“In the muddy waters of my mind, my vision moved to clear…”
Meditation is a reflective practice, synonymous with contemplation, designed to strengthen the body-mind, bring clarity of thought and, ultimately, awareness and peace within the self of the practitioner.
Finding the right form of meditation is personal.
Below are some ways to transfer the focus inside.
When we breathe deeply, such as during meditation, relaxation exercises, 7/11 breathing, and in yogic breath control (pranayama; breath of fire; right & left nostril breathing), there is expansion into the head, chest, diaphragm and sacrum. In this way, the breath connects the body and mind into one.
When the breath is controlled, the mind is controlled.
But, for most of the day, our breath is quite shallow (in fact, for most of the days of our lives). But, when we deepen our breath, we can deepen our lives… we can change.
The purpose of meditation is increased conscious awareness, which is not just a spiritual concept. Improved self-awareness and acceptance lead to compassion for others and a connection to all living things.
The material world roots us in ‘lower body’ emotions, such as fear, judgment and lust. Meditation brings a change in perspective, redirecting the energy upwards to the higher human emotions of joy, trust and love.
Authenticity is key to freedom and happiness within oneself. Through regular practice, meditation can awaken our true nature, which lies beneath all of the layers of learnt behaviour and beliefs. When we speak our truth, in both words and behaviour, we are expressing ourselves from a higher level.
But, it’s important to stay grounded and keep learning. Spending time in Nature can be both humbling and liberating, while reconnecting us to the true meaning of Life.
In an alert state of active/over-active thought, Beta waves (12-38 Hz) are increased in the brain. With regular meditation, the brain moves towards Alpha (8-12 Hz) and Theta (4-8 Hz), which are relaxation states, where thoughts flow more ‘quietly’, and lucidity, creativity and spiritual awareness are accessed. Alpha and Theta are also explored during hypnosis, as thought drops below the analytical mind. Another level is Delta (less than 4 Hz), experienced during dreamless sleep, and REM when dreaming.
It is natural to be in an alert state sometimes, when we’re learning, excited or riding a horse, for example, and the brain can reach Gamma, which are high frequency waves (like a flute) that increase the faculties of problem solving and perception (expanded consciousness). However, a reduction in the time spent on high alert is helpful in avoiding conditions such as stress and obsession, and in reducing emotions like fear, irritability and anger, which only serve to cloud reality and judgement.
In this way, meditation becomes a gateway to a clearer, more enhanced conscious state.
Take ten minutes to relax and listen to a guided meditation, working through each of your chakras, as you send positive energy throughout your body and mind.
The energy centres of the body are called chakras, the main ones of which map to 7 glands from the root of the spine, to the midline and brain. The intention of a chakra meditation is to realign the body’s electromagnetic field (on the light spectrum and, therefore, associated with the 7 colours of the rainbow), widen the energy channels and, in so doing, release any physical or mental imbalances caused by blocked energy. Each chakra is associated with different human characteristics (the throat chakra/thyroid being connected with self-expression and truth, for example), and they can be overactive or under-active.
Compassion and a quiet mind can be cultivated through the daily practice of gratitude. How one expresses appreciation is personal, whether breathing deeply during a moment of stress and expressing thanks for the tests that life presents us with, or dedicating ten minutes before sleep or after waking to kind thoughts, a chant or guided practice. The concept is simple, but effective, because it is impossible to feel energy-draining emotions, such as dislike or anger, at the same time as concentrating on kindness.
Metta / loving kindness
In Metta meditation, the practitioner focusses on self acceptance and the cultivation of compassion towards another person. An understanding of Self comes through a deep look at one’s body attitudes and character (what makes us fearful or anxious, or brings envy or intolerance, for example). When we are able to express love for ourselves, we can love others unconditionally also. This means accepting the person of focus for how they choose to exist, and feel happy for them without judgment or a need to control. Simply imagine them in a situation doing something they love, such as gardening, then let go.
Qigong is a Chinese discipline involving sequenced movement and breath control. Meditation is one of the fundamental aspects of this practice, which aims to improve the flow of life energy (qi / chi) through the meridians of the body, as the autonomic nervous system is regulated. Mindfulness, breath work, self-massage and movement are all aspects of how this is achieved.
Relaxation takes many forms, including listening to guided meditation or losing oneself in a cherished pastime, such as cooking or doing a puzzle. To calm the mind, one can, alternatively, focus on an object or mandala, recite an intention or mantra, or listen to harmonious music while engaged in an art form, craft or ritual (see Zazen). The idea is not necessarily to empty the mind, but to concentrate on a repeated pattern of activity and observe any thoughts that arise, because it is through insight that we can truly know ourselves and feel empathy for others, with a calmer state of mind.
Transcendental Meditation® is a trademarked practice founded in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and promoted by advocates such as director, David Lynch. Training, through personal guidance, involves detachment from thought and the repetition of an easy mantra. The non-profit organisation, which operates internationally, claims that TM® improves brain function, stress levels and cardiovascular health, as in all regular meditation practice.
