#1 Vikky Santana on Meditation

(Show transcripts)

Diana: Welcome Vikky! it’s so good to be here with you today 

Vikky: It’s good to see you again.  Glad you’re doing well. Thanks for asking me to be with you.

Diana: Thanks for seeing me.  As you know one of the main reasons I did yoga teacher training last month was because I wanted to learn more about meditation and we did a lot of meditation in teacher training. I learned a lot from you and first of all thank you Vicky for the passion and the wisdom you bring into your teachings.  I feel that when it comes to meditation, I’m definitely on the right track and yet there’s so much more that needs to be learned and considered until it all starts to stick and consolidate into a daily personal meditation practice.  So let’s talk about meditation.  For those people who are skeptic or think meditation’s not for them, what is meditation, at its most basic?

Vikky: Well first, meditation must have made a big impression on you for you to spend time 

for us to talk about this, so I wanted to thank you for using your platform to help bring light to other folks. I think meditation is very important for us to pursue and understand. At its most basic, meditation is the process of accessing deep levels of consciousness that mandate our actions and reactions to the external world.  But I do want to make a clarification: most of us do not sit to meditate. We initially and for a very long time are actually concentrating. I say this because we place so much pressure on ourselves and think that we’re not meditating correctly. So, I want your listeners to know that at the very beginning we’re not actually meditating at all.  We’re rewiring our brain to be able to access a state of meditation. So we confuse far too often meditation, the act of meditation, as meditation itself, when it’s actually a process of teaching ourselves to concentrate, setting the stage sometime in the future to be able to slip into a meditative state.

Diana:  That’s an interesting way to put it and I want to get back to that later on, but for now lets focus on what science is saying because by now there have been thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies on meditation. What is some of the research you find most interesting?

Vikky: The most interesting research for me, is meditation being able to cure loneliness and here’s why: when we think back of the best and most precious moments in our times we think back of things that we do with our loved ones with her social circle, things that we’re doing with people. In other words when we’re not lonely and we’re sharing our experiences with other people. One of the most interesting things that I found out is meditation basically being your best friend. The University of Pennsylvania scientist, Dr. Andrew Newberg, took brain images of  Tibetan monks during meditation and, as expected, their highly intelligent frontal lobes lit up on the screen just like countless other studies had shown, however what surprised him most was that the meditators “”third-dimensional” based parietal lobes cooled off immensely, which is the same area that loneliness and social isolation brings to a boil”

Diana: wow!

Vikky: Mm hmm! it also fascinates me that the masters of the past didn’t have all the scientific quantification of meditation, no one had to tell them that it worked, no one had to tell them the benefits. They proved it for themselves by doing the practice.  And in fact if science today were to tell me that meditation doesn’t do all the things it does, I wouldn’t believe them because actually doing the practice proves it for ourselves. The results that we get and the benefits that we get really will be dictated by each individual. 

Diana: So, what you’re basically saying is that based on your own experience, you don’t need science to prove to you that meditation works because you have already seen for yourself  the benefits and results that meditation can produce in your life. That is fascinating!

Vikky: Yeah absolutely yes.

Diana:  You know, I didn’t notice until somewhat recently but there are so many types of meditation. There’s Buddhist meditation, Zen meditation, TM, Kundalini, mindfulness, loving kindness meditation, Vipasana, mantra meditation, etc, etc. 

Vikky: Mind boggling. I know

Diana: So what’s your favorite and why?

Vikky: That’s really good question because a lot of folks ask me that same question but they also follow it up with which one works best. So, first answer is: my type of meditation is Kriya yoga. We read about this during our teacher training. In fact we did  Kriya meditation during your teacher training.  And it’s the one that correlates the best with the yoga Sutras. It was created by Mahavatar Babaji. Brought to us by Paramahansa Yogananda and it’s the practice of using breath and stillness to access the deepest dimensions of the mind and to transcend into other realms. And that’s all I say about other realms because that could be a whole other podcast in and of it self.

Diana: That’s right! I’ll see you next time for that one.

Vikky: Yay!

