"When the mind is still, it can truly listen to what the body needs to say."
- Jill Satterfield, Vaijra Yoga
My blog talks a lot about Mind-Body-Spirit Wellness. This, after all, is the crux of holistic health. There are many modalities of wellness and holistic health and the one thing that makes them have that mind/body/spirit connection is Meditation. The benefits of meditation are bountiful. Meditation is all about using your mind to practice mindfulness. However, meditation can also be used as medicine - to help aid and alleviate many symptoms of various dis-eases, such as cancer. Meditating is also a great way to incorporate or enhance spiritual practice—when the mind and body are calm, it's easier for your"spirit" and the "universe" to connect with each other in a more metaphysical way.
The art of meditation, which comes in many forms, has been practiced for over 5000 years. Most religions, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity , use concentration meditation,paying attention to a particular object - physical or otherwise, like a repetitive prayer. Examples of this are Mala beads, which are used in Hindu/Buddhist traditions and Rosary Beads, which are used in Christianity.
Every morning, I walk down this small path to reach the subway station so that I can go to work. When I come to this small path, I say this prayer over and over: Give thanks and praise unto the Most High, in the name of his son Jesus Christos. Give thanks and praise unto the Most High, for all things.
As I recite this prayer, I pay attention to my words and my posture. I look at the trees and other people as I walk down this path and repeat this prayer. I have been doing this for years and it is only within the past 9 months, that I realized this is a form of concentration meditation. Prior to that time, I would say this prayer while listening to music or talking to someone else. Now, I don't put on the music or talk to anyone.
One purpose of meditation is to "reach a calm state of mind"  . When your mind is doing so many things at once, it's hard to keep focused on one thing. In this day and age, even if you can focus on one thing, your concentration is typically not 100%. You're still multi-tasking, in some way, shape or form. "Do I have time to wash dishes, do the laundry, and cook when I get home?" "I gotta pick up the kids when I get home." "I'd rather be at home sleeping." These are only a few of the thoughts that enter your mind as you are "focused" on work or whatever you are currently doing at the moment.
Mindfulness meditation is slightly different from concentration meditation. In mindfulness meditation, one sits "comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (either the breath, a sound, a mantra, a visualization or exercise)" .
The breath is the central focus of mindfulness meditation. The breath or a mantra, (for instance) keeps you "in the present moment." It is not uncommon for your mind to have many thoughts and images while you meditate. As you concentrate on your breath, you are able to let these images or thoughts pass through your "vision," without having any attachment to whatever it is that your mind brings up.
When you first meditate, you may think it's not working. You may think " meditation doesn't calm my mind because my mind seems busier now that I'm meditating!" This may not make sense at first but it makes perfect sense but your new found awareness of how busy the mind truly is is the first step in reaching that calm state. There will be times when your mind will wander and you become attached to whatever thoughts pass through. The way to detach yourself from whatever emotions or feelings may arise with the visions that appear is to focus on the breath. Once you focus on the breath, it's easier to let go of any attachment. Once you can let go of the attachment to whatever emotions arise, you can look at a situation from a different standpoint. You may be better able to understand a situation that troubled you and then better understand yourself!
Meditation was very difficult for me when I first started. I had a difficult childhood. I went through so many things that I became good at repressing my memories. When I first started to meditate, a lot of images came to mind that seemed very foreign. I was scared. "Why are these things coming into my mind?" For a while, I believed that I was a bad person for that thoughts that arose during those first attempts at meditation. Once I started to go to more Yoga classes, especially those that focused on meditation rather than asana, I began to understand that the images that came to my mind were repressed memories.
My mind wanted me to come to terms with these memories and experiences. At the time, I wasn't ready to face them but as I continued to meditate, I let the memories flow through and I was finally able to confront the events that shaped my childhood. Meditation, for me, opened the door to forgiveness - not only the process of forgiving others, but more importantly, the process of forgiving myself. Meditation is a great way to "let go" of the past and keep what serves and works for you (in the present and future tense).
One of my favorite methods of meditation is walking meditation. Walking meditation is a form of meditation is action . As you meditate, your focus is on walking, breathing, and posture.
Before I continue to talk about walking meditation, I would like to explain the connection between breathing and posture. Even if you are doing a sitting meditation, posture is highly important because if you maintain proper posture, your breathing is at optimal levels. Oxygen can flow through the body and to cells with ease, healing you mentally and physically.
Now that you understand the connection between breath and posture and meditation, you can understand why walking meditation is more intense than any of the sitting or kneeling meditations and prayers. In walking meditation, you are more aware of your body because it is moving. There are so many things to pay attention to and appreciate. The average person may become frustrated with a walking meditation. I know people that have tried it and have complained that there are just "too many distractions." The beauty of walking meditation is becoming aware of not only things outside of us but how our inner selves relate to these external objects - observing how you feel when you look upon something you find beautiful.
