How To Begin Yoga And Meditatin

How To Begin Yoga And Meditatin

 How To Begin

Getting down to it

Having decided that meditation is something you would like to try, maybe for relaxation, maybe from more mystical motives, what is the next move? Before going on to look at meditation techniques, there are some basics to be considered. Posture is important, and hatha yoga will also be of great benefit in preparing for meditation

Posture

It is essential to adopt the correct position, not necessarily a sitting one, when meditating. Many practitioners of the art consider that the centuries-old seven-point posture is the most successful in helping to achieve a calm clear state of mind and has yet to be bettered Others recommend the siddhas Ana, while many beginners opt for a simple cross-legged position (the easy posture), sitting in a chair (the Egyptian posture) or kneeling with the buttocks on the ankles (the Japanese, or thunderbolt, pos true).

Easy posture

Basically, this involves sitting cross-legged with both feet on the floor. The back should be straight but not tense and the stomach muscles relaxed. With the muscles of the lower back bearing the weight of the body and with the head, neck and trunk in line, the centre of gravity passes from the base of the spine right through the top of the head. The hands can either be resting lightly on the knees or held in the lap, either one on top of the other or clasped lightly.

Siddhasana

Sitting on the floor with the back straight, stretch the legs out in front of you. Bend the left knee and, grasping the left foot with both hands, draw it towards the body until the heel is resting against the part of the lower body that lies between the anus and genitalia. Now draw the right foot towards the body until the heel is on the pubic bone. Tuck the toes of the right foot between the calf and the thigh of the left leg. Rest the hands, palms upwards on the knees. Siddhasana is some times called the perfect posture.

Seven-point posture

1 If possible, try to sit with the legs crossed in the lotus position, or varja, with each foot placed sole upwards on the thigh of the opposite leg. To get into the lotus posi tion loosen up with the exercises and then sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front of you. Now bend the right knee and, grasping the right foot with both hands, place it on top of the left thigh, heel pressing into the abdomen. Repeat the process with the left foot.The soles should be turned up with both knees on the ground

If you cannot get into the full lotus position, try the half-lotus. Do the same seven exercises before stretch ing the legs out in front of you. Bend the left knee and put the left foot beneath the right thigh, as close to the buttock as you can get it. Now bend the right knee and put the right foot, sole up, on top of the left thigh. Keep both knees on the ground and the back straight. When you find that you can maintain this position comfortably throughout the session over a period of four or five weeks, you will be able to start trying the full lotus.

2 Sitting on a hard cushion will encourage you to keep the back straight and help you to sit for longer without getting irritating pins and needles in the legs and feet. The hands should be held loosely on the lap about a cen timetre below the navel. right hand on top of left, palms upwards, fingers aligned. Both hands should be slightly cupped so that the tips of the thumbs meet to form a tri angle. The shoulders and arms should be relaxed. Never be tempted to press the arms against the body – they should be held a few centimetres away to allow the air to

circulate which helps prevent feelings of drowsiness. 3 The back must be straight but relaxed. Try to imagine the spinal vertebrae as a pile of twopence pieces, deli cately balanced one on top of the other that will crash to the ground if it is disturbed. A straight back encourages the energy to flow freely, and you will be able to medi tate for longer and longer periods.

4 Many newcomers to meditation find it easier to concen trate with the eyes fully closed. This is not wrong, but it

is better to gaze downwards through slightly open eyes. Closed eyes encourage sleepiness and dreamlike images that mar meditation

5 The jaw and mouth should both be relaxed, the teeth slightly apart, the lips lightly together. 6 Keep the tongue touching the palate just behind the up per teeth to reduce the flow of saliva and thus the need to swallow.

7 Bend the neck forward so that your gaze is directed to the floor in front of you. Don’t drop it too low: this en courages sleepiness.

The seven-point position keeps the body and mind com fortable and free of tension. Beginners should not expect to be able to adopt it right away, it takes time to master.

