“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
In the chaos that we find ourselves in these days (yes I do mean in reference to the current COVID-19 pandemic), it might feel difficult to find that elusive “peace.”
That’s where a meditation practice comes in.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is the practice of developing present-moment awareness, also known as mindfulness. The practice makes you feel fully present and alive.
Typically, meditation means sitting in a comfortable place, closing the eyes and focusing inward. However, it’s really the last part that is most important.
It doesn’t matter if you are sitting still on a mat or washing dishes, ironing clothes, gardening, sand play, or any other activity, as long as the motions are repetitive enough to achieve a meditative state.
The ultimate goal of meditation is for you to be in control of your mind, not the other way around.
There are different types of meditation.
Mind Clearing Meditation
Probably the most known type of meditation is mind-clearing. In this case, meditation can be a means of escaping, by allowing you to examine the space between your thoughts. Doing this kind of meditation teaches you to calm the chaos of the mind- to quell the chitta vritti nirodha or “chatter of the mind.” Its goal is mainly relaxation.
Thought Awareness Meditation
Perhaps a lesser known meditation is thought awareness and transformation. In contrast to the mind-clearing meditation, this method can be used as a way to confront that chatter.
As I explain in the “tips for meditation” section of this post, thought awareness meditation is a means to transform yourself. You have to acknowledge those thoughts that may come to you, allow yourself to feel what you feel about that thought, before you can move on from it.
Other Meditation Practices
Other meditations have specific focuses. A couple expamles of these meditations are grounding or loving kindness. These practices have specific outcomes that the practitioner is trying to attain, be it a connectedness to nature or to people around you.
Generally speaking, meditation is a very calming, relaxing practice that allows you to decompress and relax. Depending on the type of meditation you choose (some meditations take longer than others), you can do it any time of day for as little or as long as you need.
Benefits of Keeping
There are many benefits to beginning and maintaining a meditation practice. Just like asana practice, the more you do it, the better you become at it, the more you reap the benefits.
Keeps Your Brain Young
As you age, your brain loses tissue, which is why people tend to have trouble remembering things and performing certain mental tasks.
According to modern neuroscience, staying present (which you learn through meditation) helps you slow down the aging of your brain. In fact, meditating for just 10-minutes each day “prevents atrophy and functional decline.”1
People who meditate actually have more gray matter in their prefrontal cortex than people of the same age who don’t. And by that I mean, 50-60 year-olds who meditate have brains similar to 20 year-olds who don’t.1
So if you want to improve your memory and cognitive capacity, you should meditate.
Improves Your Neurochemistry
Meditation has been shown to increase the production of serotonin and descrease levels of cortisol and norepinephrine, as well as regulate dopamine in the brain.1
This means it “can be effective as an adjunct therapy for depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, and more.”1
Just to be clear, I am not advocating for anyone to stop taking any prescription medication. Meditation is in addition to prescribed therapies and medicines to help improve symptoms.
The Ability to Separate Your Identity from Your Thoughts
Do you ever have thoughts that just nag you? No matter how you try to push them away, they keep coming back?
Sometimes those thoughts are ones that seem incongruent to who you want to be. Thoughts that put yourself down like, “I’m not good enough” or thoughts that put others down.
It can be disheartening to have thoughts that don’t align with your identity and they make you start to question whether or not you are who you think you are.
Meditation allows you a safe space to confront those thoughts and recognize that you may have the thoughts, but you are not the thought itself.
While thoughts do have power, they only have the power we give them. Meditation allows you to take the power away from the thoughts that bother you, allowing you to witness them and detach from them.
Just because you have a thought, does not mean you have to believe it.
Then, through the meditation, you can change the thoughts deliberately. You set an intention that counters the offending thought. Eventually, over time, you can replace the negative thought pattern with a new, positive one.
Tips to Help You Meditate
A Quiet Place
When you meditate it is helpful to be in a quiet place, especially if you are new to meditation. Clear your space of distractions, silence your phone. Pick a comfortable place to sit.
