One of my daily practices is to spend time in meditation. Meditating first thing in the morning helps me start my day feeling peaceful, balanced and grounded, and get emotionally and mentally focussed on those goals I wish to accomplish. It’s had an important impact on my life in many ways, for almost 30 years now, and I’m very grateful to the teachers who introduced it to me. I believe it’s a required tool for human becoming.
The reported health benefits from meditation are being supported by many studies (if you are interested, check out a few of them here, here, here, here and here).
Some of the reported benefits of meditation are:
- Your mind becomes calmer and more focused
- Meditation is proven to help you overcome stress and find inner peace and balance
- Improves sleeping and overall health
- Helps you access your creativity and imagination
- Opens the gateway to your subconscious mind and intuition
- Improves your relationships
The last two decades has seen resurgence in the practice of mediation, and a form of meditation referred to as mindfulness meditation. An A-list of celebrities and successful business executives has helped raise the awareness of the practice and triggered a huge wave of adherents.
One of the chief proponents of the mindfulness meditation practice is Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of Mindfulness for Beginners.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.
Rather than ruminating on the past and worrying about the future, mindfulness is paying strict attention to what is happening right now.“
His practice of mindfulness is not limited to meditation but to any daily activity from brushing your teeth to eating a meal. It’s about being mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling with any activity as you do it as opposed to being mindless and your thoughts wandering off to other things (particularly caught up in concerns about the past or future).
Ellen Langer, Harvard Professor of Psychology and author of Mindfulness, notes that the process of mindfulness “is actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations. Much of the time our behavior is mindless.”
Mindfulness, simply put, is non-judgmental, present-moment awareness whether in a meditative practice or to any of life’s everyday activities.
The practice of meditation is simple. Begin by getting comfortable – if sitting on the ground, cross your legs in an Indian position, straighten your back, shift your shoulders back and rest your hands in your lap. (If you are sitting in a chair, plant your feet on the ground.) Close your eyes and separate your jaw with your tongue resting on the bottom of your month. Separating your jaw slows your brain wave frequency from beta (high concentration and alertness) to alpha (relaxed) state.
Begin by focussing on your breathing – I prefer breathing by inhaling through the nostrils and exhaling through the mouth, the length of the inhale the same as the length of the exhale. (The exhale is just as important as the inhale in relaxation and balance.) Focussing on breathing allows the mind to relax and clear. Once you feel completely relaxed, shift your breathing pattern to breathing in and out through your nose and maintain this throughout the meditation.
Now you can take the process to many different types of meditation. Staying focussed on your breathing, or perhaps an image or word (mantra), is often referred to as concentration mediation and is intended to develop focus and concentration. When thoughts and emotions rise up, you ignore them and return to your object of focus.
I’ll highlight three different experiences I like – an intention or objective method, such as mindfulness meditation; the open method and the visualization method.
The intention method, our example being mindfulness meditation, has a desired outcome. Mindfulness meditation centres on breath, thoughts and physical sensation, but encourages practitioners merely to notice such things instead of actively trying to change them. Scanning your body from head to foot can release emotions and thoughts to your awareness. There is the objective of observing the thoughts and emotions you experience during the meditation without judgement. The intent is to gain wisdom and insight through the dispassionate observation of your inner self and what it is ‘saying’ to you. The focus is on the quality of your observation and awareness.
The open method is not focussed on your inner self but on your broader self and connection to the universal collective. It is open in the sense that you are open to any experience, message or intuition and not focussed on any outcome. In this experience, your thoughts and emotions can clutter the mind so part of the process is to clear your mind of these intrusions. Once your mind is clear and settled like a still lake, ‘see’ what happens as you expand your awareness beyond your physical borders and connect with a grander source.
The visualization method involves creating an imagined place where you can travel to and experience relaxation, joy, insight, security and calm decision-making. You imagine a safe place – perhaps a bright-sun splashed sandy beach with gently lapping ocean or an open meadow surrounded by lush aromatic trees with singing birds or the top of a mountain with light drifting clouds.
You create whatever place you like and imagine yourself travelling there. Once there you can imagine yourself sitting in meditation and experiencing joy or happiness or security or even contemplating a decision you must make. You’ve created a sanctuary for yourself which you can access at any time and use it as you desire.
I like this last one as you boost your creativity by using your imagination to create through seeing, hearing, feeling your personal nirvana. You can use this second home for emotional balancing and upliftment or for charting a life’s course – or both. I do this combination mediation/visualization more than any other and highly recommend it.
Choose a method you like and perhaps experiment occasionally with others. You can add some enhancements like candles or incense – and I need remind you – turn off your electronic devices. Not only do you prefer quiet but the EMF can interfere with the practice.
There are many resources on-line and in print and even apps and beautiful guided visualizations on Youtube, but meditation is quiet simple, so don’t make it overly complicated. Trust what works for you and gives you results that improve your life.
I wish you well on your inner journeys!