Seven simple exercises

Before trying assume the lotus position, try these floor exercises loosen the joints affected. Try maintain straight back and fixed head position throughout each exercise. Stretch the legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee so that you can grasp the right ankle with both hands and put on the left leg just above the knee so that the right foot extending beyond the left leg. Keeping firm grip on the ankle with the right hand, use the left hand rotate the foot ten times in one direction and ten times the other. Repeat the exercise with the left ankle and foot on the right Sitting same position for the first exercise, put the right knee on the left leg as before and with both hands grasping right ankle, lift above the leg and

shake the foot for twenty seconds. Repeat with the other

Place the right foot on the left leg as before. Holding the foot the left hand and wrapping the right hand around the leg ankle, lift the right high as you can and make large circle with the foot, drawing it close to the body the top of circle and pushing away at the bot tom. Repeat ten times before doing the same with other

With the palms the hands flat the floor behind and beyond the buttocks, bend the right knee and place the right foot high up the left thigh as you can comfort possible. Hold this position for minute and then repeat in the same position as for the last exercise, put the right foot as high up the left thigh as possible, place the right hand on the right knee and gently bounce for a count of ten. Repeat with the left leg.

Stretch the legs out in front of you and then slowly bend the knees outwards and draw the soles of the feet to gether. With the soles touching each other, bring the heels as close to the groin as possible and then, holding the toes with both hands, bounce the knees ten times, keep ing them as close to the floor as possible. Hold for a count

of ten. 7 Do the same as for the last exercise, but when the heels are as close to the groin as you can get them, put the hands on the knees and press them as far down to the floor as you can. Again, hold for a count of ten.

 The sitting position

Older people, or those with back problems who are unable to sit on the floor, can sit on a chair or on a low bench and lose themselves in meditation just as effectively as the more supple.

The ideal chair is one specially designed to encourage good posture: the chair is backless and has a slanted seat and knee rest. A straight-backed chair can also be used, in which case, sit on the front part of the seat with feet flat on the floor and legs slightly apart, the lower legs perpendicular to the floor. It is inadvisable to meditate while sitting in an armchair or on the edge of a bed as the upholstery encourages you to slouch and become drowsy.

Kneeling (the Japanese posture)

Some people find this a convenient and comfortable posi tion for meditation as it is easy to keep the spine straight. Simply kneel on the floor, keeping the knees together. Part the heels and bring the toes together so that you are sitting, straight-backed, on the insides of the feet with the hands on the knees.

Lying flat

This position is called shavasanaor, the corpse position. Lie flat on the floor on a carpet, blanket or hard mattress. Part the legs a little and let the feet flop to the side. The arms should be slightly away from the body, hands on the floor, palms up Some teachers encourage their pupils to take up this posi tion and relax for a short time before assuming one of the

other positions for the meditation session. Relaxing like this prepares the mind for the meditation proper. When you are in the corpse position, starting with the toes and working upwards to the brow. flex each muscle and shake each joint and then relax it before moving on to the next. When you have flexed the face muscles, go back to the beginning and tell each muscle to relax.

At first, some people feel self-conscious lying on their back and saying aloud, Toes relax!”, ‘Feet relax!’ and so on. Their self-consciousness soon evaporates when they realise that the method works. When you are completely relaxed lie still for a few minutes, simply concentrating on your breathing before starting the meditation proper or assuming one of the other positions.

Cupping the hands

Some teachers recommend that the hands be cupped if the pupil is in a posture where it is appropriate to do so. Right handed people who decide to do this should cup the left hand over the right and, similarly, left-handed pupils should cup the right hand over the left, the point being to immobilise the dominant hand.

Basic yoga exercises

you will find practical advice on the hatha postures, or asanas. It is very important to consider how intrinsic these are to meditation and it is most certainly use ful at this point to introduce a regime that involves physical yoga exercise.

 Before you begin

Before you begin, it is important to: • Establish a convenient, regular time to practise.

It is important not to have a full stomach. • Wear comfortable and loose clothing.

