereas the loneliness of the wait-listed control subjects increased slightly. MBSR also reduced inflammation—the cause of loneliness-related health risks such as heart attack or stroke—as measured by levels of stress proteins and proinflammatory gene expression.
The other study, published online in August 2012 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that MBSR reduced negative emotions in people with social anxiety disorder."

ABC News: Marines Studying Mindfulness-Based Training

ABC News website posted a piece in their U.S. section on January 19, 2013, titled: Marines Studying Mindfulness-Based Training.

Here are the quotes I found most topical:
"The U.S. Marine Corps, known for turning out some of the military's toughest warriors, is studying how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness.
Marine Corps officials say they will build a curriculum that would integrate mindfulness-based techniques into their training if they see positive results from a pilot project.
[...]
Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the military has been searching for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
[...]
The School Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton will offer the eight-week course starting Tuesday to about 80 Marines.
The experiment builds on a 2011 study involving 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body's sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence.
[...]
One group of about 80 will receive mindfulness-based training. Another of equal size will be given mental resilience training based on sports psychology techniques. The third one will act as a control group.
Results from that study are expected in the fall, Marine Corps officials said.
[...]
"Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training" or "M-Fit" was designed by former U.S. Army Capt. Elizabeth Stanley, a professor at Georgetown University who found relief doing yoga and meditation for her PTSD."

ScienceDaily.com News: Mindfulness Meditation May Relieve Chronic Inflammation

ScienceDaily.com news section published an article on Wednesday, 16 January 2013, based on the following science journal paper:
Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Richard J. Davidson, Donal G. MacCoon, John F. Sheridan, Ned H. Kalin, Antoine Lutz. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2013; 27: 174
The article was titled: Mindfulness Meditation May Relieve Chronic Inflammation. Here is a quote:
"Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress, and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.
The results show that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions.
The study also suggests that mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being."

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Politics.co.uk News: MP: Stressed civil servants 'should meditate more'

Alex Stevenson of Politics.co.uk news section wrote an article on Wednesday, 16 January 2013, about the potential use of mindfulness meditation in UK politics. The article ran under the title: 'MP: Stressed civil servants 'should meditate more'.

Here are the quotes from the article which I found most interesting:
"Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane thinks government departments can reduce sick leave by getting stressed civil servants to concentrate on their mental health in meditation training sessions.

"I've had an interest in mindfulness now for about five years," he told politics.co.uk.

"I haven't done the traditional eight-week course on mindfulness, but I've been practising myself."
 [...]

"Most of the government departments he questioned about the impact mindfulness-based practice can have on reducing workplace stress and staff absences said they were not interested in the enlightened approach.

But the Ministry of Defence has appointed a 'health and wellbeing champion', the Commons is "considering the contribution mindfulness-based practice" could have and the Department of Health is piloting a mindfulness based stress reduction programme across two directorates.

"The evaluation will inform decisions about further roll out," health minister Daniel Poulter said."

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Mindful 'Tai Chi' and YiQuan's Shì lì 試力 and Mócā bù 摩擦步 Exercises - Moving with the Air

"When you breathe in, you are like a flower opening to the warm sun. Breathing out, the flower closes." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh & Wietske Vriezen, Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being (2008), p36.
"...a meditation that involves moving, like mindful walking, can shift us from one mental mode to another. Tai chi, chi gung, and hatha yoga are all moving meditations." - Mindfulness meditation teacher, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p90.



Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness teacher and creator of MBSR, describes the way the West is embracing various kinds of yoga in his book Coming To Our Senses (2006) as follows, p274:
"The flowering of yoga in the West is one of the marks of the yearning for and the movement toward a greater consciousness of mind and body, and of a greater commitment to true well-being and health across the life span on the part of millions of people, young and old alike. The same is true for tai chi and chi gung."
Taiji (or tai chi), qigong (or chi gung / chi kung), and related arts, seem to have had the dimension of mindfulness, as a practice, breathed into them around the time of the arrival of the legendary Persian or South Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, in China - around 6th Century AD.

Bodhidharma is considered to have been the founder of the famous Shaolin Kung Fu, and his statue sits atop SongShan Mountain looking over Shaolin Temple. Taiji and qigong (both of which are still practiced in Shaolin Kung Fu systems as martial arts) are now only two of what were a whole host of Chinese yoga health systems, many of which had powerful martial potential. Some of the other popular, although less famous Chinese 'internal' yoga and martial art systems still practiced today are BaguaZhang and XingYiQuan.

