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musings on Yoga, Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine

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Empathy: Establishing Connection

by Hyoun Bae on 10/11/18

 World Mental Health Day

Mindfulness and Beyond: How Meditation can Improve Relationships

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and science writer Daniel Goleman provided a sweeping review of the field of contemplative neuroscience in their recent work Altered Traits. They established the question of what amounts to meditative development, and how practice over time might begin to shape our experience, bringing about positive trait changes.

They locate these shifts in actual structural changes in the brain.

The acknowledgement of neuroplasticity has extended to other human capacities taken up by the field of the social neurosciences. These domains of scientific research and scrutiny intersect with work in the affective realm, employing data from both animal and human studies to better understand how we have evolved and various roles for cooperation and communication.

Meditation is often looked upon as a practice of contemplative inquiry, to help one look deeply within.

The notion of empathy, though, is often translated as ‘entering into the experience’ of another. Tania Singer, noted social neuroscientist and empathy researcher, continues to unpack this vast arena of human development.

Singer and her various colleagues have helped define and distinguish the various shades of empathic relationship that has continued to inform medical and therapeutic care, and also inspired contemplative researchers to look directly at their own traditions for the types of practices that cultivate care and awareness of others.

Demon Miso (Halloween post, 2016) : Drain the Epigastrium formula/Xie Xin tang

by Hyoun Bae on 09/15/18

Demon Miso, Liminal fox spirits and other Haunted tales
There's a type of miso to make when the neighbors are away. Fermented fresh soy beans, a Korean makjang or miso - bearing a stench and taste so incongruous, one might wonder if you’re preparing a noxious feast for non-human entities.
Hakuin, the enigmatic Zen master and calligrapher of the eighteenth century, offers a wonderful teaching through his painting, Demon Miso, wherein he employs the image of Shoki, known to have the ability to cast out demons after exorcising his own. 
Imbued with great compassion, the bulging eyed, ornately-robed character gazes upwards, while brandishing a pestle akin to a sword (of wisdom perhaps), mashing demons in a pestle - making his own special miso-as an enthusiastic young onlooker chimes, "Papa, I can't wait to have a taste!". Hakuin has Shoki, mouthing in the inscription, "Tenuous it is, mashing one's demons into miso. You have to be ruthless (paraphrase). (Yoshizawa, Katsuhiro, 2009).
Demon slayers and shape-shifting spirits are all part of the premodern religious landscape of Japan. Not all spirits are considered evil. Some are powerful and reflect the notion of liminality in the human realm, where desire and belief obscure and that perhaps the full round of existence can be experienced in our own complexity. Many of these shape shifters and human spirits live at the borderland, thresholds of experience where dream and reality, ignorance and conscience, fade ominously.
One record, of a famed koan known as the 'Wild Fox,' recounts the story of a priest whose unkindly acts landed him the bondage of a life as a fox spirit, neither man nor beast, but as a fei-jen, disembodied and haunting as it were, the temple he once served at. In this incarnation, disguised as a monk, with his fox tail protruding from the back of his robe, he approaches the present abbot, and confesses to Pai Chung of his past, whereupon he is met with incisive words that wake him up from his dreamy state. The koan itself is a tool for looking beyond the narratives that construct our experience.
This type of exorcism portrayed in the literary record is more of a transmission, a parable of retribution and awakening. The fox spirit is cast under a stone behind the monastery, and a proper funeral held, indicative of a new lease on life.
The analogy is clear and resonant, and with a somatic meaning as well. 
In my study of herbal medicine, the fox-spirit (Heine, Steven, 1999), cast as a liminal and wily creature was also alluded to with regards to a certain line of prescriptions that could ease epigastric focal distension - that area just below the sternum at the fundus of the stomach, known classically as the reflex area of the heart. 
Most of us get an uncomfortable feeling here, when our emotions get stuck. The area, the opening of the stomach is also a pivot between yin and yang, marked laterally by the threshold of the diaphragm. Breath, emotions, mind and qi reflect an interplay between conscious and unconscious - unspoken elements. The fox spirit becomes a medical metaphor for 'xie xin' - or that which drains the heart of its virtue, the drain of emotional life, when our afflictions and limited beliefs obscure and exhaust a heart/mind radiant and bright, in its natural condition.
The xie xin tang series of herbal presriptions deal with everything from digestive to emotional distress.
Our final interlude invokes Tengu, and the Demon's Sermon (2012), wherein a half-vulture/half-human instructs in the martial arts, on health and of the essence of the spiritual life, based in the wisdom known to the author of these parables, a swordsman at home in Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto religion and the mountain environs where ascetics, spirits and gods roamed freely.
This supernatural twist of motifs has the tengu discoursing to other animals, known as they are to teach human swordsman as well, on the central ways of qi, mind-training and self-cultivation. Returning these earthly lessons, a 'spirit' instructs that the heart and essence of health cultivation is in learning the relationship between mind and vital energy, and that to train in qi is to understand desire, as if to know well our demons, to release the sources of inner conflict that dissipate.
In the opening parable, a sparrow and butterfly wax poetic about the life that was and the life that is - how they've each changed over time and the fallacy of lamenting the past, in favor of accepting things as they are. 
Following this tale is a story about a grandiose and self-assured hawk, in conversation with a timid, self-doubting owl, who questions his odd appearance, not seeing himself as a gorgeous bird of flight. After speaking to other birds, the owl realizes his own gift of seeing at night, and begins to deliberate the relativity of his existence - both its upsides and downsides -and comes to acknowledge that all being are interrelated, and perception are relative and concludes that a compassionate existence is what is warranted.
Ghostly apparitions, spirited guides and stealthy demons retain their power like the unconscious. They inform us not unlike memories, intuitions and beliefs do - in their nature, sources of fragmentation or of wisdom. From Hakuin, we realize our own demon mash is the most savory. From the fox spirit, that redemption is in reckoning and disclosure, and the tengu, or vulture spirit, our demons are our teachers and that to rectify the qi is to look deeply into the essence of our own mind.
And, if that all is ineffectual, the legendary Sun Simiao noted 13 Ghost Points- acupuncture to let the ghosts out!

Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy: Personal Success Story.

by Hyoun Bae on 08/19/18

Dr. Dilip Sarkar, retired vascular surgeon and President of the Board of Directors of IAYT, has an interesting story.

In 2001, a busy surgeon, he suffered from a heart attack. Other than a history of IBS and insomnia, he did not fit the bill.

All of his medical numbers were within range. He apparently showed no signs, nor noted any relevant risk factors or family history.

Four years after his open-heart surgery he was able to stave off medications, concerned about their complex side effects.

He turned to yoga and Ayurvedicmedicine, transforming his life through their practices and daily regimens. And, he was able to reverse his heart disease, and practically overcome IBS.

For Sarkar, his journey - which including needing to leave behind his successful surgical career and adopting a role in the health and wellness industry - was precisely that, parsing what he deems as true health in relation to medical models focused upon disease.

Dr. Sarkar's conclusion is that biomedical or conventional "Western" medicine is aimed at the absence of disease - particularly effective at acute strategies of care, emergency intervention, surgeries and treatment through prescription medicine. As far as preventative care strategies based in a life of wellness, yoga and Ayurvedic medicine offered just that.

Chronic diseases could be best be approached through a lifestyle of wellness, rooted in dinacharya or daily life regimens augmented towards one's personal health, their constitution, and in relation to the seasons.

From his own experience, he was conditioned to look at disease or its absence as the marker of health. Positive states of health and vitality were not measured and agency was not placed upon the patient, or the individual in a healthcare system.

Sarkar travels nationally and internationally promoting what he deems as a comprehensive understanding of yoga and its therapeutic tools, not only the physical asanas, but breathwork, meditation and the ethical underpinnings which contextualize its aims.

Perhaps the overarching import of his offering is to take back agency and locate resources of health within. Our overdependence upon medications and medical assumptions may reflect an impoverished state of health and health knowledge. Endogenous causes of disease are much of our own responsibility, some rooted in stress and endocrine regulation. 

Like many, he locates these "adjuvant" modalities within the umbrella of "Western Medicine." You can benefit from your annual checkups and routine care, while making the most of dietary therapies and lifestyle regimens.

Sarkar (2017). Ayurveda, Yoga Therapy and Western Medicine.

Summer Reading: To Heal a Wounded Heart

by Hyoun Bae on 08/19/18


Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
Summer Reading ‘To Heal a Wounded Heart’

“I began to understand that what I could not open to in myself, I would shut out in others. This is just the way it seemed to work. The open heart so prized in Buddhism, a heart that is ready to take in the suffering of others, did not seem to open wide enough if it had not first been opened to one’s own suffering.” - Pilar Jennings.

With some dense or challenging material, Pilar Jennings “To Heal a Wounded Heart” offers a touching and readable account about healing nat the crossroads.

Dr. Jennings, an analyst whose lectures I have attended, brings us into the vibrant silence of a young girl of the age of six, who has stopped speaking.

Silence can be a protective barrier, a hand up to demarcate the boundaries of unreliable social world and a private internal world.
This stark response to a chaotic world, with unpredictable comings and goings, marked by repeated loss and neglect, reflects relational wisdom and demonstrates a form of agency.

Attachment theory highlights these basic relational patterns and tendencies.

