12 March 2018


Many of us have felt it. We all know it. Stress lowers psychological and physical resilience and in doing so adds a great deal to the health budget - costing us personally and drawing heavily on our Health Funds and Government spending.

Happily, many of us have felt the benefits of Mind-Body interventions (well proven to reduce stress and build resiliency). So the big question… How much can things like relaxation, mindfulness and meditation save us and our community? 

A good deal it would seem!

So this week, we examine one large study and link to a couple of earlier ones - and pose the question again… How long before your Health Fund realizes the benefits to be had and subsidises you to attend your meditation classes or use an effective, supportive App?, but first

           Thought for the day

   There is a bright pearl within me,
   Buried for a long time under dust.
   Today, the dust is gone and the light radiates,
   Shining through all the mountains and rivers.

         Master Yueh - The Golden Age of Zen 

Herbert Benson has been at the forefront of Mind-Body Medicine since publishing his first book The Relaxation Response in 1975. Benson was a contemporary of my first teacher Dr Ainslie Meares (First book - Relief Without Drugs - 1967), and we have much to thank them both for.

Benson was and still is an active Harvard medical academic and cardiologist.

He made the connection between stress and heart disease and realised meditation based upon deep relaxation could reduce blood pressure and actually reverse heart disease.

He has published many scientific studies as well as a few good books - international bestsellers actually!

Benson has been involved in this recent and important study that set out to estimate the effect of mind-body interventions on healthcare utilization Specifically, his team investigated the effect of the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP), comparing the health costs of 4452 meditators with that of 13,149 controls over a median period of 4.2 years. A good sized study.

At one year, total utilization for the intervention group decreased by 43% [53.5 to 30.5 be/yr]. Clinical encounters decreased by 41.9% [40 to 23.2 be/yr], imaging by 50.3% [11.5 to 5.7 be/yr], lab encounters by 43.5% [9.8 to 5.6], and procedures by 21.4% [2.2 to 1.7 be/yr]. The intervention group's Emergency department (ED) visits decreased from 3.6 to 1.7/year.  and Hospital and Urgent care visits converged with the controls.

Subgroup analysis (identically matched initial utilization rates-Intervention group: high utilizing controls) showed the intervention group significantly reduced utilization relative to the control group by: 18.3% across all functional categories, 24.7% across all site categories and 25.3% across all clinical categories.

Mind body interventions such as 3RP have the potential to substantially reduce healthcare utilization at relatively low cost and thus can serve as key components in any population health and health care delivery system.

Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization. Stahl JE et al, PLoS One. 2015 Oct 13;10(10):e0140212. doi: 10.1371

How long before you are paid to meditate?
In this post from 2012, 2 other major studies showing cost savings of 30% and over 50% during a 5 year period are quoted and examined. Well worth a read!

And just think how much the insurance companies would have saved by now if they had started encouraging their members to meditate 6 years ago? Still, the good news is… Never to late to start…


26 February 2018


In celebration of presenting meditation retreats for 35 years, let us take a look at what actually does happen on a meditation retreat.

Next month, I will conduct my last meditation retreat with Ruth, and then she will continue on, working with Julia Broome and Emma Houston. They will be a fabulous team and their retreats promise to be a blend of great experience, personal insight, maturity and youthfulness!!!

Ruth's first retreat will be from 10th - 14th September - a new era and not to be missed!

For myself, it will be quite a change. It has been a delight joining with so many participants over the years as we took time out to practice together, to contemplate the nature of our own minds, and to reflect more deeply upon what this life is all about and what we are to do with it.

So wish Ruth and her new team well; here now are some photos and stories from our recently completed Deepening Your Meditation retreat at the Foundation’s meditation heaven in the Yarra Valley… , but first

                Thought for the day

                      By all means, marry. 
                      If you get a good wife, 
                      You will become happy;
                      If you get a bad one, 
                     You will become a philosopher.


Not being much of a philosopher, Deepening Your Meditation was arranged at rather short notice to accommodate people after the last 7 day meditation retreat Ruth and I are to present together in March booked out.

So another full house gathered for just 4 days in February; and entered into a shorter but still immersive experience.

There were teachings each day.
We covered meditation techniques, the nature of our minds, what creates the obstacles many of us have to regular practice and how to breakthrough that, the difference between our ego-based character and our spiritually-based essence and how that affects our experience of life, how we might let go of destructive emotions and unhelpful habits; and of course a good deal on stillness - what it is like and how to experience it more reliably.
Quite a rich program!

