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Meditation: What and Why

Updated: 2 days ago

What is all the fuss about?



I can't sit still. Do I have to sit still to meditate?




Where is the best place to meditate? Do I have to sit with crossed legs?






I have a short attention span. Do I have to meditate for 20 to 30 minutes?





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Meditation's definition and it's practices are varied, and yet it is a buzz word today. Whether speaking from an spiritual background, healing process, or neurobiological perspective, meditating is touted as the thing to do. And yet, if someone wanted to practice meditation, how do they figure out what to do? It all seems very vague to a lot of people. This blog seeks to give answer these questions and give you a place to start.



Simplicity

Meditation, in it's simplest form, is you connecting to your breath. Right now, stop reading and take 3-5 slow deep breaths (with your eyes closed if you are comfortable with that). There are no rules to follow, just take 3-5 breaths and notice. Notice breathing in, and notice breathing out. Try it. It is the noticing that is important. Notice how it feels to take a deep breath. Notice how your body feels and let things go as you breath out. Notice yourself breathing.


The goal is also simple - to bring yourself to the present moment by connecting to your body, to yourself, right now. However, your job in meditation isn't to do anything or make yourself come to the present moment. You aren't paddling toward a goal. There is no forcing or pushing. Your job is simply to notice as you allow your breaths to deepen.


Why would you want to connect to yourself or be present? There's plenty of neurobiological research about this, and several healing perspectives, also based in research and experience, over time. However, in keeping things simple, it's important to note that by taking these 3-5 deep breaths, you simply feel better for a moment. After those 3-5 intentional breaths what did you notice? Did you notice your mind slow down a notch? Did you notice where there is tension in your body? Did you notice the sounds around you more clearly? There is no right thing to notice. It is just the simple fact that you slowed down and noticed that matters.



Under the Influence

The next thing to understand is that after taking those deep breaths (vs prior to taking them) you were under different influences. Hear me out. When you are rushing, pushing, holding your breath and going, working and not noticing things, you are going to make movements with your body and have a certain mental focus. When you have just finished meditating, really just those 3-5 deep breaths for this example, you will move and think in a slightly different way. I will call that being a little more calm with a little more presence. The question to ask yourself then becomes, "What influence do I want to be under when I make decisions and move through my day?"


When you make a decision about anything - what to eat for lunch, or whether to have an apple vs a candy bar for a snack, or whether to go exercise after work vs going out for a drink with friends, or to stay at your job or take a new job - no matter the decision, would you prefer to be under the influence of stress and less focus, or would you prefer to be under the influence of calm and mental clarity? I think most people would say the latter. The issue then becomes taking the time. How much time did it take you to breath deep 3-5 times? Maybe a couple of minutes real time? Could you afford 2 minutes a few times a day? I bet you could. You just have to remind yourself that you will be under a different influence when you pick up your children or call your significant other, if you meditate first, or as in this example, take these 3-5 deep breaths.



Expanding Your Meditation Practice

Now, let's say you are convinced that you want to feel better and be under the best influence possible, as much as possible throughout your day. Deep, intentional breaths are a good place to start, and finish, for that matter. However, below are some more expansive ideas for you to consider, as you move toward growing your meditation practice. Remember though, that meditation is allowing and noticing. It is never pushing or doing.


Mentioned by Ruth King in her book Mindful of Race, is something she did in conjunction with starting her kindness practice - 5 minutes of meditation 5 times a week. However you choose to bring meditation into your life, it is more important to be consistent than how long you sit still. One idea is sitting up in a chair, after morning coffee, exercise, and/or shower. Sit still for 5 minutes, noticing. You could focus on your breath, as I like to do, or focus on the sound of the fan blowing. Some focus on a mantra or musical note in the background. No matter what you focus on, the idea is to notice thoughts, feelings and impulses, and let them move around you or through you. They are not going away, but you become less attached to them in that moment. You get better at observing, without judgement. Once you notice that you have stayed with a thought and forgot you were meditating, congratulate yourself for noticing, and come back to the present by letting go of that thought and refocus on your breath (or fan or whatever) once again, until time is up. In this scenario, setting a timer is helpful, so you don't keep checking the time.


There is also something known as walking meditation or movement meditation. If you have a hard time taking deep breaths or sitting still, movement could be helpful for you. Movement naturally causes us to take deeper breaths. A brisk walk around the block or to the end of the street (4-5 minutes) each morning or evening, with the intention of focusing on your breath, can have the same result as sitting still. In this case, no timer is needed. You can focus on your breath and movement and think less about when you will be done. That is because you will naturally know you're done when you arrive at your home, hopefully being able to notice it in a new way, each time you try this.


Often people who "get into the zone" while jogging, riding a bike, shooting baskets, or doing some other repetitive movement on their own, report a similar ability to notice without attachment, move with less effort, and breath deeper with more ease. Sometimes this takes 15 or 20 minutes before the person is in this so called zone, but by the end of the time put toward this movement, the person is relaxed, relieved, less stressed with less on their mind, or less attached to the outcome of things that really don't matter that much to them in hind site. If your partner or roommate says "they have to go running" before they can calm down, now you might understand better, that this is their way to connect to themselves and to the present - meditation in motion - even if they don't know that is what they are doing.


Finally, meditation can be done sitting, in a yoga pose, moving or still, outside or inside, on a chair, on the floor, on a tree stump, or on the top of a mountain. It can be done in 3 minutes or 30. As mentioned already, what is important isn't these aforementioned things. Do what works for you to reconnect to yourself and become present. Here are the things to remember with meditation:

1) Consistency - doing this every morning or every Mon, Wed, Fri before bed, or whatever works for you, but keep it consistent.

2) There's no judgement or concern for being right or best at anything.

3) There is nothing to do (one reason you can't be best at it). In fact, what you are doing, is no-thing, nothing, except noticing.

4) You aren't sitting down to clear your mind to solve a problem or get an insight or see God or see auras. You may be able to do any of those things or other things when you are under the calmest, most present influence, who knows! Your goal though is to just be an observer of yourself for a moment in time and notice what you notice.


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If you enjoyed this blog or found this information useful, look for next months blog when meditation is compared to visualization and guided imagery.





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