• Use a clean, soft blanket or mat, thick enough to protect . your spine and fit the length of your body.

• Perform each exercise slowly, carefully and mind fully

• Force and strain must be avoided. . Do not feel that a proper yoga session must include all

the asanas. You will find some of them more difficult than others, and might want to leave them until you are more supple. Also, you may only have a short time slot for your regular sessions, in which case you should select a few and create a basic programme for yourself. This programme can be altered and added to at any time. There will also inevitably, be periods when you do not feel inclined to wards yoga practice at all. If this is so, then leave it. There is no point in forcing yourself, as yoga must be pleasurable to be effective. Some people leave their yoga for months at a time and then pick it up from where they left off. You might do the same, and it is important to remember that you can go back to it, and that you have not failed by let

ting it lapse. The following are a series of suggested programmes to help you get started, but are not designed to be strictly adhered to, Yoga is a very personal thing, and not open to the dictates of others, including this book or a bossy yoga lecher!

 The warm-up

It is vital to begin any yoga session with this basic warm up routine of simple move ments.

1 Standing in the tadasana keep your face for ward, your feet together, your spine straight and your knees loose. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, slowly tilt your head to the left, your ear towards your shoulder. As you breathe in, raise your head back into the centre and tilt to the right upon the exhale. Repeat six times for each side. Concentrate on keeping these movements fluid and even. Sudden jerks could prove very painful.

Now lower your chin to your chest upon the ex hale, raising it to the for ward position on the in hale. Repeat three times,

then lower your head backwards, again as you breathe out, and return to the upright upon the inhale. Try not to bend your head so far back that you squeeze your neck muscles.

Now lift both your shoulders up and back in a gentle backward rotation, as if you were describing a small circle in the air. Try to keep these circles as perfect as possible. Do this five times then repeat this exercise in

a forward motion, again five times. Both 1 and 2 are great little exercises for releasing neck and shoulder tension throughout the day, some thing those who work over computers or typewriters are particularly prone to.

3a Remaining in the tadasana, raise your hands up above your head. Keep your arms parallel and intertwine your fingers so that your hands form a bridge. Still facing for ward, stretch your arms fully while keeping your feet flat on the ground. This will give your spine a good stretch.

3b Now return your left arm to your side, resting it palm

downward on the side of your left thigh, keeping your

right arm raised. Allow the right arm to lead you into a

sideways stretch to the left. Keep your hips and chest

facing forward and your feet flat. Now do a stretch to the

right, leading with your raised left arm. Repeat three times

for each side.

4 Allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides and swing gently to the left and then to the right in one slow move- ment. Keep your hips facing forward and your feet flat. but allow your shoulders and head to move with the swing. Repeat three times.

5 Now for a back stretch. Fold your arms behind your back, holding each elbow with the opposite hand. If this is too much of a strain, place both hands on the small of the back. Holding firmly with your hands, tuck in your but tocks, push your hips out and your head and shoulders back, so that your body forms a backward curve. Your weight should be centred on your heels. At first, you may find this uncomfortably precarious, in which case you may want to hold onto the back of a chair to steady your self. Do not, however, transfer any of your weight from your heels as you may topple over backwards.

6 For the forward stretch, keep your arms folded behind

you or resting on the small of your back, and lean for wards towards the ground. Bend from the hips, keeping your back straight and your chin forward, until your torso forms a right angle with your legs. If you need the chair for balance, keep your hands on the back and gently step backwards until your back is straight. Stop the instant this becomes a strain, even if you feel that you have barely altered your position from the upright. Even the tiniest stretch is a step in the right direction

7 Now for the legs. This exercise often requires the sup port of a chair back, which should be positioned by your right side. Facing forward, raise your right arm or hold the chair back, and bend your left leg so that your heel reaches your right buttock. Grip your ankle with your left hand and hold. Ideally the left knee should be facing downwards. This is a stretch that sprinters often do be- fore a race, and is excellent for cooling down as well. Hold for a short period, or until it becomes uncomfort able, then repeat for the opposite leg,

8 Repeat step 3. Then give your legs a gentle shake and

your arms a gentle shake.