        Ruth guided meditations


                As did Emma, Julia and myself

Then for a change of pace,
Emma led yoga sessions


        Julia guided others through Feldenkrais

While still others went on mindfulness walks with Ruth

         There was plenty of input from Kookaburras

 It seems may some come just for the   kangaroos!!!

So many... and so close to Melbourne...

                And the occasional guest Koala

The catering team led by Susanna
- and here supported by Sandy and Sarah
 did their usual fabulous job

At this time of year, a good deal of the food
does come from the Foundation’s own extensive organic gardens

And the quality, taste and nutritional value is exceptional!

Many will have first contact with the Foundation

 - and be helped to arrange coming to a retreat -

through talking to those on the phones like Dianne

And behind the scenes there is heaps going on via the inputs of an exceptional team.

Here are two of them - Lisa and Sue

And of course, the buck stops with the CEO

- the very accessible Wayne Nicholls

Many slept in shared rooms with ensuites,

  while others were in the two dorm rooms.

There was some free time as well.

Time to flow with the river

- Little Yarra River that is...


Or simply take in the majesty of the trees

                              It seems a good time was had by all

                                                   Gonna miss this …   But life moves on …


           with Dr Ruth Gawler    Julia Broome and Emma Houston

                         Meditation - Pure and Simple

Experience being more at ease with yourself and your feelings, 
the connectedness and clarity of mindfulness, 
and profound relaxation into stillness.

Ruth teaches with an openness and authenticity that has endeared her to many.
The content will be accessible to beginners as well as more experienced meditators.

Dates                                 September 2018      Monday 10th to Friday 14th
Venue                                The Yarra Valley Living Centre, 55 Rayner Court, Yarra Junction, Victoria Bookings and Inquiries   The Gawler Foundation         ClientServices@gawler.org
                                                                                          and 1300 651 211 - Call Mon-Fri 9-5pm
To download the brochure, click here
To learn more about Ruth, click here

12 February 2018


For our brain to be fully functional, it takes a good deal of blood. For a bloke to get an erection, it takes a good deal of blood.

Ever wondered how Alzheimer’s and male impotence may be connected?

Well, for our brain to be fully functional, it requires a good deal of blood all of the time - around 750ml every minute. For a bloke to get an erection, it takes a good deal of blood some of the time… in fact, around 130ml each time.

However, what if the blood vessels were impaired? Clogged up? Suffering from atherosclerosis? Became worse with simple old age? If so, then blood could not get to the brain or the penis so easily. For the brain - multiple small strokes and brain atrophy - Alzheimer’s. For the penis - not enough blood flowing quickly enough to produce and sustain an erection - impotence!

So this week we investigate and explore how to prevent and even possibly reverse two of the most feared conditions going around, but first

          Thought for the day

              At some point
              We all sit down
              To a banquet of consequences.

                         Robert Louis Stevenson 

Let us begin with the brain. 

Apparently we normally lose around .5% of our blood flow per year. So at 65 the blood flow to our brains may be down 15 - 20%. Sounds a lot, but we are well designed and have built in reserves, so at this point, no obvious problems.

However, we are not designed for a high fat, high protein diet. This contributes to atherosclerosis; other risk factors being smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and genetics. All but the last are lifestyle factors; factors over which we have some control.

Atherosclerosis in the brain is found to be significantly more frequent and severe in those with Alzheimer’s disease. One recent study even examined specific arteries in the brains of healthy, non-demented controls and compared them to those with Alzheimer’s. They looked at the specific arteries critical to memory and the learning centers of the brain and found major differences - way more plaque in those with Alzheimer’s.

In another study, 400 people with cognitive impairment for were tracked for 4 years using CAT scan angiography.

The cognition of those with the least atherosclerosis in their heads remained pretty stable over the years, but those with more cholesterol plaques became worse and those with the most blockages rapidly declined.

The ability to carry on the activities of daily living was also affected, and the progression to Alzheimer’s disease was doubled.

An inefficient blood supply to the brain has very grave consequences on brain function. Based upon these and many other studies, more and more Alzheimer’s is being described as a vascular disorder.

Good news! Atherosclerosis is preventable and reversible - like all lifestyle related diseases.

But does treatment of vascular risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol actually make a difference? Well, a recent ground-breaking study did focus upon treating  vascular risk factors. Happily, those treated showed significantly less decline and slowed progression of their disease, compared with those who went untreated.

This is one of the first positive outcome studies for Alzheimer’s - and it is based upon Lifestyle Medicine.

So what about male impotence? 