Bodhidharma Statue on top of ShongShan Mountain(s) above Shaolin Temple, Henan Province, China.
This latter art, XingYiQuan, was refined by the late Master Wang XiangZhai (1885 - 1963), by his travelling all over China and competing with as many different martial arts masters as he could find, which included Western boxers, and Japanese and Korean fighters. Even though he says he was defeated only 2.5 times, he incorporated those elements of the arts he encountered; aspects which he felt were supportive of health and practicality, into his discipline, and this new synthesis was termed YiQuan.

Master Wang felt that the art he had refined, in it's basic form, must have borne some resemblance to the yogic arts Bodhidharma had been reputably connected with some 1500 years earlier. In his book The Right Path of YiQuan (Translation, 2001), Master Wang writes, p5:
"In the Liang dynasty (502 - 557 AD), Damo [Bodhidharma] came to the East, and in addition to preaching sermons to his students, he also taught the art of training the physique, which took the strong points of the spirits of the birds and beasts and combined them with the methods of developing the marrow and changing the muscles and tendons. Thus Yiquan (mind boxing), also known as Xinyiquan (heart and mind boxing) was created. The disciples and followers who were well versed in this art were numerous, thus Shaolin's fame spread greatly."
In this video, a Shaolin monk demonstrates a mindful yoga form, the Yìjīnjīng (易筋经), which is most often attributed to Bodhidharma:


In a previous post; YiQuan and Zen, I outlined the running theme between traditional Zen practice and YiQuan. Now, as Zen practice has been stripped of ritual, dogma, and mysticism by Western teachers, and presented as the secular practice of 'Mindfulness Meditation', it seems that the teachings of YiQuan (itself stripped of mysticism and dogma by Chinese Communism) and Mindfulness - especially when it comes to exploring mindful, embodying movements - overlap greatly, as we will be seeing further down.

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn appears to consider it a modern innovation to incorporate yoga and meditation within a hospital setting, and yet Master Wang XiangZhai's YiQuan system, as a health practice, was incorporated within some Chinese hospitals in Beijing several decades before, not to mention the medical research carried out by Dr. Yu Yong Nian - one of Master Wang's original students - and the book he has written on the topic; Zhan Zhuang and the Search of Wu (2006). Dr. Yu's book provides evidence he gathered which he says proves the medical benefits of YiQuan - mostly using the core practice of standing yoga/meditation (zhan zhuang 站桩 in chinese). This may be unsurprising considering the increasing abundance of peer-reviewed papers hailing the health benefits of mindfulness meditation, and the apparent deeply mindful dimension to YiQuan practice.

http://yiquan.chinamartialarts.net/image/Yu-3dcover2.jpg


Kabat-Zinn emphasises the importance of combining mindfulness meditation with physical care of the body in his book Full Catastrophe Living (2005), with his introduction of the notion of 're-bodying' oneself, p95:
"...it is a little peculiar that the English language doesn't allow us to "rebody" ourselves. It seems on the face of it to be just as necessary and useful a concept as to remind ourselves.
[...]
Bodies are subject to inevitable breakdown. But they do seem to break down sooner and to heal less rapidly and less completely if they are not cared for and listened to in some basic ways. For this reason, taking proper care of your body is of great importance in both the prevention of disease and in the work of healing from illness, disease, or injury. Step number one in caring for your body, whether you are sick or injured or healthy, is to practice being "in" it. Tuning in to your breathing and to the sensations that you can feel in your body is one very practical way to work at being in your body. It helps you to stay in close touch with it and then to act on what you learn as you listen to its messages."
Master Wang XiangZhai demonstrating the spirit of YiQuan.
Before looking into what, beyond the stationary postures of Hatha Yoga, Kabat-Zinn recommends in order to mindfully 're-body' oneself by way of dynamically immersing oneself in the 'airscape'; something he refers to as "tai chi", it is worth looking into what the highly accomplished martial artist and health preservationist YiQuan Master Wang XiangZhai has to say about such arts as taiji and qigong. In his book Essence of Combat Science (Translation 2004), Master Wang says, rather bluntly, the following, p4:
"Yang Shaohou and Yang Chengfu brothers were inheritors of taijiquan. They were my friends. So I know that this art contains things reasonable from point of view of mechanics. But among a hundred practitioners not more than one can understand the demands of this art. Even if someone has some skill, it is not complete, because the basic training of practical experiencing was lost long time ago. There is a lack of proper force in lower part of body.
[...]
Their way of practice: fist here, palm there, kick to the left, kick to the right, it is funny and pathetic. If talking about using in combat, if opponent has at least some little skill, it is completely useless. Even the famous experts of taijiquan can use their skill only when opponent is stiff and inert. These deviations are so big, that taijiquan became as descriptions of movements from chess manual.
In last 20 years most of taijiquan practitioners are not able to see what is valuable and what is not. Even if some know something, they don't possess practical skill. And students believe some hearsay instead of judging by what they can see themselves. So this art is lost. It's a pity.
[...]
As for taijiquan, I dare to say that my knowledge is deep. If someone doesn't agree, he may criticize me, he may blame me. Those who understand combat science will forgive me my harsh words"
An example of a TaijiQuan manual.
Master Wang believed that martial arts and their associated health benefits needed to be assessed carefully and tested in a scientific manner. He spoke of YiQuan and it's relationship to qigong in the same book thus, p15:
"As for force, energy, everything relies on arguing forces, elasticty, using of opening and closing, pulsation of breath, feeling of unity with everything, in mind there is image of unity of air filling whole space of universe. Of course we are not talking here about qi of qigong. When people talk about round lower abdomen, saying that it means qi filling dantian, it is a big mistake."
However, he spoke very highly of the circle-walking yogic martial art of BaguaZhang, p3:
"Baguazhang was originally called chuanzhang. When I was a child, I had opportunity to meet [Baguazhang Master] Cheng Tinghua. I remember that he was like a dragon flying in air, his changes in movement were innumerable and unpredictable. It is difficult to reach this level."


