Meditation is a practice that is surrounded in mystery for those not in the now. Many seem to be under the impression that it is a magical or religious exercise, or that those in the know believe it is going to bring them unusual abilities. While meditation is used in some religions however, it is also used by professionally trained therapists and other specialists and is a tool that anyone can use in their daily lives to find an inner sense of calm and to relax. There are many different forms of relaxation and the method you choose will be based on personal preference, and even the goals of meditation can vary and while some people will meditate to silence their ‘inner voice’, others will do it in order to focus more heavily on that voice.
For most people though the best type of meditation is that which takes them out of the daily grind and gives them a break from the ‘constant chatter’ which the majority of us experience in our minds 24/7. Normally we all have a voice in our head which ‘narrates’ what we are doing and how we feel. This voice is often the source of a lot of stress as it reminds us of what we are doing wrong, and of any problems in our life. When we try and relax, often the voice is still there and will be thinking about the washing that needs to be done, the phone calls that need to be made, and the day we are going to have tomorrow at work.
All these thoughts put stress on our body. They create stressors which our body treats as genuine threats to our safety, therefore speeding up our heart rate and flooding us with adrenaline. While this is a great response if we are facing a lion, over time if it is constant it can begin to take a serious toll on our body. At the same time all that ‘background noise’ can make it difficult to think clearly about the things we want to be focussed on. In meditation then we sit, we focus, and we forget the voice, and as a result we feel completely calm and relaxed – any problems we do have are forgotten, or we are at least taking a back seat and not ‘engaging’ with them. Regular massage has then been proven to have quantifiable benefits and to increase our health in a number of ways – lowering our cholesterol, improving things like coordination and even increasing recall and concentration. Meditation can be done by anyone anywhere, and can be achieved standing up, lying down or sitting in an arm chair.
Of course for someone who hasn’t had any professional training this can be quite hard and the minute we know we are not allowed to think, it suddenly becomes impossible not to. You begin thinking things such as ‘am I thinking anything at the moment?’ and ‘oh good I managed not to think anything!’. Similarly by knowing you are not allowed to move you often suddenly start itching and feeling uncomfortable. It is like trying not to think of a pink elephant – the minute you know about it you do.
Fortunately there are some simple tips you can learn that will help you to overcome these problems and to concentrate on ‘nothing’. The first of these tips is not to place too much concern on straight away being able to achieve complete silence. This is something which many people train for years and not something you are going to be able to do immediately. Be happy to just sit and relax in the quiet of your room and to at least take a ‘back seat’ to your thoughts. Some distance is better than none and listening to your thoughts can have value too. In fact this is called ‘mindfulness’ where you observe where your thoughts go when you are not consciously trying to control them. Embrace this and see what is in your own mind – consider it an explorative journey. You can even ‘meditate on’ a subject, by sitting down somewhere quiet and devoting time to thinking about a problem you want to solve. Similarly you should not worry too much about keeping completely still, and you certainly do not need to be in the lotus position. Lie down somewhere comfortable on a couch, or sit up if you are worried about falling asleep (though this would not be the worst thing in the world) and if you need to scratch do. You will find you are suddenly a lot less itchy.
To help quieten that voice there are also some things you can do. The first and most important is to remove the stressful thoughts you have. While it can be okay to let your mind wander, you must not sit there worrying about how little time you have or you just will not be able to relax (which is the whole point here after all). To give yourself some mental ‘space’, take your concerns and agree to put them in a box where you can come back to them later after your meditation. They are not going to go anywhere, and if you are meditating now then they are not going to help you – so just forget about them until you can actually do something about it.
Then concentrate on a single space. You should have your eyes closed so this space will be a point you imagine in the black space. Normally people choose to focus on a point in the centre of their forehead between their eyes. This will help focus your thoughts and is a powerful tool to be able to focus your thoughts in daily life. At the same time try to listen to your breathing which will entertain your mind with something dull and meaningless. Breath however is comfortable to you, but just focus on this sound for a while. If you struggle with this then you can listen to ‘meditation CD’ of relaxing sounds and music which will help you to leave the world behind too. Listen to each individual instrument and its part and try just to ‘hear’ without analysing.
There are other visualisation techniques you can then use to become even more relaxed. For example, many people like to imagine a ‘happy place’ such as a calm island beach, or a quiet rain forest, or a log cabin in the snow. Again choose a scenario that works for you and wonder around and explore the cave. By visualising your happy place you can concentrate on creating images rather than your thoughts, and if you are meditating in order to relax then this is a great way to calm your heart rate and lessen your adrenaline.
Other visualisation techniques are more ‘internal’. One popular favourite is to imagine a ‘pleasant colour’ such as a light blue. Start it in the centre of your forehead, and then slowly allow it to cover your face and your neck, your shoulders and your chest, your abs and spine, your biceps, your thighs and your buttocks, your calves and forearms, and finally your feet and hands. Let it completely wash over you and relax your muscles as you do.
Others like to blur the boundaries of their own body to completely ‘forget’ where and what they are in the universe. This might sound quite unsettling, but actually this is something which can occur anyway if you manage to shut down certain centres of your brain. To help achieve it, imagine a light in your abdomen that is ‘you’ and then slowly expand it outside of your physical restraints, into your room, out of your house and then out into the universe. This is a more advanced technique, but if you can focus on the experience without thought, then you can begin to feel ‘body less’ as well as ‘thought less’.
Finally if none of these techniques work, then a great way to start is by listening to a meditation tape or CD in which a professional will talk you through the process. Be sure to shop around though (you can download many for free online) in order to find a speaker with a style that suites you.