Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just do what feels right

When it comes to meditating, my advice is to do what feels right.

If you look online, you’ll find sites that tell you to eat before you meditate. Others tell you not to. Some sites will stress the importance of sitting in a certain position, others will tell you to find a comfortable chair.

The truth? When it comes to meditation, it doesn't matter if you eat or don't eat. It really doesn't matter if you sit up or lie down or stand on your head - you just need to quiet your body and mind in the way that works best for you.

Also, there is no 'right" time of day to meditate. The best time is when you don't think you'll fall asleep (unless the purpose of your meditating IS to fall asleep).

There is no "best" meditation. One meditation might feel perfect for you while another feels uncomfortable. There are thousands of exercises out there from visualizing for relaxation or reaching goals or preparing for surgery to very passive mantra meditations.

The key is to find the meditation that works best for you – one that quiets your mind and body. When you find it, you will feel better, happier and calmer.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Letting Go of Clutter

Self-calming activities like relaxation training or meditation should quiet the mind and body.

When you begin any kind of relaxation or meditation practice, you are lowering the noise level in your brain and body. When this happens, you might notice some ‘clutter’ in your mind. This clutter may manifest itself as wondering thoughts, pain or other sensations in your body.

Keep in mind, these distractions are not just popping up as you relax. With meditation, you are finally getting quiet enough to see what is regularly going on inside your brain and body. The bubbling of sensations and feelings is commonly known as ‘letting go’ phenomena (sometimes called discharge) and it is a good thing. You want to let go of the old, clean out the clutter, and make room for the new.

So, if you are meditating and emotions start bubbling up or you begin to feel anxious, understand that it is part of the process.

If you ever feel too uncomfortable, just stop, and try again later. The key is to be gentle with yourself. Start slowly. Gently ease yourself into the practice.

I suggest starting with visualization or relaxation exercises that keep you busier with suggestions. If you are practicing the more passive meditations like counting breaths or a mantra, only practice for twenty minutes at a time and build up to longer meditation sessions.

Some of the symptoms you may experience:

  • An increase in dreams
  • Emotions bubbling up to the surface
  • Feelings of nausea or dizziness or other bodily sensations
  • Feelings of anxiety or uneasiness as you are meditating

I hope I’m not scaring you off. This ‘letting go’ phenomena does not happen to everyone. Relaxation and meditation is so good for your mind and body, the benefits greatly outweigh the possible side-effects. If you ease into meditation and don’t get carried away with “more is better” in the beginning, you’ll be fine.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Insight Meditation

Imagine the earth is filled with enlightened people – everyone, that is, but you.

Now, imagine all those enlightened souls are here specifically to teach you. They are acting for your benefit.

The clerk at the DMV? She was put on earth to teach you patience.

The caller who interrupts your dinner? Her job is to teach you kindness.

Your children who scream at each other over whose turn it is to sit in the front seat? Well obviously, they are teaching you to look for peace.

The co-worker who brings fresh, warm donuts to your office when he knows you’re watching your weight? He is teaching you will-power.

Inwardly thank them for their lessons. They are gifts especially for you.

Practice seeing all those around you as enlightened beings here to teach you each day for a whole week. This may change your whole perspective on life – not to mention the difficult people in your life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meditation and Pain Management

Amazing isn’t it? Activities we took for granted in the first blush of youth can cause us pain now that we’re older. Bending over to pick up the newspaper while turning to call to the dog trampling your neighbor’s flowers can result in some serious back pain. Some people carry stress in their necks and a quick glance over their shoulders can mean they’re limited to looking straight ahead for weeks at a time. Ouch!

And now the good news - research shows that learning to meditate can alter brain activity in the same way next-generation pain medication do.

Imagine delivering your own pain-killer whenever and how often you want – with no warning label or serious side-effects.

For many it can take less than two hours of training to see significant improvement.