Indeed, Master Wang incorporated elements of BagauZhang - often said to look like dragons swimming - into YiQuan. Within YiQuan, this idea of being immersed in water is a constant theme used for tuning into the body's inherent natural flow and grace. It is also used as a visualization exercise by Kabat-Zinn when he leads mindfulness students into manifesting basic "tai chi" (an apparent broad term for Chinese-style moving yoga). Wang recommends the following way to practice YiQuan exercises in his book ZhanZhuang: A form of health cultivation and therapy (Translation 2004), p18:
"Smiling slightly as if you were playing in water, as if you were a baby again, listening to the nature. In ordinary and usual there is unusual natural pleasure." 
For comparison, Dr. Kabat-Zinn begins his mindful exploration of what he terms the 'airscape', in Coming to Our Senses, as follows, p211:
"Imagine yourself under water, still fully able to breathe. Now try moving. Move just one arm and hand, slowly at first. Can you "feel" how the "water" streams around the arm, between the fingers, across the back of the hand and all around? As I do it now, I feel a fluidity in the movement itself, as if my arm and hand suddenly have a new life to them. They seem drawn to go on their own wherever they can, to flow and undulate anywhere and everywhere, to experiment spontaneously with greater freedom of motion. These slow, inherently elegant movements seem to become more fluid merely by imagining and thereby sensing that they are in a fluid."


This following of the water is exactly what is taught by Wang, in ZhanZhuang, p28:
"Imagine that you are standing in water. Its temperature gives you comfortable feeling. Water is lightly hitting your body from different sides and your body is naturally following the movement of water."
Kabat-Zinn similarly extends the sensation to the whole body, p211-212: 
"If you are doing it now, can you feel how graceful your moving has already become? And how effortless? Linger in this feeling as long as you like while continuing to move. And if you like, gradually let the rest of your body join in. Let yourself become a strand of kelp waving rhythmically in a bed of waving kelp in the ocean near where sea meets land. You might try standing up if you are sitting, and let your whole body, arms, legs, torso, and head, move however it likes, feeling the flowing currents around the body as it is drawn into responding in whatever ways it chooses in the fluid within which it is immersed."
Taking on the movement of the water, like a strand of kelp or a swimming snake, is felt to invigorate the body. Here is Wang, in The Right Path of Yiqan, p1:
"The actions of the body are like those of the divine dragon roaming in the sky or fierce snake swimming in the water. Just like the flow of water, moving in an unfixed way and lively and changing all the time, these are the characteristics belonging to water, and are thus called water strength."


