So many students tell me they have a hard time meditating, and some are not even interested in learning....I think that for many of us who live in a society that values "doing" more than "being", it's hard to justify finding even 10 minutes to sit still and "do nothing", much less 20 minutes or more...despite the fact that scientific research is showing so many positive effects of meditation on both our health and our behavior. (see links to articles exploring these concepts below)
For benefits of meditation in schools, check out these articles: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/10/18/the-many-benefits-of-meditation-for-children/#54c9cf99dbe3 Also: https://www.upworthy.com/this-school-replaced-detention-with-meditation-the-results-are-stunning
For some of the health benefits of meditation check out this link from the National Institute of Health: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm From NIH: "Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior." Another reason to practice? "Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors." Yet, there are some religions that ban meditation for fear that stilling the mind might somehow open it to possession by the Devil....Something akin to the idea of "idle hands are the devil's workshop"? In the yogic tradition, meditation is a way to connect with our higher Self, or God - the highest goal of the yogic journey. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness." - (Translation, Georg Feuerstein). The yogic path, or 8 limbs of yoga are: 1) Yama (abstinence), 2) Niyama (observance), 3) asana (posture), 4) pranayama (breath control), 5) pratyahara (sense withdrawal), 6) dharana (concentration), 7) dhyana (meditation), and 8) samadhi (contemplation, absorption, or superconscious state). (Translation: Swami Satchidananda) Let's look at those last 4 to understand the importance of meditation and how to experience it. Pratyahara or sense withdrawal I will not go into too much detail here. However, meditation practice is obviously enhanced by finding a quiet place, where one is not bothered by external noise or movements, getting into a comfortable seat, (that is not comfortable enough for you to fall asleep), and closing your eyes to external stimulation. The practice of closing our eyes and ears, helps us to journey within ourselves. For some of us who've spent a lifetime NOT listening to the messages our body may be telling us, this in itself can be difficult. Then comes the practice of "Dharana", which essentially translates to "concentration" or developing the ability to focus your mind. This also is a practice that unfolds over time. It does not necessarily come easily. Some people like to begin by meditating on a candle flame. If you are closing your eyes, you can visualize a flame behind the 3rd eye, holding your gaze behind your closed lids towards the 3rd eye. For me, the easiest way to find a point of concentration is to focus on the breath. It is always with you. Breathing in. Breathing out. Find the spaces between the breath. Inhaling. Pause, holding the breath in. Exhaling. Pause, holding the breath out (khumbaka pranayama). B.K.S. Iyengar describes this as, "Retention after exhalation is the beloved uniting with the lover in total surrender to the supreme." ("Light on Life") If your mind still wanders, do not castigate yourself. Simply watch your thoughts. What comes to mind? See it and let it go. Maybe it's your list of things to do, maybe its the worries on your mind - bills to pay, a fight with a spouse or friend, a sick parent. See the worries or the things and let them pass, like watching a movie screen, without getting emotionally involved. Just be mindful. This in itself can be a helpful practice. Notice what occupies your thoughts. Then let it go, and come back to your breath. Let your breath be the anchor. The next step is "dhyana" or meditation. One can think of this as a deeper form of concentration - when we are able to let go of all distraction and become one with that which we are concentrating on. Developing a practice of meditation, over time, frees us from the thoughts that fill our mind space constantly and consistently, and that cloud our focus. Only with practice, are we able to let go of the ego mind that directs our actions in the world and become less distracted by the tendencies of the mind to wander. Ultimately, with practice, over time, this leads to "samadhi" or that blissful state of becoming one with our higher consciousness or "superconsciousness" as Satchidananda calls it. Iyengar describes samadhi as, "an experience to be gone through. It is not a sustainable or livable state. We use the word kaivalya for the state of Ultimate Freedom that follows samadhi, a state of aloneness, which means that one has merged with the infinite and can therefore never again be taken in by the appearances of the world of diversity." According to his "Light on Life", "...the eighth petal, samadhi, comes as the fruit of meditation. It arrives by the Grace of God and cannot be forced. Samadhi is the state in which the aspirant becomes one with the object of meditation, the Supreme Soul pervading the universe, where there is a feeling of unutterable joy and peace." Experiencing samadhi is reward in and of itself. Once we have felt it the desire to stay in that state, which is impossible so long as one must live IN the world can cause more suffering. The nature of life is that everything changes. However, we cannot become attached - even to this. Yoga sutra 3.50 tells us that the "the yogin who has merely the vision of the distinction between the Self and the sattva [of consciousness] gains supremacy over all states [of existence] and omniscience. (translation by Georg Feuerstein) Sutra 3.51 continues, Freedom the last goal of Yoga is attained only "Through dispassion towards even this [exalted vision] with the dwindling of the seeds of the defects [he achieves] the aloneness [of the power of seeing]." (translation by Feuerstein). In other words, we must continue to practice nonattachment to the results of our meditation. Continue to be curious and open the mind to learning to advance upon your personal spiritual journey on the yogic path.
On a final note, last week I experienced a wonderful meditative movement class with a fellow teacher using mindfulness techniques and somatic movement. At the end of class in savasana, we could hear a worker in the shop below us hammering on the walls. Our teacher reminded us to acknowledge this sound as positive - it is the sound of Main Street, Ellicott City being rebuilt - but she also reminded us that the point of our mindfulness practice is to be able to experience peace even in the midst of the noise around us. I lay there and thought of the U.S. bombs being dropped in Syria. I had lay awake most of the night thinking about them. It dawned on me that this was also a metaphor for being able to find peace even when there is war raging around you. Until we can find that peace within ourselves, we cannot be fully present for each other in the midst of great turmoil. Namaste. *If you are being treated for PTSD, depression or anxiety, you should always check with your physician about starting a meditation practice, and if they feel it is beneficial for you - be sure to start with an experienced guide who can help you choose appropriate techniques for your condition.