By Mary Capon and Janet Rupp
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2003.
If you think meditation means a dark room filled with long-haired gurus sporting love beads, think again. The concept of meditation has come a long way since its cultural introduction in the 1970s.
In fact, meditation has hit the mainstream. Although traditionally a spiritual practice, meditation is now being recognized as a powerful tool for gaining and maintaining health. Legions of physicians are prescribing meditation along with medication for patients suffering from autoimmune diseases such as cancer. Psychotherapists are using meditation to assist clients in healing old traumas and achieve a sense of self-awareness and self-control. Even corporate America is offering meditation instructions to their executives to maintain employee health, hone alertness and creativity, and increase productivity.
What is Meditation Anyway?
Meditation is simply the art of mental self-control. Focusing on our breath, a vision, an object or a mantra allows us to still the chatter of our mind. By learning to ignore the hundreds of thoughts that float through our consciousness every minute, we can bring the mind into present moment awareness, leaving the stressful memories of the past or plans for the future behind.
The study of meditation is not difficult to learn. In fact, it’s quite simple. With the exercises provided below, you can enjoy this practice anywhere: In the grocery line, at your desk or in the sanctuary of your home.
• There is no need to force your body into a lotus position, mirroring Indian yogis. Be mindful that a straight spine keeps you alert and helps conduct the energy of your breath during the meditation period.
• Hand placements, or mudras, embody different energies. Try palms down on your knees when you are feeling self-contained. Palm-up on your knees stimulates receptivity. Hands clasped together generates revolving and contained energy.
• Like in yoga, deep breathing is a fundamental component of meditation. Take a few deep breaths before you begin and continue them throughout the meditation. Relax your body, releasing tension held in your muscles with each exhalation.
• A 5–20 minute session at the same time each day is best for beginners. Try twice a day when you are more comfortable with the methods.
Counting Breath Meditation
Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the sensation of your breath filling your body with life-giving energy, then exhale fully. Now, mentally count your breaths: inhale ... after exhaling, count one, inhale ... exhale, two, concentrating only on the sensation of your breath and the counting. When you reach the count of five, go back and begin the cycle again. When outside thoughts come in (and they will), refocus on the sensation of your breath and your counting. As you become more familiar with this method, try counting to 10 and then 20 without being interrupted by busy thoughts.
Simple Chore Counting Breath Meditation
This practice is a favorite among Zen Buddhists who believe concentration on the ordinary in daily life adds to it the extraordinary. The next time you are doing a mindless task that you do on a regular basis, count the breaths it takes you to complete the function. When you run to the copy machine or to the bus stop to pick up your kids, remain focused on counting your breath until you complete the task. Start out with short, easy chores.
Meditation is a search for enlightenment that lies in the journey of everyday life. It’s in the journey toward enlightenment that we experience life at its fullest. So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, in the waiting room of the dentist’s office or waking up to a new day, don’t just sit there ... meditate.