As the sensitivity of the body increases, more subtle feelings of the fluid air in and around one are given attention. Kabat-Zinn continues, p212:
"Actually we do live at the bottom of an ocean - an ocean of air. Letting go of the water image, you might play with seeing if you can actually feel this ocean of air with your skin as you move your arms and hands as slowly as before, feeling the streaming of the air through and around your fingers and hands, bathing in the sensations you are experiencing, whatever they are."
Again Master Wang parallels Kabat-Zinn in his teachings, in ZhanZhuang, p14:
"All pores of your skin are as if opening, there appears feeling as if wind was moving freely through them, through your body, inside and outside. All muscles are becoming as a one empty bag in the air, hanging on a rope, and supported from below. At the same time it is a feeling as if you were lying on a grassland below the vast sky. And as if you were standing in slightly moving water. In this way muscles are exercised, although you are not doing typical exercises. Your mind is also naturally cultivated. These are the basic demands of exercises."
Next Kabat-Zinn refers to the deep awareness of the flowing movement of the body within the ocean of the air as "tai chi", p212:
"As you settle more and more into your body and bring more and more awareness to the body as a whole, allowing it to move on its own, in its own way, perhaps noticing how the felt sense of the body moving can turn amazingly, instantly, into the essence of tai chi - flowing movement within stillness, within an ocean of awareness, an ocean of air."



Wang also emphasizes this need for completely natural movement in relation to the air - no acting or forcing of experience, in ZhanZhuang p15:
"During exercise, you should also have feeling as if there was mutual echoing between muscles and surrounding air. The ability of using body as a whole and using the natural abilities will develop this way. There shouldn't be non-natural, artificial acting. Artificial acting and partial methods are destroying the possibility of using the whole and using natural abilities."
Kabat-Zinn now reduces the movement to stillness with the aim of retaining the sensitivity gained from the visualisation exercise, p212:
"Now allow yourself to come to stillness and sense the air with your whole body. Rather than searching for a particular feeling, let it emerge on its own, as if you were listening with your skin for the air to speak. You do not have to reach out or try to do or feel anything. After all, the air is already all around you and inside you, touching you."
Wang parallels this in ZhanZhuang, p30:
"Unity of man and nature. Imagine that you are standing, sitting or lying in a beautiful place, feeling comfortably. You can feel that the air is embracing your body. Gradually you can feel that body and air are one. You feel extremely comfortably, as if floating in the air, entering the state of forgetting yourself."
The author's YiQuan teacher, Master Cui Rui Bin, practicing zhan zhuang during a trip to France.
This "forgetting yourself" is also encouraged by Kabat-Zinn in the next part, p212: 
"Without trying, sensing how you are already embedded in this fluid, how the ocean of air caresses your skin, envelopes you, embraces you, even when it is hardly moving in a room, even when it is utterly still. Feel how you are mysteriously drawn to draw it into your body over and over again through your nose or mouth, how this happens without your trying, without any forcing, without volition even."
Master Wang says that this situation alone is enough for cultivating health, in ZhanZhuang, p38
"Cultivating health is easiest. It's enough to relax, feel comfortable, naturally, light, not using too much force, as if you start falling asleep, floating in water or in air - these are most of the important demands. If you try anything more, it only disturbs your mind and it's losing time."
From this foundation he says one should then practice movements as part of one's regular discipline, in ZhanZhuang, p15
"When you have learned basics, you can gradually learn movement - only then it will be easy to experience movement in non-movement, movement as non-movement, movement in which movement and non-movement are based on each other. Then it is possible to feel pressure of air on surface of your body, using the force which is result of changes between relax and tension."
The term for this exploration of the body and the subtle friction with the air is called Shì lì 試力 and Mócā bù 摩擦步 (for stepping with legs) in YiQuan. Master Wang gives the following advice for such practices, in Essence of Combat Science, p8:
"In shili there shouldn't be partial, superficial force, especially there shouldn't be unbalanced one directional force. You should observe if the whole body force is round, full or not, if it is possible issuing force at any moment, if there is feeling of mutual reaction between body and surrounding air. Intention shouldn't be broken, spirit shouldn't be dispersed. Light and heavy are ready to be used. If one moves, whole body follows it"
Here is a video of myself demonstrating an initial zhanzhuang (standing post) training posture, following on to shì lì (force testing) exercises using the arms and eventually incorporating stepping with the legs. I was taught these movements over the space of many days' training at Taolin YiQuan Academy in the countryside north of Beijing - practicing each movement for at least 30 mins straight twice a day:

video
Here is Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being (2008), p57:
"By bringing one’s body and mind together in the present moment, we can experience peace and a unity with humanity and with all of life."

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Telegraph News: Now's the moment for mindfulness

Judith Woods of the Telegraph's Health>Wellbeing section wrote a piece on mindfulness as "the acclaimed technique" on 31 December 2012, titled: Now's the moment for mindfulness.