I don't agree with those who think that there are 'too many distractions' when doing a walking meditation. Wherever I do my walking meditations, I am amazed and truly appreciate the silence and the noise that comes with nature. I pay attention to the rain drops or the sunshine. I appreciate the wind as it blows through the trees that provide me with oxygen as it takes my carbon dioxide, adding to the cycle of life. All of these things bring more love into my heart. I feel compassion for people as I walk and see them interact in loving ways.
Another reason why I love walking meditation is because I'm not the best at doing Lotus Pose (go figure! ) I can't quite explain it but after 20 minutes, my body wants to get up and move. My breathing helps me focus and relax my mind, yet my body wants to get up and I can't explain why. So...I might as well do a walking meditation! Besides, it never hurts to get some physical exercise while I calm my mind.
As I mentioned a little bit previously, those that suffer from severe depression or any related illness should NOT meditate, unless given permission by a licensed therapist, doctor, or other valid professional. Even if you suffer from mild depression (as I do from time to time), it's better for you to meditate with a light or your eyes open. The book Yoga as Medicine explains this very well:
Like Pranayama, meditation may not be appropriate (or even possible) for people who are very anxious and depressed. Anyone with clinical depression, a history of schizophrenia, or other serious psychological problems should consult a mental health professional before beginning a meditation practice.
Usually, when you meditate, there is only natural light. Some people like to meditate in the dark - it gives a feeling of complete stillness. However, if you suffer from depression or a similar illness, it's harder to handle what comes to mind. It's not as easy to keep focus and awareness of staying outside of the feelings, emotions, or visions you see. For this reason, it's easier for people in this situation to either meditate with their eyes open, fixated on a particular point for focus OR closing their eyes, but having a bright artificial light behind them so that it still seems like their eyes are open. For a long time, I had to meditate with my eyes open. Now, I can keep my eyes closed for longer periods of time.
From a medical standpoint, meditation and pranayama are very effective against many dis-eases, including cancer, heart disease and AIDS. At least 80% of all stress sits in your fat cells. This is because the stress hormone, cortisol, increases the urge to eat and "the laying down of fat in the abdomen." According to the book Yoga as Medicine, "Stress hormones not only raise blood pressure/heart rate...it causes your blood to clot easier, which can lead to heart attacks." Your body also carries emotional strains of the past, turning it into physical pain. This is especially true for women and their reproductive organs. Since "meditation and pranayama techniques fight stress by calmin the nervous system, muscles, and emotions," many symptoms caused by major dis-eases such as cancer can be alleviated or dispelled altogether. In the case of women/reproductive system, this is not going to completely cure your PMS but it will help you better cope with symptoms associated with it.
After my initial issues with meditation, I was able to meditate with my eyes closed. I would see the visions, thoughts, memories and let them pass with ease. However, a question kept coming to mind once I was done: What do I do with this information? It's easy to relive moments that appear in your mind and become active in them, letting your mind become a part of that emotion and relinquishing control to them. Remember, this is not the purpose of meditation. It's not the purpose to think about these things after meditating and getting upset, sad, etc. either. Most of us will analyze and process the information (which is neither bad nor good until your perception comes into play) in a positive way by using the information to help them when these situations arise in the future. The art of processing can enable us to gain insight into methods of maintaining this "freedom." Various methods include but aren't limited to: Yoga, prayer, a walking meditation, a Self-Help book/Workshop, or Tai Chi.
Before I go, let's reintroduce you to Matt Stokes' quick tips. Here's #3:
White Rice Vs. Brown Rice
Brown rice is a whole grain and white rice is not.
Simply put, white rice is brown rice with the two outer layers stripped away.
We need these layers to slow down the release of sugar into our bloodstream.
When sugar is released quickly into our bloodstream it leads to energy swings (ie: "sugar crashing") and, more seriously, diabetes (type 2).
Obviously, white rice isn’t the only thing leading to these adverse affects. Anything with a good amount of sugar/corn syrup/sugar substitutes/simple carbohydrate can do this.
Avoid an overabundance of these things and go with brown rice or whole grains when you can.
YaaaY! I did it! I'm so proud of myself...and now it's time to start with the next blog, which will definitely be on Tai Chi. So until next time....
stay strong, stay healthy, and fight dis-ease!
Wikipedia. July 15, 2008, http://en.wikipedia/org/wiki/Mediation
 Wildmind Buddhist Meditation. July 15, 2008, http://www.wildmind.org/walking/overview
The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union. July 15, 2008, http://www.how-to-meditate.org/breathing-meditations.htm
Tim McCall, MD, Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, Bantam Publishing, July 31, 2007, pgs. 68-70, 98, 338