Meditation Made Easy by Diane Gross, L.Ac.
The importance of taking time to renew and restore your energy was discussed in the Spring issue of our newsletter in an article entitled ‘The Yin and Yang of Time.’ Meditation was recommended as a significant way to help balance a full and busy life. Meditation is widely recognized as a helpful strategy for managing stress, easing anxiety and reducing physical symptoms such as headaches or muscle tension, and increasing immunity. All of these are important when considering a comprehensive and holistic approach to living healthfully.
When discussing the importance of meditation with interpreters, the question often arises, “How do I meditate?” Meditation can be practiced in a variety of ways. It does not have to follow the stereotypical ‘OM’ type of eastern meditation that may come to mind. Meditation can be done within the context of any belief system, religious persuasion or ideology.
Meditative techniques have typically been classified into two categories: concentrative, and non-concentrative. Concentrative techniques involve focusing on something specific that’s outside of you during meditation, such as a candle flame, music, a sound, or an image of something. Non-concentrative meditation tends to focus on the internal aspect of you, such as your breathing, or focusing on a point within your body. Additionally, meditation may incorporate both concentrative and non-concentrative at the same time. There are no hard and fast rules. I suggest you find the strategy that works best for you. If you have never practiced meditation before, here are some basic techniques that might be helpful in the beginning:
A Basic Sitting Meditation: Sit in a comfortable position and quiet your mind. Release all thoughts. This takes practice. As thoughts arise, simply notice them without judgment and let them go. This is commonly known as becoming an observer, or watcher, of your thoughts.
Focused Meditation: Focus intently on an object, a sound, a concept, or even your own breathing, but don’t get caught up in thinking about the object of your focus. You are focusing on it without thinking thoughts about it. Many people find it easier to start with this type of meditation because it gives their mind ‘something to do’. If thoughts arise, simply notice them, let them go and return your attention to the object of your focus. In the beginning it can be helpful for some people to use a ‘guided meditation’ on CD.
Activity-Oriented Meditation: This type of meditation may not seem like meditation at the outset, but it can be very effective. It involves engaging in a repetitive activity that quiets the mind such as gardening, artwork, Tai Chi, yoga, walking meditation, etc. Like the other meditation techniques, this type of meditation can be effective as long as full focus is given to the activity in the moment. It should not be a time when the mind is busy planning dinner or worrying about a work project. The mind should be completely focused on the movement, and experience of the activity, rather than thinking thoughts – even thoughts about the activity.
Spiritual Meditation: Many people experience meditation as a listening form of prayer.
Regardless of which specific meditative technique you employ, there are some common guidelines that are reflected in virtually all meditative techniques. Some of these include:
Nurturing a ‘quiet mind’: Meditation allows you time and opportunity for your mind to become still and quiet. This has a profound calming effect on the entire nervous system and allows your body to relax and release tension. Whatever the specific technique, the purpose is to quiet the mind. But be aware that this may be easier said than done! Most people are not used to sitting in silence. At first all kinds of thoughts may seem to creep – or flood – into your brain. Often the thoughts are what you might term ‘negative’. That’s pretty typical. Those are often the thoughts that people tend to push away or deny. It can be helpful to simply notice them, release them and return to watching your breathing, or focusing on whatever word or sound or image you have chosen. After a period of time you will notice you are able to quiet your mind more easily and quickly.
Experiencing the Present Moment: Many people tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the future or rehashing the past. Almost every meditative practice involves focusing on ‘now’. This means experiencing each moment as it happens, then letting it go and experiencing the next present moment. This is immensely important since virtually all of our experience of stress comes from worrying about the future or focusing on the past. The ability to stay in the present moment allows us to live virtually stress free lives!
Altered State of Consciousness: The idea of an altered state of consciousness concerns, or even alarms, some people. But we naturally go in and out of a variety of states of consciousness every day. For example, sleep and dreaming are both altered state of consciousness. Brain waves associated with various altered states also occur with a number of other activities, including daydreaming, fasting, staring, fatigue and TV viewing. There is nothing abnormal or inherently ‘occult’ about it. Nurturing and maintaining a quiet mind and focusing on the present moment during meditation can lead to an altered state of consciousness that increases awareness of self and surroundings. The result is an increase of brain activity in one or more of the regions of the brain associated with happiness and a positive frame of mind.
Meditating on a regular basis can be life changing, as well as a powerful way to help prevent and manage physical and emotional stress. Making time for it can bring balance to an otherwise hectic and busy life. And if you are so busy you don’t have the time, then it is even more important that you make the time. Why not try it for one month and see?