In my lifetime eastern practices have become more common with concepts such as mindfulness, meditation, feng-shui, and yoga entering the mainstream. I imagine that this stems from a western need to unplug from our fast-paced techno-driven lives. People constantly have their attention pulled in 5 different directions. Everyone tries to be everything. Single moms or dads who try to balance obligations to the PTA, work, and their own hobbies with soccer practice or continuing education. Millennials who are just beginning to dig themselves out of debt from college and the 2008 recession working full-time and trying to get their own personal projects off the ground… Perhaps we are just as busy as we used to be, but how we relate to one another has changed so much that we have lost touch with everyone, including us. After all, how many real, intense, or transformative interactions have any of us had that were brokered by social media. Maybe these eastern practices are becoming more popular because they provide a way by which we can come to know ourselves.
For my personal story, I began drinking too much in 2015 as a (poor) coping mechanism for anxiety. After life events made me see this, I decided to give up alcohol entirely. Searching for a way to calm my mind and develop a sense of peace I remembered meditating in martial arts classes when I was younger. We would perform several minutes of seated mediation at the beginning and end of class. I was always more focused after this. My instructor had told me about great Buddhist practitioners in Tibet who could endure torture, captivity and immolation because they had so trained their mind’s through meditation. I by no means was planning on such dire circumstances, but the idea of mental fortitude sounded exactly like what I needed at the time. I sought out a local Buddhist temple and it was not long before I was hooked.
Seated meditation or “Zazen” is the central practice of Zen Buddhism as Zen is very much focused on ‘doing’ to achieve the path. Recently my sister asked a few questions about meditation. Although far from a master, I felt both able and interested to discuss them here.
What is meditation?
- Meditation is the practice of cultivating a sense of peace and self-awareness through a variety of techniques such as focusing on an object, chanting or visualization. The methods may vary but the end result is a sense of calmness and clarity. There are studies which have found that meditation actually affects your brain waves and over time, through neuroplasticity, can make real changes in anxiety, depression, chronic pain, learning and other disorders.
Types of meditation
- According to healthline.com there are 6 common types/styles of mediation
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Generally associated with Buddhist teachings. Involves the combination of concentration and awareness. Some people focus on an object, an image or a sensation such as their breath or heartbeat.
- Spiritual Meditation
- Generally associated with Hinduism, Taoism, and some flavors of Christianity.
- Involves quiet and focusing on a deity or connection with earth/universe etc.
- Many people use the sense of smell to heighten this meditation. This may involve essential oils, incense, or candles
- Focused Meditation
- More modernish type of meditation. Involves focusing on one of 5 senses.
- May involve counting mala beads, focusing on a candle, or listening to a gong
- Movement Meditation
- Often people think of yoga here but this might also include walking, qigong, gardening or other form that encourages movement to guide you.
- Mantra Meditation
- Associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism
- Uses a repetitive sound or phrase to clear the mind or connect to an image.
- Transcendental Meditation
- Involves the use of a silent mantra to calm and focus.
- Considered on of the more popular forms of meditation.
How do I begin meditating?
- I believe (as is the case with most things) this depends on what your goal is.
- If one of the above types tickles your fancy, you might try looking up more information or books on the subject.
- I personally recommend finding a group that practices the style you are interested in and ask questions. (this could be a forum, a business which focuses on meditation classes, or a Buddhist or Hindu temple.)
“None of that works for me”
- If you don’t have any interest in reading about types of practice, you aren’t the group type, and/or you’re averse to trying a non-western theology, keep on reading.
- Google play has many excellent guided meditations available for free download.
- simply type in the goal you have: “Guided meditation for anxiety” and try one out.
- Follow a meditation Podcast. One of my favorites is “The Buddhist Society of Western Australia” (random I know)
- they have a plethora of both Dharma talks (which I find insightful) as well as purely guided meditation
- You can try what I do: Zazen
- General advice
- Start with shorter periods of time and build up. Don’t be frustrated if you can’t sit for very long. As we discussed, this makes sense considering our lives. The things we need to do are usually the things that are challenging for us.
- Set a timer for yourself. If you are checking a watch, you wont be able to get in the right mindset.
- Get in a comfortable sitting position. I know this seems obvious but if you are uncomfortable, that is what is going to be on your mind.
- Do not make judgments on yourself. You may have thoughts crop up that you wonder where they came from. Instead of giving them your intention or being frustrated that you can’t clear your mind at first, try to allow them to drift back to where they came from. If you analyze or judge it will only stay in your mind longer.
- Find a quiet place. If you have kids, pets, or others who might disturb you, tell them what you are doing and explain that you are not to be bothered for the next ______period of time unless it is an emergency.
- Turn off the ringer on your phone as well as any alarms you might have other than your timer.
1) Set a timer for how long you want to try to meditate for. Being conservative early on is usually helpful. If you are frustrated during your meditation it will cause a toxic mindset.
Bonus: This gives you fewer excuses for why you can’t fit meditation into your schedule. Maybe start with 5-10 minutes.
2) Sit down in a comfortable position. This does not need to be on a cushion or cross legged. Try to sit with decent posture as poor posture will cause you back or neck pain and this can detract from your experience.
3) Close your eyes almost all, or all the way.
Zen practice says to keep your eyes a little open and focus on a spot on the floor in front of you. However, if you are having difficulty ‘tuning out’ the world you may want to just close your eyes.
4) Observe your breathing. Some people begin by counting their breaths up to 10 before starting back at the beginning. Breath in and out smoothly and try to relax your body. Allow thoughts to drift away and think only about your breath.
5) When your timer sounds, open your eyes slowly. Thank yourself for taking ‘me time’
6) Repeat daily.
Yes, daily. Make it into a habit, part of your life. The benefits of meditating increase and become more permanent with time and frequency.
I myself have noticed that when I slack off on taking the time to practice, I become much more anxious, irritable and illogical. Like anything, the more you practice, the easier and more second nature it will become. If you frequently are able to achieve a calm state at will, how much easier will that be when you are stressed or anxious?
**Note that this information comes from my personal practice. I am not a guiding teacher, counselor, monk etc. This is also not meant to be a cure-all in any way. You may find that meditation is beneficial to you, you may not.
I hope that you have found this helpful.