Feeding mind and spirit with meditation
Sunita Passi discusses how meditation can help restore balance in an age where people are time poor and high stress levels are rife.
In today’s fast paced world, engaging in a meaningful relationship with your own mind and training it to perform optimally yields a multitude of health benefits for the body and soul. More people are recognising that as part of their well-being programme, they want a deeper experience that will help disconnect and recharge their mind, in addition to their body.
While different forms of meditation are practised worldwide, the roots are most closely associated with the temples, caves and monasteries of the East (India, China, Japan) and Near East (now the Middle East). The techniques were refined by Asian monks and yogis, and then filtered to the layperson. Meditation also appears, though less conspicuously and in a slightly different form, in the Judeo-Christian tradition as prayer. The differences appear to lie more with the goals, purposes and styles. And though meditation involves a shift from thinking and doing, to just simply ‘being’, our forbears had the advantage of their lives being simpler, their thinking more rudimentary and their connection to nature and the sacred far stronger.
‘Meditation is a natural state, as is walking, dreaming and deep sleep. The mind will naturally go into meditation, given the proper conditioners.’ Swami Saradananda, meditation teacher
Meditation is a mental and physical process that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. The practice helps us to see the patterns of the mind more clearly and teaches us to stay in the present moment, not looking to the past or future.
Meditation seeks to open what is closed in us, balance what is reactive, and explore what is hidden. Often, our senses and bodies are closed. Time lost in thought, judgement, fantasy and daydreams means we do not pay careful attention to the direct experience of sight, sound, smell, taste and other sensations in the body.
When our attention is scattered, perceptions become clouded. As meditation strengthens awareness and concentration, we spend less time lost in thought and gain greater sensitivity and refinement in our sense impressions.
As we go deeper into ourselves through meditation, our body begins to open up and energy flow improves. By directing our awareness inward, we experience clearly and intimately any accumulated emotional tensions, knots and holdings.
A state of consciousness
Meditation is a state of consciousness, similar to being awake, asleep and dreaming. When you are awake, you are thinking and reasoning, your eyes and ears are functioning, and you are aware of the sensations being experienced by your physical body.
During deep sleep, you will have no awareness of external experience. You are not aware of room temperature nor are you mindful of how comfortable your bed is.
In between the waking state and deep sleep is the dream state. Most of us dream every night, although many do not remember their dreams when they wake.
Meditation is not only a state of consciousness, but an enlightening experience; while sleep is not. Sleep is essential to rest and recharge the body, while meditation is not. Meditation is a universal experience that changes the nature of your mind, your attitudes toward life and your level of awareness.
It is in the meditative state that the mind can transcend itself to give a higher experience. But before attaining these higher states, which may take much practice, simple meditation techniques practiced regularly cultivate stability, strength, clarity and openness.
The different types of meditation techniques include:
- Repetition of a meaningful word or phrase, known as a mantra;
- Mindful awareness of the present moment;
- Following or counting your breath;
- Paying attention to the flow of sensations in your body;
- Cultivation of loving kindness, compassion, forgiveness and other healing emotions;
- Concentration on a geometric shape or other simple visual object;
- Visualisation of a peaceful place or a healing energy or entity;
- Reading and reflecting upon inspirational or sacred writings;
- Gazing at a picture of a holy being or saint;
- Contemplation of nature;
- Chanting praises to the divine; and
Benefits of meditation
On the out-set, you may feel:
- More relaxed;
- Less stressed;
- Personal inner space; and
- Internal harmony at a deep level.
Over time, with commitment and effort you may feel:
- A freeing of negative emotions;
- Increased awareness;
- More brain energy, leading to a reservoir of knowledge;
- More receptive to new ideas;
- A tingling sensation caused by increased energy flow;
- Peace and contentment;
- A growth of nobler goals to achieve in life;
- A new vision for your life; and
- An awakening of joy, hence a development of your natural capacity for well-being and happiness.
When is meditation right for your client?
