Paul and Leah came up with these questions this morning. Here is my first draft of answers.Burning Questions for our Teacher Training:
We are the recipients of the tantra yoga tradition that emerged in Kashmir around 600 to 800 AD.
- We absolutely love your approach and teachings. Are there resources for us to look deeper into the lineage/history of the tradition we are learning from you?
When you look at these texts, be aware that the authors sometimes shift back and forth between what I call the Old Language and the New Language. The Renunciate way of thinking sometimes comes in and occludes, or blocks out, the fresh way of perceiving that those on the Path of Intimacy need.
Swami Lakshmanjoo was a major exponent of these teachings in the 20th century.
Vijnana Bhairava by Swami Lakshmanjoo. Purchase from the Universal Shaiva Fellowship
For a review of the mind-boggling intricacy of Tantric thought, read
Abhinavagupta Para-trikika-Vivarana, the Secret of Tantric Mysticism, by Jaideva Singh.
For an easier historical review, read
From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism, by Natalia Isayeva
For an ecstatic take on RASA in art and meditation, read
The Advaita of Art, by Harsha Dehejia
A wonderful overview of the practices of Kashmir Shaivism is in
The Doctrine of Vibration, by Mark S.G. Dyczkowski
And some beautiful scholarship is in
The Tantric Body, by Gavin Flood.
- Can meditation be prescriptive? We’re often asked if there are techniques to help with specific goals/issues, mainly:
- Pain relief
- Weight loss
- Sleep disorders
- Broken heart
- Low energy
- Releasing Trauma
- Manifesting Desires
- Focus/Mental Sharpness
*If so, what are the techniques you suggest for the above?
Yes, meditation can be prescriptive and that is a whole topic unto itself, because individuals respond differently to the same technique.
The general approach is that there is a cure inside the symptom. That is, if you pay attention to the experience, the sensations, emotions, they give you clues.
Whole Body Meditations, by Lorin Roche
- When teaching group classes that have a low energy (fatigue, falling asleep), how do you raise the energy to keep people more awake?
- Let them fall into shavasana. I call it layasana.
- Go outside
- Breathe fast
- Move, dance, do asana (cm)
- What kinds of questions do you ask new clients/students to help you determine the type of meditation practice that’s suitable for their nature?
What is the greatest experience you have ever had?
When have you felt the happiest to be alive?
When have you felt at home in yourself and in the world?
- How do you decipher what kind of practice is right for someone? I understand there are thousands of gateways to meditation, but are there a few main categories or a matrix of sorts we can learn from to help assign these to people based on what we’re hearing/seeing from them? What about learning from mudras, can you dive into this a bit more?
I listen to people and observe their mudras as they tell me about both their “problems” and issues and their longings. People’s hand gestures tend to dance the solutions as they verbally tell you the problem. It’s marvelous.
- What are some of the FAQs you get from students?
- How do you as a teacher, approach spirituality? Understanding you shouldn’t push your belief system on students, what if meditation/spirituality are inextricably intertwined in your own practice? How do you speak to that with others?
Not even on yourself.
I let the student teach me about her spirituality and build a practice for her around that.
- When working with individuals and groups in corporate settings, in what different ways would you approach teaching a guided meditation?
Respect their time boundaries.
Emphasize freedom to think anything.
Use humor, to free up the space.
Frame meditation as a vacation. A mini vacation.
Use a multiplicity of metaphors, for example, “you may love waterfalls, or forests, or rivers, or the ocean, or desert. You can feel free to go to your favorite place and breathe.”
Notice how in the sentence above, I constructed it (just now) to be an invitation rather than a command, and freedom to choose rather than me giving them one set location.
- When teaching (any) type of regular group class, do you think it’s best to keep practices consistent for students or build upon them and keep them ever-changing?
Both. Have a mix of something consistent, such as Salute to the Senses and a Body Scan and a Mantra, and then mix up the routine.
- How would you approach a rate system as a newer teacher? What should we consider when charging individual privates and corporate sessions?
For privates, $80 to $100 is a good amount, because you will be spending time going over your notes and studying. People need to be listened to. You can do a series of sessions just interviewing people about their natural meditative states, to build a sense of who they are.
- Can you help provide useful strategies for building private clients, corporate clients, and other revenue streams that will support one’s transition into teaching full-time?
Hmm. We will have to get Coby to talk about that.
- How do you keep your clients?
I don’t - I am bad that way because I tend to set people free from the very first moment. Whereas, people can really benefit from bonding with a teacher and working with them for years.
