Meditation is not what you think.
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
There is a lot of "buzz" around meditation these days, like it's "hip" to meditate--but what does it actually mean to meditate? One thing is for sure, it's not what you think. Meditation does not mean sitting in lotus in front of an altar of candles with Buddha statues and crystals. It can simply be setting aside time in your morning and/or night to not to think! Personally when I meditate, I sleep better at night and function better througout the day.
According to Wikipedia, Meditation is a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.
For some, meditation (or prayer) takes on a more spiritual connection with God or “source” as an “effort to realize and express that pure consciousness which is the reflection, or image, of God within you.” ~Parmahansa Yogananda
While for others, meditation is just plain impossible. It is for the “others” that I write this piece. If visualizing a light flowing around your body, using the power of positive thought, repeating a mantra or even prayer all seem a bit out of reach for you, then read on. I'm here to suggest meditation is not what you think, it's how you breathe!
Mindfulness, Yoga Meditation (any type), Vipassana, Mantra, Taoist, Qigong, if you’ve ever tried these or any form of meditation you know, it ain’t easy. Like anything worth doing, meditation takes practice and consistency and unless you know how to do it, meditation also takes guidance. Guidance can come in many forms. There are audio recordings with people like Deepak Chopra and Jack Canfield and Apps like Headspace and websites like Relax Like A Boss to talk you through it. There are places you can go like Unplug and Self Realization Fellowship for classes and workshops. For some people sitting still to meditate is really hard. For these folks cardio exercise such as running, biking, swimming and/or practicing yoga asanas serve as their “moving meditation”. The physical practice of yoga evolved over the years to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. But the real importance lies in the way the asanas train and discipline the mind. If it weren't for the physical practice of yoga most of us Westerners would never even begin to realize the possibilites of meditation.
There is no one right or wrong way to meditate, but one thing I have noticed is, no matter what form you practice, breathwork is key. From a scientific stand point it makes sense. When we breathe deeply and consciously our bodies receive more oxygen (inhale) and release more carbon dioxide (exhale). Oxygen is loaded onto the red blood cells while carbon dioxide is unloaded from them into the air. The oxygenated blood then flows through our veins to the heart where it pumps all the oxygen goodness in the blood throughout the body. The more oxygenated our body and brain are, the less they have to work, and as a result our restless bodies and minds get to sloooow down.
I began doing breathwork at a young age when my drama teacher, also a Yogi, started and ended the class with breath exercises. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the immense benefits of these exercises. Now I practice breathwork or pranayama (prana=breath, life, energy) both in my practice of yoga as well in my every day. While sitting in traffic, soothing my daughter, calming myself (while sitting in traffic with my daughter) and while drifting off to sleep, breathing consciously helps me feel peaceful and relaxed. As with meditation, there are several different breath techniques to choose from. With so many available, I thought I’d highlight three of my favorites.
To watch a video on the three techniques discussed, click here!
(Or as I like to say, 5/5/5)
The idea is that the inhalation and exhalation are equal parts including holding the breath at the top for the same count. With the goal being 20 seconds for each equal part, a more realistic count is 5 seconds. Depending on when you use this breath, the exhale can be with an open mouth to release carbon dioxide or with a closed mouth (as in Ujjayi Breathing) for control and a front lobe cleansing. With each round of breathing watch the breath flow in, hold and out. With every inhale fill the belly with air, expand the rib cage to the top of the lungs, hold and with every exhale release the breath from the chest down to the belly pressing all the air out. Repeat several times until you begin to feel a calm wash over the body.
Double Inhalation/ Exhalation
The idea behind this practice is tension and release. When our bodies are tense it is nearly impossible to sit quietly. Take two deep breathes through the nose filling the belly with air, expand the chest and tense every muscle in your body. Hold the breathe at the top and feel the vibration the body makes as it holds the breath and muscles tight. Then, on a double exhalation, release the breath through the mouth with an audible, “hah, haaah” and relax all the muscles in the body. Notice as you inhale any areas of tension you may be holding unecessarily in your body, and pay close attention when you exhale to release them. Repeat several rounds and on your final round hold the breath at the bottom of the exhale for as long as you can and notice the stillness come over you.
Ujjayi breathing is a breath technique employed in a variety of Taoist and Yoga practices. In relation to Yoga, it is sometimes called "the ocean breath" because of the sound it makes as the breath rushes across the back of the throat. Unlike some other forms of pranayama the inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. The ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice which helps to guide smooth transitions and steady the poses. Similar to the other pranayama, the inhale fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, which as a result each breath strengthens the core making it a mini ab exercise!
If you are still not convinced that there is a place for meditation consider this. A meditation practice can be very simple. It could be something like, every night before bed, do a body scan, relax each muscle in the body while taking a few breaths. Every morning, get out of bed, set a timer for 20 minutes (even 5 minutes to start), sit quietly, breathe and just do nothing. Believe it or not, but some of my clearest, best thoughts emerge from this time in my day when I commit to do nothing. If you are at all stressed, lacking sleep, feeling overworked, living with aches and pains or seeking peace in your life, what do you have to lose? Meditation, it's not what you think...