5 things you need to know about Meditation
Meditation is a relatively little word that covers so many different methods to get your mind relaxed and calm. In the Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing. There are literally hundreds of different techniques you can use to meditate and anyone can do it, anywhere, you don’t need any special equipment, just be comfortable.
1. What is Meditation? - Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the centre of consciousness within. Meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means that the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified. In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you. Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.
2. Some examples of Meditation - Concentration meditation - Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point. This could entail following the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong, or counting beads on a mala. Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations.
In this form of meditation, you simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, you simply let them go. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.
Mindfulness meditation - Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.
Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge an experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, an inner balance develops.
In some schools of meditation, students practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.
Other meditation techniques - There are 101 other meditation techniques. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. There are also moving meditation techniques, such as tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.
3. What are the benefits of meditation? - In my relatively short time practising and learning I have discovered that time and time again, client after client concludes that meditation is a very important part of their wellbeing, whichever technique you use and without it some clients say they don’t think they would have made such a complete recovery. Studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
Lower blood pressure
Improved blood circulation
Lower heart rate
Slower respiratory rate
Lower blood cortisol levels
More feelings of well-being
Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether a consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators.
4. How do I Meditate? - Find a simple, uncluttered, quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Sit on the floor with a cushion under you or in a firm chair, with your back straight and your eyes closed. Then bring your awareness slowly down through your body, allowing all of the muscles to relax except those that are supporting your head, neck, and back. Take your time and enjoy the process of letting go of the tension in your body. Meditation is the art and science of letting go, and this letting go begins with the body and then progresses to thoughts.
Once the body is relaxed and at peace, bring your awareness to your breath. Notice which parts of your lungs are being exercised as you breathe. If you are breathing primarily with your chest you will not be able to relax. Let your breathing come primarily through the movement of the diaphragm. Continue to observe your breath without trying to control it. At first, the breath may be irregular, but gradually it will become smooth and even, without pauses and jerks.
Meditation is a process of giving your full attention to whatever object you have chosen. In this case, you are choosing to be aware of the breath. Allow yourself to experience your breathing in an open and accepting way. Do not judge or attempt to control or change it. Open yourself so fully that eventually there is no distinction between you and the breathing. In this process, many thoughts will arise in your mind: “Am I doing this right? When will this be over? Perhaps I should have closed the window. I forgot to make an important call. My neck hurts.” Hundreds of thoughts may come before you and each thought will call forth some further response: a judgment, an action, an interest in pursuing the thought further, an attempt to get rid of the thought.
At this point, if you simply remain aware of this process instead of reacting to the thought, you will become aware of how restless your mind is. It tosses and turns like you do on a night when you cannot fall asleep. But that is only a problem when you identify with the mind and react to the various thoughts it throws at you. If you do, you will be caught in a never-ending whirlwind of restless activity. But if you simply attend to those thoughts when they arise, without reacting, or if you react and attend to the reaction, then they cannot really disturb you. Remember—it is not the thoughts that disturb you, but your reaction to them.
5. Actively learn to meditate – It is easy, but it is probably alien to you, and it is something you need to learn.
In my meditation sessions, I consult with my client as to what it is they want to achieve and choose 3 different types of meditation to teach them. I have 2 favourites, mainly because people come to me with very similar aims; to be less stressed and to learn how to have quiet time for the mind to try and control anxiousness.
So, laying on the therapy couch I teach them how to start with relaxed then controlled breathing then we go off on a guided visualisation meditation using all 5 senses to travel through a beautiful forest seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling flowers, birds, insects, honey, trees, running water, sunshine and at the end to sit down in a clearing and talk – to whomever you choose and tell them what you want to.
The other one is a meditation I’ve mentioned a few times in my blogs on anxiety and mental health issues is to simply lay or sit down, preferably in the bath with candles, essential oils in the water, towels warming, and just think about your day, about tomorrow and how you can re-order everything, who you could ask to help you with things, prioritise and delegate! You can write your ideas down afterwards like a ‘to do’ list. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves time to just think about what we need to achieve in the coming days which is a recipe for a stress disaster, so allowing and giving yourself the time to focus on the important things in your life is crucial. Included in the session are all the meditation instructions and a recording of me guiding you through the visualisation meditation so you can ‘go there’ once at home. Once you’ve learnt, you can share with your family too.
Look after yourself, see you neext week, Denise x