The dictionary defines meditation as the act of pondering, reflecting upon, or contemplating. Meditate, from the Latin meditari, means to think about or consider.
Although you do not need to meditate in order to practice yoga – nor is the practice of yoga mandatory in order to meditate – the two practices support each other. Through the practice of yoga, you enhance your ability to relax and concentrate. These are the two most important elements of meditation.
“Every path, every street in the world, is your walking meditation path.”– THICH NHAT HANH
WAYS TO MEDITATE
The first step of meditation is to concentrate on a specific object or establish a point of focus. Some of the common recommended points of focus are silently repeating a word or phrase, reciting a prayer or chant out loud, visualizing an image such as a deity, or observing your breath.
A mantra is a particular sound, phrase or affirmation used as a point of focus. The act of repeating your mantra is called japa, which means recitation. Chanting is an extension of mantra meditation. Longer than a mantra, a chant involves both rhythm and pitch. In Vedic times, Indian chanting came out of the belief that sound creates power and the potential to transport us to an expanded state of awareness. Another belief is that all creation is a manifestation of the primordial sound “Om,” the seed sound of all other sounds.
Visualization is also a good way to meditate. Traditionally, this involves visualizing a chosen deity – a god or goddess. Some practitioners prefer to visualize a natural object such as a flower, tree, mountain or ocean. Any object is valid.
Maintaining an open-eyed focus upon an object is another variation of imagery. This focus is referred to as drishti, which means view or gaze. The choices available are limitless, but candle gazing is popular. Your eyes may be fully opened or partially closed, with a soft gaze. Many yoga postures have gazing points or drishti.
Meditating on the breath means to purely observe the breath as it is, without changing it in any way. Breath observance is a technique used by practitioners of vipassana, which is referred to as insight or mindfulness meditation. This Buddhist practice is used by renowned monk, teacher, author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. The word vipassana means to see clearly or look deeply.
The most basic seated pose is Sukhasana (Easy Crossed-Legged Pose). If you are more flexible, you may prefer Padmasana (Lotus Pose). The best choice for beginners is sitting in a chair, and it is no less effective. Maintain an upright spine and feel comfortable and steady in your seated posture. If you sit on the floor, place a cushion or folded blanket under your buttocks to elevate them. This helps support the lower back. The arms are relaxed and your hands are resting on your thighs or in your lap, with the palms facing up or down. The shoulders roll back and down, and your chest is lifted. Keep your neck long and slightly tilt the chin downward. Your eyes may be opened or closed, depending on which technique you are following.
Standing to meditate can be very powerful. It is recommended for those who find that it builds physical, mental and spiritual strength. Your whole body should be aligned in good posture. Stand with your feet hip-to-shoulder distance apart, keep the knees soft (avoid hyperextension at the back of knees) and let the arms rest at your sides. Roll the shoulders back and down, open the chest, and keep the neck long with your chin parallel to the floor. Your eyes can be opened or closed softy. In yoga practice, this is Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
The challenge of moving meditation is to walk slowly and consciously making each step your focal point. Your destination and distance are not important. Move freely with your arms relaxed at your sides, as you coordinate your breath with your steps. You can practice walking meditation anywhere, and remember getting somewhere is not the goal. The act of being completely involved in the walk becomes a meditation.
Lying down is usually associated with relaxation, or Savasana (Corpse Pose). It may, however, be used for meditation. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms facing upward. With your legs slightly apart, allow your feet to relax and fall to the side. Your eyes may be opened or closed, although there is a risk of falling asleep with closed eyes, especially for beginners. A reclining meditation requires a greater degree of alertness to remain focused and awake.
BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
When the mind constantly moves from one thought to another, the brain activity is categorized as beta waves. As the mind calms down through meditation, the brain waves become smooth and slow, and these are categorized as alpha waves. Deeper meditation decreases brain waves further and the pattern becomes even smoother and slower. This brain activity is called theta waves. Studies on meditators have shown decreased perspiration, a slower rate or respiration, lower blood pressure and an enhanced immune system.
Meditation teaches you how to manage stress and when you reduce stress you enhance your physical health and emotional well-being.
WHEN AND WHERE TO MEDITATE
- Consistency is important, therefore meditate at the same time and in the same place every day.
- The place you choose should be quiet and pleasant, where you will not be disturbed.
- The morning is considered the best time before you become distracted by the demands of your day. Many people find morning meditation helps them begin the day with a greater degree of gratitude and grace. If a morning practice is not possible, then try an afternoon or early evening meditation. A time frame of 15-20 minutes is recommended for beginners.
IS YOUR PRACTICE WORKING?
Meditation should not make you feel stressed or physically uncomfortable. If it does, reduce the length of your practice time, change your position (from walking to sitting or from sitting to standing), or change your location.
If you continue having difficulty, you may wish to seek the guidance of an experienced teacher or join a meditation group. You will know you are making progress when you start to have feelings of mental calm and physical comfort.
“Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content, the quiet mind is richer than a crown…”– R. GREENE
By Lisa Foster
Lisa Foster is a certified yoga teacher. She teaches yoga to children and adults in Oakville, Ont.
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