Meditation: What is it and how do I start?
Meditation...you've probably heard the word, maybe quite a bit recently as it is gaining in popularity and become more widestream. But what is it? How do you know if you are meditating or not? How do you know if you are doing it "right"? Christina Brown, author of "The Book of Yoga" and "The Yoga Bible", explains meditation in a clear, concise way that is easy to understand. To learn more, read this excerpt from "The Yoga Bible" and then perhaps try a few minutes of meditation for yourself. The benefits may be different for you than for your best friend or neighbor, but there is no denying that you will come away from your meditation practice with a calmer, clearer, more intuitive mind and a more intimate sense of yourself and what makes you tick.
"Throughout history and in all cultures, people have sought ways to go beyond the limitations of habitual living and discover more about themselves and the nature of reality. Meditation means "to become familiar with" and is a way of exploring the inner self. In our busy lives where the senses tend to be drawn outward, meditation is a wonderful opportunity to turn inward on a journey of discovery.
People meditate for a variety of reasons. Many of us use meditation to relax and cope with stress. Meditation does help slow or still the mind and balance emotions. People use meditation for healing. Meditation can also assist in problem solving by leading us to insights, which may range from the spiritually significant to the mundane. It can take us to higher states of awareness, peace, and clarity. Sometimes people experience visions or feelings of bliss, vitality, and an increased sensory awareness. Some have a sense of connecting with a higher aspect of themselves, or with the divine.
There are many techniques of meditation. Ask yourself what you need to achieve
and find a meditation to match that goal. It's a good idea to experiment with a range of meditation techniques until you find one that resonates with you.
While a good meditation teacher can be extremely helpful, a lot of good work can be done on your own. If you decide to find a teacher or to attend meditation classes, make sure you shop around. A great number of individuals and organizations offer training in spiritual practices and they range in quality and suitability for your unique self. Be cautious of any group that is too restrictive, controlling, or dogmatic.
Ultimately, meditation is a personal pursuit. Once you have practiced a technique as taught, feel free to experiment and adapt it to your own preferences. Avoid simply believing whatever you read or are told--test it against your own experience and intuition and come to know the truth of the matter for yourself.
Establishing a regular habit of meditation works best and is easiest to maintain in the long run. Find a time that fits into your routine, whether day or night. A daily practice session of 15-30 minutes works beautifully. If you find this difficult to achieve, start with five to ten minutes daily. Many people find that over time, their meditation time starts to extend naturally.
Soft and gentle music can be conducive to some forms of meditation, especially those that focus on relaxation and visualization. You might enjoy burning incense or aromatherapy oils--feel free to experiment. Meditation is generally easier to practice in a quiet and peaceful environment, especially while you are still learning. Setting aside a special spot in the house or garden to practice allows a peaceful energy to build up in that place. Eventually, however, you will develop the capacity to meditate more or less anywhere under any conditions.
A good prerecorded meditation tape or CD can make a big difference, especially in the initial stages of your meditation practice. Alternatively, you may choose to record your own, using the following exercises as a basis. Keeping a personal journal of discoveries and experiences will enhance your progress in meditation. There is no "right" or "wrong"-whatever you experience is just fine. Keep an open, curious mind as to what you actually are experiencing. You may need to persevere before the benefits become obvious. Be patient and accept that this is a valuable part of the process. The rewards of regular, persistent, intelligent meditation practice are two-fold. They happen not just some time in the distant future, but along the path as well.
The most important thing about choosing a posture is to find one that is comfortable. Ideally, this posture will allow your spine to be relatively straight without undue tension. Your practice of yoga postures will be of great help in learning to sit comfortable erect and still.
Corpse pose (on your back, legs and arms straight with palms up) is a great position for meditation techniques that are based around relaxation. You may like to put a small cushion under your head or a larger one under your knees.
