Meditation can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people. Some people view meditation from its aesthetic, visually appealing, standpoint. They see it as a freshly shaven monk sitting in a twisted position in a mountain temple. They may envision special hand symbols & words used to enhance mental clarity. While these methods may enrich the act of meditation, they are not essential. Meditation is an act of the mind; this means that by its very definition, it is not solely a physical act.
The simplest definition of meditation is to spend time in quiet while clearing one’s mind of distraction. This is significantly more difficult than it sounds, particularly in our modern world. Our modern-day lives are filled with mental distraction. Between our phones, televisions, texting, Facebook, and a host of other digital activities, we are never left lacking something to think about. Further, we are inundated with emotionally draining media and events that are beyond our control. It is, however, possible to control our own mind-states and change them for the better. We do not need to be victims of our restless minds and their emotional distractions. We can be the opposite of victims, we can be heros. We can be the cool, calm and collected individuals that triumph over difficult circumstances. But first, we must get to know our own minds.
Through the practice of meditation we can create an antidote to our own personal sorrows, and to the anxieties, fears, dislikes, and general confusions that affect many of us. Even if we are happy and content with ourselves, meditation can help us become more present in our lives. Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Quality meditation practices are techniques that foster and cultivate concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm state of mind.
With regular work and patience, these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energized ways of seeing the world. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life. Most people don’t realize how much of their lives, including their emotions and perspectives on the world, are based on routine. A lot of people live their lives on auto-pilot. Many times they aren’t even our own views, they are “passed on” to them by our environment. One of the magical things about being human is that we can imagine things so strongly that they become reality. If we are told something often enough, and see certain events unfold often enough, we perceive these things to be true. Perception in reality.
Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life! Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. If you don’t believe you deserve success and fullfillment, you’ll have a hard time finding it.
If you think a particular thought long enough, it becomes a memory. Those memories form the basis of your emotional state. Science has studied our brains and determined that we have at least 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day, this means a minimum of 35 and 48 thoughts per minute per person. And, according to similar research, the vast majority of our thoughts are exactly the same ones we had the day before. This is where the benefit of meditation practice comes in because it teaches you to detach from the emotions (which can also be called distractions) of the moment and see the bigger picture. But, our brain has been wired into the rut of seeing the world in the same way over, and over again. So, without practice, we will just go back to living the same reality, including the same distractions, assumptions and emotional turmoil.
So, we need to consistently practice clearing our minds of these distractions. This is how we escape the monotony of simply existing. We can get more out of life, but we need to break with our regular physical and mental monotony. This is how we create a new life. This is how we control our destiny and future. It is amazing. It is powerful. It is backed by thousands of years of history, and countless modern scientific research papers.
Meditation Isn’t Religious, but it can be.
Meditation is not a religious activity though it can be if you want it to. You can practice meditation if you are of any religious faith. Every single religious tradition has some form of “sweeping the mind clear”. If you are not particularly religious that is fine as well, everyone has had a moment of clarity before. Sometimes clarity comes when you are listening to music, or playing sports, or just having a good laugh in connection with friends and family. What meditation does is allow you to focus better with more awareness and purpose. This enhances every human experience, religious or otherwise. Do not get hung up on the idea that you can’t practice meditation because it is new to you, I promise you it is not.
A Simple Meditation Method
One of the most important factors in meditation is posture. You want your head over your hips and your spine straight but relaxed. Press upward with the top of your head. This will help you straighten up your spine. You can also practice this by pressing your back against a wall. You can meditate while kneeling, cross-legged or seated in a chair or on a cushion. You can also practice meditation standing & walking.
The Four Stages of Breath
Inhale Condense Exhale Pause
Inhalation should begin with empty lungs and flared nostrils. Fill your navel area first. Think of filling your lungs like pouring water into a cup, the bottom fills first. Do not make the mistake of many people beginning meditation and only try to fill the bottom. Continue to fill the middle and upper portions of your lungs as well. Do not over fill your lungs, comfortably fill them. The idea is to expose the entire surface area of your lung to the air you inhale.
Condensing the air in your lungs is fairly simple. Just slightly push it downward toward your navel and imagine energy being absorbed through the lung and into your body.
Exhale the air in your lungs smoothly, and again, with flared nostrils. There should be a smooth transition between each phase. Make sure you exhale the lower sections of your lungs but do not force the air out, just let it happen. If you are in a rush to inhale you’ve condensed the air for too long.
A pause should happen at the end of each breath. This makes your blood circulate and removes blood stagnation. Take this time to check your posture and relax your abdomen for the next breath.
This meditation technique has four progressive stages leading to a highly enjoyable level of concentration. To start with five minutes per stage is a good period of practice.
In the first stage, you use counting to stay focused on the breath. After the out-breath you count one, then you breathe in and out and count two, and so on up to ten, and then you start again at one.
In the second stage, you subtly shift where you breathe, counting before the in-breath, anticipating the breath that is coming, but still counting from one to ten, and then starting again at one.
In the third stage, you drop the counting and just watch the breath as it comes in and goes out.
In the final stage, the focus of concentration narrows and sharpens, so you pay attention to the subtle sensation on the tip of the nose where the breath first enters and last leaves the body.
If you practice focusing your mind on counting, it will build up the area of your brain responsible for focus. It is similar to exercising any other muscle or skill, the more you work on it the better it develops.
Of course, if you want to get the most of your mind you need to fuel it properly. For a fascinating look into where our dietary requirements originated check out our section on the Primal Origins of the Human Diet!
Now, let’s get liberated!