Develop your own style and sense of appropriateness, and grow as a teacher as your students grow. And let people rely on you for guidance and truth and useful practices.
I am this way because my teachers were all freedom lovers, never taking hostages, and I came back again and again and again over the decades.
So the deeper practice is “let the total usefulness and skillfulness of your teaching be what keeps people coming back.”
- What is your response to folks who believe the ideas that the TM/Vedic community evangelizes - that mindfulness is for monks and their approach “repeating a bija mantra” is for all “householders”? Are there actual studies that suggest/disprove this?
Well, I have been saying that for 48 years. I’m one of the original TM teachers. (don’t tell people that, they have become a creepy cult that sues everyone)
This isn’t something that can easily be studied in a lab. But clinically, in working with people, it shows up continually, the inner split of detachment.
- What about meditation techniques for specific demographics? Children, Vets, Hospital Patients (terminally ill), those with mental illness, elderly, victims of abuse, etc.
Always go for individual differences. Learn to see individuals.
- What are your thoughts on guided visualization / creative styles? Any advice, precautions, or suggestions on how to approach guiding these?
I love guided meditations.
- A large percentage of the general public is on anti-anxiety/anti-depressants these days. Any thoughts on how to speak to this when people ask if their medication will interfere with or interact with their meditation practice?
We don’t get into medical opinions. We can refer people to the research.
There is no need for meditation teachers to have opinions about meds.
- When someone asks, “How long do I need to meditate for before I start seeing it ‘work’ in my life?” - What do you say?
I say, if you meditate in the way we are inviting you, the benefits start to show up right away, as tiny differences. Just a tad more poised. You want gradual, almost unnoticeable changes.
- What about diet and meditation? Are there thoughts on ayurveda, caffeine, dairy or meat and their effects on one’s practice?
NO. Don’t have opinions that you impose on others. It’s individual. In 1971 on my advanced teacher training, the Ayurvedic doctors came through and took people’s pulses and prescribed lots of sex, lots of sleep, eating meat, throw away your spiritual books and read only comic books, laugh a lot, as part of balancing your constitution. Each prescription was for a specific individual. It was almost always the OPPOSITE of the yoga diet, the yoga way of life.
In general, the Ayurvedic doctors said that we were drying ourselves up, trying to be old and ready to die even though we were young and vital, and that we were destroying our juicy vitality with our premature imposition of Old Man Yoga on ourselves.
In a better world, meditation teachers will work hand in hand with Ayurvedic doctors and acupuncturists and therapists of all kinds.
- In your opinions, what are the most important traits, behaviors or characteristics that comprise a good meditation teacher?
- Be a good teacher of anything
- Be on your own path of vitality
- Live your passion
- Love individuality
- What dangers, either subtle or not, should we be aware of when teaching others? Any practices (breathwork or otherwise) to be cautious about or avoid entirely?
It is dangerous to NOT MEDITATE. We all walk out the door looking at our phones, and even drive off while poking at WAZE or Google Maps. That’s dangerous.
- What about exercise - many people say, “running is my form of meditation”. Is exercise an accompaniment/gateway or can it actually BE someone’s meditation?
Yes. Let people move. And then say, if and when you desire, explore lying down after a run, or sitting and swaying and rejoicing in the breath.
Sometimes people need to dance for 3 months or 3 years before they are ready to sit and meditate.
“Sitting is the new smoking.” - we all tend to sit too much, because our world is so luxurious.
Almost all of The Radiance Sutras was written standing up and moving around.
- When people are beginning to meditate and experience “un-stressing” in the form of migraines, releasing tension, emotions, traumas and feeling discomfort - how do you speak to this and guide them towards a sustainable practice?
The body is continually attempting to unstress, and will do so any time we relax or rest. In general, regular people can handle 15 to 20 minute meditations and the unstressing that happens.
Basically you invite people to attend - tenderly - to whatever discomfort is there - whatever sensations and feelings -
If the individual is afraid to meditate on their own, do short guided sessions over a period of weeks.
Have them sit with you, enter the unstressing, be with it for 60 seconds at a time, and then discuss it.
They can draw a picture of the pain or discomfort.
Give it a word.
And then support the experience of the pain with whatever mantra / mudra they have created.
It’s the INTERACTION and interplay between the safety and relaxation of their mantra mudra, and the painful sensations, that is healing.
Everyone needs to go over, and put into their muscle memory, that it is the WHOLE CYCLE OF MEDITATION, all the R’s, that is healing.
Lots of TM teachers and meditators do not get this. Lots of otherwise very sophisticated teachers don’t get this, and over the years it really crimps their style.