Full lotus Posture is a classic meditation position, but generally it is too strong for Westerners' bodies. Half Lotus Pose works for some, and many people find sitting cross-legged in Easy-Seated Pose (hands on knees, shins crossed) or kneeling are more realistic alternatives for everyday use. Be sure to use enough cushions so that your hip joints are higher than your bent knees. This will allow your back to come more to vertical.
Sitting upright in a chair is another good posture for meditation. The most comfortable height is where your knees and hips form right angles. Ensure your feet can easily reach the floor--you can place them on telephone directories if necessary.
RELAXING MEDITATION-DEEP PHYSICAL, MENTAL, AND EMOTIONAL RELAXATION
The ability to relax on physical, emotional, and mental levels is an essential skill for maintaining health and well-being and is an important starting point for those new to meditation. Since it enhances all other forms of meditation, this practice is useful for more experienced meditators. Record the following sequence onto a tape, or ask a friend to record it for you. Allow 15-20 minutes:
Practice Corpse Pose. Mentally scan your body to become aware of any areas of tension or discomfort. Simply observe these areas--resist the urge to attach any judgment or emotionally loaded thought to them.
Next, move your attention slowly through your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Be with each part for a moment, then let that part relax.
Accept each area of your body, however it feels.
When your whole body is relaxed, become aware of your feelings. Whatever you feel is just fine. Be with each feeling for a moment, then let it go. You are the passive observer of your feelings. Imagine a stream of fresh water washing it away. This pure, cleansing water flows through you. As this clear stream washes each feeling away, you will begin to experience feelings of peace and clarity inside.
After sometime, become aware of any thoughts passing through your mind. Whatever you are thinking is just fine. Know that each thought will arise and then pass away. It is enough to be aware of each thought, like a silent witness, then let it go. Imagine a fresh breeze blowing through your mind, leaving it clear and empty.
Finally, allow yourself to rest in stillness. There is nothing to do or achieve. Simply be. You are not a human doing or acting; you are a human being. Let yourself exist in stillness. Just be.
Know that each time you practice this meditation, you will go deeper and receive more and more benefit.
To come out of this meditation, tune into your thoughts. Then move your awareness to your feelings once again. Deepen your awareness of your body as a single form, resting, relaxing. Let your body wake up, until you are ready to open your eyes. You will return restored, refreshed, and relaxed.
Visualization is a powerful technique whereby you can become familiar with your imagination. The imagination is a wonderful tool that can be used to create particular states of mind and being. You can visualize colors, places, symbols, mandalas, gods, saints, or Tarot cards. People often choose an image that has a particular religious or spiritual meaning for them, or they choose something that they want to know more about. A good starting point is to find something of particular interest to you and focus on this same image over a number of meditation sessions. This allows your meditation to build momentum and can lead to stronger and more meaningful experiences. For the following meditation, you will imagine you are in nature. Keep the feeling light and playful until your imagination takes over and leads you deeper in. Allow fifteen minutes for this:
Sit or lie comfortably. Take some slow deep, even breaths. Mentally sweep over your body to relax it part by part. Start with the crown of your head and work slowly down to your toes.
Once you are relaxed, imagine yourself standing on a beach.
See the beautiful, golden sand. You have a clear blue sky above you. Notice how the sunlight glints off of the water. Observe how the branches of the trees sway in the gentle breeze.
Hear the waves lapping on the shore, the gentle swish of the nearby trees, and the call of the seagulls flying overhead.
Feel the sand between your toes, the sun warming your face and body, and the air caressing your skin.
Smell and taste the fresh sea air.
Become aware of the atmosphere or mood of this place. What does it feel like actually to be here? Take some time to explore this place. You could go for a swim, or sunbathe, or walk down the beach.
Return to the real world by becoming aware of your physical body. Take some long breaths so your body wakes up more with each inhalation. Listen to the sounds in the space around you. When you are ready, open your eyes.
To read more, look on amazon.com for Christina Brown's books. Read, think, feel, and enjoy.