Use the basic relaxation induction that I outline in previous blog posts, then:

·         Focus on the area of the pain.
·         Breathe into it. This might be difficult to do because we are trained to move away from pain, but trust me, this technique is proven to work.
·         Give the pain a color, shape and size. Any color, size or shape will do.
·         Now change the color of the pain, make it lighter - if it is red, change it to pink, if it is black, change it to grey, picture the color of the pain getting lighter and lighter.
·         Change the size of the pain - imagine it shrinking, smaller…and smaller…and smaller. Make the size grow, larger and larger and larger…then shrink it again, making it smaller…and smaller… and smaller… until it shrinks to the size of a pea.
·         See if you can make it disappear, if you can't, don't worry, it is okay to leave it the size of a pea where it is manageable.
·         Just rest in this place, noticing how the pain has changed, how it is more manageable.
·         Try to relax deeper and deeper, letting go of any remaining pain…

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Noticing What Is

Do you wake up in the morning and react? The alarm didn’t go off, one of your kids couldn’t locate the shoes/assignment/notebook they simply had to have for school, traffic was awful, someone burned the coffee which you spilled on the final copy of the report due in five minutes…Most people move through their day reacting to whatever happens around them.

If you meditate, you naturally begin to take control of your emotions, your reactions to situations, and how you understand others’ motivations.

What follows is a basic meditation that allows you to develop a calm mind and insight through reflection and focusing your awareness on the body. The purpose is to allow you to notice how your mind works and to bring peace and clarity to your life. When you see more clearly what is going on inside of you, you see more clearly what is going on around you. This is good information to have – it allows you to move through your day with a greater sense of clarity and purpose.
In this meditation:

·         Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
·         Take a couple of deep breaths and settle in – allowing your body to relax.
·         Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm, your abdomen should rise as you inhale, and fall back down as you exhale.
·         Just take deep breaths, letting peace and relaxation flow in and all of the day’s tension, conflict and worries flow out.
·         Remember - your breathing helps you relax. You can relax just the right amount, by first paying attention to your breathing and extending the exhalation just a little bit more with each breath.

As you relax, focus on whatever presents itself to you. Just sit quietly and notice any thoughts, images, sensations, tension or pain. As these thoughts, ideas or images come to mind, acknowledge they are part of the exercise. Then, breathe quietly and let them go. Let your heart soften and be open to whatever arises without fighting. Let go of the battle, gently allow all of your experiences to be present, breathe quietly and let them go.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Turn Down the Noise

We are bombarded with stimuli – cell phones ring, e-mail beckons, the television and its myriad channels sing their siren song, Facebook tells us what our friends are doing and Twitter informs us in 140 characters or less of the latest banalities. Our attention spans suffer and our stress level ratchets up.
Meditation can quiet the noise.
Meditation accesses parts of the brain most of us don’t tap into in our everyday lives. It gets to the physiology of the stress response. It bypasses intellectualizing, thinking and talking. It is a direct line to the emotional part of the brain – the part that doesn’t tell you to answer e-mail, return calls or write reports. It helps the meditator find a sense of peace and quiet in a storm of noise.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In 1929, Dr. Edmund Jacobson published Progressive Relaxation. In it, he detailed a technique that focuses on tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body.

The technique is now called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). The mental component of the technique focuses on the difference between feelings tension and relaxation. During PMR the eyes are closed and concentration is directed to the sensation of tension and relaxation. Feelings of warmth and heaviness are felt in the relaxed muscle after it is tensed, a mental relaxation is felt as a result. With practice, one can learn how to effectively relax and deter anxiety.

Since Dr. Jacobson’s ground-breaking work, practitioners who are trained in various body therapies have come to believe muscle tension serves an important role in keeping psychological material repressed. They believe tension stops energy flow and therefore the flow of emotions.

It is best to consult a physician before beginning PMR – especially if you have suffered a serious injury, have muscle spasms or back problems.

PMR tips –

  • Find a quiet place with no electronic distractions
  • Remove restrictive clothing
  • Sit in a comfortable chair – you may practice PMR lying down but you just might fall asleep
  • Remember to hold the tension in each area for fifteen seconds
  • When you finish a session, relax with your eyes closed for a few seconds before getting up slowly

To begin –

·         Start with the right hand and lower arm. Make a tight fist and feel the tension in the hand, over the knuckles and up into the lower arm. Hold it for 15 seconds, then let go and relax. Notice the difference between tension and relaxation in your hand and lower arm.

