Yangon-A Place to Learn Meditation

Living in Myanmar is a different experience. The whole country is quieter, calmer than the rest of bustling Asia, beautifully, naturally green, with an unparalleled aura of peace. This is seen even in its biggest cities like Yangon and Mandalay, which have all the features of buzzing commercial centers, and yet have a soothing effect. It’s the tranquil air that touches deep, and most who experience it, opt to stay on. A far cry from lives many of us have left behind, to set up homes in Yangon, we now shun the noise, frenzy, stress and rush that is a part of daily lives in places not far from here. Many of us have turned to Buddhist meditative practices, and now understand how little we need to survive, and while we have not yet renounced material belongings, the craving for more, has dissipated.

The peaceful ambience has to be witnessed and experienced in person, to comprehend what it means to have a calm existence, without any rush or frenzy, without noise and pollution, without panic and chaos of multitasking which at best, yields half-baked solutions to multiple issues. The people also appear so calm and gentle by nature, there are no loud haranguing voices, no shouts and fights, only soft sounds of conversations even in cafes and tea shops. This can be attributed to their Buddhist beliefs, with 90% of the population following Buddhism. Meditation is a way of life, an essential that they turn to, frequently, and most people try to take a few days off annually, for mediation retreats in monasteries in some part of the country.

Myanmar’s association with Buddhism and meditation is centuries old, actively supported by royalty down the ages, and meditative practices were passed on from masters to disciples, generation after generation, and never getting lost. The Vipassana technique of mediation, though originated in India, continued only in Myanmar in its pristine form, while getting lost for centuries where it started. Today, mediation in various forms is spreading all over the world, and many of those carrying this torch have taken their first steps on this path, in Myanmar.

Yangon then, is the ideal, perfect place to learn meditation, with its numerous meditation centers offering comfortable though basic living facilities, and these too, free of cost. Any donation made to compensate for expenses is highly appreciated but remains optional. It is only if one goes for a mediation course that combines yoga, nature walks and meditation and is organized by travel agencies, that one has to pay, depending on the duration and quality of living quarters.

What is Meditation all about

There is always an urge to improve as human beings, meaning that we would like to get rid of our bad habits, vices, negative thinking patterns, and develop a pure mind, far removed from venomous thoughts, ill-feeling towards others, and never wanting to hurt or harm anyone by our words and actions. This is possible only if we develop a razor-sharp mind that stops us before we make a wrong move or utter hurtful words, develop empathy and move towards a high level of purity that touches the core of our being. Meditation is the only way to self-purification.

Asian cultures have inculcated a need for spiritual elevation as one gets on in age. However, in recent years, the spiritual journey for many, begins once they cross twenty and seek a meaning and purpose in life, beyond the material and the mundane. All the meditation centers have a significant number of disciples in their twenties, and some even conduct special courses for teenagers.

Our lives that focus on the physical and material cause only pain, misery, jealousy, craving and aversion. Spirituality and its pursuit lifts us above these. Meditation is the route to freedom from all misery-causing factors, like the ego, which is often the root cause of all negative sensations and aversions in our body. Forgetting the “I” and overcoming self-importance is the only way we can reach the stage of non-self. In the present age, self has become most important and all our actions are about self-gratification, the rest of the world ceases to matter.

Mediation helps us make our mind calm and through introspection, looking inwards rather than outwards, we achieve peace. It involves different ways and methods, though the end goal is the same, achieving peace and rising above misery. One can focus on an object, a part of the body, an action like walking, but all the time, being mindful. One practices moment to moment awareness of the physical and mental state, observing every sensation that arises and passes away. This helps us understand how impermanent everything is, every feeling that comes, goes away, whatever begins will come to an end. We observe and we understand, and eventually imbibe this well enough to apply this truth to every aspect of our daily life.

Meditation need not stretch for 24 hours, day after day. It has to be learnt, and then practiced, preferably daily, whenever one can spare the time. It does require quiet surroundings to facilitate concentration, at least initially, till one has reached such an advanced stage that noise and surroundings no longer distract.

Meditation Centers in Yangon

There is always a long waiting list of prospective students of meditation, both local and international. Before enrolling at any center, it is important to know the precise meditative practices taught and practiced at each of these, and see which one we resonate with. Some teaching walking and sitting meditation, both being an exercise in mindfulness.

All the centers have comfortable living quarters, separate for men and women, provide simple, nutritious food, and basic facilities to accommodate new and old students. The rooms do not have any phones and it is generally recommended to not carry laptops, smart phones, books or reading material. Communication with the outside is possible through the office which has international calling facilities, fax machines etc. Doctors are available for medical emergencies.

