However, the practice gets lost among social trends and stigmas that have deemed the act trivial to some. Prior religious aspects make people turn their heads with the flawed understanding that they will be doing a disservice to their own religion if they give in to the western culture of meditation.
I am here to break that stigma and shine some light on the history and purpose of meditation, and also give some perspective on my own meditation journey and how it has brought significant benefits to my mental and physical health.
Once again, a disclaimer: I am no professional. I have researched this subject because it is one that interests me, and one that I want to be successful in; nothing less, and nothing more. If you struggle with a busy mind, a busy life, and crave some quiet you time, this post is for you! Let’s dive in.
The first time I meditated was when I was quite little, I think, and I of course imitated the “traditional” posture; legs crossed, hands on the knees saying “OHM” over and over again. I think more than anything it was something to irritate my parents, because they believed meditation to have religious and spiritual undertones. As I got older, however, and took yoga classes and even talked to a therapist, it became quite clear that the benefits and the act itself went far beyond certain religious practices.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn created the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 with the intention of teaching students stress reducing practices, while eliminating religious undertones. He created the Mindful Based Stress Reduction course, an 8 week program that covers things like responding instead of reacting, stress responses, walking and lying down meditation practice and even eating meditation practice. All of the professors are MBSR trained, and work with novice and experienced meditators alike. When researching this, I was surprised seeing things like “eating meditation” and “walking meditation.” Like others, I was under the impression that it had to be completely silent, you had to have your eyes closed and in a crisscross-apple sauce position and not think. Well I’ve been proved wrong because eating meditation was definitely not on my radar, and anything that has to do with eating has me hooked.
What does it take to become an expert meditator? In my experience, I just started with the basics. I remember doing this in P.E. class; laying down with your eyes closed, and slowly paying attention to all of your body parts from your toes to your head, and relaxing them body part by body part. Once you are relaxed, focus on your breathing and you fall into this extremely relaxed state. Is this considered full blown meditation? Potentially, however it got my foot in the door. I felt so rejuvenated and calm and ready for the rest of the day after that class. It was amazing what thirty minutes of quiet, guided relaxation could do for the body and mind.
So from there I started taking some yoga classes at a local studio once a week, and after every class we would have a silent meditation, guided still, by the teacher. I’ve found that guided meditation works a little better for me right now, since I am still a novice. It helps me achieve what I’m trying to accomplish, whether that’s affirmations, relaxation, or calming me down after a stressful moment or panic attack.
I’ve had friends recommend some great guided meditations on YouTube for when you’re first starting out, and they’ve done wonders at the time I needed it. Another important thing to consider when meditating is not shutting your mind off. I think there’s that stigma, like I mentioned above, that you can’t think, you have to be completely and utterly quiet in the mind and the body. This obviously isn’t true, or I would never be able to achieve a successful meditation session.
The word meditation comes from the Latin word “meditatum” which means to ponder. So really, the act of meditation is to listen to your mind, to ponder those thoughts and what they mean for you, and how you can work through them. I think one of the greatest guided meditation tactics that I’ve listened to thus far is envisioning a river, and in that river are leaves. You use the image of the leaf to take place of the things you are thinking about and wanting to process, you focus on the leaf (or thought) for a moment, and then you let the leaf travel down the river. Not fully gone, just out of sight. You gave it your time for a moment, you pondered why it is there and what its purpose is, and then you let it go. I feel this mental imagery is perfect for those rough days when you have a lot on your mind and just need a moment to focus on one thing at a time and then let things go.
A teacher of the meditative arts, Sarva Lokaa Maa Guruji Poonmaji said:
“This altered state is what every human individual is looking for…meditation is an altered state of consciousness. It’s not about closing eyes and sitting motionless in a location that will give you the answers…this altered state is when you have achieved something within yourself.”
You don’t have to have a special room with special mats or music playing in the background; you don’t have to sit crisscrossed with your eyes closed. You can achieve this kind of altered state, as she puts it, just by simply taking a moment to breathe and to travel inwards into yourself and find a sense of calm.
Now I am by no means proficient at this yet. I have really been working on it, since that was something that I struggled with as a kid with my parents. Short fuses seem to run in my family, so I have really been working on the act of patience and reminding myself that taking the time to take a step back and reevaluate the situation can not only help me, but my son as well. So what are some common myths about meditation that prevents us from taking this time for ourselves? How can we apply this practice into our daily lives to help reduce stress and bring us more patience?
I also want to go back and address what it means to be an “expert” meditator. I believe there are levels of meditation just like there are in yoga or exercise, and the common factor in all of them is PRACTICE.
Just like Casey says, even a shitty workout is still a workout. You’re still moving your body, you got up from that chair and you did it, and the effort should be praised. Can we do better tomorrow? Definitely, and meditation is the same. The more you practice, the more you make it your own and find what works for you, the better you will become, and the benefits will start to reveal themselves. So back to how we can start our practice, and what tips and tricks will make this meditation journey successful:
Meditation is a practice of self-love, self-appreciation, and you deserve to feel that calmness and motivation throughout your day. Our world is heavy right now, there is a lot happening and if you’re empathetic like me, it can become too much sometimes. Taking moments for yourself, taking moments to acknowledge internal struggle and complex emotions is crucial for your mental health. Again, I’m no expert, and I may not get to my meditation every day, but I know what the benefits are. I know how it has helped me and guided me through some pretty rough patches in my life. I have been blessed to know people who have given incredible advice and even guided me through meditations to help relieve any stress or frustration.
So give yourself that peace, allow yourself to grow with and within yourself.
You are worth it, your existence is worth it, and taking space for yourself is worth it.
Until next time my loves. Namaste.