Meditation is not always easy
(Note: If you prefer to watch this blog on video, you can do so here).
We talked in my last blog about how meditation can feel difficult when first attempting it. This is because so many of us are agitated deep inside, due to over-stimulation in our lives; from the constant hum of background TV and radio, to being in traffic, large crowds, or simply having too much movement in our day to day, among other things. We’re all over-stimulated just from living in the 21st century!
Being over-stimulated has a negative effect on the nervous system
The staggering affect this has had on our nervous system, and other bodily systems is unparalleled and we often don’t know where to turn to calm down. Many use hard core cardio exercise which can work for some body types, but for others it just adds to the physical burden of further over-stimulation (in which cases more moderate forms of exercise like tai chi or yoga, would be more beneficial).
Luckily medical science is backing up the notion that we do need to learn how to calm down, if we want to encourage greater health and well-being within our lives.
One study demonstrates the profoundly positive health effects that result from consistent breathing and meditation practice
There have been many studies to back these theories up. The Isha Institute did one study with 530 participants. The participants had been practicing a series of breathing and meditation practices for a year or more. What they found were staggering results from having maintained this simple practice over time.
Anxiety and depression reduced dramatically, with 50% of participants stopping any medication completely (for both ailments), 25% were able to reduce their meds for depression, and 28% reduced anxiety meds.
The following were other amazing results that were medically documented:
This same study showed increased rates of the following:
These results indicate that, due to increased parasympathetic response (the part of the nervous system that helps us calm down), many chronic ailments were reduced, in return increasing immune function, and the body’s natural healing response.
“If you learn to create the right climate in your body, mind and emotion – your health and well-being will be taken care of. “ Sadhguru
3 different approaches to beginners meditation:
Vipassana: Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are’.
Vipassana is a Buddhist approach to meditation that has been around since the time of Buddha. The aim of this approach is to eradicate mental impurities which they say are the sole cause of suffering in one’s life.
In this approach self transformation is through self observation, focusing on the deep interconnectedness between the mind and body. If you were to consistently practice Vipassana, you would begin to see how you create suffering for yourself in your life.
With enough direct self observation, you would eventually be able to free yourself from any and all self-imposed limiting patterns, and suffering. I have heard it said that pain is inevitable in a person’s lifetime, but suffering is always a choice!
Initially one begins to notice many sankhara’s (conditioned mental impressions and inner responses) they have been living with. Sometimes they bubble up, causing itching, twitching, or other uncomfortable sensations. It is suggested to notice these sensations as they bubble up (without attaching to them), so as to let them release naturally. As if scratching the itch might further repress this mental impurity that keeps one further trapped within conditioned responses.
Vipassana was my first meditation experience I recently talked about, and although it was very difficult, it literally changed my life. (I spoke about that in my last article here).
Witnessing what is without changing anything is key in Vipassana
Within this practice, it is the process of witnessing that is significant. The idea is that you gradually stop being identified with parts of your personality and outer nature (that are not really you, as in the real inner you). It is definitely a mastery of the mind process, that can be miraculous and life changing for some, and impossible or highly difficult for others.
Although it can be difficult, the rewards can be noticeable within a relatively short period of time (providing you practice daily). If you can make it though a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat (they have centres worldwide, where you pay by donation only), the mental clarity, wisdom, and deep inner peace that result, are addictive and highly rewarding!
How to practice Vipassana:
To practice this form of meditation, sit with a straight spine in a comfy position. Sit somewhere that you feel cozy, secure, and that is quiet. After closing the eyes and taking a few long deep breaths, begin by noticing the air as it passes in and out through the nostrils. Simply noticing the coolness of the air moving inward, and the warmth of the air moving outward. The entire practice could be contained within this simple effort of noticing the air moving in and out of the nostrils.
But if you wish to move on from that, you can begin to mentally ‘sweep the body’ from head to toe and back again. When doing this, the goal is simply to notice any sensations that arise, and to do so without reacting to these sensations. You notice a craving or pleasant sensation, and you simply notice, while continuing to sweep the body.
You also notice any unpleasant sensations without trying to change them, and continue to sweep the body. Continue sweeping the body, moving back and forth from head to toe, toe to head, and back down to the toes again repeatedly. When the mind wanders, bring it back to sweeping the body.
Continue in this manner until you feel complete. Or even better, commit to a certain amount of time each day, ideally at the beginning and end of your day. Making this commitment will mean that you stick to it, even when it feels hard or difficult. The strength of this practice is that it can slowly teach you how not to react to things when they feel difficult. It is a true gift to master this.
If you would like more detailed instruction on this technique, you can find it here.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviors.
The quick explanation of mindfulness is simply that it is a practice that involves being aware of what is going on in the present, both inside and outside of the body. It is similar to Vipassana in that it involves using the ‘witness’ to notice any sensations, cravings, or mental predelictions, but in this practice we also notice how we are interacting with the outside world. (Although you can do mindfulness meditation with eyes closed much the way you would do Vipassana as well). The end goal is always to bring full awareness to each moment as it comes.
How to practice Mindfulness:
To practice this meditation without having to sit in meditation, you can begin by focusing your attention on one thing at a time, as you go about your day. (This is definitely easier if you are NOT multi-tasking). So basically as you do one thing at a time (single-tasking), you focus completely on that one thing. If you are brushing your teeth, you simply brush your teeth. If you are petting a dog, that is all you are doing. When the mind wanders and thinks about something else, you bring it back to that single task as you stay present to your body as well. If you are doing the dishes you will feel the warm water on your hands at the same time you might be noticing your breath, how your body feels, or the slipperyness of the dish in your hand. You remain completely aware of what is happening in this moment.
It sounds so simple and yet can be very difficult to do if we are not used to operating this way. But, when you get good at it, you will love it. You won’t want to multi-task anymore. When you become really aware, you’ll notice a subtle stress when you begin to multi-focus. It feels so much better to focus on one thing at a time.
If you would like more detailed instruction on Mindfulness, you can find it here.
Gibberish is the simple act of speaking in gibberish. It has to be words and a language that even you do not understand, and must be spoken out loud (could be quiet or loud, but not silent). Just let whatever needs to come out of your subconscious mind, to come. You can start with something simple like la, la, la, and see what comes after that.
This is a very old technique, very similar to the Christian practice of ‘speaking in tongues’. And it is powerful because it allows you to drop and let go of things that at a deeper level hold you back. It’s like emptying out old garbage, without attaching a story to that garbage. It bypasses the conscious brain altogether, allowing you to drop old wounds and things that you no longer need.
Do this before bed at night and notice how much more soundly you will sleep.
If you would like more detailed instructions on the Gibberish technique, you can find it here.
I have practiced all of these techniques, and many more, over the past 25 years. They have all been useful at different times. Take which appeals to you and go with it. All of these techniques are helpful for beginner meditators, although they are by no means easy to master. Mastery comes with repeated practice over an extended period of time. Make a commitment to yourself to practice one technique and do it daily, and see how your life can change dramatically.
If you want some help starting these practices, or would like further instructions, I have put them into one package here: 3 different guided meditations.