Same risk factors. Same problem. Atherosclerosis affects blood vessels to the penis just like it affects blood vessels to the heart. It impairs blood flow making an erection much more difficult.

More good news! Prevent atherosclerosis, prevent male impotence. Treat atherosclerosis, treat male impotence. Pretty simple formula really.

And sure, there are other issues when it comes to impotence, but this is a big one and one not well recognised and frequently left untreated.

There is hope for both Alzheimer’s and impotence.

As for the old saying…

“Feed the man meat”?

Maybe not ....

Happy days

Want longer lasting sex?

How to improve memory through nutrition and exercises

29 January 2018


Many of us suffer deeply with emotional or psychological pain. While many do not have diagnosable mental illness, even so, these days mental trauma is rife. 

So who to turn to?

The following quote may offer some real clarity, coming as it does from one of the younger, well-loved Tibetan teachers, Mingyur Rinpoche. Here Rinpoche provides a frank (and rare) insight from an actual guru on this matter. But first

             Thought for the day

The absolute truth cannot be realized 
Within the domain of the ordinary mind. 
And the path beyond the ordinary mind, 
All the great wisdom traditions have told us, 
Is through the heart. 
This path of the heart is devotion.

                          Sogyal Rinpoche

Tormented by our own pain, many seek a therapist. Others turn to spiritual teachers or "gurus" for answers. While revered in the East, “guru” is a complicated word in the West. It is a sanskrit word that translates literally as teacher, but commonly means more, often alluding to someone who acts as one's spiritual guide or friend, and who helps one to realise the same qualities, awareness and insights as the guru. Wiki provides a good background.

And while there are ample stories of gurus catalysing a personal renaissance for many individuals, fears of being taken advantage of in one way or another linger. There is often confusion about how the relationship with the guru works best and what devotion really is.

At the same time, some might question whether psychotherapy goes deep enough? Does it offer the insight and transformation that commitment to a genuine spiritual practice might?

Ample food for reflection and contemplation; and here is Mingyur Rinpoche’s contribution, quoted from his book Turning Confusion Into Clarity. 

Because the guru-disciple relationship is so new for Westerners, it will take time before it is understood with any consistency. 

It is understandable that some Westerners expect the guru to function in ways similar to other authority figures in their society, such as parents, bosses, generals, police officers, or psychiatrists. All of these projections can be worked with – if the student is willing to bring the issues into the realm of dharma.

Sometimes people tell me about their childhood, what their mother did to them, what their father said, and about this one sibling, until the story includes the entire family history. Meanwhile I am wondering : “Where is the dharma question? Where is the opening? Where is the opportunity for practice?”

A teacher does not have to be a therapist to see the fixations, the grasping, the anger, or the jealousy. But sometimes when I introduce practices that can help alleviate these problems, I meet resistance. 

Then I might wonder, “Gee, maybe this person wants a therapist, not a dharma friend.“

When students ask about psychological issues, martial problems, family dramas, and so forth, my own general response is to try to turn the conversation to dharma so that I can suggest activities, practices, or prayers that I hope can help. 

Generally, with non-dharma questions, I try to turn people`s minds toward their own wisdom, their own inclinations and knowledge. With a little encouragement, people can usually arrive at the answer to their own wordly questions.

If the person is willing to use dharma teachings to help themselves, then I have a role to play.

Many people come to dharma because they are in some emotional crisis or experience chronic mental suffering. 

That makes sense. 

But they may want their guru to solve all their psychological issues. Somehow they have the mistaken idea that solving their problems is the guru's job, rather than taking their problems to the path of meditation and study.

Nowadays many students spend more time following the gurus than they do practicing. 

The greatest masters of Tibet went to their gurus to receive teachings or to clarify their instructions, and then they left to practice. 

The point is not how or where we practice, but rather not to confuse practice with being around a teacher. 

We need to nurture our inner guru.

Mingyur Rinpoche
 - from Turning Confusion Into Wisdom.

Do meditators need psychotherapy?

This  book focuses upon the Tibetan foundation practices - or ngondro, as they are known in Tibet.

Ngondro is a set of meditations that form the first step on the path of awakening. Though they are preliminary practices, in the sense that they are meant to till the hardened soil of the heart and mind and prepare them for the spiritual journey, many of Tibet's greatest meditation masters have taken them as a daily practice throughout their lives. Indeed, it is often said that the foundation practices are even more profound than the supposedly more "advanced" meditations that one encounters later in the path.

