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Meditation: what, why and how:

Posted on: 24 Jul

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Meditation is one of the most powerful and beneficial methods for improving a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

For some people, the word ‘meditation’ conjures up images of some kind of mystical practise, involving monks or yogis sitting cross-legged for hours a time. In fact, meditation can be practised by anyone, whatever their age, beliefs or profession. Whilst there are many different forms, in essence, meditation simply involves us setting aside a period of time in which to consciously focus our attention on a particular object (for example, our breath or a beautiful scene) – for the purpose of centring and rebalancing ourselves. If we start to pay attention, most of us will find that our minds are almost constantly active- preoccupied with concerns about the future or unresolved issues from the past. These mental fears and agitations are cause of many of our health problems- physical, mental and emotional. Meditation can help us to gradually regain control over our minds and provide us with greater sense of calm and peace, no matter what is happening around us – bringing about healing and balance to all levels of our being.

One can choose to meditate from anything from a few minutes to several hours – whenever you have, or can make, the time. As with any discipline, in order to reap the full rewards, it’s best to meditate regularly – even ten minutes a day will have a beneficial effect. When meditating, it’s important to adopt as comfortable a position as possible. Sitting cross-legged is considered to be the most balanced position, yet you can also kneel, use cushions, a meditation stool or sit upright on a chair. The idea is to be comfortable but alert, so you’re less likely to succumb to sleep. Some forms of meditation involve closing the eyes and focusing on the breath – for example the rising and falling of the chest or abdomen as you breathe in and out, or the point at which the air enters and leaves the nostrils. Other methods make use of a word (or ‘mantra’), which is silently repeated to oneself over and over again. Others involve keeping the eyes open and fixed on a particular object, such as a statue or inspiring picture. Initially, the main object of these kinds of meditation is to help to focus and calm the mind – which, for most of us with our busy lives and surrounded by multiple distractions, can take a little practise! However, with regular practise and perseverance, meditation helps us to have more control over our wandering minds and a greater sense of inner calm, balance and stability as a result.

Mindfulness meditation also uses the breath as a focal point, yet also involves us consciously ‘watching’ and becoming aware of any sensations in our body, of any thoughts or feelings that may arise (positive or negative) and of anything that is happening around us – learning just to notice these things without judging them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Usually, we tend to react immediately, automatically and unconsciously to experiences: we ‘over identify’ with what is happening – in other words, we take things personally. Positive experiences make one feel good, so we start to crave more of these and then become upset when we don’t always get them. Negative experiences cause us to react with fear, anger or aversion and we try to push them away. In this way, we allow external events to control how we feel, meaning that we can easily loose our peace of mind. Over time, mindfulness meditation helps us to accept experiences as they are, without reacting or judging them: we become more able to see things as they really are, as just experiences or sensations, and not personal to us. We learn that, whilst we can’t always control the things around us, or our own instinctive emotions, we can learn to choose our response to these, resulting less mental agitation and a greater sense of peace and calm.

A common issue when people start meditating is that they become more aware of their busy mind and any unresolved emotions, which they may have spent a great deal of their life suppressing or avoiding. In the early stages, many people are tempted to quit, believing that they haven’t succeeded at the practise because they are not immediately able to stop or change their negative thoughts or emotions. However, for most of us, it takes time to gain mastery over our minds and to release any unresolved emotions. By allowing ourselves to observe our thoughts and feel our natural human emotions without judgement, these begin to have less power over us and we can start to create a peaceful place within ourselves, underneath our thoughts and emotions, from which to accept, resolve and heal these painful places. Human beings are naturally programmed to think and feel: it is not a question of ‘stopping’ our thoughts and feelings completely, but simply creating enough distance from them, and gradually reducing our unhelpful thoughts, so that we can start to respond to life with greater clarity, wisdom, self control and love.

With regular meditation, you will soon notice the benefits spilling over into the rest of your life. These include a greater sense of inner peace and calm, improved energy levels, clearer thinking, more mental/emotional balance, improved physical health (as a result of less internal stress), a greater ability to accept ‘unpleasant’ situations over which we have no control, and more empathy towards oneself and others. Even greater transformation can occur when we start to bring mindfulness into our everyday life – becoming more consciously aware of what is happening from moment to moment – inside and out. Gradually, we start to see, experience and respond to life as it really is – as something far greater and more connected than our limited, rational minds can ever perceive – and this can be life changing.

If you are interested in learning more about meditation, there are a wealth of books, cds and dvds on the market explaining the different techniques. The ideal way to learn is with a teacher, on a course or by joining a meditation group, as this will provide you with guidance, support and encouragement in your practise.

Happy meditating!

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