Meditation & Mindfullness
Meditation is seen by many as potentially one of the most effective forms of stress reduction.
What is Meditation?
Despite all its popularity, today very few of us truly know what meditation is. Some regard meditation as the mental ccentration on something, others consider that we meditate when we imagine something that gives us peace or satisfaction. All these methods are being with one goal to slow down and, eventually, completely stop the incessant activity of our minds. These exercises are not really meditation - they are substitutes for meditation because it is normally very difficult to stop our minds all-together. In reality, meditation is a state of thoughtless awareness. It is not an act of doing - it is a state of awareness. We either in this state or we are not, regardless of what we are doing in life. Truly, a man can be in meditation while doing his day’s labors as another man can be very far from meditation while sitting in a lotus posture on the top of a mountain.
When we take a look at the various explanations of meditation, another thing we often see is that meditation is defined as taking a moment to sit quietly or to ponder. True meditation, however is much more than this. It is a state of profound, deep peace that occurs when the mind is calm and silent, yet completely alert. This is just the beginning of an inner transformation that takes us to a higher level of awareness. This enables us to fulfill our true human potential. The problem, of course, is how to achieve this state.
Meditation Is Not...
Concentration is an effort to fix the attention on a particular object or idea for a long period of time. The techniques used in visualization are another type of concentration.
Loss of control
Sounds, voices, colors and involuntary movements have nothing to do with meditation or spirituality. These are symptoms of loss of awareness and loss of control over some parts of ourselves.
Exercises, such as postures and breathing, do not constitute meditation. They may help establish some balance if under the guidance of a true master (a realized soul). Their practice without a true spiritual goal only leads to an imbalance in the right channel.
Thoughtless awareness is achieved through the raising of the Kundalini. To get rid of blockages that prevent her ascent, we use the hands and introspection but never mental effort e.g. the continuous repetition of “I must stop thinking”.
Meditation is seen by a number of researchers as potentially one of the most effective forms of stress reduction. While stress reduction techniques have been cultivated and studied in the West for approximately 70 years, the data indicates that they are not consistently effective.
Meditation however, has been developed in Eastern cultures and has a documented history of more than several thousand years. Eastern meditative techniques have been developed, trialled and refined over hundreds of generations with the specific intention of developing a method by which the layperson can regularly attain a state of mental peace and tranquility, i.e. relief from stress. It is a strategy that can easily be adapted to the needs of clinicians and their patients in the West.
The growing emphasis on:
- quality of life outcomes
- concepts such as psychoneuroimmunology or mind–body medicine and reducing healthcare costs
- suggest that stress reduction and improving mental health are becoming increasingly relevant to healthcare.
Some Key Points About Meditation
Meditation can be an effective form of stress reduction and has the potential to improve quality of life and decrease healthcare costs.
Meditation is effortless and leads to a state of ‘thoughtless awareness’ in which the excessive stress producing activity of the mind is neutralised without reducing alertness and effectiveness.
Authentic meditation enables one to focus on the present moment rather than dwell on the unchangeable past or undetermined future.
There is little quality evidence comparing one meditation technique with another or meditation with relaxation techniques.
The theoretical explanation for the effects of meditation and relaxation techniques is that the release of catecholamines and other stress hormones are reduced and parasympathetic activity is increased. Whether meditation involves other unique neurophysiological effects remains to be proven.
How does meditation work?
There are many forms of meditation, ranging in complexity from strict, regulated practices to general recommendations. If practiced regularly, meditation is thought to help develop habitual, unconscious microbehaviours that can potentially produce widespread positive effects on physical and psychological functioning. Meditation even for 15 minutes twice a day has been shown to bring beneficial results.
Most theories are based on the assumption that meditation is a sophisticated form of relaxation involving a concept called the parasympathetic response. Psychological stress is associated with activation of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system which, in its extreme, causes the ‘fight or flight response’. Meditation and any form of rest or relaxation acts to reduce sympathetic activation by reducing the release of catecholamines and other stress hormones such as cortisol, and promoting increased parasympathetic activity which in turn slows the heart rate and improves the flow of blood to the viscera and away from the periphery.
Other neurophysiological effects
Other proponents claim that meditation involves unique neurophysiological effects; however, this remains to be proven. Research at the Meditation Research Program suggests the limbic system may be involved in Sahaja Yoga Meditation since significant effects involving mood state have been consistently observed.
The most important issue that must be addressed in this field of research is to clearly define meditation and then subject that definition to scientific testing.
Meditation is popularly perceived to be any activity in which the individual’s attention is primarily focused on a repetitious cognitive activity. This very broad definition is, in the opinion of the Meditation Research Program, the main cause for much of the inconsistent outcomes seen in meditation research.
If one closely examines the authentic tradition of meditation it is apparent that meditation is a discrete and well defined experience of a state called ‘thoughtless awareness’. This is a state in which the excessive and stress producing activity of the mind is neutralized without reducing alertness and effectiveness.
Authentic meditation enables one to focus on the ‘present moment’ rather than dwell on the unchangeable past or undetermined future. It is this state of equipoise that is said to be therapeutic both psychologically and physically and which fundamentally distinguishes meditation from simple relaxation, physical rest or sleep.
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