The following quotes presented a very optimistic and surprisingly accepting angle from a mainstream British newspaper which has a reputation for being politically right-leaning:
"Mindfulness. If you’re not yet au fait with the concept, it might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with it now, because you’ll be hearing a lot about it in 2013; from business leaders, academics, politicians and educationalists."
"It has been discussed in Parliament as a therapy in relation to both unemployment and depression. But it isn’t about zoning out. If anything, it’s about zooming in; paying attention to the present and decluttering the brain to make room for creativity – and in business that means boosting the bottom line.
To that end, mindfulness training has been embraced by organisations as diverse as Google, Transport for London, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Home Office, by way of an antidote to the relentless pressure and information overload common in many workplaces"
"The technique draws on the breathing exercises commonly used in meditation and yoga, but there the comparison ends. The aim is to become more aware of thoughts and feelings, in a non-judgmental way, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we can manage them better. It may sound deceptively airy-fairy, but make no mistake, this isn’t about chanting and there’s no cross-legged spirituality involved. The US military (hardly a bastion of hippiedom) offers marines mindfulness training before they are deployed, in recognition that it is an effective form of mental discipline.
The principles and practice of “mindful leadership” are taught at Harvard, while Oxford University’s dedicated Mindfulness Centre is carrying out research into its clinical and general health benefits."
"The World Health Organisation recently stated that by 2030, mental health issues will form the biggest burden on health care resources including heart conditions and cancer."
"Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) for preventing relapse in patients with recurrent depression, and is successful in half of all cases. Such findings have been backed up by neuroscience."
"“I used to teach at a highly academic independent girls’ school, and I found that by introducing mindfulness into lessons, it had a profound effect on the students’ anxiety levels, their confidence and their concentration,” says Claire Kelly, a mindfulness practitioner who is now involved with the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), a not-for-profit body that runs an eight-week programme in schools.
“Teaching mindfulness to young people gives them crucial tools to deal with the pressures of life. It’s empowering, and once they know how to do it, they can draw on it whenever they need to.”
Tonbridge School in Kent and Hampton School in Middlesex were the first British schools to include mindfulness in the curriculum for all 13- and 14-year-olds in 2010. Since then, more schools here and abroad have become involved, and in March the International Mindfulness in Schools Conference 2013 will take place in London, and it is hoped that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, will attend.
“I think mindfulness training should be made available to every child,” says Kelly. “Once you’ve seen the tangible effect it has on behaviour and performance, it makes complete sense to incorporate it into school life and beyond.”
So if you would like to enter 2013 with enhanced emotional equilibrium, a greater sense of perspective and a feeling that you can cope with the challenges the year will bring, mindfulness could well be the way forward. You have nothing to lose but your stress."

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Becoming Lighter in Mindfulness

"Lieh Tzu could ride the wind and go soaring around with cool and breezy skill, but after fifteen days he came back to earth." - Daoist Sage ZhuangZi, Chapter 1.
"Who realises here in this world the destruction of his sorrow,
Who has laid the burden aside and is emancipated — I call a Saint." - Dhammapada, 402.
"Walk like a free person. Put things down, don’t carry anything, and feel light. There is a burden we always carry with us. The skill we need is how to lay down our burden in order to be light. If you sit, walk, or lie down like that, it’s very easy to release the tension and reduce the pain" - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh,  Shambhala Sun Magazine (January 2012), Imagine a Pine Tree, p44.
 Liezi, the Chinese philosopher and Daoist master of the Spring and Autumn Period.  By Japanese artist Sesson Shukei (1504-1589).

It seems there is a long tradition of associating meditation with lightness - from alleged levitating yogis and dropping attachments to material possessions, to learning how to 'somersault through the clouds' and attend the mythical Jade Emperor's court in heaven.

There is an apparent other kind of lightness that can be practiced and gained through meditation, however - something more to do with how one perceives and interacts with the world. Dropping one's negative judgements regarding difficulties in life, and meeting them in the moment, could also mean releasing oneself  from one's burdens. As the Buddha stated in the Dhammapada (Narada translation), Chapter 7, 2-3 [or 91-92]:
"The mindful exert themselves. To no abode are they attached. Like swans that quit their pools, home after home they abandon (and go).
They for whom there is no accumulation, who reflect well over their food, who have Deliverance which is Void and Signless, as their object—their course, like that of birds in the air, cannot be traced."

