(The act of giving your attention to only one thing as a way of becoming calm and relaxed or as a religious activity)
A brief synopsis
I believe one of our greatest strengths is the power of our mind – with our mind we can turn imagination into physical reality –“everything real was once imagined” – we create our world, our life, our health our experience on this planet, through the power of our mind. Granted, life lives on around us in the form of situations and events that impact us and our life and it can seem that things or life is happening to us – and not through us and for us. This is where the power – and part of that power is clarity – of our mind comes into play – because through our mind we can choose how we see and experience these events that are happening – and we choose whether they are happening “to us”, through us or for us. We make choices in every moment, but we are mostly not aware that we do, we often think we are powerless to events and circumstances. Sure there are things that are out of our control, but how we experience these things is totally within our power.
However, what a lot of us are unaware of is that the mind needs to be trained because it is easily influenced by all these events and situations and is almost at the whim of our emotions and feelings and as a result it flits all over the place lacking focus, direction and clarity. It is ego centred and contracted by stressful thoughts and emotions. This is where meditation comes in – with the training of the mind – to slow down, to be still (it cannot stop thinking completely because it is the nature of the mind to think, but it can be trained on where to place its attention, on where to focus)….and this is what gives us clarity – the clarity to respond to life rather than reacting. Response allows for choice, whereas reaction is almost involuntary, as in kneejerk.
Through meditation we can gain the awareness that life happens through us, through the choices we make moment to moment, and it also happens for us as every moment can be a teaching and learning moment, allowing us the opportunities to expand and evolve, to gain deeper awareness of our self through our responses to situations and events, becoming wiser, calmer and more and more confident and accepting of ourself and others. Living from this awareness is very empowering – being aware that we are living our life consciously, that we are choosing our life (as opposed to doing that anyway but not being aware that we are, thereby making different choices and receiving different outcomes than we would have had we been aware of our power).
None of this is easy, nor is it complicated – it requires understanding and work and commitment, as does any skill – however, it is so important and powerful in determining the quality of our life and living, and through that, the quality of our interactions with others and the quality of energy we bring to our life and our world. Learning to train the brain and focus our attention is crucial to thriving and cultivating at peak performance in any endeavour.
Yogis have known all this for centuries and scientists are now proving this – that meditation is perhaps the most crucial instrument to harness the power of thought, cultivate more peace, clarity and happiness.
Psychotherapist Dr. Ron Alexander, author of Wise Mind, Open Mind, speaks about mind strength, or the resiliency, efficacy and emotional intelligence that arise as we begin the process of controlling the mind. Mind strength is one of the most empowering tools we can employ to impact and improve all aspects of life.
There are five major categories of brain waves, each corresponding to different activities. Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency, which activate different centres in the brain. Slower wavelengths result in more time between thoughts which allows more opportunity to skilfully choose which thoughts you invest in and what actions you take. Hence the importance of slowing the thoughts…so we can choose, respond to life.
Category 1 is the Gamma State: where the brain waves vibrate at 30 — 100Hz (hertz). This is the state of hyperactivity and active learning. Gamma state is the most opportune time to retain information. This is why educators often have audiences jumping up and down or dancing around — to increase the likelihood of permanent assimilation of information. If over stimulated, it can lead to anxiety.
Category 2 is the Beta State: (13 — 30Hz) Where we function for most of the day, Beta State is associated with the alert mind state of the prefrontal cortex. This is a state of the “working” or “thinking mind”: analytical, planning, assessing and categorizing.
Category 3 is the Alpha State: (9 — 13Hz) Brain waves start to slow down, coming out of the thinking mind. We feel more calm, peaceful and grounded….we are thinking at a considerably slower and calmer rate. We often find ourselves in an “alpha state” after a yoga class, a walk in the park, while singing, dancing, painting, sport, or during any activity that helps relax the body and mind. We are lucid, reflective, have a slightly diffused awareness. The hemispheres of the brain are more balanced (neural integration).
Category 4 is the Theta State: (4 — 8Hz) Here we are able to begin meditation. This is the point where the verbal/thinking mind transitions to the meditative/visual mind. We begin to move from the planning mind to a deeper state of awareness (often felt as drowsy but not sleepy), with stronger intuition, more capacity for wholeness and complicated problem solving. The Theta state is associated with visualization. It is also in the Theta state where the subconscious mind can be accessed. The shift from the thinking mind (the conscious mind) allows the subconscious mind to surface or be seen if you like.
