People in the West are living with tremendous stress, even though modern technology has solved a host of recent past challenges, such as running water in homes, central heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, transportation, abundance of food, improved sanitation, and medicine to name a few. Stress is now responsible for many health issues, with a heavy cost to an individual’s bodies, emotional state, mind, and spirit. The sad truth of our high tech, wealthy culture is that few people appear calm, peaceful and are truly living in the moment. A certain level of stress is beneficial for performance and creativity but beyond this point it is toxic.
Meditation is a powerful tool that can have profound beneficial effects on relieving stress and beyond this, enhance everything we do. A well known proverb declares, “you cannot change the outside, however you can change the inside”. Meditation is the means to change the inside. What is meditation? Where did it originate? What benefits are derived from its practice? How many types of meditation are there? How long does one need to practice to get positive results? How does one establish a proper practice? Why has it become so popular lately?
Meditation means becoming at one with whatever we are doing. This state of being is the fruit of long and diligent practice. What we call meditation are actually concentration techniques, aiming to develop a single focus. Any exercise that focuses ones attention exclusively on an object is a concentration method and can lead to meditation.
The origin of meditation is hard to pinpoint. It would be accurate to say that all ancient cultures engaged in a wide variety of concentration techniques, ranging from sitting still to ecstatic dance. In the Hebrew tradition, the Prophetic state was attained through meditation methods. Meditation is an integral part of the Hindu religion, Buddhism, Sufism a mystical branch of Islam, Taoism, as well as Native Americans, and many African tribes. In all Religious traditions it was the key practice to attain illumination
Most pre-industrial people had meditation practices that brought them into altered states of consciousness. Some psychologists theorize that the absence of these rituals in our present society is a major contributing cause to the abundance of addictions, and the deep alienation and lack of meaning that so many people feel.
On a physical level meditation relaxes the body; leads to longer, slower breathing; calms the emotions; and quiets the mind. Scientific studies have documented medical benefits from meditation practice, such as lowering blood pressure, increasing energy, and allowing people to feel more in control. It is a means of self integration. In the tranquil state that one often relaxes into, personal insights are revealed. On a spiritual level it is a gateway to higher states of consciousness.
A paramount goal of meditation is to simply live in the moment, without the ongoing internal dialogue. If one pays attention, one notices that most of the time we are dwelling on the past or projecting into the future. That is why our challenge is to live in the moment, which is called the present. In the present, love, joy, and intuition flow, and inner clarity develops spontaneously.
There are thousands of meditation techniques, yet most can be classified into a few categories. These include: maintaining a visual focus, repeating sounds or words, maintaining kinesthetic awareness of breath or bodily sensations . Is the exercise moving or still, structured or flowing.
The amount of time needed for each individuals practice is variable. Once one begins regular practice, one may gain insights and clarity. In addition, the pure joy and peace of just being still and doing nothing is awesome. Of course, this result doesn’t occur every time. In the West everything revolves around doing and accomplishing, whereas meditation practice is about being. Meditation may enable the goal oriented mind to relax. Remember that the meditation session does not stop at the end of the designated time. It begins to continue into your daily activities and influence everything else one does, adding a fragrance of freshness and mindfulness.
To help establish one’s practice, there are several important guidelines: establishing a set time, duration, and location, is recommended, and daily practice is strongly encouraged. Choose one technique and during the session, focus exclusively on the object you chose, it could be your breath, a visual image, a candle flame, the repetition of a sound or word. Every time you drift into thought, return to the object of your attention. The mind commonly wanders. Indicators of improvement in your practice are when one can maintain longer periods of uninterrupted concentration, and recognition of when the mind drifts, returning more quickly to the focal point. This is essentially the method. Finding a knowledgeable teacher to help cultivate ones practice is essential.
The recent popularity of meditation is partially due to the tranquil effect often experienced that helps buffer the outer chaos. Another reason is the inner joy one feels connecting to a deeper part of oneself that is often lacking in this externally driven society we live in.
Keep in mind, that attaining long periods of concentration is one of the hardest feats to attain. The mind essentially has a mind of its own and is always drifting. It is often referred to as the monkey mind. One Yoga text states, ‘it is easier to control the wind than the mind’, however, it can be attained through persistence. It is difficult for all people everywhere. Remember the benefits are great and can be experienced almost immediately, making it well worth the effort. It is a gift that requires no equipment to purchase, and is within every individuals grasp, making it empowering in the sense that it can improve health, balance the emotions, calm the mind, and awaken the spirit. It can also alleviate many life difficulties and adds a fulfilling, inner, peaceful, dimension.
Some people find it easier to focus during movement such as Yoga, or Tai Chi.
Dr. David Moshe includes meditation as an integral part of his Tai Chi/ Chi Kung and Yoga instruction, that he teaches both to groups and individually. He is a board certified Acupuncture Physician, Doctor of Oriental medicine and Rabbi and a certified instructor of Tai Chi, Chi Kung and Yoga. He can be reached at 058 484 8900