One is reminded just how much is
communicated nonverbally, especially when it comes to children, along with the rightful indignation when basic needs are not met.

In those early developmental years, we are processing so much information, subtly attuning to emotional ways and social rules.

Our growth is rapid, but it can also be forced, haphazard or arrested. We learn trust, intimacy and resilience and our ability to communicate around those enduring needs and skills, which then inform our adult schemas.

These patterns — both our own, and transmitted intergenerationally — become muted and mutated, in the unique social contexts of our upbringing.

Jennings invites us, also, into the human world of her friend and Buddhist teacher, Lama Pema Wangdak. Lama Pema is brought into this intimate setting, mirthful and with at least a few lessons about happiness in the face of extreme loss and suffering.

He appears to have an uncommon ability to reflect a basic sense of worthiness, a value that is often challenged in circumstances of neglect. The sense of humor, recorded, is what made parts of this work a page-turner.

While not being good enough or not being worthy of love are often the delimiting self-talk we may be accustomed to, such diatribe can be rooted in early neglect and loss.

We are often likely to experience a rift - like that of the grand canyon. On one side, a ground of self-worth that is the basis of human experience, demarcated by a chasm of self-doubt carved by glaciers of relational wounding.

Analytic insight and contemplations on Buddhist wisdom are woven into this work, sensitively. It avoids idealization, projections and issues of bypassing and reveals the connection that three lives – that of analyst, Buddhist monk and young patient have suffered through and been transformed by – isolation, loss and perhaps, neglect.

This playing field has been leveled. No one is really more special here. Everyone has gone through something, and but are at different stages.

What is really salient are those scars, wounding the transformative value of aspects of our experience that have begun to resolve and shape our wisdom in the present.

The monk also appears to express resentment, perhaps not bitterness. He has lost country and family, siblings and home, the innocence of youth. Where is the recognition that we all need as young children? How is this sublimated in his religious upbringing, offers a profound reflection.

They – therapist, monk and patient - are not all resolved, but are they happy? Still dealing with anxieties and human frailties, but held with a wisdom - which becomes the question of , is happiness a choice? What does it take to be really happy?
A common theme throughout is one of connection, family and incongruent paths that seem to fall together naturally. Who is your sangha? What social contexts holds together the pain and healing. These are not deliberately asked, but gently placed. Skillfully placed, like mindful attention and the blooming of insight.

Dr. Jennings introduces a relational perspective on meditation.

An approach that has evolved from the work of Ainsworth and Bowlby, and perhaps out of the strictures of familiar psychoanalytic molds, through a foray into Jung, and I believe intersubjective, neuroscience and attachment theory. Jennings offers a personal glimpse into the dharma, a Buddhism recontextualized amidst the beauty and banality of New York.

She speaks personably about her own upbringing, the wounding by her parent’s divorce, years of analysis and therapy, as well as some degree of respite found in her contemplative calling and academic inquiry. The work also showcases play therapy in the early years of a budding therapist. This is her first client, I believe, and we find some of her early intuitions to also reflect some of the naturalness we come around to, years and even decades later perhaps.
Some of our sufferings are primarily relational. Patterns of relationship, around attunement, security and connection contribute to our often unacknowledged ways of being in the world and with others.

Neuroscience and mindbody medicine look more keenly at how our early histories impact physiology and emotion regulation.

We come to embody our wounding as a path toward change.

No spoiler alert, but this story does not have perfect ending. The wise Buddhist monk is not the only teacher. Perhaps it is the relational context - with all the quirkiness of the human condition, humor, differences and things which just don’t make sense, that will relay that intrinsic healing wisdom – point it out.
I believe we can learn a lot by glimpsing how others let go or transform their suffering, all the while acknowledging that one’s own way and wisdom is necessarily unique. To witness the commonality of trauma, suffering, loss or even resentment – our ‘coping wisdoms’ - all aspects of the human journey. To have it held and to be seen…

Good books like this are not really about psychoanalytic theory – or about the author, the monk, or the young girl we want to know more about – probably an adult, now. They are about isolation, and whether there is someone in our lives we can reach out to. They invite the reader into a level playing ground, so that conversation and sharing around what is essential, or painful, can begin.

The epidemic of silent suffering around mental health needs to be addressed. What I liked particularly about this work is the wicked sense of humor that carries one through muddy waters, above the stylish and sharp narration.

Jokes go along way in mending – loss. They can fill the space -- the vibrant empty field of the heart -- with a sense of profound possibility.


by Hyoun Bae on 07/22/18

We are happy to inform we now accept Cigna In-Network and Out-of-Network Insurance. We are in the process of updating our list of In-Network carriers and will notify patients as to their coverage. 

Feel free to reach out for verification of your plans benefits. 

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