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Meditation Practices

Meditation Practices

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Published by John Michael

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Published by: John Michael on Dec 16, 2007
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11/12/2012

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MEDITATION
Meditation Practices and Resources in Complementary Medicine
Meditation is like mental martial arts. You notice that the mind is making an assault, and withminimal effort, you step out of the way by returning to whatever the object of your concentrationis. Little by little, you build up the mental muscles of awareness and letting go. This is a slow,gentle process. Just as a two year old wanders off and you bring him back with tenderness andpatience, so it is with the mind. A meditation during which there are many thoughts and manyattempts to bring the mind back to focus is a great training session. During the rest of the day youwill gradually find that you have better concentration and are less prone to rumination. You are onyour way to cultivating a peaceful heart and a powerful mind.We are all wired differently from a physiological perspective and each of us has different beliefsand experiences. Therefore, an excellent centering practice for one person may not suit another atall. Some people prefer a moving form of meditation such as mindful walking, qi gong, hathayoga or stretching exercises. Others prefer closed eyed sitting exercises such as concentration,mindfulness meditation, centering prayer or other forms of imaginal centering.Whatever form you feel drawn to practice, make a commitment for the full twenty-eight days andput it into your schedule every day at the same time. This is the basis of forming a healthy habit.Most people find that getting up fifteen or twenty minutes earlier and doing the practice first thingin the morning not only works well in terms of getting it done, but also sets the tone for a morepeaceful, energized, loving and productive day. Physiological research shows that at least three 20minute periods of meditation weekly are necessary to experience longterm reduction in heart-rate,blood pressure, anxiety and other stress-related problems.
Belly breathing is associated with lower heart-rate, reduced blood pressure, increased energy andfeelingsof peacefulness, clarity, relaxation and creativity.• Put one hand on your abdomen and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your noseand expel it slowly and completely through your mouth. You will feel your belly flatten. Let thenext breath (and all subsequent breaths) come in through your nose. Can you feel your abdomenexpand? If you can’t, just imagine that a balloon is inflating in your belly when you breathe in anddeflating when you breathe out. The outbreath is longer than the inbreath, like a gentle sigh of relief.For a fast mini-relaxation break any time during the day, take a deep breath and release it slowly-a letting go breath. Try breathing back from ten to one, one number on each outbreath. By thetime you get to one, you will notice that your breath is much slower and more regular and thatyour bodymind system is relaxing. With a little practice, you will form the habit of breathing fromyour diaphragm most of the time.
Concentration Meditation
Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, M.D. first found that concentration meditation elicits what
 
he calls the "relaxation response." All forms of meditation, in which the mind becomes quiet andfocused, also elicit this innate physiological response which is the opposite of the body’s stress orfight-or-flight response. Belly breathing is an important cornerstone of the relaxation response.Benson first researched the clinically standardized "relaxation one method" of meditation in whichthe word one is repeated in time to each outgoing breath. Any word will produce the same results.An ancient Sanskrit mantra, or meditation focus, is Ham Sah. This is supposed to remind themeditator of the sound of the incoming and outgoing breath. Ham as you breathe in, Sah as youbreathe out. Ham means I am. Sah means the inner Self, the Divine Spark. Any short phrase willdo as a meditation focus, either secular or religious. "Hail Mary" on the inbreath, "full of grace"on the outbreath is an excellent focus for those used to repeating the rosary which is also a kind of concentration meditation.
 Jewish Meditation
by Rabbi Ari Kaplan, is an excellent primer for Jews.Benson’s classic
The
 
