Throughout history, meditation has been an integral part of many cultures. Records indicate that meditation was practiced in ancient Greece and India more than 5,000 years ago. In the Buddhist religion, meditation is an important part of their spiritual practice. Different forms of meditation are practiced in China and Japan, and Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have traditions similar to meditation. The word meditation comes from the Latin 'meditari' which means: exercise, turn something over in one's mind, think, consider. It is defined as "consciously directing your attention to alter your state of mind."
Meditation is one of the proven alternative therapies that in recent years have been classified under the mind-body medicine therapies. It is continuing to gain popularity, as more and more health experts believe that there is more to the connection between mind and body than modern medicine can explain. Meditation has been shown to aid the immune system and improve brain activity, according to researchers. More and more doctors are prescribing meditation as a way to lower blood pressure, improve exercise performance, for people with angina, to help people with asthma to breathe easier, to relieve insomnia, and generally relax everyday stresses of life. Many hospitals now offer meditation classes for their patients because of the health benefits. All promote physiological health and well-being.
Traditionally meditation has been used for spiritual growth but more recently has become a valuable tool for managing stress and finding a place of peace, relaxation, and tranquility in a demanding fast-paced world. Benefits resulting from meditation include: physical and emotional healing; easing stress, fear, and grief; improved breathing; developing intuition; deep relaxation; exploring higher realities; finding inner guidance; unlocking creativity; manifesting change; emotional cleansing and balancing; and deepening concentration and insight.
Meditation elicits many descriptive terms: stillness, silence, tranquility, peace, quiet, and calm. All counter stress and tension. Lama Surya Das in his book Awakening The Buddha Within says, "Meditation is not just something to do; it's a method of being and seeing ? an unconditional way of living moment by moment." In other words, learning to live in this moment because this moment is all we have. Henry Winkler is quoted as saying; "A human being's first responsibility is to shake hands with himself." Meditation is an opportunity to 'shake hands with ourselves' in a safe, simple way and to balance our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Meditation takes many forms in today's society. All have one thing in common. They use concentration techniques to still the mind and stop thought. Various practices exist such as chanting (Mantra), focusing on energy centres in the body (Chakra Meditation), breathing, mindfulness (Mahamudra), loving kindness, formal sitting (Vipassana), expressive practices (Siddha Yoga), and walking to name some of the styles. Try each style and see what works for you or you may want to alternate between the techniques from time to time. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss Mahamudra and walking meditation.
Practical Steps To Begin Meditating
1. Find a place where there are few external distractions. A place where you feel emotionally comfortable, safe, removed from pressure and stress is the optimal location.
2. Wear clothing that is loose and sit or lie in a comfortable position.
3. Plan to meditate in an area that is warm and comfortable. You might want to have a blanket or light covering as some people experience a feeling of coolness when they aren't moving around for a period of time.
4. Candles can be used to focus attention on the task at hand. If you use them, remember to be cautious and extinguish them before leaving the room.
5. Relaxation is a key component of meditation. Take a few moments to bring about a state of relaxation by taking a deep breath through your nose, expanding your lungs and diaphragm. Hold the breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this several times until you feel relaxed.
6. Calm, soothing music can be helpful for inducing a state of tranquillity and relaxation
7. If you are hungry, have a little something to eat, as it is not necessary to meditate on a completely empty stomach.
8. Put your expectations aside and don't worry about doing it right.
Mahamudra is the form of meditation that is a way of going about one's daily activities in a state of mindfulness. It is meditation integrated into all aspects of our lives. This following exercise is one you can do anywhere to create a feeling of inner peace. It is particularly helpful for those times you are stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store or bank, at the office when days are hectic, or when you are picking up the kids from school or extra-curricular activities. "What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it," wrote Hugh Mulligan. Meditation helps us remember to stop and 'smell the daisies.'
Begin by taking a deep breath. Breathe deeply and as you do expand your lungs and your diaphragm. Hold the breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale through the mouth. Focus on your breath and clear your mind. Do this several times until you feel the slowing of your breath and a deep sense of peace fill your body. Consciously feel the peace permeate your body. Drop your shoulders and connect through the top of your head to the Universal Energy. Repeat. If you wish, send peace to those around you by connecting to their hearts with light and love.
A walking meditation is simply an exercise in awareness. There are four components:
? become aware of your breathing,
? notice your surroundings,
? be attentive to your body's movement, and
? take some time to reflect on your experience when you return home.
To practice 'awareness walking' bring awareness to walking wherever you find yourself. Take notice of your breathing. Are you taking short, shallow breaths without even knowing it? If so, take several deep breaths and centre yourself in your body and in the present moment. Appreciate the wonderful body you have and the blessing of being able to walk.
Notice your surroundings. What season is it? Take a few minutes to listen to the noises around you. Feel the wind, sun, fog, rain or snow on your face. Look at the people, animals, birds, sky, trees, and buildings around you. Breathe in and out and realise that you are an integral part of the environment.
Pay attention to your body. Are you holding tension in your shoulders, neck, solar plexus, lower back, or legs? Breath into any areas where you are feeling tension and let it drain into the Earth. Next, pay attention to your posture. Are you standing straight and tall or slouching? Walk in a way that is comfortable for you with your body loose and uplifted. Walk with dignity and confidence, one foot in front of the other and pay attention to the experience of movement. You can walk mindfully anywhere, along a sidewalk, walking your dog, in the mall, along the hallways at work. You simply remind yourself to be in this moment, taking each step as it comes. Some people find it helpful to repeat a mantra (mantras are sacred words repeated in order to bring focus to your mind). You can also use a variation on the walking mantra by counting your breaths. Walk more slowly than you usually do and count how many steps it takes for your intake of breath and how many steps for your exhale. In this type of meditation, your attention is focused on both your steps and your breathing bringing together a wonderful balance of peacefulness and awareness.
Take some time to reflect on your experience when you return home. Five or ten minutes brings closure to your walk and provides an opportunity to make the transition from this 'place of peace' to ordinary day-to-day activities.
Gwen Nyhus Stewart, B.S.W., M.G., H.T., is an educator, freelance writer, garden consultant, and author of the book The Healing Garden: A Place Of Peace ? Gardening For The Soil, Gardening For The Soul. She owns the website Gwen's Healing Garden where you will find lots of free information about gardening for the soil and gardening for the soul. To find out more about the book and subscribe to her free Newsletter visit http://www.gwenshealinggarden.ca
Gwen Nyhus Stewart ? 2004 ? 2005. All rights reserved.