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Meditation 101

By Deborah Shipley

"Still your mind in me, still yourself in me, and without a doubt you shall be united with me, Lord of Love, dwelling in your heart. - -Bhagavad Gita

Meditation is a bit of a buzz word these days. For some it is a requirement and a respite from life's hectic pace. For others it may be misunderstood, overwhelming, too new age, too difficult, or completely feared. Yet, meditation, if practiced with commitment, will inevitably lead to the successful quieting of the mind. It does not stand alone, however, as it needs to be first nourished with concentration and focus. If someone is willing to make meditation a daily practice, the benefits will unfold and create a life lived in clarity and with a purpose aligned with the higher self. The common phrase, "The answers are within, cannot be attained without clearing the mind of all the daily clutter. Meditation leads the way.

If one wants to be successful in meditation, one must understand that it is an ongoing process. It is a discipline, just as physical exercise, that reaps benefits only from concentrated and continual effort. Meditation needs to be cultivated; and a dedicated practice is essential. That being said, just like exercise, some is better than none. A student may start with small increments and gradually increase his/her practice with time.

Meditation may sound like a complex assignment, especially for a beginner. The mind is used to wandering, and focus does not come easily for most. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras share that yoga poses, breathing exercises, and relaxation all contribute to the preparation of a mind space that is open to receive meditation. It is a mind-body experience, and therefore, the body needs to also be strong for the prolonged periods of meditative sitting. There are several sitting postures the body can assume although the classic is seated comfortably on a mat or a pillow with spine erect and legs folded, hands resting on the knees.

The best time of day for meditative practice is in the early morning upon rising or in the evening just before bed. The unconscious mind is at its strongest at the edge of sleep and when waking up, and therefore, the meditation is more likely to work in harmony with the mind. It is recommended that one meditate for at least ten to twenty minutes one or two times per day, but five minutes is certainly a place to begin.

There are many different types of meditation. Each individual has a unique experience with each one. One example is that of a witness meditation. In a witness meditation, the individual will only observe how the mind/body is reacting in the silence, without judgments. The individual will allow the mind to lead them in the meditation, as they quietly follow. Anytime the mind wanders off, and it will, the individual would recognize the mind wandering and gently bring it back to the moment and the silence. Some other examples are following the breath, repeating a mantra, or gazing at a candle. The important thing is just that the individual sit down to do it, no matter what comes up or how the experience plays out. If one just keeps coming back to practice, results will begin to present themselves.

There are both psychological and physiological benefits of meditation. Some psychological benefits are focusing of the mind, remaining in the present, allowing clutter and worry to fade away, clarifying the purpose of self, and developing a peaceful mind. Physiologically one of the biggest benefits is the calming of the nervous system and release of stress-induced physical symptoms. Rarely is there a reason not to meditate.

My own experience with meditation began back in my early twenties. In my quest for personal peace, I picked up a few books about meditation that offered suggestions for getting started. I attempted many meditations, but my attention neverlasted longer than a minute. I was not prepared at this time to quiet my mind, and my life was in utter chaos. I gave up on the concept then, figuring I just was not capable. I realize now that I was reluctant to get quiet, because I was afraid of what I might learn about myself. In the past few years, meditation has become extremely important in my routine, in whatever form I choose; and it is a time that I look forward to and embrace. It's "my time for me, "and it is usually after I meditate that my "answers from within appear. My meditative journey brings me closer to living my life with clarity and keeps me present in my true authentic self.

Meditation is said to be a universal requirement for everyone. The highest joys can be attained during the meditative process. I often wonder what our world would be like if everyone carved out some sacred time for meditation. If everyone had the courage and personal motivation to get quiet would we still see the prominence of such things as lying, stealing, "road rage", rampant disregard for human emotions and life, self-inflicted suffering and illnesses, wars between nations, terrorism, and the list can go on and on? I see meditation as a vital tool enabling me to experience the life that I was meant to live.

Have you got five minutes?

About The Author
Deborah Shipley is a registered yoga teacher, publisher of a free monthly e-zine on issues of self-esteem, and an e-book author.

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