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What is Vivation?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vivation is a meditation technique focused on increasing happiness. Advocates suggest that happiness is a skill, and that by honing this skill, practitioners can become happier and better able to appreciate life. First put forward by teacher Jim Leonard in 1979, vivation draws from a number of other meditation practices. Leonard has described vivation as a kinesthetic technique, a process that works on the level of feelings and sensations.

According to the tenets of vivation, emotions and sensations are not negative, only the thoughts and opinions attached to them can be negative. Through a process called integration, practitioners focus on sensations or emotions being experienced without attaching any sort of value judgment. They claim that this leads to a more honest and pleasant experience.

This method of meditation relies on a set of guiding principles referred to as the five elements. The first two elements are circular breathing and complete relaxation. The third element is awareness to detail. The fourth is called integration into ecstasy, and the final principle is titled “do whatever you do: willingness is enough.”

According to Leonard, these elements can help participants reduce stress, solve personal problems, come to terms with grief and improve relationships. He also says they can help participants develop spirituality, overcome addictions, achieve goals and generally feel better. The basis for all of these claims is not clear, though, and no clinical study of vivation as a treatment for any of these conditions has been conducted.

Circular breathing in this context does not describe the techniques used by musicians to produce long notes on woodwind and brass instruments. Instead, breathing is visualized as an unbroken circuit, as opposed to a two stage “inhale/exhale” process. This element does not suggest that breathing should be actively controlled, rather stating that the participant relaxes into circular breathing. The primary objective of this type of circular breathing is to encourage the next two elements: complete relaxation and attention to detail.

Complete relaxation encourages the participant to develop the ability to relax in any emotional state or in the presence of any sensation. This leads into the third element, attention to detail. In this relaxed state, the participant identifies whatever feeling is being most acutely sensed and focuses on that feeling. Quality or value judgments are avoided, and the sensation is explored as an experience to be appreciated.

Appreciation of experience leads to integration into ecstasy, the fourth element. According to this principle, feelings generally perceived as negative, such as anger, sadness or fear, should be accepted and embraced rather than avoided or resisted. The conflict, rather than the feeling, is identified as the cause of distress, and advocates claim that by embracing all feelings for what they are, a richer and happier life can result. The final element of vivation revolves around the idea that technique is not as important as willingness to adopt these elements and break away from old patterns of conflict and distress.

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