Research has shown meditation has a multitude of health benefits, which make it a useful practice for therapists and clients who want to:
- Deal with stress, anxiety, tension, depression or even a medical problem such as insomnia or hypertension
NICE have recommended mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the treatment of recurrent depression.1 Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may help reduce depression, stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,2,3 with significant improvements seen in the long-term.3
Transcendental meditation, a specific form of mantra meditation, was shown to potentially help improve immune function.4 Low pain sensitivity has been associated with people who practiced zen meditation long-term, suggesting meditation may reduce sensitivity to pain.5
Transcendental meditation helped to reduce stress, depression, and burnout among staff at a residential school for students with severe behavioural problems.6
Pranic meditation helped to improve the mental health and quality of life of breast cancer survivors.7
- Pursue a more balanced lifestyle, in order to sustain inner well-being and / or are they looking for help with self-regulation
Meditation can help increase positivity, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behaviour.2,8
- Free up their imagination and become more creative
Meditation helps improve attention, information processing, decision making and memory formation.9
Self help exercises
‘The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life’ Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan Dzogchen lama of the Nyingma tradition
It takes practise to calm the mind and constant noise we hear daily, but in time we can reach a state of heightened awareness and inner peace through meditation.
Before carrying out these simple meditation exercises at home, or suggesting these to clients, the following optimum conditions will enhance the experience:
- A relatively quiet space free from disturbances, such as the telephone;
- Focusing on nature before meditating;
- Meditating before meals – the metabolism of eating will interfere with the resting metabolism of meditation and create more mental activity; and
- Having the ‘intention’ to meditate.
Focus on the root chakra, a subtle energy vibration at the base of the spine, with the sound ‘o’ (rhymes with ‘so’). Repeat this sound silently or audibly three times.
- Stand with feet about hip-width apart, arms by your side or extended out in front, palms down, eyes closed or downcast.
- Exhale and gently bend your knees a few inches, inhale and straighten the knees.
- Continue slowly bending and straightening your legs in co-ordination with your long, slow, deep breaths.
- Each time you bend and straighten your legs, feel yourself becoming more grounded. Surrender to the support of Mother Earth.
- Continue for one to three minutes.
- When complete, remain standing, or if you prefer, slowly lower yourself to a comfortable seated position.
- Close or lower your eyes and focus on the following thoughts: ‘I am grounded and balanced; I am safe and secure’.
Breathe into being
- Sit/relax comfortably with your eyes closed, breathing deeply.
- Inhale and exhale a few times.
- Breathe naturally while you focus on the following idea: breath is a deep well into which we can tap, drawing forth whatever we need to bring ourselves into wholeness and balance.
- Settle into your body and ask yourself what brings wholeness and balance to your life.
- Wait for an image or idea to arise. Be still with that vision or thought for a while.
- Observe your breath.
- Breathe and allow your mind to flow freely.
- Start to become aware of the present moment as you finish. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.
To read two interviews with expert meditation practitioners, Art Giser and Dr Peter Fenwick, visit www.fht.org.uk/meditation
Sunita Passi is the founder of Tri-Dosha, an Ayurvedic massage training company and product house whose mission is to connect people to holistic wellness through Ayurvedic treatments, natural skincare and guided meditation events. Sunita also runs 1-2-1 retreats at her home in Nottingham as well in Europe with partner facilitators. Tri-Dosha – www.tri-dosha.co.uk. Sunita Passi – www.sunitapassi.com.
- NICE 2009. Treatment of third episode of recurrent depression.
- Song Y and Lindquist R (2014). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, stress and mindfulness in Korean nursing students, Nurse Education Today 2014 Jul 9. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2014.06.010. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25066651.
- Earley MD, Chesney MA, Frye J, Greene PA, Berman B and Kimbrough EJ (2014). Mindfulness intervention for child abuse survivors: A 2.5-Year Follow-Up, Clinical Psychology. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22102. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24844944.
- Infante JR, Peran F, Rayo JI, Serrano J, Domínguez ML, Lucia Garcia, Carmen Duranand Roldan A (2014). Levels of immune cells in transcendental meditation practitioners, International Journal of Yoga 7(2): 147-151. Source:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097901
- Grant JA, Courtemanche J, Duerden EG, Duncan GH and Rainville P (2010). Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditators, Emotion 10(1): 43-53. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141301.
- Elder C (2014). Effect of transcendental meditation on employee stress, depression, and burnout: a randomized controlled study, The Permanente Journal 18(1): 19–23. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951026.
- Castellar JI, Fernandes CA and Tosta CE (2014). Beneficial effects of pranic meditation on the mental health and quality of life of breast cancer survivors, Integrative Cancer Therapies 13(4): 341-350. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24906909.
- Luders E, Toga AW, Lepore N and Gaser C (2009). The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter, Neuroimage 45(3): 672-678. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184843.
- Jian Xu, Vik A, Groote IR, Lagopoulos J, Holen A, Ellingsen O, Håberg AK and Davanger S (2014). Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8: 86. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935386.