In today’s hectic world, people in growing numbers are looking for ways to relax and bring more joy into their lives; one of the ways to do this is through meditation. Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., has taught classes at Continuing Studies since 2001 and teaches the very popular class, “Connecting to Your Inner Joy Through Tibetan Meditation.” Dr. Chaoul has trained with Tibetan lamas since 1989 and is an assistant professor in the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is involved in research and clinic using Tibetan mind-body techniques to benefit cancer patients.
We asked Dr. Chaoul about the different types of meditation and its benefits.
How is Tibetan meditation different from other kinds of meditation?
There are many kinds of meditation, literally thousands! (Even just in the Tibetan tradition we talk of 84,000, yes, eighty-four thousand!) But we can all start with concentration and mindfulness. Tibetan Bon meditation comes from Tibet’s oldest Buddhist tradition.
In this particular Tibetan Meditation practice, we focus inward to recognize how we feel and how we can transform that through meditation. We begin with concentration and mindfulness, and then cultivate and connect to a quality we need, such as inner joy. Once we cultivate it in meditation and feel more familiar with it, we can bring it into every day life, especially in situations where we usually don’t have it. We will use different meditation techniques: breathing, visualization, sound and simple body movements.
Aside from stress relief, what are some other health benefits of meditation?
Besides helping to manage stress, meditation can improve mood and promote a relaxed state of mind. It can reduce pain, fatigue and nausea (which is very important for when we see cancer patients that are dealing with these side-effects). Research has also shown that meditation improves sleep, attention and immune function and mental performance, as well as reduces cortisol levels (stress indicators), cholesterol, blood pressure, and breathing difficulties due to asthma.
What can students expect to learn in the class?
They will learn simple meditative techniques (using breathing, visualization, sound and simple body movements) that we will also practice during the session. By participating in these guided practices and with the help of handouts, participants will be able to practice at home. Also, there is time to ask questions relating both to the techniques and your experience, plus benefit from other’s responses and practicing in group.
Your class is always a popular one, why do you think people are seeking out meditation in greater numbers these days?
Most of us live a stressful life, dealing with the fast pace of daily living to more difficult life situations in life such as loss of a job, divorce, bereavement and health issues, to name a few. The event itself, that sometimes becomes the stressor, is not so much the problem as it is how we react to it. Here is where meditation can help: in bringing mindfulness and spaciousness to how we respond to stressors, and cultivating a more healthy and even joyful way of life.
What should you bring to the session, if anything?
Comfortable clothes are better, but your usual office clothes should work. If you want to sit on the floor, bring a cushion, a mat or even a towel (you can roll it and sit on it). We will have chairs, too.
UPDATE: This course is offered every semester. Please see our online catalog for upcoming course dates.