 

First, however, it seems to be necessary that we identify that we are carrying burdens at all. As Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (1998), writes, p29:
"The Buddha said that to suffer and not know that we are suffering is more painful than the burden endured by a mule carrying an unimaginably heavy load. We must, first of all, recognize that we are suffering and then determine whether its basis is physical, physiological, or psychological. Our suffering needs to be identified."
The choice of calling painful experiences 'a burden' can become a toxic habit it seems. There emerges an endless stream of sufferable experiences. American Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, writes of this situation in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p21:
"Burdens are always turning up in our lives. For example, suppose I have to spend some time with somebody I don’t like, and that feels like a burden. Or I have a tough week coming up, and I’m discouraged by it. Or the classes I’m teaching this semester have unprepared students in them. Raising kids can make us feel burdened. Illness, accidents, whatever difficulties we meet can be felt to be burdens. We cannot live as human beings without meeting difficulties, which we can choose to call “burdens.” Life then becomes heavy, heavy, heavy."

 

This stream can turn into a river, and even an ocean, in which we feel we are merely treading water. Thich Nhat Hanh writes of such experiences in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, p250:
"Sometimes we feel as though we are drowning in the ocean of suffering, carrying the burden of all social injustice of all times."
Peoples' idea of carrying the collective burden of society is also mentioned by Mindfulness meditation teacher, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p97:
""I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders," we sometimes say. We may be more familiar with that sensation than many others and certainly more often than we'd like. This is how many of us feel when depressed or unhappy-as if a huge burden has been placed on the body, making every normal action an effort."
The Ancient Greek Titan Atlas supporting a Greco-Buddhist monument (100-200 BC)  in Hadda, Afghanistan.
It seems most people often react to such situations in unhealthy ways. Charlotte Joko Beck, while using the Greek myth of King Sisyphus, who was punished by being compelled to perpetually roll an immense boulder up a hill, illustrates how we tend to view our lives of burden, and how often we seek to escape our responsibilities, in Nothing Special Living Zen, p18:
"The weight of the boulder, the burden, is the thought that our life is a struggle, that it should be other than it is. When we judge our burden to be unpleasant, we look for ways to escape. Perhaps one person gets drunk to forget about pushing the boulder. Another manipulates people into helping push it. Often we try to shift the burden onto someone else so we can escape the work." 
When we experience the emotional fallout resulting from our unhealthy habits, however, this can add to the burden of suffering we are already experiencing; thus making the situation even worse. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn says in his book Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p326:
"as the emotional upheavals come and go or our bad feelings linger and weigh on us"
We can get angry and lash out at the world for burdening us so, and yet by doing this we often say and do things which we eventually regret - things which weigh heavy on our hearts. Again this is counterproductive. Thich Nhat Hanh says of this,  in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, p79:
"The fire of anger burns in us day and night and causes us to suffer — even more than the one at whom we are angry. When anger is absent, we feel light and free."
And from The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness - Mindfulness Of Mind,a dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on February 22, 1998  in Plum Village, France:
"There are days when we feel that our mind is small and narrow, we have not the capacity to love and to accept. We blame. We are angry. That is because our mind is narrow. But also, there are days when we can love everyone; we can accept everyone and feel light."
 

It seems, however, that one will not often be able to avoid the negative consequences of negative thoughts and emotions unless one actively practices mindful non-judgement of experiences. The author of Mindfulness for Dummies (2010) says the following on this topic, p153:
"If your mind habitually pops up with negative or unhelpful thoughts, seeing the thoughts and images as facts has stressful consequences. However, you can free yourself of this burden. Switch things round and try seeing thoughts as automatic, conditioned reactions rather than facts. Question the validity of thoughts and images. Step back from the thoughts if you can and don’t take them to be you, or reality. Just watch them come and go and observe the effect of this."
And here is Kabat-Zinn in The Mindful Way Through Depression, p229:
"At different times, we certainly will encounter restlessness, frustration, and impatience, as well as many other mind states and body states. That is not a problem at all, as long as we remember that it is possible to hold it all lightly in awareness in any moment."
Some of us have had more traumatic experiences than others, and can easily feel overwhelmed by the burdens we shoulder. Kabat-Zinn writes of such emotional pain as follows, in Full Catastrophe Living, p319:
"We may carry one kind of emotional pain or another deep within our hearts, often for much of our lives, like a heavy and sometimes secret burden, at times unknown even to ourselves. Just as with physical pain, you can be mindful of emotional pain and can use its energy to grow and heal. The key is to be willing to inquire into your suffering, to observe it, to open up to it consciously, in the present, and work with it just as you would with a symptom, with physical pain, or with a thought that surfaces repeatedly."