Category 5 is the Delta State: (1—3 Hz) Monks who have been meditating for decades can reach this in an alert, wakened phase, but most of us reach this final state during deep, dreamless sleep.
How to begin to Meditate:
A simple meditation to use to begin the transition from Beta or Alpha to the Theta State is to focus on the breath. The mind follows the breath, so the breath and mind work in tandem, as the breath begins to lengthen, brain waves begin to slow down.
It is important if you can, to have a special spot that is just for your meditation – be that in your house or outside, and if possible meditate at roughly the same time each day. This is not essential, but it is conducive to training your conscious and subconscious mind, so it becomes easier for you and part of your daily routine. Sometimes it is not possible to meditate every day and this is ok – it is important to not put yourself under pressure as that will defeat the purpose. But the more regularly you meditate the more you will experience the benefits and the easier it will be, in fact in time, you won’t want to start your day without it.
To begin the meditation, make sure you won’t be disturbed, so take the phone off the hook or put your mobile on silent, let family members know that this is your time and that you don’t want to be disturbed for 20 minutes or however long you have set aside. Sit comfortably in your chair or wherever is comfortable for you with your shoulders low and relaxed and spine straight and long and feet flat on the floor if possible. It’s ok to lie down, but generally this will make it too easy for you to fall asleep and so you won’t get to experience your meditation. Of course, meditation can be used when you do want to go to sleep.
Place your hands mindfully on your lap, close your eyes, and begin to breathe slowly and deeply….and gradually notice the lengthening of the incoming and outgoing breath….be aware of your breathing as you feel yourself becoming more deeply relaxed…keep your attention on your breath and watch your breath as you breathe in and out…. Simply notice your breath flowing in and flowing out. Don’t try to change it in any way. Just notice.
Silently repeat the mantra: “Breathing In”…as you breathe in and….”Breathing Out”… as you breathe out.” As your mind begins to wander, draw it back to your breath…don’t fight this as the mind will wander…gently keep returning it back to your breath. Notice that as your breath begins to lengthen and fill your body, your mind begins to calm.
Consistency is key. Try to do this breath meditation first thing in the morning and/or at night. Be consistent with your meditation. Shorter meditations on a regular basis are more productive than long sessions every few weeks. Aim for 5 minutes a day and add 1 minute each week.
This is the beginning – and it is important to start this way, as I said earlier, the mind follows the breath – so we must learn to control our breathing, to breathe consciously first…to train our mind to do this. Going forward from this, involves a bit more learning, practise and understanding but this is the beginning and will provide a solid foundation for more advanced work.
Some practical benefits of Meditation
No matter what kind of job you have, be it a stay-at-home parent or out in the workforce, work places many demands on the body, mind, and spirit. You may sit at a desk all day, fielding multiple streams of information from emails, phone calls, texts, and other digital and human sources. Your work environment may be cramped and windowless, or you may be coping with emotional toxins emanating from a manager or co-worker. Perhaps you’re on your feet for hours at a time or you work with clients who are short-tempered and hard to please. Whether you work at home, from home or in a corporate high rise, meditation is something you can do for yourself to protect your mind-body balance, find calm amidst chaos, and tap into your own highest potential.
If you can breathe, you can learn to meditate. Here are a few examples where meditation can help you experience more fulfilment and happiness at work and in life.
Meditation reduces stress and burnout. When you meditate with regularity, instead of feeling at the mercy of your emotions and knee-jerk reactions, you’re able to respond to life’s challenges from a more balanced, centred perspective. In meditation, your body releases stress and reverses the effects of the flight-or-fight response – that ancient instinct we all have to either run from perceived danger or take it on in battle.
Intended as a short-term protection mechanism, fight or flight causes our body to speed up our heart rate, increase our blood sugar, suppress our immune system, reduce insulin production, pump out stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and reduce the blood supply to our digestive organs. All of these reactions happen so that our body can either run away as fast as it can – or stay to fight (sympathetic nervous system). Although few people reading this face daily threats to their bodily existence, many live in a prolonged state of fight or flight, generating stress in response to bad traffic, a funny look from the boss, or a disagreement. Regular meditation dissipates the chronic stress that contributes to stomach ulcers, heart disease, cancer, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and accelerated aging. The brain does not differentiate between life and death stress and everyday stresses – it sees it all as an emergency situation where we need all the stress hormones to get us through it. There are many compelling studies showing the power of meditation to relieve stress and promote inner calm.
