Meditation: The Basics
When kids are behaving badly, we tend to give them a timeout. This is usually because they become so wrapped up or fixated on one thing that their emotion or upset feeling takes over every interaction they have. This emotion that takes over is often anger, greed, frustration, or distress. While they sit in timeout, they remove themselves from the rest of the world and have a chance to reflect, rest, and realize that the emotion they were painting on to every interaction they had might be kind of silly. And how do they emerge after some minutes? They are usually calmer, more focused, and ready to start their next activity with a fresh outlook. This is essentially meditation.
For the longest time, I didn’t really “get” what meditation was. After years of doing yoga, the idea of what it meant began to grow organically through my practice. It’s essentially a self-imposed timeout. It’s a chance to withdraw from the world and get a sense for what is going on within us by observing ourselves. It’s an opportunity to see what emotion or thought is arresting our attention. Most people will avoid observing themselves by any means necessary. This is often done under a veil of busyness which seems to be a badge of honor in our society. But by actively not thinking about anything or distracting ourselves with the external, we somehow find solutions to our problems. It’s almost like a way to push a vehicle off the rutted path that is only getting more treacherously deep with each passing. In this case, the ruts are our thinking patterns.
You know how sometimes you feel like you totally know something, a simple fact, but the harder you think about it, the more quickly it wriggles away? Then, when you stop thinking about it, you randomly yell out the answer? That is sort of like meditation. By forgetting what you are trying to solve, answers suddenly crystallize.
Meditation has lately been recognized within the health care industry for its physiological benefits. Numerous studies have proven its effectiveness for a variety of physical and mental health problems as a result of how meditation changes neurological processes. The benefits that meditation has include an increase in focus and concentration, better memory and self-control, decrease in blood pressure, decrease in stress and pain, and more empathy and compassion toward others. I guess this is why children often emerge from a timeout with a teary, “I’m sorry!” Recent studies have even shown that meditation may increase intelligence by physically growing the brain. These studies were done using MRI’s of Buddhist monks that regularly practice meditation.
The other really phenomenal thing that meditation does is that it allows you to recognize your thought patterns and view them in a more objective way. In essence, it’s a way to regulate our own minds. We can’t completely control our thoughts. Some times things just pop in to our head. But the more we observe how these thoughts appear, the more we can carefully guard how we allow those thoughts to consume us, or we can practice rejecting them if they are negative thoughts. In essence, we begin to be able to control our emotions.
So, how is it done? This is the part I never truly understood until recently. It’s simple. You don’t need to sit in a funny position and you don’t need more than a minute if that’s all you have. It’s best to find a quiet corner, but often times, I will do it on a plane or bus (my work vanpool, actually) or simply close my office door for a minute. Then, you find a comfortable position. Seated is probably best, with feet firmly planted on the floor. I love to do it lying down or in a slightly reclined chair. Sometimes I accidentally drift off to sleep if I do it lying down, but that being said, it goes to show that a form of meditation is a great tool to use if you need to fall asleep at night or need to refresh yourself with a cat nap.
Put your hands in a symmetrical position. This can be done with the fingers in gyan mudra (pictured). You can also put your hands with the palms facing down with hands on your knees or on the arms of the chair. Sometimes I change my hands depending on what I’m seeking. If I need answers and I’m calling upon the universe, I will face them up in a subtle gesture of receiving. If I need to escape the world and go within, I will face them down. If I am seeking peace and harmony, I will use the gyan mudra. Deciding how to place your hands can be a way of helping to indicate your intention for your meditation. This intention not to too dissimilar from praying when a person is seeking or giving thanks for a certain something.Once you are comfortably seated, close your eyes and put on a simple smile. It doesn’t have to be goofy but just try and make the same smile Buddha has in all the images of him. Then take a deep full breath, engaging the diaphragm. The way to do this is to employ a 3-part breath. That is done by first filling the belly, then filling the chest, then allowing the breath to inflate all the way up to the throat so the shoulders rise. As I do this, I like to imagine my whole body filling with water. As I exhale, I pull my belly in and imagine the water percolating out. This brings a profound sense of relaxation. I use this same technique to help me fall asleep. It is also helpful to follow the breath and note the point at which it turns around. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it makes you realize how closely related breath is to your heart and belly.
The next thing to do is simply observe what is going on inside your body. Try not to think of anything at all. Human nature is that you will. Meditation is about recognizing what these thoughts are and how to simply observe them without becoming attached to them. Don’t judge what they are. Don’t get upset with yourself for not being able to discard them. It can be helpful during meditation to focus on one word, mantra, or simply your breath to pull yourself out of the mind, which is usually running around in the future or the past. The breath is the one thing that is present only now and it is constant so that is why meditation is so often associated with breathing. I sometimes like to use a mantra of “one” or “om” or “let go” that I continue repeating.
As thoughts cross my mind, I like to picture them as though I’m watching a parade. They might appear and then I let them walk out the other side. Another idea is to imagine them like bubbles and visualize the bubble popping along with the thought. Continue in this meditative state for a prescribed amount of time. Use a timer so that you don’t need to keep opening your eyes and wondering what time it is.
The amount of time you choose is up to you. You could do just one minute or go for twenty minutes if you have the time and inclination. People like to say they don’t have time to meditate. Yes, yes…we’re all busy. But almost everyone can find at least two minutes in a day. There is something profound that happens with meditation and time though. It’s as though the more time you set aside for it, the longer your day feels. Time has new meaning. I trip myself out trying to work out how this relates to relativity and spacetime deformation, but I’ll save that for another time (space? 😉 ). I understand meditation can sound a little New Age and freaky at first without me indulging my nerd and expounding on the metaphysics.
Happy meditating and I’ll do another post soon with some other tricks and resources I use. I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments!