So what is meditation useful for?
As Benson mentioned, meditation can induce brain states of relaxed awareness. This helps to calm the mind, and in turn, to induce relaxation in the body. Thus, regular meditation can be very useful for people with high-stress lifestyles, as part of a stress management routine.
This can be as simple as turning the attention inwards, to the breath or to body sensations. Just a minute of inward-attention can help you shift from a high-alert state to a relaxed state, mentally as well as physically. This is especially good to do just before eating, to enable the digestive system to work properly.
When the brain is in a relaxed state, access to the frontal cortex – the “advanced thinking” part of the brain – is allowed. Have you tried to make a critical decisions or taken an exam when highly-stressed? Did you experience how frustrating it was to be mentally “blocked”?
Meditation helps open up more sophisticated mental processing which allows us to make wiser decisions, and to have clarity around factors like values and priorities. With more clarity, we can live in a way that accords with our needs and goals.
Meditation is increasingly seen to have profound therapeutic value. It allows us to mobilise our resources to heal, psychologically, emotionally and physically.
In my practice I often see cancer patients who are going through the oncology process. They are often worried, confused, feeling like they are being pushed along a conveyor belt of consultations and treatments. They find that meditation helps them to feel calmer, more in control of themselves, and better able to navigate their healing journey.
Meditation can often help people to see the “stories” behind their illnesses, to resolve the emotional hooks, to release emotional hanging-on to past experiences. As a result, they feel a sense of liberation, can come to terms with their illness and allow resolution to take place.
The body heals best when it is deeply relaxed, and meditation is a powerful tool for healing on all levels.
Yoga and many other major health and wellbeing systems use the concept of bio-energy – called prana, qi, ki – to explain how the physical body works. Bio-energy has been measured and demonstrated by a wide array of sensitive tools; and many martial artists and health practitioners have directly experienced bio-onergy.
The ancient yogis developed ways to enabling awareness of bio-energy and manipulating it, through meditation. There are meditative tantric tools called “kriyas” which are designed to feel and move subtle energy in specific ways.
One way of using meditation is to activate and balance the chakras, the vortex-like energy centres along the spine. Another is to use the mind to move energy through areas of discomfort or disease, with the intention of improving the healthy functioning of that area.
Patanjali says in his Sutras, “Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind… Then the seer rests in his own true nature”(Arya, 1986, p.93, 114). What Patanjali means is that, when we have learned to meditate, our minds become more still and, at some point, we are able to realise our essential self – the seer, the observer of all the phenomena including our sense perceptions, our bodies, our emotions and even our thoughts!
We are told that when we can rest in our own true nature, we experience our natural state – unbounded bliss.
A simple meditation
Meditation is not a complex process; in fact it is unbelievably simple! You can meditate on anything – your breath, a symbol, a sound, a sensation or an idea. All you need to do is to bring single-minded focus to it for a period of time.
The important thing is to meditate regularly, with earnest intent and enthusiasm. This way, even a simple meditation technique can be powerful and can serve you a whole lifetime.
Here is one for you to try:
1. Sit comfortably in an upright position.
2. Become aware of your body and the steadiness of your body.
3. Become aware of the breath flowing in and out through the nostrils.
4. Become aware of the shifting points between the in-breaths and the out-breaths.
5. That is all!
Try this for five minutes every morning, and extend it as you wish.
Meditation workshopsIn order to gain a deeper understanding of meditation; the preparatory practices; the different techniques; and the benefits of meditating in groups; you would do well to join a meditation workshop.
I facilitate such a workshop at the Yoga Therapy Centre at 129d Onewa Road, Northcote, Auckland.
Intro to Meditation: Sat 31st Jan 2015 I 2.00pm - 4.00pm ($45)
Meditation Workshop: Wed 18th Feb I 8.00pm - 9.00pm (8 weeks / $210)
Why not join us? Contact us for further information or click here to register.
Benson, H., Beary, J. F., & Carol, M. P. (1974). The relaxation response. Psychiatry, 37(1), 37-46.
Patañjali., Vyasa., & Arya, U. (1986). Yoga-sutras of Patañjali with the exposition of Vyasa : a translation and commentary. Honesdale, Pa.: Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A.
Satyasangananda, S. (2003). Sri Vijnana Bhairava Tantra : the ascent (1st ed. ed.). Munger, Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust.