Making meditation a daily practice

written by Kate McKee

meditate

The word “meditation” embodies many things. As a practitioner and meditation devotee, Kevin Hume describes the practice as “simple exercises for the mind, which relax the body and calm and improve functioning of the mind”. Dr Joan Borysenko, psychologist, scientist and renowned pioneer in integrative medicine, describes meditation as “being pleasantly anchored in the present moment” in her book Beginners Guide to Meditation.

Essentially, meditation can be termed as simply focusing on something and keeping mindful of it for as long as you can to create a calming effect on the mind and body. It is about putting yourself in touch with your senses and filtering out all negative and busy thoughts that are part and parcel of today’s busy lifestyle. Meditation is no longer an inaccessible practice taught only by gurus to those seeking enlightenment or those who are devoted to ancient religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism.

Meditation is a state of altered consciousness in which your brain slows down from its normal, beta-wave activity to a calmer alpha state. The alpha state allows you to remain alert but does not disrupt your awareness like sleeping does. This causes a sense of deep relaxation and peacefulness brought about by neurochemical changes. After a meditation session you can return to the full beta state, which is perfect for today’s busy lifestyle.

For many, meditation is often thrown in the too-hard basket. Between work and play, there is never enough time to concentrate on being still, or perhaps whenever you have tried to quiet your mind in the past you have ended up becoming more stressed by your inability to de-stress straight away.

Meditation isn’t easy, yet it is also a lot less complicated than it is commonly perceived to be. For example, to meditate successfully you do not need to be operating on a higher plane of spiritual existence or get up at 3am to reap the benefits. There are many different types of meditation that cater to a varied number of individuals. As we are all programmed differently, it makes sense that one type of meditation may not work for you and your lifestyle even though it may work for others.

Many are familiar with the concept of meditation but hesitate to take the step to embed it as practice in their lives. Meditation devotees are not born into the process, nor do they become successful at meditation straight away. As with any form of holistic therapy, it is just as much about the journey as the destination. It is an individual process that must not be judged or compared, as it is really about the individual mind, body and spirit.

Director of the Sydney Meditation Centre Kevin Hume’s experience with meditation began, as it often does with fateful discovery, by accident. “A friend recommended Eric Harrison of the Perth Meditation Centre almost 20 years ago. His approach was down to earth and practical with a variety of techniques grounded in the emerging science of meditation.

“After a high-stress, high-pressure, high-profile professional life in broadcasting, corporate and government affairs and then as an adviser to a cabinet minister with far too many portfolios of responsibility, I decided enough was enough. I saw so many stressed-out-of-their-heads like-minded people around me, so thought I could spread the cheer and make a decent living from teaching something that was fun and helped people heal and change their thinking for the better. That was eight years ago. No regrets. Good choice.”

What can it do for you?

Meditation is now being embraced by health practitioners all over the world as an effective holistic therapy that can relieve stress and anxiety, alleviate problems such as insomnia, migraines and high blood pressure, and improve focus, memory and emotional balance. Extensive physiological research has shown that at least three 20-minute periods of meditation weekly can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and other stress-related problems.

Dr Joan Borysenko, a world-renowned expert in the mind/body connection, comments that as the field of psycho-neuroimmunology began to emerge, scientists and health professionals began to understand more about the brain and neuropeptides, which are cells within the nervous system that secrete hormones that can affect any cell in the body with a receptor site for them.

“So an emotion you experience can affect your skin or your heart. People have known that intuitively, but it’s very different to really understand, from a scientific perspective, what those connections are and how they operate,” says Dr Borysenkno. “We live in a society where science has become the god, so it’s fascinating — and helpful to the acceptance of the mind-body connection — that much of it can be scientifically validated.”

Victoria Kasunic, clinical psychologist, believes meditation is refreshment for our minds and can be an essential strategy for developing self awareness by heightening awareness of the “soundtrack” of persistent, negative thoughts running through our minds.

“Your thoughts influence your feelings and behaviour and people are often unaware of what they are thinking. Through meditation you actually start to hear what it is you are thinking and sometimes how judgmental or unkind you are being to yourself,” she says.

“By sitting quietly in meditation you also become acutely aware of your feelings and physical sensations. You learn to be in the present moment rather than focusing on the past or the future. It allows you to tune in to your inner voice rather than be swayed by the opinions of other people. Meditation is a great practice if you are feeling lost or disconnected from yourself, as it connects you back to who you really are.”

Kasunic believes that if you want to be happy on an ongoing basis, some form of meditation practice is an essential ingredient to achieving this and recommends practising meditation to all her clients. “When you are going through a stressful time of change or transition, it supports that process and is a great strategy for living a healthy and happy life even when things are going well,” she says.

“Particular types of guided meditation can be useful in losing weight, improving your self-esteem, and gaining clarity in decision making and goal setting. I often use guided meditation in sessions with clients when they are very stuck in certain situations to assist them to see things from a different perspective and connect to their authentic goals. Sometimes our logical or ego mind gets locked down and meditation can assist to open the mind up to new and creative possibilities.”

Different types of mediation

Meditation has been practised for many centuries within ancient religions and spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jewish Kabbalism, Sufism and Christian mysticism. Sufi and Christian mysticism often use repeated phrases of a devotional nature, while Buddhists often meditate just on the breath, the body or on an object.

It’s interesting to note that in many languages the words for “spirit” and “breath” are one and the same (Sanskrit: prana, Hebrew: ruach, Greek: pneuma, Latin: spiritus). Breathing is the bridge between mind and body, the connection between consciousness and unconsciousness, and is an essential part of practising meditation.

Body meditation This form of relaxation meditation involves a scan of the body from head to toe to draw your attention to one body part at a time.

Chakra meditation A popular Buddhist meditation that focuses on the seven energy centres known as chakras. To achieve a sound mind, body and spirit, the energy flow throughout the body has to be balanced. During meditation, focus is drawn to each of the chakras, allowing energy to flow throughout your whole body.

Transcendental meditation A relaxation meditation that was introduced by the popular Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s, it brings on a state of deep restfulness (known as the theta brainwave pattern) while maintaining a clear and alert mind.

Mantra meditation This popular technique involves the repetition specific words or sounds, known as a mantra.

Energy meditation Centres on the energy around us, as well as within us, through meditation.

 

How to begin

Many people know meditation is beneficial to wellbeing, but how can beginners go about incorporating meditation into their everyday lives? Kevin Hume believes that treating meditation as a daily shower for the mind is a good place to start.

“Literally, leave those thoughts outside the shower and step into sensations. Spend five minutes focused in the present and on sensations — oh that water over the body! Just watch what’s happening without having to react and you’ve started or ended the day freshened inside and out,” he says. “Or just stop your thinking for a moment then take three big breaths and three even bigger sighs as you breathe out and you’ve taken a mini-meditation by re-setting your stress levels (down) and mood (up).”

When exploring meditation, find a technique that works for you and don’t be afraid to look into different practices in your own time. There are many courses, classes and literature on offer so you can discover one that works for you.

“There is no one-size-fits all and what you do is sometimes a matter of personal preference. Consistency in practice is the key. Even five minutes of closing your eyes and just noticing your breath has great benefit when it is practised regularly,” says Kasunic.

It is beneficial to begin meditation twice a day — in the morning when you wake up and in the evening before you go to bed. If you meditate in bed you will find you will fall asleep straight away. That’s why performing meditation sitting up in lotus position is recommended; it’s comfortable but not so comfortable that it will make you doze off in the middle of it.

Put aside a mere 15 to 20 minutes for each session or more if you can handle it. Less can, of course, be very worthwhile if that’s all you can manage, and sessions up to one hour have substantial benefits. You can try to work up to this ideal, but remember not to pressure yourself to achieve an optimal meditation experience straight away. With meditation, consistency is the key. Fifteen minutes twice a day at times that suit you can work wonders for your mind and body.

It’s important to find a peaceful environment to meditate in where you won’t be distracted by phones, kids or pets. It’s vital to have time to tune into yourself and tune out of everything else. Absolute silence is sometimes an unrealistic expectation to have, as we may be able to switch the phone off but we can’t stop noisy trucks and cars from passing by outside. You can learn to observe noises without being completely distracted by them. Your presence of mind is the focus of meditation.

You can experience the advantages of meditation from just one sitting, but you will really feel the benefits within a few sittings once you have found a technique that suits you, says Hume. “Once you’ve learnt to focus just on one thing at a time, bringing the mind back into focus when it wanders, as it will, then you’re well on the way to experiencing the delights of meditation on many levels of experience for both mind and body,” he says.

Meditation tips for beginners

Choose a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position, such as the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position that is comfortable as long as the back is straight and posture strong. Sitting in a chair is fine if the crossed-legged position is uncomfortable for you and, of course, comfy clothes are a must!

 

Last but not least

Remember to be patient with the process. Try to refrain from judgement or self-criticism when practising this new skill. No one plays the piano like a concert pianist on their first try. As with everything, meditation takes practice and patience.

“Like every new skill you’ve ever learnt in your life, practice makes perfect,” says Hume. “Learning occurs at different rates for different people. Find a technique you can relate to and then practise to improve your skill. What you make of the practice, however, is entirely your choice.”

Hume also warns beginners to be aware of gurus or cults who insist you find their truth for yourself. “Meditation is about your very own self-awareness, not follow-the-leader,” he says.

So, why not try incorporating meditation into your daily routine? Start off slowly and notice the positive it brings to your life. Ten minutes here or 20 minutes there may just bring you that clarity of mind and emotional peacefulness we all strive for.

Kevin Hume on Yoga Nidra meditation

“Shower meditations are always fun and very time-economical when you’re just too busy to sit for even 10 minutes. My favorite, though, is Yoga Nidra — just going round parts of the body checking out sensations in each part, first down the right hand side, then down the left, then integrating left and right from feet to face before settling to focus just on the breath. It’s guaranteed to shift your stress levels down and help rebuild energy for what comes next in your busy day. Just 20 minutes a day is fabulous.

The ancient Tibetan Buddhist Loving Kindness meditation also mellows your dealings with even the most difficult people you have to deal with in your day. I would recommend it for highly stressed corporate folk as a mood setter to get you through almost any workplace crisis or conflict.”

 

Meditation is the new black

Celebrities such as actresses Goldie Hawn, Kate Bosworth and Halle Berry, supermodel Gisele Bundchen and jazz musician Herbie Hancock all credit meditation with enhancing their sense of wellbeing. Actor, Richard Gere says it helps him to “set my motivation for the day”. Actress Heather Graham, who meditates twice a day, says, “It’s like entering this blissful feeling of nothingness.” Noted film director, David Lynch, who has been meditating for more than 35 years, says that through meditation “Garbage goes out, gold comes in. Everything becomes easier. And you start understanding more.” The American director is so passionate about meditation that he wrote a book on it titled Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.

 


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Kate McKee

Kate McKee is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about natural health and lifestyle. She enjoys writing for a variety of lifestyle publications on topics ranging from health and beauty to outdoor living and sustainable garden design.