By Chere Di Boscio
I once knew a Thai guy who blew my mind. It was back at uni. I walked into the classroom a bit late, and as everyone was milling about, waiting for the lecture to begin, I noticed the quiet, sweet Thai dude in the class had drawn something of a crowd. Turns out, he was breaking people’s pencils…with his mind. Yes, seriously. People would hold a pencil horizontally between their palms, and he would touch it lightly with a tissue – and watch it snap in half!
Gobsmacked, I asked him what his trick was. His calm answer? “Meditation.”
Meditation means different things to different people, but it’s certainly been around for millennia. It’s the guide to inner peace, the practice of contemplation, consideration, and reflection. Or, it could be said that it’s about clearing your mind; becoming thoughtless. It basically involves taking control of your own mind – be it to stay calm in times of stress, stay focused on a goal, reduce symptoms of illness like asthma, depression and high blood pressure – or just having fun breaking pencils. Apparently, my classmate had been taught to meditate since he was a toddler. And the result? Well, the pencils are nothing – he can break stacks of bricks with his hands by channelling his mental energy, too.
What Exactly Is Mediation?
It sounds really basic, but meditation is simply the practice of training our mind to be still and undisturbed by surroundings, no matter what they may be. It’s about finding your ‘Zen’, where you are in control of your emotions and thoughts; where any nasty events or situations are identified, acknowledged and dealt with, leaving you in a state of peace, compassion and kindness.
Mantras are used by some to get to this state; the eyes are sometimes closed, or sometimes focused on an object like a flame.
This quieting of the mind not only helps calm us down mentally, but it has been proven to lower blood pressure and have other physical effects, too. For example, studies have shown it can cure conditions such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). During a study of over 50 adults with ADHD, it was found that when they were submitted to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, they showed that there was a reduced level of hyperactivity, reduced impulsiveness and an increase in the ‘act with awareness’ skills. Overall there was a vast improvement in all the inattention symptoms.
It is also beneficial in coping with asthma, anxiety, depression and can help us sleep better and feel happier: after all, when our minds aren’t at peace, we can’t be in happy place, even though our conditions may be perfect.
Buddhists believe that the benefits of meditation go way beyond simple happiness: for them, meditation brings the total liberation of the mind and re-energises the body by infusing its cells with energy (prana). Studies have shown that our physiology does indeed change with meditation and those who meditate for 20 minutes or more a day enjoy almost 100 physical and mental benefits, including:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
- Slower respiratory rate
- Lower cortisol levels
- Less perspiration
- Decreased tension related pain such as headaches, muscle and joint problems
- Improved immune systems
- Increased energy levels
- Improved self esteem
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
By training our minds to be at peace with everything, through meditation, we can eventually become more peaceful people, and experience a more constant state of contentment, even under difficult circumstances.
But when you first start to meditate, you may find it hard to control your mind for any length of time – your thoughts may be like leaves blowing around in the wind.
But don’t worry – it’s normal. Just acknowledge it and move on. If you keep practicing, you’ll find that you get better at training your mind over time.
Here’s How To Do It
- First, find a quiet, comfortable place. Sit or lie in a position you like. Shut your eyes or focus on a distant object or flame.
- Breathe naturally, don’t control your breath. But now, focus on your breaths. Listen to each one; note how each one feels when you inhale and exhale. Become aware of your neck, chest, shoulders, ribs.
- If your mind wanders, bring it back to focusing on your breath. Listen to yourself inhale, hold for a second or two, and then gently exhale. This technique will help you at times when your thoughts take over and you find your mind unable to stop. Come back to listening to your own breath.
- To begin with, just meditate for 3 or 4 minutes, and build up to longer periods you feel comfortable with. Notice how you feel after each session.
There’s no set time or place for this; you can do it on the bus, on the sofa before you go to bed, in bed as soon as you wake up – it’s up to you. Just ensure you’re not rushed, and you’re in your own space, with no one bothering you for your attention.
How To Sit
Your posture is important. Don’t do this slumped over a desk, obviously. The most classic posture would be that of the Buddha Vairochana (lotus position) – legs crossed, hip bones equally placed and grounded on the floor, right hand placed in the left hand, palms upward with the tips of the thumbs gently touching.
Hands should be slightly below the navel. The right hand is always above the left, symbolising method and wisdom. Not comfy? Sit on a small pillow or bolster to take some pressure off the hips.
Your back should be straight, but relaxed to maintain a clear mind as the spine allows energy to flow freely. When we’re tired, we tend to slouch, and that interferes with this flow, so you should only begin meditating for short periods of time. Have your head tipped slightly forwards with your chin tucked in and your eyes downcast. You will find that this keeps you mentally calm and ensures your spine is straight.
Your eyes should be neither open nor completely closed. Have them half open and keep your gaze down the line of your nose. If you keep your eyes open completely you will be distracted, but if they are completely closed you will find your thoughts wandering to other things – or you may fall asleep! Try to not focus on any one particular object but rather let your eyes feel as if they are glazing over and see everything and nothing at the same time
Keep your lips and teeth as you would have them with your mouth closed but have your tongue up against the back of your upper teeth. You will find that this action prevents your mouth becoming too dry. Keeping your mouth half closed may also feel better for you, again, this is something that you should experiment with and find the way that feels easiest for you. Oh, and did I mention that you can also lie down to do this? Lie flat on your back, palms up, eyes closed. Easy, right?
Meditation is a simple thing with profound results. There are plenty of great ways to take care of yourself – from exercising to eating clean – but if there’s one thing you can do for yourself that takes very little time and effort but will resonate profoundly on other aspects of your health, this is it.