Visualisation means to focus one’s thoughts on a person or thing, because insight may come from any feelings that arise. A form of visualisation is to get a sense of where a person of focus is ‘felt’ in the body, asking oneself with compassion why they are the way they are (as opposed to engaging in negative narrative). Alternatively, the practitioner may imagine a positive future outcome and replay themselves in that situation, which can be particularly effective if practised before sleep. Or they can imagine how their inner spirit may look (a symbol, shape, etc.) and, based on the premise that humans have natural intuition, ask their inner Self how they can move forward in life.
In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner is typically guided towards a state of deep relaxation while in savasana/Shavasana (corpse pose), and taken through a mindful body scan, bringing awareness to any pain or emotions that arise. This insightful practice can lead to emotional release and the alleviation of stress in conditions such as PTSD. Similarly, corpse pose is used to relax the body, one part at a time, at the end of a Hatha yoga session.
Zazen is a discipline in Zen Buddhist tradition, the mastery of which leads to enlightenment and the concept of ‘no mind’, or no thought. There is no object of focus, so this is not strictly meditation, although a beginner can start by counting their breaths, sitting in a dignified manner with a straight back and hands cupped left in right, thumbs touching. Similarly, one can contemplate a koan (a paradoxical statement, such as ‘The gateless gate’), or engage in a ritual, as in the Japanese tea ceremony and archery, which involve repetitive movement and years of practice until the flow becomes automatic, without thought. All forms of craft fall into this category also (see Relaxation). The book, The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau, offers a very good introduction to the practice of Zazen.
Finding Focus & Balance
If you find it difficult to switch off from your thoughts and daily activities, sensory deprivation in a zero-gravity environment is another option. A flotation tank involves complete darkness and silence as you float securely upon heavily salted water. Being enclosed in a pod cut off from the rest of the world can lead to an emotional experience. At the other end of the spectrum, there is sleep and, so with it, the possibility of dreams and tension release. Flotation is an interesting experiment in freedom, depending on how much you would want to let go.
Note: A withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara) is one of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (principles in the attainment of Enlightenment). The Eight Limbs are:
1. The Yamas (right action towards others).
2. The Niyamas (right action and right thought towards ourselves).
3. Asanas (seated meditation poses).
4. Pranayama (expansion of life force energy – prana – through the breath).
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses).
6. Dharana (concentration of the mind).
7. Dhyana (meditation).
8. Samadhi (enlightenment).
Together with the 5 Yamas (ethical rules) of: 1. ahimsa (non-violence); 2. satya (truthfulness); 3. asteya (non-stealing); 4. brahmacharya (right use of energy); and 5. aparigraha (non-greed), all of which should be taken in their widest sense, and applied to thoughts as well as physical actions.
These rules for how we relate to the world are in turn complemented by the 5 Niyamas of: 1. saucha (purity); 2. santosha (contentment); 3. tapas (self-discipline); 4. svadhyaya (self- study); and 5. ishvara pranidhana (surrender to Source), which are concerned with how we relate to ourselves, and are, again, of both body and mind.
Along the path to Enlightenment, there are different stages, and these are outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Here, one could also refer to the Hero’s Journey, which begins with a call to adventure!
Energy healing modalities, such as Tapping, Acupuncture, Reiki, Pranic Healing and the Emotion Code (magnetic clearing), are increasingly popular in Western culture and seen by many as effective ways to treat conditions of both body and mind. Trapped emotional tension can cause very real issues, including muscular pain, illness and poor mental health, which can endure for decades without the appropriate support. If you feel that your health, decision making, emotional responses, or behaviour, etc., are out of balance, it may be worth trying some alternative techniques alongside talking therapy and guided visualisation (like hypnosis).
Note: in the case where Kundalini energy is active, modalities such as Reiki, are generally not recommended, but, rather, grounding and calming techniques.
Mindfulness is an awareness of one thing in the present moment, and can be practised within a meditation session or meditative activity, such as slow walking. It is something that we can do naturally as humans, but may have forgotten how, so it can be relearnt through training and practice. The idea is to bring our awareness to visual details, sensations, sounds and movement, and experience the moment with wonder. The reflection of light through a glass, for example, or the shapes made by water as it flows in a stream.
We often enter ‘alpha mode’ during routine activities, switching off from the action, but caught up in our thoughts. Instead, we can bring focus and appreciation to the moment. Listening and waiting as someone speaks, for example; or enjoying the taste and colours of a meal without reading or watching TV; or in moments of chaos, by counting our breaths and observing how each of them feels.
There are countless ways in which to be focussed in the moment, in a clearer state of conscious awareness, and this need not be formally practised. The aim is to interrupt any negative thoughts, which can overwhelm as they occupy the mind in a loop. It’s not always easy to be focussed and calm, but if we keep bringing the attention back into the moment, the mind will learn to wander much less.