Finding clarity at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing
By Jessica Wiese
You’re sitting alone in a dark, quiet room for 30 minutes after a stressful day, thousands of thoughts racing through your head. Not your idea of calm? It wasn’t mine either. Yet this is exactly the practice that led me toward more peace and clarity.
After some major challenges including injury and divorce, I spent a week at a meditation retreat hosted by the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, inspired to find more forgiveness and purpose in my life.
During that time I slowed down, looking hard at what really matters to me. Using meditation, I learned to be more aware in the present moment, and in that space, I discovered the benefits of sitting with myself, without distractions or external measures of self worth.
Founded in 1996 by Drs. Deepak Chopra and David Simon, the Chopra Center teaches meditation, Ayurvedic medicine and yoga. Drs. Chopra and Simon have translated these ancient healing traditions into programs, workshops and instructor-training certifications designed for people at physical, emotional and spiritual life junctures.
Located at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, the center is the ideal setting for meditation and renewal.
A world-renowned alternative medicine guru, Chopra has published more than 65 books including The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and The Book of Secrets, and regularly appears on television to deliver his message.
Chopra came to the United States from India in 1970. He practiced internal medicine and endocrinology as an M.D. for 12 years, at which point he began exploring alternative means to health. Today, people journey from all over the world to meet him and seek wellbeing. Although many of his teachings have roots in Eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism, the center has no religious affiliation.
I arrived at the Chopra Center exhausted and disoriented, but the jovial, spiritual leaders in the reception area took it all in stride, smiling as they welcomed me. I walked through the resort’s lush, blooming gardens to my room, took a deep breath and began to recenter.
That evening, I learned about “primordial sound meditation,” a form of transcendental meditation in which you repeat a silent mantra. An ancient Sanskrit word, “mantra” is literally translated as “instrument of the mind.” I received a mantra before that first group meditation, and I’ve used the same word to enter a deep state of meditation ever since.
Each day began with a sunrise meditation, and then yoga, more meditation, a lecture by Dr. Chopra, more meditation and yoga, and an evening workshop or musical performance. By the end of day two, I had made new friends from Egypt, Ukraine, U.K. and Israel, among other countries, and despite the busy schedule, I found the time relaxing and introspective.
As an athlete, one of the most valuable lessons I learned at the retreat is that training and toning my mind and spirit is equally as important as working my body. Upon returning home, I’ve set up a meditation practice each morning, and instead of a glass of wine at night, I now meditate to release the events of the day.
The process of finding peace in each moment is a lifelong journey. Beginning on this path of meditation and awareness allowed me to be at once nostalgic and present, and to feel comfortable with – and get to know – myself.
Developed largely alongside religious and spiritual traditions over the millennia, meditation has many proven health benefits.
A regular practice can increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, help a person cope with illness, boost focus and attention, and enhance overall health and wellbeing, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Dr. Chopra cites marked results on brain scan indicators, among other things, and the Scripps Institute recently conducted a groundbreaking study showing changes in the autonomic nervous system – which regulates the functions of our internal organs such as the heart, stomach and intestines – as the result of meditating for a week.
During my time at the Chopra Center, our meditations varied in length from 20 minutes at the start of the week, to nearly two hours in one sitting by the end.
During each session, we repeated our mantras, practiced breathing exercises called pranayama, and repeated sutras, which are a sound or vibration that when repeated put you in a deeper state of consciousness.
On a good day, this dropped me into a deeply relaxed state; on harder days, I felt anxious, thinking, “Why can’t I do this right?” This is all part of the practice, according to davidji, a seasoned teacher at the Chopra Center who taught many of my classes.
“Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts, or having some special experience while meditating,” he told our class. “It is about having a moment of stillness that helps carry you through your day.”
The Chopra Center prepares its meals Ayurvedically, meaning the food is based on daily and seasonal routines, behavior and the proper use of the senses.
Developed more than 5,000 years ago in India, Ayurveda means “the science of life” in Sanskrit. It reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind and spirit.
The practice teaches that three fundamental energies govern our inner and outer environments: movement, transformation and structure – or Vata (wind), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth), in Sankskrit – and that each of us has a unique proportion of these three primary forces.
CHOPRA CENTER RETREATS
The Chopra Center offers retreats throughout the year at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California, as well as elsewhere in the U.S. and internationally.
The Seduction of Spirit retreat in Toronto, Canada this Aug. 3-9, will feature a “Meditation for Global Peace” led by Dr. Chopra. The event will be live-streamed from the Westin Harbour Castle, with a goal of breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest synchronized meditation in history.
YOGA AND THE SEVEN CHAKRAS
Yoga at the Chopra Center focuses on seven body-energy centers, known as chakras, as well as on the physical body. In many traditions, chakras are believed to be energy centers along the spinal cord that serve as junctions between the body and the consciousness.
The center teaches that congestion in a chakra’s energy flow may cause physical and mental illness. Each yoga class in my retreat ended with a chakra-tuning exercise, in which we repeated specific vibrations to focus both our attention and intention, releasing blocked energy. These left me feeling light and energized from head to toe.
The following information summarizing each chakra comes from chopra.com.
This story was first published in the summer 2014 Mountain Outlaw magazine.