Meditation or medication?

Jitka Mikuláštíková

How ancient yogic practices can improve our lives 


My Story

A couple of years ago I discovered something that completely transformed the way I deal with everyday pressures that we all face today. While randomly searching the internet I came across a practice called kundalini yoga. I was attracted to this practice on a deep level, even though I had no idea what it was exactly. I had never heard about kundalini before. So I started doing it at home with videos which were available online. A couple of months later I travelled to Berlin for my first kundalini yoga workshop. After coming home and meeting a lovely community of people, I was inspired to continue with it. Two years later I discovered that my teacher (originally from the USA) was opening a yoga studio in Mallorca. I decided to travel there and I take teacher training. Initially, I just wanted to further my practice and be around like-minded people. I have not taught any public classes yet, but I am hoping to do so in the future. 

Now I cannot imagine my life without kundalini yoga. Some days I do just a breathing exercise and a short meditation. But I always make sure to do at least the basic minimum. 

Meditation in the Information Age

“Meditation is for everyone. It uses the inherent self-sensory system, the mind, and the body. Through the use of refined patterns, meditation creates a communication between you and your mind, and between your mind and your body.”[1]

We live in highly pressurized times with information overload and technologies which have a direct effect on our nervous system and overall health. Constant exposure to the moods and manipulations of unprecedented numbers of other people through technology is becoming overwhelming.   

Never in the history of humanity have we been exposed to this amount of stress. Everything around us is changing at rapid speed; we have less time, even though technology should simplify our lives. But sometimes it feels like the opposite. Technology brings us more anxiety, stress and other problems.

This is something that fascinates and terrifies me at the same time. As a millennial who grew up with the internet (and in my late teens even with social media) I realize more and more, and as never before, how disconnected it is possible to be in our everyday lives.  New diseases – physical and mental – are appearing. Even psychologists today have to deal with a completely new set of “disabilities” – addictions to computer games, multiple split personalities, panic attacks, etc. Let us talk briefly about how the nervous system works. Our body actually has three nervous systems. There is the central nervous system, which is our command centre. And then there are two branches of our autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system triggers fight or flight responses. The parasympathetic nervous system commands the rest, relaxation and rejuvenation experience. And because of the highly pressurized state of the planet, which I mention above, most of us live in sympathetic nervous system dominance. This creates imbalance in our body, and then illness comes. What we want to do is train our nervous system to be parasympathetic dominant. In this case, we are able to confront daily stress more effectively, simply because we are calm.

Going within

I believe that there is a big misconception (especially in the wellness/spiritual community) that once you start doing any spiritual practice (e.g. meditation), suddenly everything becomes all roses and you will only encounter moments of bliss. I strongly disagree with this. We are all householders – we have families, jobs, businesses and other engagements in this world. That is why it is so important not to use these practices as an “escape” from our responsibilities. Instead, we should use them to be more effective and creative in our responsibilities. This is something that even Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche[i]emphasises in his book The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Mediation. He writes: “When you see ordinary situations with extraordinary insight it is like discovering a jewel in rubbish. If work becomes part of your spiritual practice, then your regular, daily problems cease to be only problems and become a source of inspiration. Nothing is rejected as ordinary and nothing is taken as being particularly sacred, but all the substance and material available in life-situations is used.” [2]

I love that quote. Because essentially what he is saying is that we should look at even the most basic life situations (like picking up kids from school or cooking a meal) with more awareness.

In the western world, whenever we feel exhausted, stressed or depressed we typically go for something external. We go for caffeine, sugar and, in the worst cases, for pills and medications. I still believe that there is a time and place for these things. However, we would be in much better shape if we went inside first. It is valuable to know powerfully effective ways to take care of yourself and support your healing on all fronts, and on your own terms. 

In ancient times, before modern medicine, there were higher mortality rates from the widespread contraction and rapid spread of different diseases. But there were also people who, by either education, intuition or biological demands, understood they had the capacity to self-heal and quickly tapped into that flow.[3]

Nowadays there are thousands and thousands of spiritual practices available to us. We can pick from different styles of yoga, transcendental meditation, martial arts, and the list goes on. What I would suggest is that you engage in one practice that suits you best. Something that resonates with you. I personally experienced this when I started practising kundalini. I felt something that I could not even put into words. But I knew from the beginning that this was it! It is important that you have the experience. Nothing else matters. No preacher or guru can help you unless you create your own experience.

Daily practice 

If I were to share only one tip it would be cold showers! The practice of the cold shower is the most effective glandular detox, balancer and rejuvenator. Done consistently, it is a total antidote to depression. This ancient yogic practise is called Ishnaan. When you take a cold shower, your blood rushes out to meet the challenge. This means all the capillaries open up and all deposits have to go.  Everything is cleaned; it is a very cleansing process.  The best way to practise it is to brush your skin with a dry brush (this way all your dead cells will be cleared) and then massage your entire body with almond oil. After that simply go under the cold shower and enjoy!

My last tip for a daily practice is called “Dog´s Breath”. This exercise brings energy to your immune system to fight infection. It is a very healing exercise. When you feel a tingling in your toes, thighs, and lower back, it is an indication that you are doing this exercise correctly.

Posture: Sit in an easy pose or rock pose.

Breath: Stick your tongue all the way out of your mouth and keep it out as you rapidly breathe in and out through the mouth in a panting diaphragmatic breath.

Time: 3 to 5 minutes

To end: Inhale, hold your breath for 15 seconds, and then press the tongue against the upper palate. Exhale. Repeat this sequence 2 more times.

[1]Bhajan, Yogi. The Aquarian Teacher. Level One Instructor Textbook. n.p. Kundalini Research Institute, 2010.

[2]Trungpa. Chogyam, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Boston:Shambala Publications, 2002. 83-84

[3]Guru. Jagat. Invincible Living. San Francisco: Harper Elixir,  2017.

[i]Chogyam Trungpa (1940-1987) – Buddhist meditation master, scholar and artist