Mindfulness Meditation - To Whom? Why? How?

 


 Dear readers,

today I am writing about mindfulness meditation. What it is? To Whom? And how to do it? Go with the flow and enjoy reading :)

Meditation practice is an investigation of who we are. It is the investigation of our bodies, our breath, of the sensations of subtle energies, of movement. It is the investigation of our minds: thought, emotion, the nature of awareness of consciousness itself. It is the investigation of silence. In meditation practice we explore all these aspects of ourselves.”

-Joseph Goldstein (1999,p.118)


At the core of the concept of mindfulness is the mindfulness meditation practice. Goldstein & Calistoga (2014) have written in their book “Mindfulness Made Simple: An Introduction To Finding Calm Through Mindfulness & Meditation” that mindfulness meditation offers a way to learn and practice mindfulness. In other words, mindfulness meditation is a particular practice, which goal is to become more aware, more connected to your body, breath, and mind in the present moment. It deals with the inner world. Bhante Gunaratana (1999), a Buddhist monk, has described the basic characteristics of mindfulness meditation. Firstly, nonjudgmental observation, which means that “one simply takes a balanced interest in things exactly as they are in their natural states” (p.135). Secondly, impartial watchfulness, which means that all experiences are taken equally. Thirdly, non conceptual awareness, which Gunaratana describes as an ability to observe everything as if it occurs for the first time. “It is not analysis, which is based on reflection and memory...It comes before thought in the perceptual process” (pp.135-136). A fourth characteristic is present-time awareness that focuses on being here and now. Non egoistic alertness is another characteristic, which means the practitioner does not identify with what is happening. Gunaratana states, “With mindfulness one sees all phenomena without references to concepts like ´me´, ´my´, or ´mine´ (p.136). Sixth is awareness of change, which is observing the passing flow experiences. Watching things moment by moment, continuously. Moreover noticing our own reactions to changes. The final characteristic is identified by Gunaratana as participatory observation. He writes that “the mediator is both participant and observer at the same time...It is wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living” (p.137). These characteristics describe what mindfulness meditation is. Therefore, Gunaratana (2011) states that “meditation is not easy. It takes time and energy. It also takes grit, determination, and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities that we normally regard as unpleasant and like to avoid whenever possible” (p.1). Moreover, he is calling meditation as a “Great Teacher”, which is the cleansing crucible fire that works slowly but surely, where the importance lies on understanding. He has written:

The greater your understanding, the more flexible and tolerant, the more compassionate you can be. You become like a perfect parent or an ideal teacher. You are ready to forgive and forget. You feel love toward others because you understand them, and you understand others because you have understood yourself. You have looked deeply inside and seen self-illusion and your own human failings, seen your own humanity and learned to forgive and to love. When you have learned compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic. An accomplished meditator has achieved a profound understanding of life, and he or she inevitably related to the world with a deep and uncritical love" (Gunaratana, 2011, p.9).

To put it simply, the mindfulness meditation is a form of a mental training, which gives an ability to understand what is happening in you and, around you, and within you. As Gunaratana (2011) has noted: “ it is a process of self-discovery, a participatory investigation in which you observe your own experiences while participating in them“ (p. 26). Therefore, Miller (2016), has shown concern for a lack of reflection on experience in mindfulness meditation. He has written that “mindfulness meditation allows us to see phenomena clearly as much as possible without distortion. Still there is need for reflection” (p.131). Self-reflection could allow for deeper understanding and analysis of experiences :)

TO WHOM?

Absolutely anyone can learn to meditate :) There are no barrieris...It doesn´t matter how old are you, what your physical ability is,what religion you follow...


WHY?

The benefits of a meditation are no secret. And I am truly happy that there is so much research available about the positive impact of meditation that it is has to our health and well-being. For example:

- increases immune function (see here)
- decreases pain (see here)
- increases positive emotions (see here)
- decreases depression (see here)
- decreases anxiety (see here)
- decreases stress (see here)
- increases volume in areas of emotion regulation, positive emotions & self-control ( see here)