Meditation helps create more harmonious relationships.
When you’re feeling balanced and centred, it is much easier to respond rather than react, to be present with a family member, friend, client or co-worker and really listen to what they are saying and what they may need. With regular meditation, you develop what is known as “the silent observer” – that wise part of yourself that is able to calmly and objectively observe a situation, notice when you are being triggered, and consciously choose how you want to respond. The ability to be present and aware is infinitely valuable in the workplace and every other area of your life as well.
Meditation promotes relaxation and restful sleep.
Many of us live in a state of chronic sleep deprivation, which makes it difficult for us to be our most balanced, creative, inspired selves in life or at work. In fact, lack of sleep and insomnia can make it difficult for us simply to stay awake. A regular meditation practice is extremely restful for the body and mind. In meditation, the brain starts producing more alpha waves, which are associated with deep relaxation. Meditation restores our body’s inner balance or homeostasis, which is the optimal state for healing and self-repair (parasympathetic nervous system).
Meditation enhances your brain’s ability to learn and regulate stress.
Whether you’re seeking a career change or want to become an expert in your field, or just want the live your best life, meditation will help you tap into your brain’s unimaginable powers to learn and adapt . . . to accomplish with more effortless ease.
While scientists used to believe that beyond a certain age, the brain couldn’t change or grow, we now know that brain has a quality known as plasticity, enabling it to grow new neurons and transform throughout our lives. Meditation is a powerful tool for awakening new neural connections and even transforming regions of the brain. Neural plasticity is the means by which we can change our thinking, learn new things, develop more positive thoughts and behaviours and change our life in amazingly positive ways.
For instance, a ground breaking study led by Massachusetts General Hospital found that participants who meditated for just eight weeks (an average of 27 minutes each day) experienced significant changes in their brain structure, including increased density in regions associated with memory, learning, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection- MRI images of participants’ brains also showed decreased density in the amygdala, which correlates with a reduction in stress and anxiety.
Meditation enhances creativity.
We have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day – and 75% of these are said to be negative – and many of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday, last week, and last year. The mind tends to get stuck in repetitive thought loops that squeeze out the possibility for new ideas and inspiration…so our life is on repeat most of the time…so we think it is too hard to change the direction of our life and we feel powerless.
Meditation is a powerful practice for going beyond habitual, conditioned thought patterns into a state of expanded awareness. This is the birthplace of all creativity. The mind is in an open, receptive state and is able to receive flashes of insight and fresh perspectives… the conscious thinking mind steps aside, giving us the ability to access our subconscious mind.
Meditation leads to more efficient meetings.
A recent study by the Kyoto Convention Bureau found that when people meditated for at least 10 minutes before a meeting, they were much better at focusing, listening, retaining information, and completing tasks. The next time you’re leading or attending a meeting, you may want to suggest just a few minutes of meditation for everyone to get centred and present. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just have people close their eyes and focus on their breath for a minute or two.
Meditation improves health and wellbeing.
When we’re feeling healthy and energetic, it is much easier to stay focused and meet the daily demands of our life, be that at home or work. Meditation is now recognized as a healing tool with numerous benefits for the mind-body system, particularly in reversing the unhealthy effects of stress. In the state of restful awareness created by meditation:
Blood pressure normalizes
Heart rate slows
Immune function improves
Oxygen is used more efficiently
Fewer stress hormones are produced, such as adrenaline, cortisol
More DHEA is produced
The pituitary gland releases more growth hormone (an anti-aging chemical)
Contrary to the common misconception, meditation doesn’t mean that you have to clear all thoughts from your mind. It’s simply about being in the present and focusing on whatever your object of attention is. It can be as simple as focusing on a mantra, which is a vibration or sound without meaning. Mantra is a Sanskrit word that means “vehicle of the mind,” and it takes your mind to a place of peaceful, restful awareness. So a Mantra could be “I am peaceful, calm and clear”, or “I am calm, focused and confident”, or simply mentally repeating “peace” as you slowly inhale and exhale.
This has been a synopsis on meditation, what it means, how to do it and what it does for us. There is so much more than can be said and put forward for your consideration – but as an introduction and beginning, I hope I have presented in a way that resonates with your heart the beauty and joy and endless possibilities, to which this amazing life tool and skill can lead us.
Wishing you a beauty-full journey of truth and love
At Ease Candid Health