Diana: Okay so I noticed that at the start of all your group meditations, or at least the ones you did with us, you start with some kind of breath work exercise. Why is that? And is it always necessary to do this breath work exercises before meditation?

Vikky: In my experience, breath work is essential before meditation . You see, the breath regulates our nervous system. If just plop down and try to meditate, we’re pretty jacked up from the day and it’s gonna take that much longer to turn off for sympathetic nervous system, the one that’s responsible for fight or flight, and turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, the one that’s responsible for rest and digest, the one that facilitates a meditative state. So if we’re just sitting there for ten minutes to meditate, it’ll take that amount of time to just get grounded, which means it will be hard pressed to reach that relaxation state, which might also explain why some meditators do meditate consistently, but they feel that “it’s not working for them” because they find themselves spending most of their time just trying to relax and the state of relaxation is absolutely necessary to be able to slip into that meditative state. So the breath is key to having or to regulate our nervous system 

Diana: Okay. So maybe it’s not possible to do meditation without doing an exercise of the breath first.

Vikky: Well it depends on the style meditation that you’re wanting to do. If you’re doing kindness meditation, they’ll usually instruct us to breathe slowly for a little while, but the primary result that they’re looking for is a feeling and an emotion. For other types of meditation, you know, it really depends what the meditation is meant to deliver. So for me, for Kriya Yoga, the result is to try to slip into that meditative state, get into the deeper recesses of the mind. Eventually getting into Samadhi and then the other deeper levels of the consciousness. And we can’t access those deep levels in the consciousness if we’re all jacked up, if we’re on alert, if the breath is shallow, and fast, and out of balance. It just doesn’t work that away, because the body’s focused on survival, not on relaxing.

Diana: That makes total sense. Okay, let’s move on. Some people are starting to use meditation and mindfulness interchangeably. Sort of like synonyms. Is this correct or is there a difference between meditation and mindfulness?

Vikky: Yeah there is confusion in regards to that. Now there’s overlap between mindfulness and meditation, but they are two different things separate and apart, so to keep it simple mindfulness is the awareness of something, where meditation is the awareness of “No thing”. Does that make sense?

Diana: Yes, yes, in some, in some strange way it does make sense.

Vikky: Okay, so let me expand on it. Mindfulness is all about being aware, which of course includes the practice of meditation. When we’re being actively mindful, we’re noticing and paying attention to our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors, our movements, and also to the effects it has on those around us, take a… a walking meditation, which can also be considered a mindful meditation. We’re literally focus on one step, and the other step, and the other step, and then we pay attention to how that is affecting us, so it’s very active and it’s very focused. Is very mindful in regards to what we’re doing and what the result is. 

Diana: It’s like being in the present

Vikky: Yeah. Absolutely, yes. Magnified! Meditation is an internal practice where we focus inward to increase calmness, concentration and emotional balance. Seated meditation usually begins with deep breathing in a comfortable position. We focus on our inhales and on our exhales, and we’re consciously guiding the mind toward an anchor or single point of focus inside of ourselves and in meditation we typically spend a focused amount of time, anywhere from a minute to an hour or more, in which we are just turning inward, so we’re actually trying to leave the outside world behind, we’re trying to leave the higher levels, or the more gross levels of consciousness behind, we’re actually trying to desensitize ourselves from being so aware of we’re doing, how we’re being, and what the impact is. Does that make sense?

Diana; Yes.

Vikky: And I’ll say that a lot during the interview.

Diana: Okay so let’s talk a little bit about the brain, the mind when it comes to meditation. Do you think the body and the mind react differently to different types of meditation or do they all ultimately produce the same effects on the body and the mind?

Vikky: Well, I definitely think that the body and the mind react differently depending on the style, the type of meditation that we’re doing. You know, the brain has this wonderful property called plasticity. Have you ever heard of it?

Diana: Yes

Vikky: Okay. it’s the brain’s ability to rewire itself and we’ve actually been doing this unconsciously since the day of our birth. So, everything we do is a neuron connection. Now some functions are hardwired based on our genetics, but many of the things are changeable based on our actions, our behaviors, what we focus, what our desired outcomes are. Now, how we meditate and for what reason, that’s what’s gonna dictate the changes that happen in the brain and in the body.