I suggest sitting rather than lying down so that you do not fall asleep, as sometimes meditation can be so relaxing that you may find yourself in a dreamlike state.
If sitting on the floor is not comfortable for your back and/or hips, try sitting on a yoga block. This will help you maintain a good posture without stress to your back muscles. You could also try sitting on a chair with a high back.
Meditation is a slow organic process. You’ll have periods of rampant growth interspersed with periods of “hibernation” where it doesn’t seem like you’re making any progress. In those times, think of your meditation as an iceberg, there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on the surface, but a lot is happening beneath, unseen.
Or maybe think of it more like a tree growing in your yard. It’s always growing, whether or not you can see it. You don’t dig it up or keep from watering it just because it doesn’t seem to be doing anything. You have to keep feeding it, and sure enough it will grow.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel
Shivani Hawkins, a great meditation teacher, once said, “If the only way we can deal with reality is by turning away from it, it diminishes our capacity for presence and awareness.”
This means that you should explore different types of meditation. It is not enough to only examine the space between our thoughts and feelings as a means of escape from them.
Although it can be necessary to take time away from troublesome thoughts and feelings to gain a sense of stillness by using meditation to clear your head, if you also allow yourself to meditate on them, you’ll gain the way to find that stillness even when you are not meditating.
The ultimate purpose of meditation is to transform ourselves. Therefore, we have to know where we begin. If we don’t truly know our thoughts, we cannot expect to change them.
Because of this, it is important that you give yourself permission to be yourself. Give yourself permission to feel all the emotions, and think all the thoughts that arise from your meditation.
It may be scary to do this, but when you suppress your thoughts and emotions, it takes away your ability to transform. To meditate is to seek to understand.
So tell yourself the truth about these things you think and feel, about these things that scare you, and let go of the shame.
If the purpose of meditation is to learn awareness, that means that we need to make time to examine our thoughts, not just get lost in the space between them.
Track the Discomfort
When doing this kind of thought awareness meditation, sometimes unpleasant thoughts come to you that seem to take root. While you seek to let go of “that which does not serve,” they may, instead, loop on and on and won’t go away.
I like to call these thoughts “vampires.” They like to tell you that you are “not enough,” that somehow you are “unworthy.”
Your first response to this may be to run from it, to escape. In fact, many people believe that the entire purpose of meditation is to escape from unwanted feelings. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you don’t face your vampires, they will always haunt you. Meditation is a fantastic tool for doing this.
These kinds of thoughts come from deep seated self-limiting beliefs and they live in your body and your breath. When you notice them, take notice of sensations in your body. Take notice of how your breathing may have changed with the discord in your head. Track the origin of that thought in your body. Doing this may help you to dispel the “vampire” that is sapping your energy.
When you have taken notice of these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, allow yourself to sit with your pain. However, do not wallow in it. Observe it with as little attachment as possible. In these times, self-compassion is paramount.
Treat yourself lovingly, as you would a close friend. Don’t turn away from yourself. A loyal friends would tell you, “I’ll be there for you and will never leave you, regardless of what you say or do.” In your meditation, be this friend for yourself.
Offer yourself comfort and you may find a physical release from that place in your body where it lives.
Meditations for You to Try
To help you start your meditation practice, I have created a few guided meditations for you to try.
For each meditation, there is a script that you can read to guide you.
- Held Breath Meditation
This meditation is useful when your aim is clear your mind.
- Grounding Meditation
This meditation helps when you are feeling disconnected with the world around you. (Audio File coming soon!)
- Loving-Kindness Meditation
This meditation is a thought awareness/transformation meditation.
As I create more meditations, I will add them to the list on my Mindfulness & Meditation page.
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1. a b Swanson Ann, (2020, March/April). The Neuroscience of Presence. Yoga Journal, no. 314, 56-57.