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Conscious Meditation: What actually happens when you meditate?

Buddha Tree

The quieter you become, the more you can hear – Ram Dass

I have thought about starting a meditation practice for as long as I can remember. I have read countless articles about the benefits  – lowered reactivity, more patience, less stress, improved physical health – have been completely convinced that it is the ideal practice for my often harried mind and over stimulated nervous system. I have started and maintained a regular daily practice for about a week, multiple times. I even attended a 10-Day meditation retreat. But I never made it a regular, lasting habit.

Until this year.

This year, I decided would meditate every day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

And so far, I have.

And I love it.

But I still have questions.

  • What is the best way to practice meditation?
  • What about when I was actually sitting there focusing on my breath? What was supposed to happen then?
  • Would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation? Would I be more peaceful? Would I be more patient? Would it be easier to pause and respond in the moment instead of reacting mindlessly?

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE?

 Just like there is no “best way” to breathe, there is no “best way” to practice meditation – there is only the best way for each individual – the method that feels right, that allows you to settle into your practice and that motivates you to keep coming back day after day.

Before I began, I downloaded numerous guided meditations. I downloaded meditations from Tara Brach, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and found numerous podcasts dedicated to regular meditation, such as A Quiet Mind, Meditation Oasis and Quiet…

…but I can’t speak to their efficacy because after two months, I have yet to open one. As an introverted mother of two – often rambunctious – young children, I found pleasure in retreating into meditation as a way to decompress and rejuvenate myself, preferring the silence and simplicity of just following my breath, to trying to concentrate on a guided mediation, in these moments.

And as in earlier attempts, I initially experienced some of the “monkey mind” often referred to in writings on meditation, when your mind jumps from one thought to the next, but I soon found myself settling into each practice and enjoying the peace, stillness and time to myself that meditation allowed.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING MEDITION?

Because meditation is such a personal experience, no one will experience the exact same sensations as anyone else, but initially it is common to feel:

  • feelings of frustration;
  • an inability to concentrate;
  • an increased awareness of repetitive thoughts; and
  • the need to continually refocus on the breathe, mantra, etc.

But as you persevere with your practice, the feelings become more pleasant, such as those mentioend by Light Watkins, in his post 5 Signs You Went into Deep Meditation, including:

  • a feeling of deep relaxation,
  • shallow breathing,

And from my own experiences:

  • a feeling of floating,
  • a feeling of vibrating energy
  • a feeling of heaviness as your body sinks into your meditation surface; and
  • an overall feeling of peace and well being.

WILL I SEE NOTICABLE CHANGES FROM A REGULAR MEDITATION PRACTICE?

I have always wondered how, or if, my life would really change with a regular meditation practice. I knew, that if I practiced regularly, my brain would change in positive ways. I know that I’d have moments of peace, as well as moments of frustration, when I was meditating, but would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation.

According to WildMind Buddhist Meditation, some of the outward signs of a progressing meditation practice include:

  • a greater ability to concentrate;
  • becoming more aware of the outside world;
  • becoming more aware of your posture;
  • becoming more aware of your actions;
  • become aware of more interesting and vivid dreams;
  • experiencing feelings of calmness and a reluctance to end a period of meditation;
  • other people noticing that you are changing – becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly;
  • having interesting experiences in meditation – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing;
  • noticing a gap between stimulus and response in your interactions, and realizing that you have a choice about how to respond; and
  • becoming more dissatisfied through more self-awareness – and finding things about yourself that you want to change.

And now, after over two months of daily (albeit short) practice – although I haven’t experienced any of the above signs of a progressing practice – I can feel a change when I sit down, legs crossed, eyes closed. While there is still that initial flurry of activity, my body seems to know that this is time to rest. My limbs grow heavy, my focus turns inward, and often when the bell rings to signal that my time is up, I don’t want to move, enjoying the bliss of this trance-like state I’ve fallen into.

I haven’t been any moments where I feel, as others have written, that I am outside myself, connected through a shared energy, to the rest of the earth and it’s population. I’m still in my house, listening to the birds chirp, the horns honk and the occasional rooster crow.

But right now, that is enough for me.

How about you? Have you recently started a regular meditation practice? Or are you a seasoned practitioner with insight to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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A More Mindful January

Boat Peace

The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

To begin A More Conscious Year, I thought I would start with the goal of being more mindful, or present, during the month of January. Many of you reading this may be well aware of the definition of mindfulness, but for any who are not, The Greater Good Science center’s Definition of Mindfulness reads, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.” Or as Wildmind Buddhist Meditation puts it in the post What is Mindfulness, we don’t judge experiences as good or bad, or if we do make judgements, we simply notice them and let them go. “We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist. Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.”