Diana: Ok, so what happens to the body during a meditation?

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Vikky: I’ll just speak to my Kriya meditation

Diana: Mm hmm

Vikky: As we slow down the breath and we teach ourselves to breathe equally, breathe slower, and as we start peeling away from that breath, we essentially take ourselves out of fight or flight or stress or alert state and start sliding into a more relaxed state, which is rest and digest and that’s where the brain opens up. It allows us more access to the subconscious. Heart rate goes down. Digestive system actually fires up, once we’re relaxed.

Diana: It fires up? I would have thought it’s the opposite

Vikky: Right! It fires up. yeah. Because when we’re on fight or flight the body is focused on survival. it wants to protect the brain. It wants to protect the heart. It wants to protect the lungs. Digestion isn’t absolutely needed at that moment. A threat to survive. It pumps us full adrenaline, cortisol, and some other hormones to help us survive and run away with from whatever is chasing us. And that state of being is very short-lived and it’s meant for like explosive activity, again just to help us survive. So it’s only going to focus on what’s absolutely needed to survive. But once we start bringing ourselves into a state of meditation, there is no threat. As we change our breath pattern, that regulates the nervous system, and now the things that were shut off to us like: emotions and thoughts, memories, fantasies all these different things, and our digestive system now has the opportunity to be able to open up to us. And there’s a direct correlation between the belly and the brain

Diana: Yes, I’ve heard that the belly is the second brain

Vikky: Yes, so we call it the belly brain. 10% of our neurons of our nervous system are in the belly and it is tight. If our digestive system is tight and slowed down, then we can’t relax.

Diana: Yeah. I know. I feel it sometimes 

Vikky: We all do. We all do. Sometimes the threat is real. Many times it’s perceived, but we’re still reacting the same way.

Diana: Yeah, it’s like we live in this constant state of fear, of stress

Vikky: Mm hmm. Of arousal. Yeah, we’re overloaded day in and day out. and we’re actually hooked and addicted to it.

Diana: Wow. Addicted!

Vikky: Strong words, but very accurate 

Diana: Let’s see if can change that with meditation. Ok so, is meditation actually changing the brain? the more you do it? the more the brain changes?

Vikky: Yes, yeah yeah. For that thing that spoke of before, the plasticity. It gives us the opportunity to weaken old neuron connections and either create or strengthen other neuron connections. Depending on, you know, the result that we’re wanting to have for ourselves and it also works at equalizing or allowing ourselves to access better both hemispheres of the brain. ‘Cause here’s what happens: you may not know but one nostril is dominant when we’re breeding, and it changes like every 90 minutes, so one hemisphere of the brain is more dominant than the other. As we work at balancing out of breath, it balances out the hemispheres of the brain, so no one is more dominant than the other, and it’s coming together 

and dealing and thinking about stuff kind of like team effort, instead of one is more dominant than the other.

Diana: And I know this has to do with both sides of our brain. So how does it affect the left and the right sides of the brain?

Vikky: Well, first let’s back it up a little bit. When we meditate, as I said before, the breath is beginning to regulate the nervous system. We have two sides: the fight or flight and the rest and digest. In the fight or flight, we’re only worried about surviving this moment. And unfortunately in this busy life, that’s how many of us are looking at life, kind of a place of 

fearfulness that something wrong is going to happen, so we’re on alert even if it’s really really slight. You know, those two switches only go off and on. But once we start meditating, we might begin to find ourselves more apt to be able to access these deeper recesses of the mind where inspiration, creativity, devotion, and all these different treasures that we have inside of ourselves. Because it’s true. If we’re in fight or flight, we’re primarily thinking about action, and usually action away from something. When we’re in rest and digest, we don’t have to worry so much about surviving. So now all of those things that are already inside of us. The stories, the solutions, the sonnets, the answers to math quizzes, and equations; that now has a chance to bubble up, because we’re no longer in a state where all we’re trying to do is survive, now we’re in the state of being where we can actually thrive, and to me that’s really really important.

Diana: Great. What about the corpus callosum. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing it correctly but are you familiar with it?

