I was in a Medical Center parking garage in Roseville a few years ago. Each of the ﬂoors of the parking garage were not designated by a color or number, but by a phrase. And to my great surprise the ﬂoor that I parked on was labeled, “Meditation.” That is how pervasive meditation has become in our culture! But what is it really? Should you do it? And if so, what is the best meditation for you? These days, there’s a lot of “buzz” about mindfulness, meditation, and its beneﬁts. But what is this mysterious process really and what is the most beneﬁcial form of meditation?
There have been over 300 scientiﬁc studies on the beneﬁts of meditation. Some of the reported beneﬁts have been found to improve a persons emotional well-being by reducing stress and lessening the amount of worry and anxiety that they experience. Mentally, there is increased mental strength and memory, with improved focus and concentration. For a healthy body the beneﬁts range from a reduction of blood pressure to boosting the immune system. These are only a few examples. So what exactly do we do to get these magical and amazing beneﬁts?
Brieﬂy, the common types of meditation we hear about today include Buddhist meditations such as Zen and Vipassana, Hindu meditations, Mindfulness Meditation, and Loving Kindness Meditation. There’s also the Judeo-Christian Meditation which is more a reﬂection on revelations of God.
The Buddhists liken our minds to a monkey in a temple—running everywhere, throwing things around, reeking havoc with no discipline whatsoever. We do live in an increasingly busy world with more and more distractions that pull us out of being in the moment, the here and now. we ﬁnd that people and things such as technology are “pulling us out of ourselves.” There’s no end to distractions such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or texting, talking on the phone or surﬁng the web, we ﬁnd hundreds of ways to amuse ourselves, to ﬁll the space and be out of the present. All of these things, in and of themselves are not necessarily harmful or bad, it is not about judging ourselves. It’s just that we run to them and let them run us, sometimes letting ourselves go about here and there just like that monkey in the temple. We all have experienced that feeling of being gripped by a thought or mental situation and being dragged along as if by a strong tide. It all comes down to discernment and what we are choosing in every moment.
Aside from providing a little relief and relaxation, simply calming our mind by counting the breath is not going to give us any lasting beneﬁt or help us to gain control of that monkey mind. We need to go a little deeper and investigate the nature of our thoughts. It’s not that we need to think less or stop thoughts altogether, but rather watching or being the observer of our own thoughts, you will be amazed at what kind of thoughts you are having. So often our mind is like a runaway train and thoughts are speeding through and we are quite oblivious until we stop. Understanding that It is the nature of the mind to think and there is nothing wrong with having thoughts, but, becoming aware or conscious of those thoughts is key to peace of mind.
When you sit down to meditate, simply look, and notice whether your mind is in the positive, negative or neutral frame—not whether you are having thoughts or not. How are you feeling? Are you tired, excited or somewhere in between? Do not judge yourself either for the type of thoughts you are having, your job is to notice and observe.
The idea here is to train ourselves to become more aware, awareness is key. First we do need to calm our minds so that we can focus. And that can be done by watching the breath or counting the breath. This is a good place to start, but with practice you can begin to notice the tone or nature of your thoughts, how does this feel in the body? Tense, tight, uncomfortable? What emotions are you feeling connected with those thoughts?
For example. Perhaps you are feeling some anxiety about something that happened (past) or something that is going to happen (future). As you become aware of those thoughts and the emotion connected with those thoughts your focus or attention towards that thought brings it to light or consciousness. As soon as you see it, you are in effect letting it go, take a deep breath in, and exhale with the sound, ‘A Ah. You may also ﬁnd the release occurs in the body. The neck or shoulders holds a great deal of tension, and that release can bring relaxation into the physical. This takes a little practice and may need a few attempts. Once you have been able to breathe that away….literally. Now, you can simply change the nature or focus of your thoughts by thinking of something uplifting, loving, joyful, like being glad that you are meditating, or rejoicing in the good things and people in your life.
Gratitude is a wonderful way to bring a feeling of peace and calm into the body. The mind is not the enemy, but we have allowed our minds to be like the monkey. Without judgement it is simply time to retrain the mind to support you. The mind has been trying to get your attention, now you can be aware, see and let go of what is not helpful.
One thing is certain, our mind is very powerful, unlimited in its scope, really. It can be made to do wondrous things, perhaps beyond our wildest imaginations. But it has to be made serviceable to us. We have to be able to harness our energy and use it in a positive manner to reap all the many beneﬁts our mind can provide. Like the monkey in the temple, it can run wild and reek havoc—or we can use it like a sharp laser focus to transform ourselves. The Tibetans have a saying, “Don’t use an ax to kill a louse.” In other words, this superior powerful tool of meditation shouldn’t be used for a small, insigniﬁcant task but rather it can transform our minds and make our lives inﬁnitely better and improve ourselves and those around us.
The true purpose of meditation is to transform your mind, allowing you to have some control over where it goes and what kinds of thoughts you choose to entertain. And the beneﬁts you get from taking even ﬁve minutes a day to meditate will spill over into your daily life. You will see changes in your outlook and begin to experience many of the physical, emotional, and mental beneﬁts that come from meditation.
~by Helen Breault E-RYT
•Helen Breault has been practicing yoga & meditation for over 16 yrs and teaching for 10 yrs. She received her 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga Tree San Francisco. She has completed a 300 hr Yoga and Meditation Training in Tibetan Heart Yoga through the Yoga Studies Institute. She has extensive training in yoga philosophy, advanced meditation techniques & yoga asana instruction.
She will be teaching a Lady Niguma Yoga and Meditation Workshop series in September at Grass Valley Yoga. →Info here.