Introduction to Meditation

Many benefits are gained with a regular mediation practice.  I believe the most valuable is the opportunity meditation gives us to observe our mind.  When we sit quietly, with our mind singularly focused, we begin to see the dialogues it plays.  Especially the ones that keep repeating.  By witnessing Mind, we start the first step of learning to be it’s master.  When mind is still and undisturbed by circumstance, we experience an unshakable inner peace and experience an innate joy that infect those around us.  A clear and unfettered mind is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, our loved ones, and the world at large.

Meditation changes the brain’s physical structure.  It increases density of the brain’s gray matter in areas involved in learning, memory processes, and emotion regulation.  More recently it has been found that people who meditate also have stronger connections (white matter) between brain regions.  Stronger connections enhance the ability to relay electrical signals.  Age-related decline of white-matter tissue is considerably reduced in active meditation practitioners.

Other benefits of meditation include: 

  • Increased blood flow to the brain.  In long term meditators, structures that underlie the attention network and those that relate to emotion and autonomic function were found to have more blood flow than non-meditators. 
  • Reduces pain.  A study, published in the Journal Of NeuroscienceI (2011) revealed meditation caused a 40% lowering of pain intensity, and a 57% lowering of pain unpleasantness...   higher than pain-relieving drugs.
  • Reduces stress and tension.
  • Relaxes the nervous system.
  • Increases blood flow and slows the heart rate.
  • Normalizes blood pressure.
  • Decreases muscular tension.
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Increases serotonin, which positively influences moods and behavior.
  • Enhances energy levels.
  • Enhances immunity.
  • Creates states of deeper relaxation and well-being.
  • Builds self-confidence.
  • Decreases restless thinking.
  • Improves performance in athletics.
  • Increases listening skills.
  • Increases empathy.
  • Deepens understanding of yourself and others.
  • Increases tolerance.
  • Increases focus and concentration.
  • Increases creativity.
  • Helps mastery of own thoughts.

The list of physiological, psychological, and spiritual benefits is endless.  

Meditation is easy to learn.  It is a training of the mind that is as simple and natural as breathing.  The difficulty comes in the self discipline to sit quietly for 20 minutes each day.  And patience to focus the mind for this amount of time.  

It is best to meditate for at least 20 minutes.  One hour is even better.  Like it is unlikely for an untrained athlete to get on a bicycle the first time and ride 30 miles, the same is true of meditation.  It is a mental exercise.  Try to sit for 20 minutes.  If this is impossible, begin with 5 minutes.  Each day increase your sitting time by a couple minutes, until you reach 20 minutes.

When necessary, it is okay to have a clock to peak at during meditation, or you can set a timer.  Whenever possible, give yourself the pleasure of meditating until you naturally wake up. 

This is how: 

1)   Find an area where to sit undisturbed for a period of time, such as a quiet area in the home.  For some that is unfeasible.  Be creative.  Park your car and meditate in it for 20 minutes after work.  Get up a half hour before everyone else.

2)  Sit with a straight spine.  There are options for sitting.  The ideal is to sit on a folded blanket or flat cushion, on the floor, cross-legged.  When this is not practical, sit in a straight-backed chair.  Place both feet flat on the floor; comfortably parallel.  Place the hands comfortably in the lap. 

3)  Begin pratyahara (withdrawing the senses inward) by closing the and softening eyes.  The number of neurons devoted to visual processing take up a substantial area of the cortex.  By closing the eyes the brain immediately begins to quiet.  Listen to the breath enter and leave the body.  Feel the sensations of the breath enter and leave the body.  Withdraw the senses inward. 

4)  Sitting comfortably upright, begin watching and observing the breath.  Observe the belly rise and the ribs expand as you inhale.  Observe the belly fall and the ribs deflate as you exhale.  When you inhale think, “inhale” or “breath in.”  When you exhale think, “exhale” or “breathe out.”  Repeat the word for the full length of each inhale, and each exhale.  Let the breath be comfortably soft.

5)  When a thought or feeling arises, take note of it.  If a thought arises, take note of it and silently repeat, “thinking, thinking, thinking.”  Return to observing the breath rise and fall.  If a feeling arises, take note of the feeling and silently repeat, “feeling, feeling, feeling.”  Again, return to focus on the rise and fall of the breath.  Each time a thought or feeling arises, repeat the same process.   

6)  Attempt to sit still; without movement.  This is the goal.  If you experience a level of pain or discomfort while you are sitting that is so uncomfortable it prevents the mind focussing on the breath, take note of the discomfort and how you will move.  Then note the movement by repeating, “Lifting leg," "Extending leg," "Lowering leg,” as an example.  Then return to sitting still, and focusing on the rise and fall of the breath.

 

The method is simple.  The benefits begin immediately.