If you’re looking to cure or manage a health condition, prevent illness, experience more peace and joy in your life, or struggle with mindfulness meditation, this post is for you.
Recent work by Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared in the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the anti-aging enzyme telomerase, has shown that our thoughts and emotions, especially highly stressful thoughts that involve worrying about the future or ruminating obsessively about the past, influence the rate at which we age. The immune system and the ability of our cells to keep dividing and regenerating themselves are now known to be regulated at least in part by the brain. Our thoughts, behaviors, emotions and life experiences can influence our susceptibility or resistance to disease, not just by moderating inflammatory processes in the body but by actually up- or down-regulating our genes.
While entire new fields of medicine such as psychoneuroimmunology and epigenetics have sprung up to explore these connections, this insight is the basis of the Bali Usada Health Meditation technique developed over 20 years ago by Merta Ada, a medical intuitive and one of Southeast Asia’s leading meditation gurus. A form of mindfulness meditation, the Bali Usada method focuses on learning how to heal yourself through cultivation of your “harmonious mind”, a mind characterized by four qualities: concentration, self-love, mindfulness and wisdom. What is “wisdom”? The understanding, gained through your own sensory experience, of the impermanence of all things.
Bali Usada is only taught in the silent retreat context, in an acknowledgement that it is difficult to train your mind to really focus while still participating in normal life. Removing the obligations and distractions of the day-to-day and freeing the mental and emotional bandwidth that we normally use up on thousands of daily interactions, as we prepare what we will say or do and analyze the responses we receive, creates a space where there is nothing to focus on but yourself. This may sound uncomfortable or boring (and likely will be if you’re not motivated), but if you’ve tried to learn meditation through classes, apps or simply self-guided quiet time and never had the practice click, this immersion could be what you need to get that first taste of total stillness and peace. And once you’ve visited that place, it becomes much easier to return to.
Bali Usada is taught in a structured 7-day course that always begins on a Sunday afternoon and ends the following Saturday. The program is offered in select locations around Indonesia, but English-language training is most frequently available at Forest Island, a private compound in central Bali. The first hours after arrival are dedicated to meeting other meditators, settling in to your room, and orientation, including surrendering mobile phones and other electronics for safekeeping. Sunday evening, “Noble Silence” begins. For the next five days retreat participants must refrain from speaking, reading or writing (other than questions to Merta Ada and his staff). No alcohol or smoking is permitted, although if absolutely necessary meditators may smoke away from the main facilities.
Each day begins at 4:30am, with the first meditation at 5am, and includes about nine hours of practice concluding around 9:30pm. Unlike some meditation retreats coffee and tea is available all day, and the vegetarian fare is delicious and more than ample. Meditation sessions are 30-60 minutes in length, with breaks of at least 15 minutes between sessions. In addition to meditation, each day includes two taped lectures by Merta Ada. These differ from the doctrinal discourses given at more religious or “strict” meditation retreats, and instead focus on explaining the philosophy and logic of the techniques being taught at a practical level, including true case examples from Merta Ada’s years as a healer.
The first three days of Noble Silence are devoted to honing your concentration by paying close attention to your breath - looking for and experiencing in real time changes in the breath and the sensation of the breath in your nostrils. This first half of the course essentially forces you to learn mindfulness meditation – you have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, nothing to do except watch your mind wander from your point of focus, and bring it back. While this process is mentally exhausting for beginners, you’ll come away with a meditation breakthrough or at a minimum, a much sharper and more aware mind. And for those motivated primarily by health concerns, a focused mind with the ability to discern very subtle bodily sensations is necessary to the healing aspect of the practice. You can think of Bali Usada meditation as a lens, taking the scattered and reactive energies of your mind and focusing them into a powerful source of energy for healing.
On the fourth day, you are guided in using your newly developed awareness to systematically examine your body, looking for various sensations such as cold, warmth, tightness or heaviness. Once you find one, you watch it, experiencing the inevitable change in its intensity, pace, or other characteristic. The aches and pains from several consecutive days of sitting cross legged on the floor can actually be helpful in this exercise, serving as very obvious sensations to focus on and observe. The ability to observe pain and see it evolve rather than automatically reacting to it can help you face discomfort while experiencing less suffering, as you start to internalize the realization that any specific pain, like everything else, will change and pass.
This insight is the key as you transition to the fifth day, the culmination of the retreat. Virtually all retreat participants come to heal some aspect of themselves – a disease, an emotional trauma, an addiction, phobia, depression, or mental habit such as obsessive worry. Like many other Asian philosophies, Bali Usada considers that distress or imbalance in the “heart-mind” including anxiety, anger, self-hatred and other negative emotions can ultimately precipitate illness, and that releasing these thought-feeling patterns is important not just to achieving greater happiness but to preserving health.
On the fifth day, rather than scanning the entire body, meditators focus their attention on the specific body part, ailment, emotional blockage or personal weakness they wish to work on. By this point in the retreat you’ll have had a personal consultation with Merta Ada to receive individualized guidance on how and where to direct your mind’s energy.
It’s worth describing how the healing technique applies to non-physical problems – Bali Usada considers that memories and events buried in our subconscious (or carried consciously) become linked with habitual emotional and physical reactions. For example, you may feel a wash of heat, a tightness in your chest or a vise sensation around the top of your head when thinking of a certain person or when provoked. By becoming aware of these sensations as you’re having them and repeatedly watching them transmute and pass with loving-kindness, Bali Usada teaches that you can eventually free yourself of the mental-emotional distress that’s become associated with the triggering experience. Ultimately, you’ll be able to feel these sensations coming and get better at stopping the anger or stress before it starts.
Throughout the program, there is a consistent emphasis on the need to accept yourself as you are, developing self-love and forgiveness to yourself as the precondition for greater calmness and healing. Even if you are struggling with something like cancer, the method stresses that you must not develop aversion or anger to your sickness - that whatever disease you have, accepting it with gentleness and understanding is the first step to recovery.
Bali Usada meditation brings you face to face with experience of continuous change in your mind and body, as you watch your constantly changing thoughts, feelings, sensations and impulses. Once you truly understand and accept that change is the only thing you can be sure of, you come to the profound realization that worry, negativity and fear are completely useless. And a body that doesn’t have to deal with the physiological consequences of worry, negativity and fear can instead begin to heal itself.
A vast amount of research now supports the biological underpinnings of the mind-body connection, including brain imaging studies showing that meditation may protect against cognitive decline and slow disease progression in patients with HIV. While the mechanisms behind these outcomes are still not completely understood, those seeking to cure sickness may want to consider Bali Usada health meditation as a complement to their existing treatment. At a minimum, this retreat will strengthen your mind to achieve greater calm, clarity and focus in daily life.
There is far more to Bali Usada meditation than what is described here, and the retreat experience and results are of course highly individual, as we all come into the practice with our individual history and stress. Feelings and memories may surface that you did not realize you were carrying, and it’s easy to underestimate how difficult and emotional the process can be. But Bali Usada is designed essentially as a beginner’s retreat that leads you gently through the jungle, unlike many other meditation retreats that effectively leave you in the woods to (hopefully) reach some enlightenment on your own. Whether you’re looking for a specific health outcome or just more happiness, we highly recommend giving Bali Usada meditation a try.
We’d be happy to answer any questions you have about this post at firstname.lastname@example.org, and more information is available at www.balimeditation.com.