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If only we could empty our minds for ten or so minutes a day, we would become a lot better at life for the other 23 hours and fifty minutes. There is evidence that meditation really helps in overcoming the barriers towards greater mental clarity, better mood control, improved concentration greater self-awareness, lower blood pressure and higher creativity. There are different methods and schools of meditation, and different ways of putting it into practice. The best way to learn is to try and experience or read about as many different types as possible and then find a way that suits you. Meditation for me is a process. The more I meditate the easier it becomes and I seem to discover meditation in more and more forms almost as if meditation lets me know how to be. You can’t stress about it. You have to ‘go with the flow’. It helps to go to classes. Find a teacher who works for you – books can’t answer all your questions, and you will have questions once you start. While CD’s can be very good for stress and relaxation, they can be a little limiting. The aim is to still the mind and allow greater awareness and clarity to emerge. The focus can be yoga, walking, breathing, a candle or a mantra: Breath: – Observing the rise and fall of the chest/diaphragm with each breath. Counting may be used to measure the length of inhalations and exhalations. Candle: – Observing a candle flame with a “soft focus”. Walking: – Using walking as the focus of meditation. Some people find it easier to be aware of their bodies when walking rather than sitting. Mantra: – Focusing on a word or sound usually given by a spiritual teacher. Visualization: – Using images to still the mind. Sometimes called ‘guided meditation’. For the ‘golden flower’ meditation, when you breathe in, you visualize light filling your body head-to-toe, and when you breathe out, you imagine darkness filling your body toe-to-head. Contemplation: – focusing on a concept such as loving-kindness. Meditations like walking and breathing aim to develop “mindfulness” or awareness throughout the day using environmental cues (eg. a key in a lock, a red traffic light, and so on). With breath based meditation you can sit on the floor or in a chair (some people prefer hard chairs to stop their mind from wandering). If you want to sit in the lotus position, that’s fine the only suggestion I have is that you don’t cross your arms and legs. Be comfortable and relaxed. Keep your eyes either closed or open but not focussed. Feel and experience your breathing, as the abdomen and ribs expand – don’t force anything – and then contract again. If your mind wanders away into a thought, notice it has wandered, release you mind from the thought, and go back to the breath. Try this for as many minutes as you can spare – even three will do – and don’t give up if you feel “nothing’s happening”. The idea is that every time your mind comes back to the breath, your mindfulness increases. The Buddhist Schools use a variety of different meditations to develop mindfulness, concentration and insight. Classes are easily found. One popular variety is Zen, which
focuses on turning the eye inward, rather than on the religious texts and philosophical discourses that underpin some of the other types. Tantric meditation can be practised as an individual, but generally done in pairs. Combined with teachings from the kama sutra, with a lot of ‘mindful’ breathing, working with light, physical and sexual meditations. Mindfulness is a non-religious form of meditation sometimes adopted by western clinical psychologists and doctors as a way of dealing with pain, stress, anxiety and depression. In Transcendental meditation, students are each given a mantra specific to them, on which they meditate for 20 minutes a day. The practice involves neither concentration nor contemplation. What these methods all share is that the meditator is taught to becomes the observer. Thoughts come up and you are simply asked to observe them neither rejecting, nor pursuing them. Just letting them pass by like clouds in the sky while you stay in the body and keep your point of focus. At it’s most simple, meditating is allowing or training the mind to settle to minimal activity. A wandering mind is the normal state of affairs, the mind is some place else and your body is here. The most optimal state for functioning at you best, from the meditative perspective, is the normal state of the mind as severely sub-optimal. In reality that cloudless sky that everyone aspires to, is likely filled with gossip and everyday tragedies, making it hard to believe it’s possible to reach any state of inner calm. I’ve meditated on and off for the past 10 years. I still struggle with it; I think everyone does. The pains of existence, self-criticism, bodily aches, my itchy nose, self-doubt and wondering if I’m doing it right. All these thoughts and feelings come up to the surface during meditation. When I do get a daily practice going I feel like I have a world of my own. The rest of the world isn’t dictating to me. It gives me a smoother relationship with my interior and exterior world and I feel grounded. If you want to feel similarly grounded your first step is to stop feeling that you should meditate – the moralising tone of should makes us rebel. Just do it, even if you only have 3, 5 or 10 minutes to spare in your day. You’ll do even better if you set aside half an hour or some time twice a day. Generally, more benefit can be seen with regular daily meditation than longer sessions once or twice a week. It’s regularity that’s key. Studies at Medical Institutions have demonstrated that subjects that meditate for as little as 10 minutes show increased Alpha waves, the relaxed brainwaves, and decreased anxiety. Physiologically meditation activates the parts of the brain that control autonomic nervous system functions such as digestion and blood pressure. These functions are most compromised by stress that causes conditions such as digestive problems, infertility and heart disease. There is a psychological aspect to the “calmness” of the practised meditator who starts to think differently. There is an acceptance of what is and a willingness to wait
and see what comes out of situations that they find themselves part of as apposed to reacting from moment to moment. When an uncomfortable feeling, like a stiff joint or some emotional response, is experienced – accept it as it is rather than focus on how you’d like to feel or how you’d like the world to be. From this viewpoint you’ll see that you have far more choices than you thought you had. Meditation has been used successfully to help treat pain and panic attacks. Most of these people are not interested in meditation, yoga, swamis and Zen masters. All they want is relief from their suffering. The first step is achieving a state of “mindful awareness”. Take a basic activity that you would normally take for granted, like eating. See the food in detail, bite into it, feel the texture and taste the flavour, chew and taste with mindful awareness. This focus starts the realization that there is nothing magical about this “mindfulness”. This awareness is then transferred to breathing. Imagine tasting your breath in the same way. The idea is not to take the person miles away from their pain but to take them deeper into it, to a place where they can accept it. The more you are in distress from pain or anxiety the worse you’ll feel. And that will have physiological consequences. If you can learn to be comfortable with the pain or anxiety the experience will be completely changed. “Grief is largely memory, if you bring yourself back to the present moment the sensations of grief are not nearly as strong” – Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn A study of a group of cancer patients who were taught mindful meditation found a significant drop in depression and confusion as well as other psychological benefits after just seven weeks of practice. Grief and emotion are real but they are in the mind not the body. Grief is largely memory. These senses of loss, aloneness and abandonment are constructed in the mind. If you can bring yourself back to the body and the present moment the sensations of grief are not nearly as strong. Meditation cannot replace treatment and lifestyle management. It won’t cure chronic heart problems caused by genetics, smoking or obesity. But it could be part of a process which helps you relax, eat better and make better lifestyle choices. In 2005 the American Journal of Cardiology reported that among 202 patients with raised blood pressure who were followed for 18 years, those who practised transcendental meditation had a 23 % lower death rate. How often do we react without thinking rather than choose our response? This has to do with emotional intelligence. “In a confrontational situation most peoples bodies will go into fight or flight mode before the brain is aware of what is going on, but if you can be in your body and see that you are becoming agitated and uncomfortable, then you have time to choose a response.” – Hugh Poulton, Buddhist meditation practitioner and teacher. The simplest way into meditation is smiling. Just smile. When you find you’re not smiling, lift the corners of you mouth and eyes and smile. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot possibly smile, laugh. Smiling or laughing takes the focus of your mind away from the situation around you, brings you into the moment and makes it possible to meditate.
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