What is meditation? and what are the benefits? There are various descriptions and spiritual/scientific descriptions, processes and experiments out there that go into more detail, some of it also claiming that the silence raises deep questions that people are not always ready to face such as a recent article in The Guardian and so it’s not always for everyone. I will leave out for you to go ahead and enjoy the research and instead I want to just share my personal simplified description and how it has worked for me.
Essentially meditation is gently training the mind to be quiet so that we can 1. listen to ourselves, find answers or solutions, understand ourselves better and therefore establish peace of mind and 2. get the benefit of the healing from the slowed brainwave and slowed heart rate and calm the monkey mind that can lead us into a negative spiral, drowning out others opinions and expectations or our own criticism and judgement of ourselves and others based on this. As a hypnotherapist I can say that I have found this this is one of the main causes of distress, within the subconscious mind.
We are all aware that the mind and body is linked. So when we are stressed we may get a headache or stomach cramps. When we are feeling happy we feel lighter and energised. This is all linked to our thoughts, feelings, and our chemical reaction inside our body. So it goes without saying that more peace and calm brings a heightened state of physical and mental happiness such as:
- less anxiety
- physical calmness in the chest and stomach
- sense of ‘can do’ mindset
- reduced BP
- increased creativity – including solution finding
- increased energy
- ability to sleep better
- self acceptance and acceptance of others
Even though we feel stressed from all the things on our to-do list, calming and relaxing actually helps us achieve it, by bringing us this positive new energy. When we heal ourselves, when we look after our wellbeing, we automatically help those around us, because our intentions are more free from stress physically or otherwise. That’s why I encourage self-nurturing first during Yoga and Hypno. One of my favourite affirmations being:
‘Let your light shine so bright that it allows others to see their way out of the dark’
In the Indian Yogic teaching of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is a composition of ancient knowledge set out in a simple and clear outline of 196 short, definitive sentences divided into 4 chapters. The essence of the Yoga Sutras is that one must begin with the ‘ethical and spiritual observations’, along an 8 fold pathway to experience the true meaning of Yoga – Yoga meaning the union of the mind, body and soul. This is known as the 8 limbs of Yoga.
- Yama (Ethics)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (physical poses)
- Pranayama (control/ expansion of breath)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (enlightenment)
Within the Yama’s it is broken down into 6 points such as ‘nonviolence’ and the Niyamas are broken down into 5 points, such as ‘Svadhyaya – self-study and knowledge’. But we’re going to focus on number 6 and 7.There is somewhat a process that is followed to get there and here we can see why meditation is the ultimate objective of Yoga asana’s (postures).
I’ll start with my recent example of a recent experience. I lay on my sofa to give myself a little break from a day of replying to emails and other errands, before preparing dinner. I just needed to have my head held by the soda. I felt that my senses were overloaded. There was nothing good on TV, and the noise and colour seemed to become more and more unbearable. ‘Ahh I just want silence’, I heard myself say inside my head. ‘Then why not just turn off the TV and lay there in a quiet space for a few minutes?’. I turned off the TV and the quietness was bliss and I was immediately relaxed.
Meditation doesn’t need to be for long periods with a waterfall or candles and incense (but it can be wonderful 🙂 )
Even though my current living area and lifestyle is not ideal for a daily morning meditation I realised this had been my excuse for not taking time out every day to just relax the mind. I realised that you can take your haven with you. Right then I prepared some candles, lit my incense and took in the beauty with my eyes; already I was feeling more at peace. I made a decision that yes I can get back into that routine every day, with a little gentle reminder of the joy I got from it right in that moment.
Here’s some suggestions of how to start, even if you don’t have your own special place, you can make your space mobile. First if you do have a spare room or area then try to make that your quiet place that you can go to undisturbed if you need to. If possible (in terms of time and place), either do some light stretching or Yoga to allow the mind and body to calm down and prepare for meditation, as is the objective of Yoga asanas (postures).
- Create the time and space and fix it (where possible – if not possible then don’t let this put you off – it’s a habit building technique)
- Create a little area at eye level with something beautiful or meaningful (or if you’re outside in nature or on a bench outside your office, you can use whatever is around – find something of beauty)
- Command your mind to be quiet (remembering that there is the element of wandering which will come, but the intention is first placed to be quiet)
- Begin with regular breath and noticing it
- Slow down the breath (until you can’t really feel it)
- Allow the mind to wander (be friendly, do not force the mind)
- Select a focal point (between the eyebrows/ 3rd eye – pineal gland or heart area whatever suits)
- Focus on an uplifting object/ person/ place initially (otherwise the mind is always looking for something else to do or to make happy or simple stick with the focal point or breathing). This is the first part to meditation, when you can focus on something with intense concentration (Dharana)
- Chant Om (AUM) with the frequency that positively impacts the mind, body and soul (optional – especially, especially if you’re in a more public area, however a gentle hum can work). The vibrations feel good in the headspace.
- Then allow yourself to drift into meditation. (Dyana)
Sometimes this might be only 1 second, sometimes more – in the times where you feel and experience absolute stillness. Your mind might realise you’re in meditation and then the very thought means you’ve come out of meditation. With time, those moments will become longer. Either way, the relaxation of the Dharana alone (calm concentration) will bring peace and wellbeing.
This process all about bringing yourself to a focused concentration first; once we gather all our thoughts from all over the world, certain situations, from the past, from the future, certain people we have a single pointed concentration. This calm concentration then leads to meditation which is the bliss of nothingness.
If like me, you don’t have a permanent place and time, then although morning or evening has a lovely quality about it, you can choose a time of day where you can be on your own for a few mins – 1 hour. Here you could create your own space wherever you need. You could make the process itself into a ritual as you take your box of goodies (such a a few candles, your incense and lighter, or even a photo, or a book) in a box and a material based yoga mat and place them down, make your tea or water and find your own space.
Or if you don’t even have those 20 minutes, or even a location for that, I remember that I also used to sit in silence whenever I could, even in the car 5 minutes before a meeting. Worst case scenario I would go into my mind space in the bathroom and drown out the external world. Just close your eyes and go within with your breath. Even a few minutes will be beneficial.
If you are feeling like you have got out of Yoga or can’t get to Yoga, this is certainly a gentle way to get your mind, body and soul back into Yoga and meditation. Try it!
This blog was brought to you by Nicola Wagstaff from Inspire and Rewire.
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