 Relaxation Response
is a fine review of both secular and religious meditationtraditions and techniques.Sitting with eyes closed, focus on belly breathing. Repeat your focus phrase, prayer or mantra intime to either the outbreath, or both the incoming and outgoing breath if it is a longer phrase.When thoughts come, passively disregard them and just return to the repetition.
Autogenic Training
Autogenic training was devised by two German physicians, Schultz and Luthe. With six volumesof research, it is probably the best-researched method of meditation and physiologic self-regulation. There are a total of six standard formulas. The first two formulas are heaviness andwarmth. If we did not practice these exercises at the seminar you attrended, these instructionsalone are insufficient for practice. They are meant as a review if we learned the practice together.Assume the "ragdoll" position. Focus your attention on mindfully feeling sensation in each bodypart as you go through the exercise. Mentally repeat each formula several times until you begin tofeel heaviness and warmth. Note the abbreviations. R=right. L=left. A=arm. L=leg. B=both.My RA is heavy, My LA is heavy, BA are heavyMy RL is heavy, My LL is heavy, BL are heavyMy arms and legs are heavy (summary formula)My RA is warm, my LA is warm, BA are warmMy RL is warm, my LL is warm, BL are warmMy arms and legs are warm (summary formula)My arms and legs are heavy and warm (cumulative summary formula) which- if you practice thetwo standard formulas frequently- turns into an instant conditioned relaxation response.The other four standard formulas (to be used only after appropriate instruction are:3. It breathes me4. Heartbeat calm and regular5. My solar plexus is warm6. My forehead is cool
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Mindful Walking
The Buddhist peace worker, poet and monk Thich Nhat Hanh is known for his walkingmeditations. Most of the time we are not present to what we are doing. The mind is constantlythinking up thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow, often dwelling on the negative. As John Lennonwrote, "Life is what’s happening when we're making other plans." Mindfulness means to bepresent to what is, rather than losing ourselves in thoughts of what is no longer or what has notyet come. Mindfulness is an awakening to life, a nonjudgmental awareness of the wonder of thepresent moment. As you prepare to walk slowly and mindfully, regulating the cadence of yoursteps to diaphragmatic breathing, you might enjoy repeating one of Thich Nhat Hanh's meditativepoems:Breathing in I calm body and mind (inbreath)Breathing out I smile (long outbreath)Dwelling in the present moment (inbreath)I know this is the only moment ( long outbreath).Become aware of the rhythm of your body and breathing. How many steps to your inbreath? Howmany steps to your outbreath? How does it feel to move forward, shift your weight, move yourfeet? Keeping breath and body awareness, begin to notice the world around you. See the trees, thegrasses, the flowers in season, the sky. Smell the smells. Hear the sounds. Try to be aware without judgment or reflection. No good or bad sounds. Just sounds. Nonjudgmental awareness opens theeye of the heart. When you catch yourself thinking about something- and therefore becomingmindless- gently and kindly refocus your attention on breath and body. Recite the poem again andonce more become mindful of the world around you.
Sitting Mindfulness Meditation
Sit in your seat with great dignity, back straight and eyes closed. Become aware of yourbreathing- how breath comes in and fills your belly and how breath moves out into space. Keepabout 25% of your attention on breathing and the other 75% on the feeling of spaciousmindfulness. You may become aware of sounds, sensations, thoughts. Just let them all come andgo, passing across the spacious sky of your mind like clouds. Sogyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhistlama, compares the thoughts that arise in meditation to waves that rise from the ocean. It is theocean's nature to rise. We cannot stop it, but as Rinpoche says, we can "leave the risings in therisings."
Mindfulness Exercises
We can extend the practice of mindful awareness and spaciousness beyond the period of sittingmeditation into the rest of life. Thich Nhat Hanh has written a beautiful book called the
 Miracle of  Mindfulness
. With true simplicity and beauty he reminds us that we can wake up in the ordinaryactivities of life by bringing our full attention to eating, washing the dishes, smelling the roses,walking, making love. Choose a piece of fruit and eat it mindfully. Be aware of its look, smell andfeel. Notice the way that your mouth fills with saliva in anticipation of its flavor. Be aware of eachbite moving down your throat into your stomach. Enjoyment and gratitude are natural outcomes of mindfulness. Choose any activity like washing the dishes or taking a shower and commit to doingit as mindfully as possible. For some people taking a shower mindfully, aware of their breathingand all the pleasant sensations, is an excellent morning meditation.
Holy Moment Meditation
Healing and holy have a common root in the old Anglo-Saxon word
haelen
, to make whole.

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