These are just a few exmaples. Like anything worthwile, meditation requires practice. We are often so busy we feel there is no time to meditate. Also I personally felt that when I came back from India (5 years ago) that I just did not know how to integrate simple meditation practices into my everyday life. In India it was simple, we were everyday practising guided meditation in a peaceful environment. No one was interrupting and it was time for myself. I faced true challenges when being back in the normal environment... I had to re-learn how to use meditation practices in my everyday life. Being out of "safe zone". It took me some time, and I started with short meditation practices, where I practised meditation at least 5 -10min every morning, while focusing on my breathing. Also, I started to use meditation while walking, where I brought meditative experience into my activity. To put it simply, I focused in the present moment and observed the various components of the mechanical process of walking. In here it is important to note, that I have never been calm child, teenager or an adult. Over the years I realized that in a way I am hyperactive. I had lots of energy, got easily excited, could not sit still very long and had focusing challenges. Moreover I was easily distracted, my mind was all the time wandering somewhere and producing all kind of fruitful thoughts, which easily lead to anxiety. Yoga and mindfulness practices have truly improved my overall wellbeing. Moreover, simple practices have given me an ability to see and experience things as they are, while being nonjudgmental. Living in the present moment, without worrying so much what happens next. Also, I am using meditation in my yoga classes and mindfulness workshops (with kids/and adults). I always start class with the "Natural Breathing Excersise" and end of my class, I am introducing various meditation techniques (for ex. focused attention, monitoring meditation, mindfulness meditation, loving & kindness meditation, color meditation, gratitude excersises, body scan meditation etc.) Nowadays I am continuing my practices and I guess everyone, who know me notice some kind of positive changes :) Therefore, meditation should never be "forced", go with a flow and enjoy time for yourself. Notice small changes :)

HOW?

The figure below, reflects visually the steps of self-regulation of attention. Maybe it is helpful for you too :) Find a steady position without conscious effort, position where you feel comfortable and relaxed. Therefore when you choose shavasana (lying down on your back and relaxing your body and mind), be aware that it is essential to remain awake and alert while going through the various stages which lead to successful meditation. Satyananda Saraswati (1996) has written: "The more steady you are in your position, the more you will be able to concentrate with a one-pointed mind"(p. 93).
Mindfulness Meditation Process (Source: http://www.mindfulness-matters.org/what-is-mindfulness/)

Also I would like to share with you Natural Breathing technique, which introduces practioners to their own respiratory system and breathing patterns. It is very relaxing and may be practised at any time. Awareness of the breathing process is itself sufficient to slow down the respiratory rate and establish a more relaxed rhythm. Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. Once this technique is part of your daily life and correct breathing is restored, there will be a great improvement in the state of physical and mental well-being.

Natural Breathing (adapted from Satyananda, S. S. (1996). Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. India: Yoga Publicatsions Trust)

Sit in a comfortable mediation posture or lie down and relax the whole body. Observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process. Develop total awareness of the rhythmic flow of the breath. Feel the breath flowing in and out of the nose. Do not control the breath in any way. Notice that the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils and warm as it flows out.  Observe this with the attitude of a detached witness. feel the breath flowing in and out at the back of the mouth above the throat. 
Bring the awareness down to the region of the throat and feel the breath flowing in the throat. 
Bring the awareness down to the region of the chest and feel the breath flowing in the trachea and bronchial tubes.
Next, feel the breath flowing in the lungs.
Be aware of the lungs expanding and relaxing. 
Shift the attention to the ribcage and observe the expansion and relaxation of this area.
Bring the awareness down to the abdomen. Feel the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation.
Finally, become aware of the whole breathing process from the nostrils to the abdomen and continue observing it for some time.
Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as one unit and open the eyes.
 

Take 5min for a short meditation :)



Hopefully my sharing is somehow interesting and useful for you, and you feel more enhanced to yourself. Ask youself: How do I feel now? How is my body? How is my mind? It is just one way to be more in the present moment. Find what suits you the best :) And moreover, do not get stuck in yourself, and be able to share yourself with others as well :)

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world" - Buddha



NB: I am starting Hatha Yoga Classes from the 8th of January in Lähitapiola Sport Center (Masalantie 346, Masala) :) During my classes I will also introduce various meditation techniques :)

With love,
Jane


References:

Goldstein, J. (1999). The science and art of meditation. In S. Salzberg (Ed.), Voices of insight, (pp.118-132). Boston, MA: Shambhala

Goldstein, E., & Calistoga, P. (2014). Mindfulness Made Simple : An Introduction to Finding Calm Through Mindfulness & Meditation. Berkeley, California: Calistoga Press. 

Gunaratana, B. H. (1999). Mindfulness. In S. Salsberg (Ed.), Voices of Insight (pp.133-142). Boston, MA:Shambhala

Gunaratana, B. H. (2011). Mindfulness In Plain English. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications

Miller, J. J. (2016). The Embodied Researcher. Meditation´s Role in Spirituality Research. In Lin, J., Oxford, L. R., Culham, T. (Eds.), Toward a Spiritual Research Paradigm. Exploring New Ways of Knowing, Researching and Being (pp. 127-139). USA: Information Age Publishing Inc. 
 
Satyananda, S. S. (1996). Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. India: Yoga Publicatsions Trust

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