Health& Wellness

Published on Thu, Jan 18, 2007
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Health & Wellness

Meditation: Your key to creating
a stress-free life

By Tara Nelson

In a world where a growing body of evidence suggests that stress reduction can decrease a person’s chance of developing long-term illnesses or disease, Blaine resident Sandy Culman wants to teach people how to relax.

Venturing onto a little road off Birch Bay Drive, you’ll find what Culman calls “the best kept secret in Birch Bay.”

Culman is talking about the Sawan Kirpal Meditation Center just off Selder Road, of which she and her husband Ron took over the management last January.

There, an open pasture on the lower section of the property offers a 180-degree view of Puget Sound and the San Juan islands and the 10 acres of surrounding forest boasts an extensive trail network for leisurely walks and a large garden provides fresh fruit and vegetables for visitors to the center to cook in the community kitchen.

Culman, who has more than 20 years of experience in counseling with a spiritual emphasis, said that she enjoys her new position as director of the center because it offers her a chance to facilitate a solution-oriented approach to problem solving.

“People often want to focus on their problems but I want to focus on solutions,” she said. “I also realized what was causing people so many problems was the fact that they think they’re not okay. I want people to know they’re okay and meditation can help them realize that.”

Culman said regular meditation can help calm their mind, allowing the individual an increased sense of clarity that can lead to improvements in every facet of life from child rearing to increased work performance to enhancement of personal relationships.

A 1992 study by the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute of Health’s Office of Alternative Medicine found that a short course of behavior modifications including meditation led to significantly fewer visits to physicians during the six months that followed. The study estimated the cost savings at more than $200 a patient, which was attributed to a variety of factors including decreases in stress-related hormones in the body and fewer accidents as a result of a more thoughtful awareness of one’s surroundings.

Although meditation has been practiced by several religions for centuries, the Jyoti style of meditation employed by the center originated during the 13th Century from esoteric Egyptian teaching and uses non-intrusive and simple techniques such as sitting quietly, rather than strenuous breath control or rigorous postures.

The property was acquired in 1986 by the Delhi, India-based non-denominational Science of Spirituality organization under the encouragement of Arran Stephens, founder of Nature’s Path organic foods, and late Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt, both of whom were members.

Schugt and his wife Barbara served as the center’s original caretakers from 1986 until 2004 when he died of leukemia. After that, Barbara, who still lives in a smaller house on the property and continues to help with lighter responsibilities, continued to run the center until 2005.

She said she and Dieter became interested in meditation after returning from mission work in Saudi Arabia, where they had taken a side jaunt to Egypt.

There, they met the consul of Columbia who suggested they meet Darshan Singh Ji Maharaj, his meditation teacher in India who, in turn, introduced the Schugts to the organization and the Jyoti style of meditation.

“We had missed our plane by five minutes or so and our friend, who was the head dietician of all the hospitals in Saudi Arabia, had given us a number of a man that she said I should go visit,” she said. “And I thought ‘Yeah right, we’re only going to be here for a few hours,’ but then we missed our plane and we were stuck in Cairo for several days, so we pulled out this phone number of this man and he told us about his meditation teacher in India and that we had to go see him and so we did.”

When asked if the couple had always been interested in eastern philosophies, Barbara said no. Dieter, a long-time elder in the Presbyterian church, and Barbara had completed several years of mission work overseas and remained active in the United Church of Christ in Blaine.

She added that the Jyoti style of meditation was in many ways in line with her values instilled from growing up in a Quaker family.
“They deal with things in a lot of silence,” she said.

Starting a center in Birch Bay, however, wasn’t easy – especially after the deportation of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, who was widely criticized for his alleged cult in Oregon. Schugt said the sale elicited several written concerns from nearby residents but they were able to proceed with the help of Whatcom County judge Charles Snyder.

“The surrounding residents just assumed right away that it was going to be another horrible cult-like thing,” she said. “Ten years later, many of those same people came up to me and apologized, so that was neat.”

Culman agreed, adding that the practice of meditation doesn’t mandate being religious but gives the individual time to reflect on life and help impart clarity to make better decisions.

“We think of meditation as a spiritual thing, and it is without a doubt, but for most people, they just want to use meditation to have more inner peace in their lives or slow down,” she said. “People can come here and meditate, go for a walk and then have a nice meal together before they go back out into the real world.”

The Sawan Kirpal Meditation Center has free meditation classes from 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday and seminars year-round, as well as space for retreats.

Also, beginning February 2, the center will begin offering additional meditation classes such as a women’s group at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and an additional class at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evenings.

Culman said she would also like to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community by offering meditation programs in Spanish as well as programs for children during the summer time in the Birch Bay and Blaine community.

All programs are free of charge but donations are accepted.

The center is located at 5560 Bayvue Road in Birch Bay and can be reached by calling 360/371-5560 or by emailing Culman at Their web site is (select “Birch Bay Center” under the centers menu).

Eating healthy

The search for a healthy breakfast may only need to go so far as Blaine’s own Nature’s Path. The company that specializes in organic breakfast food recently released their new Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal.

The delicious mix of clusters, whole grain flakes and raisins, has a light pumpkin flavor and contains a whopping 650 milligrams of organic vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids, nine grams of heart-healthy insoluble fiber, and six grams of protein.