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so difficult. But in the midst of a stressful situation, it can be quite difficult to maintain that sort of non-judgemental awareness. And that is where the importance of practice comes in. The more you practice being mindful, the more natural a state it will become, even in times of stress.

The benefits of mindfulness are many:

  • greater ability to concentrate;
  • lowered stress levels;
  • improved immune function;
  • growth in the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy;
  • improved relationships;
  • increased ability to parent responsively, and
  • a greater sense of joy.

In her Huffington Post article, Thirteen Things Mindful People Do Differently Everyday, Carolyn Gregoire describes how mindful people meditate, pay attention to their breathing, turn daily tasks into mindful moments, take long walks, feel their feelings rather than trying to run from them or drown them in chocolate or alcohol, pay attention to what they put into their bodies and minds, and consequently, are more likely to seek out new experiences, appreciate nature, take themselves less seriously and experience more joy.

I would like to be one of those people!

But practicing mindfulness is not easy, especially in Western, multi-tasking, productivity driven societies. Practicing mindfulness involves a conscious effort to slow down, to pay attention to what is in front of you, to push aside all of the planning, worrying, ruminating that many of us do on a regular basis as we go about our daily lives. Practicing mindfulness involves changing neural pathways in our brains that have served us for years, if not decades, of automatic responses.

But it can be done.

Mindfulness, a practice that arose out of Buddhist tradition, is now being practiced in homes, schools, hospitals and offices around the world. The internet abounds with scientific findings on the proven benefits of being more mindful.

So how can we become more mindful?

In his post The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta suggests a 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge and lists eleven tips for practice during the month, including:

  • doing one thing at a time, slowly and deliberately;
  • doing less, with breaks in-between;
  • taking five minutes for a daily meditation;
  • practicing conscious listening; and
  • turning meals and daily chores into opportunities to practice mindfulness.

For the month of January, I have chosen the following practices to help me have a more mindful month:

1. Week 1: “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating and Daily Chores

Because I’ve found it difficult to stay mindful for long periods of time in the past, I want to start this month out with something that will be easy to practice anywhere and that will provide me with regular reminders of my intention. Throughout our days, we are almost always doing something and many of us typically eat three meals a day. Making a conscious effort to eat mindfully and do whatever it is I’m doing at the time, more mindfully, will allow for countless opportunities throughout my days. In the post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, on Daring to Life Fully, Marelisa Febrega suggests starting small by choosing one thing you do every day and practice doing it mindfully. She also recommends pausing before starting a new activity and taking a few breaths before beginning. Eating mindfully would be a good start. For more on mindful eating see Tiny Buddha’s 5 Tips for Mindful Eating and Summer Tomato’s 9 Tricks to Eat More Mindfully.

2. Week 2: Awareness of Mindfulness Cues

Mindfulness cues, or reminders, can be helpful to bring your mind back to the present moment. Mindfulness cues can be internal or external. Internal mindfulness cues include things like rapid breathing, a sense of frustration, or negative thoughts. External mindfulness cues could be entering and exiting through a door (each time pausing to return to the present moment), hearing a phone ring, beginning a conversation, sitting down to eat, starting a car, etc. For the second week of January, I will make a list of mindfulness cues to bring myself back to the present moment and add them to my practice.

2. Week 2: Practice Mindful Body / Sensory Awareness

As many writings on mindfulness state, while our mind can wander, our body is always in the present. By returning to our body through body and sensory awareness, we can connect the two and return to the present moment. Additionally, our body often reacts the same way when we are confronted with a real stressor or are simply thinking about something stressful. Awareness of these stress responses, rapid breathing or tightened muscles allows us to conscious return our bodies to a state of calm. For the third week of January, in addition to continuing my practice of “single tasking” and awareness of mindfulness cues when I notice my mind wandering or my body tensing, I will work to return my attention to the feeling of my feet on the ground or an object against my skin; noticing the sights, sounds, smells and textures around me. to bring myself calmly back to the present.

4. Week 4: Practice Regular Meditation (Twice a Day)

Meditation, it is said, is not essential for mindfulness, but it helps a great deal. And the benefits of meditation both mirror and increase those of a mindfulness practice. So for the third week of January, I am going to add a second 15 minute afternoon meditation practice to my regular evening meditation. For more see GAIAM Life’s Meditation 101 and Goodlife Zen’s How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips.