·         To tense the right bicep, push your elbow down against the arm of the chair, feel the tension, study it, and then let go and relax

·         Move to the left hand and lower arm - make a tight fist......

·         Right bicep - push your elbow against the arm of the chair......

·         Move to the muscles of the face – start with the forehead. Tense the forehead by lifting the eyebrows as high as possible. Tense the muscles of the upper cheeks and nose by squinting tightly. At the same time wrinkle the nose.

·         Tense the muscles in the lower part of the face and jaw by gentling bite the teeth together while pulling the corners of the mouth back. Remember to feel the tension.

·         To tense the muscles of the neck – make a fist and push the chin against it, creating tension in the back and sides of the neck

·         Tense by shoulders by lifting them towards the ears. At the same time, create the tension in the back of the neck.

·         To tense the upper back - take a deep breath and hold it. At the same time, pull the shoulder blades together and try to make them touch

·         Tense stomach and abdominal muscles by pulling the stomach muscles in and holding them

·         Tense the right thigh by lifting the leg up off the chair - feel the tension in the upper leg and into the hip

·         Tense the right calf by pointing the toes

·         Tense the right foot by pointing the toes and turning the foot inward

·         To tense the left leg, lift it up off the chair

·         Tense the left calf by pointing the toes

·         Tense the left foot by pointing the toes, turning the foot inward

·         Now that each muscle groups in the body had been tensed and relaxed, try to relax each muscle group more deeply. Take deep breaths and let go of any remaining tension 


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Your Happiness Set Point

Studies done with monks who are adept meditators, found that a particular form of meditation called compassion or loving kindness meditation trains happiness and can actually change the happiness set point.

Through tracking brain activity, researchers have found when the activity in the Left Prefrontal Cortex (LPC) is higher than in the Right Prefrontal Cortex (RPC) – people feel alert, energized, enthusiastic, joyous, enjoying life more, and are happier. When the activity in the RPC is higher than in the LPC – people worry, are anxious, and sad. If the activity in the RPC cortex is much greater than the LPC, people are prone to depression.

The more adept meditators used more of their brains when meditating (more areas lit up). This shows how meditation accesses more of the brain. Particularly – the left prefrontal cortex – activity in the LPC cortex swamped that in the RPC the LPC is associated with happiness, love and empathy. This is what keeps meditators coming back for more – it feels good!

This meditation is a 2,500 year old practice in which key phrases are repeated and the meditator focuses on feelings of happiness or loving kindness toward themselves and others.

It is best to practice daily for fifteen to twenty minutes for several months.

Sometimes this meditation can bring up feelings opposite to those one is trying to cultivate. If this happens, please be patient, acknowledge those feelings, feel them, let them pass, and continue with the loving kindness phrases. Over time, the part of your brain that deals with feelings of happiness, love and bliss will be developed.

While repeating the phrases, it is important to focus on the feeling of happiness. If it is difficult to hold onto that feeling, concentrate on a time when you felt happy and focus on that feeling (don’t focus on the activity involved or the people you were with). Or, imagine yourself as a child or as you are now, surrounded with loving kindness by those who love you, or God.

·         Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
·         Take a couple of deep breaths and settle in – allowing your body to relax.
·         Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm, your abdomen should rise as you inhale, and fall back down as you exhale.
·         Take deep breaths, letting the peace and the relaxation flow in and all of the tension, conflict and worries flow out.
·         Remember your breathing helps you relax – you can relax just the right amount, by first paying attention to your breathing and extending the exhalation just a little bit more from where it was before.
·         If thoughts, ideas or images come to mind, remember, it is part of the exercise, just acknowledge them, gently usher them through and go back to the exercise.

You will be repeating the following phrases for yourself and others:

May I be free from fear
May I be happy
May I be well
May I live life with ease (or in peace)

Begin by repeating these phrases for yourself, imagining the feelings of loving kindness and happiness permeating your body and mind. You may have to repeat these phrases for yourself for weeks until you feel the sense of loving kindness grow for yourself.  Then begin adding others, such as your family or friends - repeating to yourself:

May they (my family) be free from fear
May they be happy
May they be well
May they live life with ease