Even with an early introduction to meditation, it hasn’t been easy for me to develop the habit of meditation. I have had to work diligently at building the habit. Sometimes, I still struggle with integrating it into my life.
But, this habit has transformed my life in so many ways. It has helped me overcome anxiety, deal with stress and helped me become aware of a higher wisdom.
I can still recall my very first meditation practice. It took place in a sun-dappled classroom on the 2nd floor of my school building just after I had turned 11.
This classroom was unlike all the other rooms in the school. While the rest were utilitarian, this one had an organic look and feel. The rough walls, terra cotta floor and thatched roof with shards of light streaming in, beckoned us to leave blackboards and curriculum behind. This room one felt had little to do with grades and everything to do with exploring the undefined.
On that day, our usual P.E. teacher, Mr. Simon was away. A substitute teacher was seated on the floor when we entered. The teacher asked us to leave our shoes at the entrance and join her on the floor. I carefully sat down tucking my navy blue uniform skirt around my knees and looked up at the teacher with curiosity and mild irritation (the floor was dusty!).
What had happened to our typical Tuesday P.E. hour (not that I minded missing it!)? What kind of a class was this?
The teacher introduced herself and walked around the room gently correcting students’ posture. Her style, her very presence were poles apart from Mr. Simon.
She began to instruct us on the ancient Indian art of dhyana or meditation. We were introduced to a form of meditation called Trataka.
Trataka is also known as gazing meditation. This exercise demanded that we concentrate on a single object without allowing our mind or eyes to wander. Even though it was an intense exercise, Trataka presented an unusual challenge I found refreshing.
Back in those days I detested exercise. The unrelenting humid heat of my hometown was just one excuse that kept me from committing to physical fitness.
Meditation, even Trataka was a welcome change. Over time I came to appreciate that yoga and meditation were fundamental practices in leading a healthy lifestyle.
Since that first taste of meditation through Trataka, whenever I have craved mental clarity, I have turned to meditation.
Alas, my practice has not been consistent, continuous or committed. Yet, I have persevered even when I have found it to be demanding. I have overcome physical restlessness, and at times have been successful in turning of incessant chatter in my mind. This has helped me in both my career and my personal life.
Before I tell you about the benefits of meditation, I must bust a few myths about meditation.
Even I have been skeptical about the value of this practice at times. Confronting these myths might help you stop making excuses and start exploring all the possibilities that meditation offers.
Myths about meditation
Although meditation has been accepted by the Western world, a few misconceptions persist. Here are a few common myths about meditation.
Myth #1: Meditation is mumbo jumbo
Although the origins of meditation date back to Vedic age in Ancient India (1500 to 1000 BC), many branches of science such as neuroscience and psychology have proven the benefits of meditation. It is most assuredly not mumbo jumbo.
Myth #2: Meditation is for “spirit junkies” and religious nuts
Meditation can benefit anyone who is dealing with stress and tension. It can help anyone who wants to improve their focus and their overall quality of life. It is for people of all religious affiliations. The practice in itself is secular.
Myth #3: You have to be old, in shape or whatever to practice meditation
There are no prerequisites to meditation. No matter what your age is or how physically fit you are, you can develop the habit of meditation.
Myth #4: Meditation is difficult
On the contrary, it is easy and effortless to form this habit. Even meditating for just 5 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in your life.
Myth #5: You need special tools and lots of time to meditate
You don’t need to purchase fancy attire, pay large sums of money to a gym or block a chunk of time to practice. It takes minimal effort to build this habit.
Myth #6: I have stay still for hours on end to meditate
It is true that conventional meditation is done in a sitting posture. But there are many unconventional ways to exercise mindfulness and reap the same benefits. I myself prefer these unconventional ways because they elevate the level of joy I feel while I meditate. I discuss these methods in my next article.
Myth #7: Meditation is a serious practice
Meditation sounds like a serious practice, but it really isn’t! There is a mistaken belief that it requires great levels of concentration. In fact, concentration is a result of meditation.
Meditation is about relaxation. Whether you choose to focus on your breath (described below) or on an object (as in Trataka), meditation forces you to break away from your ever present thoughts. It releases your mind from worries and stress.
What a liberating feeling! It is like walking outdoors into a cool breeze after being trapped in a stifling room.
Meditation creates space for peace and joy in your life; resulting in a fountain of tranquility that you can draw upon when you most need it.
Be sure to try the unconventional methods I discuss in my next article, they are more fun to practice!
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The Benefits of Meditation
Our Monkey Mind
The human mind is the seat of the soul. The capacity to think, plan and decide is uniquely human and emerges from the brilliant mind. However, it is this very capacity that mires us in the problems of this world creating misery and unhappiness.
Yet, our mind is also an instrument for self-elevation. It is the very tool that can emancipate us from the bondages of this material world.
When the mind flows towards fear and anxiety, it becomes the cause of our downfall and unhappiness. When the mind soars towards higher goals, it becomes an unsurpassed instrument for developing intelligence, knowledge and liberation.