Throughout the month, I will also use the mantra, “Be Here Now,” to bring my attention back to the present moment whenever I notice it wandering. This mantra has worked for me in the past.

While strategies listed above may work for me, I realize that they may not work for everyone. In her Psychology Today article 10 Best Practices for Being Present, Nancy Colier, LMSW, she acknowledges that all practices for cultivating mindful will not work for everyone because we all respond uniquely to different stimuli. She recommends trying different practices and selecting the ones that resonate most with you (The post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, mentioned above, lists some more varied and creative mindfulness exercises).

Cultivating a mindfulness practice isn’t easy. It takes concentration, dedication and a genuine desire to be more mindful. For every time I have been able to focus mindfully, there are at least 100 times I’ve simply been mindful of the fact that I haven’t been mindful. Additionally, in her post Seven Obstacles to Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them, Tiny Buddha recognizes that “sometimes you want to be anywhere but in the now.” As a parent of two small children, I can recall many instances when I’ve wanted to escape the present moment by any means possible. Yet, again, hopefully, with practice, staying in the moment won’t be so difficult, or unappealing. Tiny Buddha states, that “when you realize that the challenging times are there to help you grow, you will automatically feel more peaceful and relaxed.”

Here’s to automatically feeling more peaceful and relaxed!

Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year! I hope this is a year filled with joy, peace, happiness and countless moments of consciousness!

What about you? Do you have mindfulness practices that work for you that you’d like to share? Are you interested in your own More Mindful Year? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

Conscious Meditation

Buddha Tree

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”Sogyal Rinpoche

I have wanted to cultivate a regular meditation practice for years. I have started and stopped, tried and failed, found inspiration and lost it. I even spent 10 days at a Buddhist Meditation retreat in Thailand. But I have never set aside enough time, fostered enough motivation or followed through with my desire to sustain a regular practice. Yet now, on my journey to live a more conscious, mindful, life, it seems all the more important to commit.

There are so many reasons to meditate. According to Belle Beth Cooper What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How It Benefits You), meditation quiets your mind; it helps you focus; it helps you to be more creative, compassionate and empathetic; it improves memory and reduces stress. In her Psychology Today Article, This is Your Brain on Meditation, Rebecca Gladding, M.D. explains, in detail, how a regular practice of meditation physically reshapes the connections in our brain, leading those with regular meditation practices to be calmer, less reactive, more empathetic and more balanced in their responses and perspectives.

Yet even with all of this scientifically based reasoning, I find it difficult to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes a day and just do nothing. I am a task-master. I worship at the temple of productivity. A day when I clean my house, cook a healthy dinner, write a blog post, spend quality time with my family and knock a few other things on my to-do list is a happy day for me. I am very conscious of this aspect of my personality. And yet it is just this aspect that I would like to soften through meditation. I would like to be able to sit for a moment without thinking of all of the things I should could be doing. I would like to be more focused and not thinking constantly. I would like to be able to relax and just be.

But it isn’t easy.

As a runner, if I don’t run every few days, I feel a physical pull to get outside, stretch my legs and put some distance between myself and the confines of my four walls. Running exercises my muscles and clears my head. I would love to have that feeling, as a “meditator;” that physical need for regular practice, for mental cleansing.

So I’m committing here, in this post, to finding at least 10 minutes each day to begin a regular meditation practice. Armed with Zen Habits’ Leo Babuta’s 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind and  Goodlife Zen’s Mary Jaksch’s guidance on what to do when things come up for you during your meditation practice, I’m ready to begin…

…doing nothing.

If you are interested in beginning or reinvigorating a regular meditation practice, there is so much going on right now to encourage people to meditate.

Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah have launched a 21-Day Experience called Finding Your Flow that began on April 14 and continues through May 4. Their site offers daily guided meditations on a theme with a free registration.

In May, Mindful Magazine is starting a Mindfulness in May campaign that offers a month of daily guided meditations and interviews with practitioners in the fields of meditation, science and health for a fee of $25 with proceeds going to clean water initiatives around the globe (You have to register by May 1).

America Meditating is an initiative by the Meditation Museum in the D.C. area to encourage people to pause at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day for a moment of peace and contemplation.

The Insight Meditation Center in California offers recorded talks, articles, newsletters and other meditation related resources. You can access the homework for their Six Week Mindfulness Meditation Course HERE.

Thanks for Reading!

What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? If so, do you have any tips or insights for beginners? Are you a beginner or interested in beginning a regular practice? If so, I’d love to start a conversation and share experiences.