Vikky: Good job! This is a membrane of neurons that join the two hemispheres of the brain. Research is finding out that meditation helps to thicken this part of the brain in long-term meditators. That is makes the connection of the hemispheres of the brain more accessible. So, I mean, I can only speak to my own personal experience I’m very fortunate in the fact that because I’ve been meditating for a really really long time, I’m able to access the creative side myself, the more pragmatic side of myself, the physical part of myself, you know, all of the different things that everyone has, I’m able to access them at will, because, and I didn’t know this until recently, I mean I just know what I know based on what I’ve been experiencing, but the thickness of the corpus callosum binds the two hemispheres of the brain closer together and allows them to communicate with one another, so it comes comes forward as a unit, instead of on side being dominant over the other. 

Diana: Wow…that’s really amazing.

Vikky:  It really is and it’s amazing what we can do when we can access and look at life through all those different prisms instead of one the other.

Diana: Right, right. So let’s talk about sleep now yeah as I heard that meditation gives the body rest that’s five times deeper than sleep

Vikky: Where did you hear that?

Diana: I hear a lot of things. (both laugh)

Diana: What’s your take on this?

Vikky: Depending on the type of meditation that I do, I definitely do not need to get as much nighttime sleep as most people. And that’s a blessing and a curse because when the rest of the world is asleep

Diana: You have all this extra time right?

Vikky: I have all this extra time! which, really we all have the same amount of time. Please people do not fool yourselves and think you don’t have enough time. We all have the same amount. I practice yoga Nidra and I meditate three times a day and when I find is because my brain and my nervous system has a chance to relax and restore, I don’t need that much physical sleep, because here’s what happens: when I’m stressed when I am not eating right. And you know it’s all a trickle or a vicious circle, but if not eating right, if I don’t have enough physical activity in my life or too much, if I’m way stressed, that’s running me down and my brain and my body need to compensate for that with rest. And what I love about meditation is that it’s almost preventative, because every time I go and sit to concentrate (meditate), I’m giving my body a rest ,yes, but I’m giving my mind a rest from all this crazy thinking that literally exhausts us, because remember, when we think of something, the mind doesn’t know whether it’s real or false. It’s living through that image and reacting to it, whether it was in front of us or something that we imagined and put on the screen of our mind. So, I’m giving myself these pockets of time where my brain doesn’t have to live the outside world. It can go into itself and actually soften and relax and rest.

Diana: Nice! now I’ve heard you say that deep meditation is the most power nap that you can get, and because of that you need less sleep at night. Can you tell us how many hours you actually sleep?

Vikky: Yeap!  four hours of deep sleep

Diana: Every night?

Vikky: Every night! Unless I’m getting sick or super physically exhausted. But when everything’s normal in my regular schedule, yeah four hours a night. Which is hard! because when you’re all sleeping and unconscious

Diana: You’re awake

Vikky: I’m envying you now. (Laughter). I had no idea that this was going to be one of the byproducts of my meditation practice. I had no idea whatsoever. And then, at first I explained it away as being postmenopausal or menopausal at that time, and embraced it, and just said well if I’m not gonna sleep then I’m not gonna sleep, then I’ll be more productive. But eventually I did some research and there was a correlation and a connection between having a consistent prolonged meditation and needing less sleep on a regular basis.

Diana: Yes, that’s what I’ve been hearing

Vikky: Have you experienced that yet yourself?

Diana: Not yet unfortunately. I’m not quite there yet with my meditation. I’m looking forward to actually getting all the rest I need during my sleep. 

Vikky: Right. Yes, because you wake up tired right?

Diana: Yes,  yes, So I hope the day will arrive soon.

Vikky: No expectations. Give it time. (Laughter)

Diana. Ok, so…next question: Why do you think people struggle with meditation?

Vikky: I think some of the reasons that people struggle with meditation is: #1 they are fearful of it.  If you don’t know what it is. What’s coming up. What possible results are gonna be of it. We tend to be fearful of the things we don’t know or fearful of the unknown itself. So we actually convince ourselves and give ourselves ten million and one reasons as to why not even start a mediation practice. Another reason is: I don’t have time.

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