Buddha described the human mind as being filled with thoughts that are akin to monkeys, jumping from branch to branch, screeching and chattering in endless chaos. We all have monkey minds, with many monkeys clamoring for attention simultaneously.
Anxiety and fear in particular are loud monkeys, hounding us with everything that could go awry in our life. It is no wonder, we struggle to find peace!
Why Meditation Works
Meditation is a sedative that soothes the loud monkeys. Spending time in quiet meditation, focusing on breathing or chanting a simple mantra, are a few ways to tame the monkeys.
When the monkeys are subdued, the tumultuous voices of negative emotions subside. Mental whitespace opens up bringing to forefront positive thoughts and emotions.
Meditation has been proven to impact health in positive ways by regulating metabolism and key system functions. It has also been shown to improve brain performance and enhance creativity.
When you take the time to meditate, you will begin to hear the quieter thoughts that reside in the recesses of your mind — the thoughts that remind you that you are enough, you are capable and you have all the answers within if only you would listen.
But, the benefits of meditation can’t be explained they must be experienced.
If you have any doubts about whether meditation really works, try this 5 minute practice.
How To Develop The Habit Of Meditation
There are many ways to meditate. There are both conventional and unconventional ways of meditating. Some forms of meditation are even done in a group setting.
Here I share a few tips for beginners and returning practitioners.
Commit to 5 minutes per day
Developing a new habit can be a daunting prospect. Start by committing 5 minutes per day. It takes 5 minutes to drink a cup of coffee. If you are reluctant to meditate, remind yourself that you only need to commit, as much time it would take for me to consume a cup of coffee.
Set aside a time
Pick a time that works for you. 5 minutes after your first cup of coffee (or tea or hot cocoa) is just as good a time as any.
Comfort is important. Loose clothing such as sweatpants or yoga pants will make you feel more comfortable. PJs are perfectly acceptable.
Designate a space
Find a quiet space in your house, school or workplace where you won’t be disturbed for those 5 minutes. I prefer a place with no visual clutter and no distractions such as my home office.
Set the mood
Surround yourself with aids that will help you relax. You may want to add a photo or a mantra (chant) to your space. Choose music that induces serenity. You can light a candle or an incense stick. These are not essential but are easy ways to set the mood.
Take a seat
Traditionally meditation is done sitting Indian style with your legs crossed. I like to sit down cross-legged with my spine straight and my hands resting over my knees (as shown in the picture). I find that an erect posture helps me stay still thereby allowing me slip easily into meditation. I prefer to sit on a yoga mat or a yoga blanket, but you don’t need one. You can choose to lean against a wall or sit on a cushion.
Bring mindfulness to your breath
Once seated, begin to focus on your breath. Breathe naturally for a few moments, pay attention to the quality of your breath. Gradually begin to deepen your breathing.
Draw the breath in through your nose; inhale deeply into your lungs and abdomen. Breathe out contracting your abdomen; imagine that you are emptying your lungs. Allow your breathing to settle into a cadence – breathe in, breathe out.
Feel free to count or if you find counting to be a chore, let music set the rhythm. Your eyes can remain open or closed. If you find your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath. With every breath, imagine that you are sending love and peace to every part of your body riding on a wave of oxygen.
End your meditation by offering gratitude
At the end of 5 minutes, slowly bring your attention back to your physical surroundings. Become aware of how your body feels. You should feel more relaxed, even rejuvenated.
I like to conclude each session by offering up my gratitude to the greater consciousness. I acknowledge my gratitude for the time, the breath and for the clarity through the incantation “Namaste”. Namaste is a Sanskrit word with profound meaning.
Namaste – “I honor the place in you where Spirit lives. I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Truth, of Light, and of Peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, then we are One.”
Renew your commitment
At the end of each practice, recommit to meditating at the same time next day. Return to your meditation space and time; resume your practice 5 minutes at a time.
Expand your habit of meditation
Once you have settled into a daily practice of meditating for 5 minutes, try to extend the practice to longer periods of time.
Add a second 5 minute practice at an alternate time. Begin and end your day in contemplative meditation.
View your practice not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to tap into a deep well of spirituality whenever you yearn for it. Let the mindfulness that you bring to your meditation, overflow into all other areas of your life.
Maintain a meditation journal. Use your journal to capture thoughts and emotions after each meditation session. You could even journal your feelings before a session to contrast with the transformation after your practice. A meditation journal can increase awareness of your internal struggles, your experiences and even motivate you to set goals to further your practice.
Your meditation time is your own. Allow neither thoughts nor worries to intrude upon this sacred space. Through meditative breathing clear your mental clutter and build greater self-awareness.
Know that your meditation practice is always there to bring you back to center, to uplift you and to help you realize your own power. Whenever you need it, it takes but a few minutes to find the place inside yourself from which you can draw strength and calm.
Tune into the wisdom of the greater consciousness to unravel your life’s purpose. Trust that the universe is working for your benefit.