No matter where we look nowadays, we would be hard pressed not to come across an article, blog or a video telling us to meditate.
There is good reason why.
In the last decade alone, there have been countless studies conducted on the many benefits of this ancient practice. Schools across the world have begun to include it as part of regular curriculum, doctors and mental health professionals recommend it to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses or disorders, and corporate wellness programs are increasing their employee performance rates by offering it to their staff. Never mind that this practice has been around for thousands of years, the proof can be found in the present time!
So what is meditation exactly? It is an ancient practice that aims to bring one into full awareness of the present moment, and allows one to experience the center of consciousness within. This practice tunes us into our inner world, and away from our regular cognitive functioning, bringing clarity and grounding into our lives.
Meditation benefits are many and they are quite profound:
- Creates clarity and a deeper understanding of inner desires/patterns/habits/emotions
- Calms the nervous system, bringing it back to parasympathetic mode
- Reduces heart rate and decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone
- Increases mental alertness and flexibility
- Enables us to stay focused and calm in stressful or unpredictable situations
- Offers better awareness of self and our surroundings, being attuned more with other beings
- Increase in energy and productivity
- Ability to feel deeper joy and happiness in life
The list can go on and on.
I, myself, have meditated on and off for years. When I was in my “off” stage, I could really feel it. From my mood to my work and personal life, there was a constant feeling of being off keel. When hard life circumstance forced me to begin evaluating my lack of self-care, I went on a journey to reconnect with my rich inner world. The first stop: MEDITATION. Meditation brought the type of clarity into my life that reminded me of the many things we so often forget: my choice in the creation of every feeling and every reaction, my ability to change things I did not like or no longer served me, and the gift of experiencing true joy in just being. My yoga practice improved, my relationships with others and myself improved and even my career and direction in life changed in the best possible way! I attribute the ability to create those things in my life very much to my practice. Since then, I have facilitated many individuals and groups in starting a practice that is both sustainable and joyous and can be incorporated into their daily life. Below are some of the basics that I recommend you consider if you are looking to begin your journey.
First off, approach meditation in an inquisitive and playful manner. This practice is a gift, not a chore and our attitude towards it is integral to our commitment. I have had many clients say they don’t believe they can meditate because they can’t turn off their thoughts and that’s like saying that you can’t do yoga because you’re not flexible. That’s the whole purpose of the practice! Of course, no one is going to be able to turn off their thoughts completely, but we can master our mind and we can detach from its persistent and often redundant storyline for a deeper perspective and awareness. Simply put, success in meditation is not measured by the length of time without thought but rather simply in the practice itself.
Through comfort and discomfort
Whether you are partaking in walking meditation, sitting, or even laying down – comfort is key. If sitting, allow your hips to be higher than the knees by placing a cushion, pillow or block underneath you. This will be easier on the knees and can allow for a longer sit without the distraction of discomfort. If walking, buy comfortable shoes that provide full support! If and when discomfort does occur, see if you can let it go without it consuming your mind. Of course, if in pain, please readjust!
The Art of Looking
The gaze during meditation is important. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and it is through looking inward that we can truly get in touch with that beautiful essence. During your practice, you can try alternating between closing the eyes fully and having a soft gaze ( closing the eyes 90% and focusing the gaze on tip of the nose or third eye) Some people also enjoy meditating with open eyes, though it may create more distraction.
Prana: The Life Force
Breath is our life force! It sustains us but it also serves as a powerful detoxifier. Unfortunately, most of us have never really been taught the correct way of breathing. Majority of us take shallow breaths, strictly breathing with our lungs. That means our organs, our brain and our extremities are not being as fully nourished as they can be, which often results in susceptibility to anxiety, dissociation and panic attacks. On the other hand, sending the breath to our abdomen allows us to take in significantly more air, which calms our nervous system and helps quite the mind.
Tip: Begin by placing your right hand on your abdomen, just an inch below your belly button. Send each breath all the way down into your belly, pushing your stomach against your palm. As you exhale, send your navel far back into your spine to fully expel toxins. Take about 5 – 10 breaths like this before returning to your natural breath. The breath is the main anchor in meditation, so come back to the awareness and sensation of it when thoughts begin to arise.
Connect with intention:
Energy follows intention. What does this mean? When we are fully engaging with our desire, we become a clearer conduit for attracting that outcome. Aligning ourselves emotionally with our intention is a powerful practice, and can be a focus point for our meditation.
Tip: Set an intention before your practice by focusing on the emotion attached to your desired outcome. (i.e. sense of relief attached to being relaxed) Throughout your practice, periodically come back to this feeling as a way of reaffirming it to yourself.
Connect through sound:
I do recommend relaxing sound to compliment your practice, especially in the beginning, and there are lots of free resources online. You can choose nature sounds or soft relaxing melody, but make sure there are no lyrics, as those can be too distracting! (Here is a link to a free album I really enjoy, created by an artist named Moby http://moby.com/la1/)
In addition to the tips above, I encourage everyone to get curious and research various techniques available, and see if any resonate with you more than others. And if you are still a bit intimidated by the silent experience, I invite you to go online and find guided meditations, many available on YouTube. You can also join free meditation circles held around the city to become more acquainted and to connect to others on the same path.
I am wishing you all a joyous and fruitful practice, and would like to leave you with this wonderful quote by David Lynch, “The thing about meditation is; you become more and more you.”