Sometimes just the mention of the word "meditation" can send folks running for the hills! I know, I've seen the look on some faces when I introduce it in my yoga class - which I do only rarely (see above concern of folks running for the hills). But, meditation can be done in myriad ways depending on your tastes and personality, and what you find most enjoyable. It does not have to involve sitting still in one spot, for instance; meditation can be done (and ideally should be done) at any time, all the time, as you're going about your normal daily life. Meditation can be expressed through chanting mantras, gardening, walking, focusing on nature, and many other expressions.
So what is meditation exactly? There are many definitions but one simple definition is that meditation is the constant observation of the mind. What is the mind? Thoughts. So, meditation is an increased awareness of our thoughts. It is learning to place your attention in a position where you can observe your thoughts, without judgment and reaction. It is the art of being present and equanimous with whatever is arising. This practice, over time, generates a greater sense of peace, spaciousness and happiness in the individual.
Meditation has also gained scientific credibility as a way to relieve stress, reduce blood pressure, prevent heart disease, regulate the nervous system, increase immune system functioning, decrease pain, and increase positive emotions. The Harvard Gazette (Jan 2011) published the results of a research study on mindfulness meditation which found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection after just 8 weeks of meditation.
How then should you begin a meditation practice? First, start where you are...right now as you're reading this, become aware of your breath, the flow of air. And gradually, extend that awareness to what is ACTUALLY happening in and around you. Slowly, move your awareness around, perhaps to your heart beating or a sensation in your body. But whatever you bring your awareness to, simply observe, don't try to change or control it. With this simple act of observing, you are beginning to meditate, you are becoming more mindful and more conscious of what is actually taking place rather than your thoughts ABOUT it. And then, you apply this same act of observing to your thoughts which will inevitably float through and you allow them to rise and fall, just like the sensations in the body, while you maintain an attitude of equanimity.
There is a reason why meditation is called a "practice"! It does take some practice, so don't be discouraged if at first the mind roars loudly and seems to create distractions for you. The rewards of cultivating a meditation practice are worth it, and remember it can be done anytime, anywhere. Start where you are.
If you would like to try a guided meditation, click below to listen to me guiding you to a relaxing, natural place of presence (15 minutes). Enjoy!
Love & sweet blessings,