As well as making efforts to recognise our suffering for what it really is, we can lower our burdens by taking things one step at a time - even if we have very busy schedules. Kabat Zinn, in The Mindful Way Through Depression, says this is necessary to reduce stress in our lives, p90:
"We often exhaust ourselves by focusing on all the things we have to do, not just for this day, but for the weeks or the months ahead. We carry a burden that doesn't need to be carried. When we deliberately tune in to just this moment, to what is before us right now, we allow the energy to come through to complete just this moment's task."
It seems the most effective way to hone the skill of practicing living in the moment, and taking a step back from thoughts, is to drop all physical activity and do seated meditation. This doesn't mean that the heaviness will miraclulously disappear, however. We often carry our habits of judging into every situation we find ourselves in - even to the point of judging our meditation experience. Again; this just adds to the feeling of being burdened. Kabat-Zinn talks of this in Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p55:
"I'm having a bad meditation. ... It's not working for me. I'm no good at this. I'm no good, period. This type of thinking dominates the mind and weighs it down. It's like carrying around a suitcase full of rocks on your head. It feels good to put it down. Imagine how it might feel to suspend all your judging and instead to let each moment be just as it is, without attempting to evaluate it as "good" or "bad." This would be a true stillness, a true liberation."
Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, also warns of increasing one's burden relative to one's meditation efforts in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p129:
"...whether or not you attain enlightenment, just to sit in zazen is enough. When you try to attain enlightenment, then you have a big burden on your mind. Your mind will not be clear enough to see things as they are. If you truly see things as they are, then you will see things as they should be."
HuangShan Mountain, China.
Completely detaching oneself during practice - even from the practice itself is essential to living a lighter existence. Again, here is Kabat-Zinn, in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p106:
"When your mind and body collaborate in holding body, time, place, and posture in awareness, and remain unattached to having it have to be a certain way, then and only then are you truly sitting."
And in The Mindful Way Through Depression, p225 :
"Letting go of happiness as a goal can pave the way for happiness to appear on its own."
In letting go of goals, we can just observe what is in the here-and-now without any idea of gaining anything. When practicing this, the breath can serve as a single point of focus wherever we go - maybe this is what was meant by the Daoist Master LieZi "riding the wind". Here is Kabat-Zinn in The Mindful Way Through Depression again, p198:
"It is helpful to think of the breathing space as a door through which we can pass from the hot, murky, cramped, "driven" places in our minds to a lighter, cooler, more accommodating space."
Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Present Moment Wonderful Moment (2008), also mentions this potential of the breath to make us feel lighter, p32-33:
"When we breathe out, we say "Ease." Ease means a feeling of not being pressured, feeling free. Our time is only for breathing and enjoying breathing. We feel light and free, at ease. We know that breathing is the most important thing at this moment, so we just enjoy the practice of breathing."
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
With this practice focused on the breath, allowing for whatever comes to leave of it's own accord, life can begin to feel easier. It is only if we make effort during meditation practice that we make things difficult for ourselves. Shunryu Suzuki speaks of this in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p128:
"... if you try to stop your mind or try to go beyond your conscious activity, that will only be another burden for you."
The practice requires a simplifying and stripping away of the unnecessary additional features we impose upon our experiences, so that we no longer feel weighed down. As Kabat-Zinn writes in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p239:
"...if you stop trying to make yourself into more than you are out of fear that you are less than you are, whoever you really are will be a lot lighter and happier, and easier to live with, too."
It is by no means an easy task, however, to 'just let go' of the excesses we have become habitually used to. Kabat-Zinn gives advice on this in Full Catastrophe Living, p40:
"If we find it particularly difficult to let go of something because it has such a strong hold over our mind, we can direct our attention to what "holding on" feels like. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. We can become an expert on our own attachments, whatever they may be and their consequences in our lives, as well as how it feels in those moments when we finally do let go and what the consequences of that are." 
Another way to make the process of letting go of attachments easier is to become more aware of what we consume, and the associated appetites we carry around with us. Thich Nhat Hanh highlights this potential practice in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, p33:
"With the practice of mindfulness, we will know that hearing this, looking at that, or touching this, we feel light and peaceful, while hearing that, looking at this, or touching that, we feel anxious, sad, or depressed. As a result, we will know what to be in contact with and what to avoid. Our skin protects us from bacteria. Antibodies protect us from internal invaders. We have to use the equivalent aspects of our consciousness to protect us from unwholesome sense objects that can poison us."
Some appetites can be inherited, however, and we may not know how they were established, or whether they can be lessened. This situation could be akin to a 'heroin baby' born of a heroin addict mother - or maybe just 'animal intincts' inherited from times when humans lived in less enlightened societies. Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness - Mindfulness Of Mind Dharma Talk, speaks of this situation thus:
"When there is craving, we see that this craving can come from our body, or it can come from our perception, or it could be an inheritance from our ancestors. And we have to accept this inheritance. We are aware of it, and we have to transform it. In the list of wholesome mental formations, the first one is alobha, meaning the absence of desiring. We all have this mental formation. We only just have to remove the mental formation of craving and the other one will be there, and we will feel very close to the Buddha. We will feel light, we will feel free."
He says the way to remove the mental formation of craving is to practice 'Right Mindfulness' and 'Right Concentration', in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, p107:
"Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration lift us above the realms of sensual pleasures and craving, and we find ourselves lighter and happier. Our world is no longer gross and heavy, the realm of desires (karma dhatu). It is the realm of fine materiality, the realm of form (rupa dhatu)."
The author of Mindfulness in Plain English (2002) writes of this experience relative to the sensation of burdens thus, p175:
"Craving is extinguished and a great burden is lifted. There remains only an effortless flow, without a trace of resistance or tension. There remains only peace, and blessed nibbana, the uncreated, is realized."
 http://printsofjapan.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/diamond_sutra_soul_reborn_lake_sukhavati7c.jpg?w=299&h=157

