When you close your eyes and take a deep breath are you filled with peace or does a voice chatter away in your head reminding you of all the things left undone? Most of us have active minds that are prone to worry. Learning the ability to shut off the stream of thoughts and connect with one’s own inner voice allows for the cultivation of rejuvenating peace and inspiration. It allows for one to learn to not worry about the future or the past but to be present, to wake to life. Meditation is the act of shifting ones focus to the breath as it is slowly and deeply drawn and released. It is this act that allows the mind to shift into a quiet mode and release its mind clutter. This simple act of focusing on one’s breath affords one the ability to check out of worry and check in with the higherself. This is meditation in its simplest form. And as the old Buddhists have known all along, meditation is one of the keys to finding happiness.
For centuries it has been touted that meditation is not only an elixir for the mind and soul but that a daily meditation regime will increase concentration, decrease anxiety, and instill a general feeling of happiness. And it really does. Have you ever heard the phrase “take a breath count to three”? This is referring to the fact that the breath, the mind and the emotions are all interconnected and that when one controls the breath, he also controls the others. By learning to take a meditative breath, one can control not only their thoughts, but also their feelings and reactions. It really is that simple! Just try it. Next time you find yourself in a situation that calls for you to check your emotions, instead of giving into your anger or frustration, simply stop and breathe. Take a deep breath…or a few, if you need to. You will find that the act of shifting your attention to your breath will not only shift your attention away from what is aggravating you, it will also oxygenate your brain and body thereby allowing for the release of tension held by your muscles.
New to meditation? Don’t worry. Just begin where you are and breathe. Sit with your spine straight and inhale a long, even breath to the count of three allowing your mind to be only on the present moment noticing your breath as it enters your body. Hold for the count of three before you exhale to the count of three. This is the meditative breath, the mindful or conscious breath. As you breathe, allow the muscles in your head, face, neck and shoulders to relax. If you are holding any tension, release it as you exhale. If a thought interferes, just notice it and let it go as you gently move your attention back to your breath. Soon you will notice a deep sense of relaxation fill your limbs as your awareness begins to increase. This is meditation and the more you practice, the more in control of your thoughts you will become until you will be able to silence the chattering of your monkey mind at will and slip into the meditative state more easily.
Exercise One: The Holy Ten
All you need for this simple exercise is quiet, comfortable spot where you will not be disturbed and a timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. The timer acts to free the meditator so that he will not worry about how much time has passed, allowing instead, a full disconnect. Sit down and get comfortable. You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed or on a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Sit on your butt bones with your spine straight and you chin lifted. Now close your eyes and move your attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Keep your mind only on your breath. The monkey mind loves to chatter. If a thought intrudes, notice it and let it go as you move your attention back to your breath. If a thought persists, see it as a balloon and let it float away…With practice you will be able to silence the chatter at will.
When you begin your daily practice it is important to set aside the same time everyday and use the same space. Choose a comfortable place where you will not be interrupted or distracted. Choose a position. It does not matter if you sit on the floor or on a chair. You may even find it works better for you to recline or stand. Whatever the position, just be sure to keep your spine straight. Try different positions as you work with your breath awareness until you find one that works best for you. If you find that you are still having difficulty coming to center then you might try incorporating a trigger to create a visual, auditory or even an olfactory cue to tell your brain and body that it is time to meditate. Many groups employ the sound of running water as an auditory cue or the burning of incense as an olfactory cue while gazing at the flickering flame of a candle is an ancient visual cue.
Exercise Two: The Hypnotic Flame
Since the dawn of time the flickering flame has been used as a meditative focus. assume your meditative position and begin by taking a few long breaths as you bring your attention lightly to the flame. Like before you may set your timer for ten minutes and then let go of the concept of time as your eyes rest on the dancing flame. Breathe as you relax the muscles of your face and jaw. Breathe and let the muscles of your shoulder, back and arms release any held tension. Breathe and continue until there is no tension held anywhere and your body is in a state of relaxation from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. When the timer sounds, you will find that your thoughts have cleared and your center is filled with peace for you have transcended thought, aware only of the flame.
While candle gazing utilizes a visual cue, employing a mantra is a way to use an audio prompt. Mantras are sounds that evoke a spiritual response. The mantra may be spoken, whispered or simply thought. Some Mantras contain only sound. Om, Ah, and Hum are elemental sounds that have been used for thousands of years by people hoping to expand their awareness of the divine. Some more modern mantras use words or uplifting phrases.
Exercise Three: The Magic Mantra
This centering technique combines breath awareness with the phrase, "Let go." It is equally helpful if you are dealing with a difficult situation at work or lying awake fixated on a negative thought. Next time you notice that you are experiencing a negative thought loop, instead of allowing it to run, take control. First shake yourself to free yourself from the thought loop and as you inhale say (silently or aloud) "Let". Then as you exhale, say "Go". Visualize the thing that is bothering you floating away. You might see it as a balloon floating off, over the horizon. Watch as it floats on until you can no longer see it. When it is gone, return your awareness to your breath. If the negative thought still lingers, release it again saying, “Let…go,” and watch as it again floats away. Continue the imagery until your thoughts are calm.
Meditation is a valuable tool we should all be using to live fuller lives. Through its practice one is able to focus and quiet the mind thereby achieving a heightened awareness of the inner spirit and allowing for the release of inner wisdom. Meditation works as a vehicle for the subconscious to merge with the desires of the conscious mind in order to work toward a common goal. When you shift your attention to each breath slowly and deeply drawn and released, you shift your mind into a quiet mode, releasing your mind clutter and silencing the “monkey mind" that constantly tries to invade our thoughts and emotions. The result of this shift is peace, serenity, calmness and inspiration. New studies have also shown that through Meditation we are able to gain better health, improve our immune system and become a kinder more compassionate person. Voltaire wrote, “Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” Through developing a daily mediation regime we are able to recalibrate our energy and connect with the divine.
Bio: Lorri Amsden is a wife and mother of four who strives to live consciously in tune with the seasons. As a writer, eco-activist and the founder of Liminal Landscapes, a portal for dimensional living, she is dedicated to raising the consciousness of her community through the teaching and practicing of organic gardening, eco awareness, healthy sustainable living and tapping into the delightful creative energy flowing all around us.