Mingyur Rinpoche's first two books, The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom, were accessible presentations of meditation practice. Despite their conversational style, both books contain a wealth of profound hints about meditation practice. In many ways these writings capture the core of Rinpoche's approach to the path of awakening.

Having written two books that he hoped would reach both Buddhist and non-Buddhist readers, Mingyur Rinpoche chose to write this book to support those who are already engaged in Buddhist practice, or who are interested in doing so. 

This is not to say that he wrote this book only for Buddhists. It may very well be that this will also inspire those who are not practicing Buddhists. But this book is primarily intended for those who are looking to deepen their knowledge - and especially their experience - of the Buddha's teachings.

15 January 2018


We know they are all good. We also know the words are often used inter-changeably in a way that can be confusing and sometimes lead to unhelpful or disappointing expectations.

So this week, what are they really and how do we practice each one most simply and directly? And then a glimpse into what meditation really is and what differentiates it from the others, but first

                 Thought for the day

     The longer you meditate,
     The longer you persevere
     Through the difficulties and the false starts,
     Then the clearer it becomes to you
     That you have to continue
     - if you are to lead your life
     In a meaningful and profound way

                              Fr John Maine

For most of us this is the easiest one. Learn to relax the body, learn to relax the mind. Reasonably straight forward.

My definition for relaxation is “using just that amount of energy required to do whatever it is that you are doing”.

It is like a stringed musical instrument.

Tune a guitar or violin too tightly and it sounds horrid.

Too loose, horrid in a different way.

Not too tight, not too loose - that is relaxation.

Body relaxed, thoughts come and go - just do not dwell on them. Relax. Let go a little.

Come back to the feeling of the physical relaxation if thoughts do become distracting.

Simple. Not too tight, not too loose. Not concentrating too tightly; not so relaxed as to space out.

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise remains after 40 years of experience, experimentation and research analysis by far my preferred relaxation technique. Easy to learn, easy to practise, very reliable for body and mind. Almost no associated difficulties…

Just do it! And reap the benefits.

An easy concept. By definition (according to Jon Kabot-Zinn and associates) “simply paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally”.

Basically this means allowing whatever is happening to happen but that we take the mental/emotional reaction out of it.

Becoming more like an impartial observer.

Letting things go.

This does not mean we are passive and inactive; it means clearing the mind of internal argument, debate, commentary and particularly judgement.

Doing so will leave the mind clearer and calmer; much more able to evaluate things and act appropriately.

In practice, mindfulness is also easy to teach, learn and apply. It translates directly into daily life leaving us more present and better able to function stress-free.

To develop the practice it is recommended to start with something simple like mindfulness of the breath. Just give your full attention to the breath and aim to let go of any reaction in the form of self-evaluation/criticism, commentary or distraction. Can take a while but benefits often accrue remarkably quickly.

Both of the words mindfulness and meditation are currently being used very loosely in many forums, including teaching environments.

My definition of meditation is that “Meditation is a process that takes us beyond our engagement with the Active Mind, into a direct experience of the Still Mind”.

Beyond the clouds into the blue sky.

This definition is based upon the fact that our minds have 2 aspects.

There is the Active Mind we are all familiar with that is the seat of conscious and unconscious thought, along with perception, volition (or will) and feelings.

Then there is the Still Mind that is beyond all that.

Ever feel like a functional half-wit? Many of us will have spent many years using only half our mind’s potential; maybe even totally unaware of the other half. Yet the Still Mind is the seat of wisdom and insight. The place of inner knowing, of inner truth. The real objective of the inner search that meditation shines the light upon.

Learning meditation is potentially much trickier than the other two. Maybe you are lucky and can take the Direct Path, but for most of us there is the rather long and tortuous Gradual Path based upon any variety of methods. Simple is always best.


So here is the thing. Relaxation and mindfulness as defined are to do with the Active Mind. Sure some people brand mindfulness as meditation and claim it does more, but then if so, they need to define it more clearly and if they were to do that they would be re-defining a traditional Buddhist term in a way that it has not been used for thousands of years. Seems many have actually done this…

And meditation as defined is not a passive thing as in we enter into some empty void. It is actually about seeing the truth of how things are. The truth of an absolute reality. Making any real progress with it is highly likely to change our life irrevocably.

Looking forward to focusing upon all this in the last 2 meditation retreats Ruth and I will do before I
conclude that work this Easter (both programs are fully booked as we speak but are taking waiting lists).

And I am near to completing a new meditation book that will explore and elaborate on this short summary - may be released within 6 months… We shall see.

Happy relaxing. Happy mindfulnessing. Happy meditating!


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