As time goes on and one's practice deepens, Charlotte Joko Beck points out that one can measure how fruitful one's efforts have been relative to the feeling of being less burdened in life, in Nothing Special - Living Zen, p21:
"...the thought that life is a burden is only a concept. We’re simply doing what we’re doing, second by second by second. The measure of fruitful practice is that we feel life less as a burden and more as a joy."
Kabat-Zinn relates an example of a mindfulness student experiencing the fruits of his practice in such a way in The Mindful Way Through Depression, p187:
"Suddenly he was able to relate to unpleasant experiences as simply bundles of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Identifying less personally with his response to unpleasant events, he found the whole situation became lighter, more spacious, freer."
And, p225:
"The words "I do not need to be happy" came to him. As he said these words to himself, David experienced a wonderful sense of lightness come over him, as if a burden that he had been carrying for too long had suddenly been lifted from him. And he felt happy !"
The body, along with mind, can also feel physically lighter from practice. Thich Nhat Hanh relates this feature in The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p42:
"Sitting in meditation is nourishment for your spirit and nourishment for your body, as well. Through sitting, our bodies obtain harmony, feel lighter, and are more at peace. The path from the observation of your mind to seeing into your own nature won't be too rough. Once you are able to quiet your mind, once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that point your mind will begin to dwell in mind."
In the movie TaiChi Master, which loosely tells the story about the future founder of TaiChi/TaiJi leaving Shaolin Temple and losing his mind after being betrayed by his best friend, illustrates the mindful teachings on lowering one's burden quite nicely in one particular scene. Here is a clip:

  video

Detaching oneself from direct association with the pains of life seems to be a key part of living a lighter, more joyful experience. Kabat-Zinn describes the potential outcome in Full Catastrophe Living, p283:
"It can feel as if you are completely detached from the sensations you are experiencing, as if it were not "your" pain so much as just pain. Perhaps you felt a sense of being calm "within" the pain or "behind" the pain."
The strongest of such experiences appears to emerge when in seated meditation, and so the peace and calm found within daily seated meditation practice can, unfortunately, become 'addictive' in it's own right - as an escape from the busy world. Kabat-Zinn warns of this potential in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p74:
"You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom."
Shunryu Suzuki also speaks of this need to not become attached to the results of practice - that one should always continue as if one is a beginner, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p138:
"You can understand Buddha's teaching exactly as he meant it. But we must not be attached to... Buddhism, or even to our practice. We must have beginner's mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change. Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form and color. One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped."
Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Chant on Protecting and Transforming, Dharma Talk – March 12, 1998, emphasises how this repeated "beginning anew" lightens our being:
"When I have begun anew, I will have a new energy and I will feel light in my heart and my body" 

A Daoist flying on a dragon's head.