The Many Faces of Meditation
In my early years, my understanding of meditation was something that my father did quietly in a room – usually just before dinner. I didn’t know exactly what he did, but I was certain it was better than setting the kitchen table, filling the water pitcher or preparing the meal. It wasn’t until years later in my yoga practice that I personally discovered meditation – and learned that it's something quite amazing.
What exactly is meditation? On the outside it can appear to be far-out people sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed and magically drifting off into a state of pure bliss. Yet somehow when YOU sit down to meditate your thoughts are running rampant and the idea of stillness feels impossible.
I’ll let you in on a little secret...you’re not the only one. In fact, more people actually experience a restless state than pure bliss. So why then do so many people continue to dedicate precious time to the practice? Because just like anything else in life, the more you practice, the better you get, and the better you get, the better you feel, sleep, look and live.
The good news is that there are countless ways to practice meditation, but I’ll start with some basic preparation tips:
- Find a quiet space with minimal distractions – even if it means camping out in a large closet or bathroom.
- Rest in a comfortable position – seated (either on the floor or in a chair) is usually best, as with lying down you’re more likely to fall asleep.
- Set a timer for five to 10 minutes when you’re first starting out; this way you’re not worried about the time.
What happens next is for you to choose. Check out the following forms of meditation and try the one that seems most appealing to you.
Mindfulness: In a mindfulness practice, you bring your attention to a single point of focus – most often this is the breath. Simply observe the inhale and exhale, and let this be your anchor to the present moment. When a thought, feeling or sensation arises – and it will – just acknowledge the thought without building it into a full story, and return to the breath. The more times you release the thought and return to the breath, the longer your stretches will be without disruptive thoughts. Think of your mind as a muscle and each time you bring it back to your point of attention (e.g. the breath) the stronger it becomes.
Guided imagery or visualization: With this form, you focus on an image or place that you find relaxing. Recall how this image engages all your senses – smells, sounds, textures – as it evokes a feeling in your body as if you were actually there. Take for example a beach sense…imagine the warmth of the sun, the sensation of the sand or the ocean, the smell of the salt air, and the sound of the waves. Let it create a full picture of this scene in your mind and allow it to bring a sense of relaxation throughout your body.
(TM): With true TM you are given a mantra – a word or sound – that you repeat silently. However, now many practice with a mantra of their own choosing. Your ongoing focus on this mantra reduces or eliminates your stream of continuous thoughts. This practice achieved its name through its original intent of “transcending” to a state of restful alertness.
Loving kindness: This is one of my personal favorites. In this practice you bring your inner focus to someone you want to send an extra dose of, well…love and kindness. You may visualize that person in your mind’s eye and imagine them being filled with health and happiness. In its roots, the practice was developed to break the habit of selfishness, but as it has evolved, it has been reported to have powerful benefits on both the person meditating and the person on which they’re focusing.
Stay tuned as we take a deeper dive into meditation and its effects on the body…and your life.