How to meditate

Meditation: What is it, and how can you do it?

By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Meditation is a simple process of paying attention to your breathing, and letting your thoughts settle down and letting your mind become peaceful.  It’s about ‘being in the present moment’, relaxed, and with bare awareness to your immediately present environment

Sitting-meditation

      

  • Meditation is best performed each morning for 10 to 15 minutes. 20 minutes would be even better.
  • You don’t have to have a special meditation posture (but it can help you to get you into the mood).

Therapeutic, non-religious meditation, involves focusing the mind on some thing (external object, or internal sensation) so our thoughts slow down, in time with our breathing. 

Imagine you and I have a pond in our minds, with lots of silt and debris at the bottom.  Our normal daily routines churn up the silt and debris, and this clouds our mind and our vision, and produces stress and strain, and unhappiness, and poor perspective on life.  We often become humourless and constantly worried.  Meditation is a process for allowing all the silt and debris to settle down to the bottom of our mind-pond, to restore clarity of vision/perspective, to restore happiness and contentment, and to allow our natural happiness to return.

Simply sitting in one place, quietly counting your breaths, in and out, as they happen, is an amazingly beneficial exercise.  This helps your brain, your blood pressure level, your nervous system, your level of physical and mental energy; and it strengthens your immune system, and improves your sense of composure.

# You will find some recommended books and articles, here…

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

Scientific Verification 

Science Daily recently reported that: “Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks”.

The ScienceDaily report, (Jan. 21, 2011), says: — “Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter”.  (See the Britta K. Hölzel et al reference, below).

There are also lots of other reports on the internet on the efficacy of meditation, but this is the first to be able to scientifically link those changes to brain structure changes.  We can now definitively say that meditation is not just a palliative, not just a cognitive distraction.  It changes the brain-mind for the better!

Why is meditation so good? It reconnects you to the real world – grounds you in reality – and enables you to slowly separate your wishes, thoughts and fantasies from what is actually going on around you.  Regular practice also produces long-term changes in sympathetic nervous system activity”, and “quiets down the nervous system”. (Source: Veterans show a 50 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms after 8 weeks of Transcendental Meditation).

You reconnect with yourself as a physical and emotional being. You learn to calmly watch your mind and its endless activities, and not get pulled into ‘working on the past’, or emotional fortune-telling and worrying about future events (which haven’t happened yet).

If you are very tense and stressed, and cannot imagine what a wonderful state of relaxation would feel like, then try watching this little 3-minute video clip, which is designed to relax you.  It operates differently than meditation, except that they both focus on getting you to reduce and eliminate unnecessary thought.  Try this video clip now:

Our brains are bombarded with information all the time from our social environment and the media. We need time to absorb, digest and sift through all this information in order to sort out the food from the toxic garbage. And all that is done effortlessly by our brain if we give it the time and space to do its job.

There are very many physical and psychological benefits to the daily practice of meditation.  This has now been confirmed in a small but growing number of scientific research studies in the East and the West.  And western science has become more an more interested in the benefits of meditation, and of Buddhist philosopphy, as potential new aspects of the psychology of wellbeing.  You can find this evidence on the internet by conducting your own searches.  Try searching these key words: “research on meditation”; “science and meditation”; “meditation and stress”. Or take a look at the sources listed in the references below as your starting point.

When we don’t take the time to relax, and provide the mental space for information processing (which is maximized by the process of meditation) we experience a buildup of stress. We toss and turn in our beds, trying to deal with problems, creating others, never giving our brain a break, and sleeping fitfully and lightly.

# You will find some recommended books and articles, here…

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

Did you know that when we meditate, it is the only time our brains truly rest?  They don’t rest when we are sleeping, which is why a short meditation can be the equivalent of several hours sleep. It also reduces the production of cortisol (which is one of the major stress hormones).

The Buddha taught the technique of focusing your awareness on your breathing, while sitting in an alert posture.  You can count your breaths in and out (counting 1 and 2), then in and out again (counting 3 and 4), and then start again.  Try to feel the in breath moving upwards through your nostrils.  And expand your belly when you breathe in, instead of lifting your rib cage.  Always breathe from your belly, like a baby does, and if it helps you, put the palm of one hand flat on top of your belly, and feel it move up and down as you breathe.

Here’s a little video clip in which I (Jim Byrne) talk about my own history of meditation use, how I got involved, and how I practice it:

 

Meditation is very simple, but also very effective. 

