The regular practice of meditation is said to produce true happiness by realizing a state of awareness and detachment. Meditation actually compromises a family of techniques that go by different names (Zen meditation, Transcendental Meditation, etc.) and different categories (concentrative, mindfulness, contemplative, loving-kindness). The core ingredient that underlies them all is the cultivation of attention.
Meditation is part of every spiritual tradition. There are
breathing meditations in every tradition. It has nothing to do with religious
beliefs. It is a simple mental technique to go to the source of thought.
Restful awareness is a natural mind/body response, as natural as the stress response. The most direct way to experience restful awareness is through meditation. The bodily changes of restful awareness in meditation are almost the exact opposite of the flight-or-fight response. During meditation:
q Breathing slows
q Blood pressure decreases
q Stress hormone levels fall
q The consumption of oxygen falls almost twice as much as during sleep.
What is fascinating about these physiological changes is that even as the body is resting deeply in meditation, the mind is awake, though quiet. Brain wave studies show improved coherence between different parts of the brain during meditation. These changes in body and mind are not seen during wakefulness or sleeping. The unique combination of physical relaxation and an alert yet quiet mind explains the term restful awareness and distinguishes this state from restful sleep.
People who regularly experience restful awareness develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety and depression. They find it easier to give up life-damaging habits such as cigarettes, excessive alcohol, and drugs.
Studies have shown that the longer people have been practicing meditation, the younger they score on tests of biological age (this is how many years you have been on Earth). For example, long-term meditators show biological ages almost twelve years younger than their chronological age (if a person is 40 years old, they have physical characteristic (heart rates, etc) of a person that is 28 years old).
Although you may wonder when you’ll ever find the time to meditate, we strongly encourage you to make meditation an important part of your life. It will actually create more time for you, because you will be much more efficient when your mind is calm and centered.
We recommend twenty minutes of restful awareness (sitting meditation with your eyes closed) twice a day. The best times to meditate are shortly after awakening in the morning, and again in the later afternoon or early evening. The morning meditation starts your day with a fresh, calm mental attitude. The late afternoon or evening session helps freshen your mind after a day’s activity.
The time you take to experience restful awareness will yield immediate rewards. You will notice relaxation during the meditation and increased energy and creativity during your day. If you have not meditated before, start with the So Hum meditation technique. This is an example of a mantra meditation. A mantra is a word you introduce when you inhale and exhale to focus your mind on your breathing, and away from your thoughts.
When practicing this technique, you will have one of several experiences. Regardless of your experience, have an attitude of “no resistance.” Let go of your need to control or anticipate what is occurring during the practice. Any of the following experiences are indications that you’re meditating correctly.
One of the most common complaints of a new meditator is “I am having too many thoughts.” Thoughts are part of meditation and you cannot force your mind to stop thinking. Just let the thoughts come and go and before long you will find your mind quieting. When you first begin meditation, you will experience relaxation while sitting with your eyes closed, but may revert to your typical stressful reactions when resuming your usual activities. Over time, more of the restful awareness gained in meditation will carry over into your life. As you face the daily challenges of being human, you’ll find it easier to maintain your calm center.