"I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it." ~The Matrix
Meditation has become a generic word, with many interpretations stretching from sitting quietly to deep inward focus. This article will give different perspectives on modern mindfulness and meditation.
What is meditation?
The practice of meditation has been around for millennia. With some of the earliest written records dating back to 1500 BC, it's no wonder our curiosity for its many benefits still exist. But, what exactly is meditation and how do we do it?
The official site of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), USA, proclaims: “Meditation techniques include specific postures, focused attention, or an open attitude toward distractions. People use this to increase calmness and relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, or enhance overall health and well-being.” Thus, the definition of meditation is based on a mental process to calm and reduce the psycho-physiologic load on a person.
Merriam-webster.com defines meditation (meditate): to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
Yogapedia explains meditation as the process of quieting the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation or religious/spiritual purposes. Meditation involves concentrated focus on something such as a sound, image or feeling.
Yoga International states 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 center of consciousness within. Yoga International further goes on to say that meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means, the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified.
So now that we know meditation has a common underlying theme, concentration, we can begin to look at the benefits and discover ways to begin/enhance our practice.
In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. Our inner state is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracted, meditation deepens. This observation or concentration comes with the continued practice of focusing the mind on a particular object and becoming absorbed in it. This absorption is meditation. This experience of absorption is also sometimes called a state of ‘thoughtless awareness’.
This is a state in which the excessive and stress producing activity of the mind is neutralized without reducing alertness and effectiveness. Authentic meditation enables one to focus on the ‘present moment’ rather than dwell on the unchangeable past or undetermined future. It is this state of equipoise that is said to be therapeutic both psychologically and physically and which fundamentally distinguishes meditation from simple relaxation, physical rest or sleep.
Meditation is a systematic process in itself, which takes practice and patience to learn.
The benefits of meditation:
Creating a greater awareness for body and mind, meditation will release the stress/tension from the body allowing our mind to feel calmer, thus creating more ease in our life. "Tension results from clutching too tightly to life..." ~B.K.S Iyengar: Light on Life. With endless to-do lists, constant internal (mind) chatter, stories, past events; tired and stressed, a thousand threads of identity bind us creating stored stress/tension within our body. As we listen to ourselves more and sit in silence, we become more aware of who we actually are. With more peace of mind in daily business/life, we are able to acknowledge the space between external events and our reactions to them thus changing the relationship with our feelings.
In the book Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright, he states "In mindfulness meditation, as it's typically taught, the point of focusing on your breath isn't just to focus on your breath. It's to stabilize your mind to free it of its normal preoccupations so you can observe things that are happening in a clear, unhurried, less reactive way. Trying to "experience" your feelings -sadness, annoyance, anxiety, relief, joy...- from a different perspective than usual; not changing/clinging to the "good" ones or running away from the "bad" ones, only experiencing them straightforward and observing them as they are." This new perspective is associated with decreased stress/anxiety and heightened awareness to peace.
Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perspective and happiness. Whatever the method used, meditation calms the body-mind complex, reducing stress, and allowing one to achieve normal homeostasis (auto-regulation of internal environment to a stable state) within the body/mind.
Some science behind the relaxation response:
The parasympathetic 'relaxation' response is the direct result of the reduction of sympathetic activation aka fight or flight response. Psychological stress is associated with activation of the sympathetic nervous system and is known to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of sugar and fat in the blood-think about how you would feel if you unknowingly walked into a hungry lions den...everyday...for the rest of your life=Stress response.
On the other hand, meditation, and any other form of rest or relaxation acts to reduce sympathetic 'stress' activation by reducing the release of catecholamines (epinephrine (adrenalin), norepinephrine, and dopamine) and other stress hormones such as cortisol promoting increased parasympathetic 'relaxation' activity which slows the heart rate and improves the flow of blood to internal organs (ie. digestive tract, which functions optimally when not stressed) and away from the periphery (limbs used to fight or flee).
The practice: Getting started with meditation
With many forms, techniques, and strategies, there are many different strategies and ways on how to meditate. One way to begin is to begin with your breath...
Find yourself a quiet place with no interruptions. Come to a comfortable seated position, sitting maybe in a chair or on a cushion on the floor; don't get to caught up in the physical posture–anything that you can hold comfortably for 5 minutes or more will be a great starting point (The most important thing here is to keep your back straight to prevent your mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy). Start with just 5 to 10 minutes at a time, until you become more familiar/ used to this practice- maybe set a timer or find a soothing song/app that keeps time for you. Remembering to eliminate distractions, turn your phone on airplane mode if using your devise, however, the less technology the less the distraction so finding a time to disconnect without any electronics would be optimal.
Focus/fixate your attention on something. You can begin by attending to or focusing on your breath (. If/when your attention waivers/ if a thought comes, attend to it, notice it, be open to it—and it will pass. Then you can come back to your breath...breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath. Try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. This sensation is our object of meditation. We should try to concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else.
Meditation studios are becoming more and more popular these days. With the need for inclusion and connection, community meditation is on the rise. This mobile version, Be Time, brings a new level of mindfulness and meditative convenience to the community of NYC. Be is a gateway for you to reconnect with yourself and take a breathe(r) and recharge in the midst of the urban hustle. Be offers unique places to meditate with open meditation times and guided sessions at 30 minute intervals its a great way to explore what meditation practice may work best for you.
Be is one of many mobile meditation centers on the rise...Be patient with yourself, explore various techniques, release judgement, set an intention, stay accountable, and above all else BE KIND to yourself on this journey <3
Yoga Certified, C-PT, Holistic Chiropractor providing a path for peaceful healing.