Most centers teach Vipassana using the Mahasi Sayadaw method. Dhamma Joti Vipassana center was set up by S N Goenka and follows the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin. In most centers it is possible to receive instructions in English as well. Every year, thousands of international and local students of all age groups enroll for courses in these centers. The daily practice begins at dawn though timings of different centers vary, and continue till nearly 10 pm, with breaks for food and rest. There is time for individual mediation and group sittings, and teachers are available for improving the meditation technique and resolve doubt. For the few days spent in these centers, living is confined to one’s own physical frame, where one focusses on mindful actions of oneself, and not interact with others at all. Even eye contact is avoided.

Students are expected to adhere to the rules and regulations of the center, follow the eight precepts, practice noble silence, and eat twice a day, abstaining from eating after noon time. Beverages are offered in the evening. This gives us a sense of how little we need to survive, and how wasteful our lifestyle is, in the outside world. This may appear tough as an outsider, but once we step in, the purpose spurs us on, and the focus is on learning alone.

Some of the mediation centers in Yangon are listed below:

  • Dhamma Joti Vipassana Center
  • Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Center
  • Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha Mediation Center
  • Panditarama Meditation Center
  • Shwe Oo Min Dhamma Sukha Yeiktha
  • International Theravada Buddhist University

For those wanting complete solitude away from the city, can opt for the few forest retreats in Myanmar, like the Pak Auk Forest Monastery in Mon State, and the Panditarama Forest Monastery not far from Yangon.


Yoga For Health – A Way of Life

At a time when life has become a never ending rush, with stress waiting at every step, the human mind searches for solutions to bring in peace, calm and relaxation that permeates to the deepest core of our being. Stressful lives are the outcome of increased competition and the race to the top, materially, socially and professionally. Aspirations spiral upwards and the end result is the surfacing of baser instincts like anger, frustration, pain and lifestyle diseases. This explains the growing popularity of certain cults, the recourse to meditation, and other ways of resolving physical and mental problems. Many of these have become fads, here today, forgotten tomorrow.

In search of holistic solutions while continuing to live and work in the same troublesome world, Yoga emerges as a viable solution that can ensure physical, mental and spiritual well being. It does not require seclusion or isolation, giving up of domestic duties or professional responsibilities, but just a bit of time and sincere effort. Its appeal has stayed and its followers are only increasing by thousands.

The origin of Yoga can be traced to the 5th-6th century B.C. in India. As a 5000-year old science, it has penetrated every part of Indian society, forgot temporarily by a section, but it has always resurfaced due to the holistic improvement it provides to the quality of life of the people in the form of better health, lower stress levels and improved mental faculties. It is now being practiced in most countries in the world.

Yoga has become many things to many people, but a vast majority of the millions of yoga practitioners practice yoga as a wellness routine, more for physical fitness, a trend that started in the 1980s in the western world. But a deeper understanding of Yoga, reveals that it is far more intense and profound than merely a set of fitness exercises which involve twisting and turning the body, breathing regimens, postures and poses that ensure flexibility. It must not be perceived as a shortcut to better health, since its goal is all round fitness that envelopes mental and spiritual wellness as well.

What Yoga stands for…beyond physical fitness

The term Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. At the micro or individual level, it harmonizes thought, action and speech. Its principles include proper diet, exercise, breathing, thinking and meditation.

Yoga is a way of life that harmonizes body, mind and spirit and promotes peace at the individual level which leads to a peaceful society at large. It is a science that emerged as a part of ancient Indian spiritual culture and was integrated into every aspect of day to day life to facilitate enlightenment.

Yoga is believed to be a science that calms the mind and offers spiritual cleansing, by restraining the continuous turbulence of thoughts in the human mind. It aids dexterity in action, become mindful of the present, and helps the mind achieve a state of equanimity or balance in all kinds of circumstances.

A scientific step by step process helps individuals withdraw their mind and senses from worldly distractions, improving thoughts and deeds, living in the present moment, and being mindful, without reacting strongly to happiness or suffering. This involves physical exercises called ‘asanas’, breathing exercises, concentration and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but can merge into any religion.

Thus Yoga opens a path of self improvement for individuals, starting with physical improvement and fitness, and progressing to mental and spiritual elevation through self analysis and introspection. Raising the level of consciousness helps to change the meaning and purpose of existence and improve its quality in all respects. Thus it helps to fight weaker emotions like stress and anger, making the individual strong enough and approach any situation with peace and calm.

Types of Yoga

There are various kinds of Yoga, each requiring specific techniques, but the end result is the mind-aspiration of merging the individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Thus efficient actions form the basis of karma yoga, devotion and prayer of bhakti yoga, knowledge and insight forming the basis of gyan yoga  and so on. Ashtanga Yoga is a modern form of yoga that has become popular in the western world. The name ashtanga means eight branches or limbs, and physical poses or asanas, are only one of these eight. The others include moral code, self-purification, breath control, sense control, meditations, concentration, and finally, absorption into the universe. The synchronization of breath with a series of postures, helps to detoxify the system and leaves a feeling of general well being, physically, mentally and spiritually. Hatha Yoga is popular in the west and refers to the practice of specific yogic postures that aid in the alignment of skin, muscles and bones in the human body.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is being touted as the solution and treatment for all ailments and maladies from headaches and backaches, to obesity, heart disease and cancer.  A tremendous amount of research is being conducted to verify claims that yoga helps to control physiological parameters like blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. A study conducted in 1998 by Dr Dean Ornish showed that yoga and lifestyle changes combine to effectively reverse heart disease, unclogging blocked arteries and doing away with the need for intrusive procedures and surgeries like angioplasty and bypass surgery. His findings were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, based on his research on an experimental group of 194 patients, 80% of which had seen reversal of heart disease with yoga and dietary changes. This was his second study, the first being conducted on 1990 on 94 patients with similar results.

Yoga helps every part of the body with the various postures and breathing techniques. The body becomes stronger, improves balance, coordination, flexibility and endurance, improves lung capacity and general well being.

Some of the many benefits of practicing yoga include:

  • Yoga makes the body flexible – yogic postures help to loosen the limbs and make them supple, which facilitate bending and turning. This helps to reduce body aches and joint pains while strengthening the muscles and reduce fatigue due to physical exertion and exercise. The spine straightens and this improves our posture, and the various joints are moved to their full range. Every inch of the body moves and this makes muscles, ligaments and joints stronger, while otherwise, stiffness sets in as we grow older.
  • Reduces blood pressure – Studies show that yoga help to reduce blood pressure. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that patients who did yoga twice or thrice a week along with dietary restrictions experienced a significant drop in their blood pressure levels. The ability to relax, exercise and being mindful, all combine to reduce the readings.
  • Lowers blood sugar levels – yoga helps to reduce blood sugar levels and hence reduces the need for medication for diabetes. Stress hormones are known to increase blood glucose levels and yoga helps to reduce stress. Yogic postures stimulate internal organs including the pancreas, which produce insulin need to break down sugar.
  • Improves digestion – Yoga helps to improve digestion since body movements and exercise facilitate the movement of food and waste inside the body. This reduces constipation and digestive disorders become less frequent.
  • Prevents heart disease and reverse arterial blockage- As mentioned above, a study conducted by Dr Ornish shows how yoga when combined with a regulated diet, works to prevent the onset of heart disease in the first place, and in patients with arterial blockage, helps to reverse the process by unclogging the arteries of the plaque deposited.
  • Mental and emotional benefits– Yoga helps to focus on breathing and the concentration on breath and the body help to calm and soothe the mind and thus relieve worries. As tensions and stress gets discharged, the mind gets cleared of negativism, and better control of emotions becomes possible. The mind learns to relax and this facilitates better sleep, necessary for recharging the body cells.

The list of benefits is endless and most of them seem intangible, but the end result is improved quality of a longer life.

International Yoga Day

The 21st of June has been declared as the International Yoga Day as per a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly. It was celebrated for the first time in 2015 when millions of people got together to participate in Yogic exercises in most countries across the globe. In Myanmar also, Yangon saw thousands of people from all over the country come to participate in yogic exercises at the city’s Thuwana Stadium last year.


Yoga, though Indian in origin, can be practiced universally for physical well being, mental calm and spiritual elevation, within the realm of any religion
Yoga includes ASANAS or postures, ‘pranayama’ or breath control, concentration and meditation.
Yoga’s10 positive and negative moralities

·       Avoid injuring others

·       Avoid dishonesty

·       Abstain from stealing

·       Practice self discipline

·       Maintain purity of mind and body

·       Show devotion to God

·       Find a balance in beliefs and actions

·       Practice Non-attachment to people and possessions

·       Contentment

·       Self study and introspection-looking inwards and becoming aware









Myanmar’s Traditional Medicine

The belief in turning to nature to heal and cure, is strong in nearly all Asian nations, and in Myanmar, even more so. Traditional medicine treatments have been followed in Myanmar for generations and continue to be popular even today, though more in remote rural areas, not least due to non availability of western (allopathic) medicines. Herbs and medicinal plants are found in abundance in this largely agrarian country, and serve as highly affordable remedies for diseases.

Continue reading “Myanmar’s Traditional Medicine”