Friday, August 8, 2008

Meditation & Spirituality: What, Why and How?

What is meditation? A popular way to envision meditation is to see a person sitting with their legs folded saying 'ohhm,' this indeed is a form of meditation. However, there are MANY more ways.

In a more general sense, meditation is an exercise in contemplation, reflection, an act of keeping the mind fixed upon something and an act of clearing the mind free from the day's distractions and possibly delving deeper into one's own mind.

Many people meditate, but in different ways. Everyday a woman walks down to the wheat farm near her house in Kansas and looks across the field listening to the breeze rustle through the fields of wheat-this is meditation. A man rides his bike to work in the morning and concentrates on moving his legs in a circular motion - this may be considered meditation too. A woman working in a closed office without any windows takes a 15-minute break to rest her mind, breathe and to repeat a favorite scripture; this too may be considered a form of meditation.

When asking around the office what exactly is meditation, I received a variety of responses. One person said, "meditation is discovery." Another said that meditation is, "playing tennis with focus." My office mate believes that meditation means "lighting a candle, sitting at rest in front of it, and focusing on the flame while repeating an affirmation."

According to a book on alternative healing therapies, "meditation can give you 'time off' from the pressures and stresses of everyday life." It can also be considered "a rigorous discipline aimed at the achievement of 'oneness' with the universal energy that underlies creation." Used therapeutically, meditation can help a person to visualize, focus on affirmations that will have a beneficial effect on the person's behavior and to gain more awareness and control of the body. Therefore, meditation can be of use to athletes, dancers, artists, people in recovery, students, and anyone dealing with stress or change.

It has been said that Tibetan monks meditate to "communicate with the cosmic mind." Perhaps this is what is meant by "discovery." Through meditation, it is possible for a person to become more in tune with the self and the spirit. The mind can clear itself free from the noise of civilization and listen to the more profound influences of the mind.

The Ayurvedan Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico states, "The aim of meditation is union with higher self, but you can unite with your higher self only when you have a healthy body, healthy mind and healthy consciousness." Yet through meditation within itself, we can find a healthier body, mind and consciousness.

Scientific studies have shown that the regular practice of some form of meditation can lead to a decreased heart rate, decreased muscle tension, decreased oxygen consumption and less fatigue. Meditation can also improve one's ability to think analytically and it reduces anxiety.

To begin meditating, first of all be aware that meditation requires no special tools and can be practiced anytime, anywhere, anyhow you feel most comfortable. Secondly, be aware that you must be patient; good meditation comes with practice and experience. Finally, realize that meditation is an individual exercise and can be adapted to your personal interests and needs - there really isn't a true formula for successful meditation, but rather a few good guidelines.

One of the most common and simple meditation techniques is breathing meditation.

Focus on your breathing:

  1. Take deep breaths filling your lower belly (below the diaphragm) without straining. Breathe smoothly and slowly a rhythm.
  2. While breathing, focus on different aspects of your breathing - feel the air enter your nose and fill your abdomen for a while. Then, shift your focus to your exhalation. Finally, focus on the rhythm of the exhalation and inhalation combined.
  3. If you wish, you can count how long it takes to breathe in and to breathe out. Or try giving your exhale a 1-count and the inhale a 2-count and repeat this for a cycle of ten and then switch the numbers to words of affirmation. This helps you with your concentration.
  4. If you find your mind wandering, start over and try counting or using the alphabet for every breath to see how long you can go without losing concentration. After awhile, you will notice that you can concentrate for longer and longer. When this happens, it's easy to return to the affirmations or your own counting style.

There are many more ways to practice meditation. Running with a steady breath, doing T'ai Chi, playing repeated scales on the piano, and sitting on a chair in a proper sitting pose are all ways to meditate. Please revisit this post for more detailed articles on meditation, how others prefer to do it, and how other have benefited.

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