First: the location/setup.  You can either sit on a cushion on the floor, with your legs crossed; or you can sit in an armchair, with your back straight.  Try resting one hand on the other, in your lap, and allow your thumbs to lightly touch each other.  Make sure there are no distracting, avoidable noises, in your environment, such as radio, TV, etc.  (Normal ‘noises off’ can help the meditation, if you just let them come and go).  Let your eyelids droop and focus your eyes downwards and straight ahead.

Second: the process.  One approach is to count ‘One‘ on the first in breath, and ‘And’ on the out breath.  Then count ‘Two‘ on the second in breath, and ‘And’ on the out breath.  (Count silently in your mind).  Then ‘Three’ on the next in breath.. All the way up to ‘Four’… ‘And’.  Then back to ‘One’ again.  Try to sit quietly for about fifteen or twenty minutes, preferably every morning.  Don’t try to forcefully stop yourself thinking – just gently return your attention to your breathing, and counting your breaths again, if you lose track.  Try to focus all your attention on your breathing, your expanding and contracting belly, and the counting of the breaths.

# You will find some recommended books and articles, here…

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

To get a sense of what meditation might be like for you, try this exercise.  Click the arrow on the next video screen once, and then watch the video images of nature while listening to soothing music flute music and water flowing.  At the same time, practice counting your breaths in (silently saying the number ‘1’ in your mind), out (saying ‘and’), in (saying: 2), out (and), in (3), out (and), in (4), out (and); and back to: in (1)…all over again.

The point is that your mind will wander – that is in the nature of ‘monkey mind’.  And so your job is to keep bringing it back to a point of concentration, and to keep reminding yourself to breathe, and to pay attention to your counting.  As time goes by, you will get better and better at concentrating, but in the beginning you mind is bound to wander.

Once you have the knack of counting your breaths, do it without the video clip.  Focus your attention on something simple and still, in front of you, like I use my bedroom slippers (see my video clip above).

If you find this hard to do, try Glenn Harrold’s ‘Meditation for Relaxation’ audio program.

Or, try attending a meditation class for a while, until you know how to do it on your own.  Then do it at home for the rest of your life.  It will keep you happy, un-depressed, and de-stressed.  It will also help to keep you looking and feeling youthful.

Don’t be too influenced by the views of others on meditation.  It is a practice that is easy for other people to make fun of.  That is their loss!  The Buddha suggested that the best way to experience the value of meditation (and everything else in life) was to: “Find out for yourself”.

# You will find some recommended books and articles, here…

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

In our (Renata’s and Jim’s) own personal experience, regular daily meditation will not only improve your physical and mental well-being, it will also improve your efficiency and effectiveness, including your concentration ability.  You will find problems much easier to handle and resolve.  This is well summed up in the following words by Eckhart Tolle: “Obstacles come all the time. If you get upset that means the ego is back. When obstacles come if you’re not upset and you’re still present, you will look at whatever the obstacle is with a penetrating gaze of presence, which is stillness also. You look at whatever obstacle arises, you bring this penetrating stillness to it, and that is like a light that shines on it and dissolves the obstacle or shows you a way around it. That’s the power of consciousness.”

Remember that to feel the full benefits of meditation, you need to develop the habit of doing it every day.

As you build up a daily habit of meditation, you will find that the stillness that existed during your meditation will tend to stay with you throughout the day, and help to calm you in stressful situations.

If you find it hard to get started, begin with just five minutes per day, and gradually build up to 10, 15, 20 minutes.

~~~

# You will find some recommended books and articles, here…

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

~~~ 

Recommended reading:

Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

Brain Longevity, by Dr Dharma Singh Khalsa, with Cameron Stauth (1997), London: Century. (Pages 301-319).

Zen Made Easy, by Timothy Freke, Godsfield Press, 1999. (Pages 62-70).

Watts, A. (1962/1990) The Way of Zen. London: Arkana/Penguin. (Pages 174-179).

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryo Suzuki. Random House, 2006.

Everyday Zen, by Charlotte Joko Beck, London: Thorsons, 1999.

‘Free your mind’, an article from the Sunday Times Magazine, is available here.***

Website: http://www.getsomeheadspace.com/

Meditation, a definition, at Wikipedia. 

How to meditate, a website with text and video clips.

How to meditate, a Youtube video clip, is available here.

On ‘the present moment’, a Youtube video clip, by Eckart Tolle.

Science Daily, (2011) Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structures in eight weeks.  Available online at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110121144007.htm.  Accessed: 8th February 2011.

~~~