The Mystique of Meditation
This week teaching an early morning yoga class, a deep sense of stillness descended as we sat, eyes closed, watching as each breath entered and left our bodies. With the quiet movement of each breath, the silence became more profound; everyone dropping into that very moment – it was as if we were all suspended in time. Afterwards, we all commented on the palpable feeling of calm around us, and I noticed a radiant glow on everyone’s face. It was as if all the tiredness, stress and tension had melted away, replaced with warmth and smiles – such a great start to the day.
It reminded me that following the breath is one of the simplest ways to experience meditation. When we truly allow ourselves to focus fully on each and every inhale and exhale, it leads us to a place beyond the never ending stream of thoughts in our minds, the day to day distractions and the inevitable trajectory of our lives. Eventually, with practice, everything drops away except that very moment and a delicious sense of peace – beyond relaxation – begins to unfold. That place can be referred to as our inner world, our real Self, our soul, true essence, our centre – it doesn’t matter. This spaciousness or expanded consciousness is innate in us all, yet at the same time it is the all-elusive higher state us humans have been chasing since civilisation began.
For thousands of years, saints, sages and philosophers in all cultures have come up with innumerable meditative practices to get us there, which, in this digital age, we need more than ever. There can be few of us in these fast moving times who aren’t seeking peace of mind – and that’s why the words meditation and mindfulness have become part of the vernacular. It’s as if we are instinctively drawn to the stillness and clarity they create that we are so desperately craving, but do we really know what these practices are? More to the point how many of us can actually say we’re managing to fit them into our lives? The truth is despite all the science and technology we have at our fingertips, there is much we still don’t understand about ‘consciousness’ and while the meditative state might seem so simple it remains so near, yet so far, shrouded in mystery.
It certainly helps unravel the mystique a little to define some of the main types of meditation. First up, mindfulness – which has become the modern catch all cure all for sorting out our frazzled minds. It is an over arching term for many types of meditation which increase focus and release stress by training our mind to rest in the present moment usually by focusing attention on the breath (as above), sensations in the body, thoughts, emotions or sounds. Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, the American academic credited with bringing wider awareness of scientifically proved benefits of mindfulness meditation describes it as ‘paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgementally as if your life depended on it’.
Vedic meditation is another popular type of meditative practice reported to release stress and increase creativity by repeating a mantra in Sanskrit (the language of ancient India) for 20 minutes twice a day. The Beatles famously retreated to Rishikesh, India to practise a form of this called Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the 60s with the charismatic guru, Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi and now film director David Lynch and Russell Brand have become its poster boys. Energising forms of meditation include some martial arts, Kundalini yoga and pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), and there are also so-called goal orientated practices which use creative visualisation via guided meditation, focusing on a deity, or on a desired state as in ‘Loving Kindness Meditation’.
These are the main categories of meditation, with a few examples in each – there are many more. All of which are valid in their own ways. My advice is to forget about the technique – just to pick one and allow yourself to enter into the experience. You can start today by sitting and connecting to your breath as described earlier. Guaranteed, once you have tasted that deep sense of stillness, you will want to experience more – and the more you experience, you will find the practice which suits you.