A beginner’s regime

Before you begin, make sure that your mind is fully tuned into the idea of doing yoga. If your mind is elsewhere, try sitting down with your eyes closed and concentrating on clearing your mind. Try to hold each posture for a minute, and give yourself a ten second gap between each posture to relax and leave the posture behind. Think of how a gymnast. when performing on the beam, closes her eyes before mov ing onto the next part of her routine. She does this to clear her mind and focus her energies on the next movement; you should try to do the same.

Begin with the warm-up exercise above based on the tadasana. Remember to breathe correctly and to avoid straining as you move into the stretches. Take your time with each of the eight steps and give your arms and legs a gentle shake at the end. You are now back in the tadasana pose, so close your eyes, breathe in deeply and, as you exhale. clear your mind in preparation for the next move.

2 Move now into the tree posture, the pray ing position. Locate a spot on which to fix your gaze and remember to distribute your weight evenly across the sole of your foot. Always begin with your right side, and do so for all exercises There is no mystic reason for this, but it helps you to know where you are in your routine, and pre vents you dithering about which side to begin with. which can be surprisingly stressful. Aim to hold the pose for 20-30 seconds cach side. If you find that you keep toppling over then use a chair to hold onto lightly. Sometimes even know ing that the chair is there, should you need it, can be all you require to maintain your upright position. Concen trate on the idea of yourself as a tree, with your feet as the roots that lead into the ground, and you will increase your sense of security in this asana. Once both your feet are back on the ground, close your eyes, and get ready for the next move.

3 Lie down on your front in preparation for the cobra. With your hands un der your shoulders, lift yourself back slowly upon the inhale until your arms are straight. Think of your verte brae as like the bones of a snake, bending backwards in unison. Remember to keep your hips and legs in contact with the floor. Try to hold this posture for a minute, and then slowly lower yourself to the floor. Take a few sec onds to relax and then repeat the exercise, this time in creasing the stretch a fraction. Do not, however, bend so

much that it becomes unpleasant. Again. lower yourself to the floor and take your usual ten second break,

4 To counteract the stretch of the cobra, your next move is the forward bend  . which will allow the muscles of your abdomen and chest to contract. Roll gently round so that your are sitting upright, with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. On the inhale, bend your upper body forward from the hips. If you cannot reach your toes, then grasp your ankles or even knees. If this bend strains your back then you might want to try using a scarf to help you. Holding each end of the scarf, loop it over your feet so that you can pull yourself into the forward stretch. This will help to increase the flexibility of your back and soon you should be able to dispense with this aid. This posture should induce a calmness. If it doesn’t then you are ei ther trying too hard or not concentrating, Aim to hold the pose for a minute, and then relax, giving yourself a moment to come out of it mentally.

5 Now you are ready for the spinal twist , which begins as with the previous exercise, by sit ting upright with your legs straight out in front of you. Keep your head and spine erect by imagining a piece of string attached to your crown, pulling your slightly up wards towards the ceiling. Begin by placing the right leg over the left leg so that your right foot rests on the out side of the left knee. Allow your left hand to support you by placing it behind you at the centre of the spine, but don’t lean into it. As you twist your upper body to the left, remember that it is your shoulders leading this move ment, not your head. Hold for a minute and then repeat for the other side. This should iron out any twinges in the small of your back.

6 Once you have taken your ten second break, prepare for the shoulder stand . If you are menstruating or have heart problems, leave this asana out and move onto the next stage. Before you be gin, ensure that your neck and shoulders are going to be protected from the floor by a folded blanket or mat. Lie back with your arms stretched out by your sides and your palms flat on the floor. Allow your knees to rise up and lift the lower body into the air, and your centre of gravity to shift to your shoulders. Your weight should not be cen tred on your neck or the hands now supporting your lower back. Your legs should be straight and in alignment with your upper body. In short, your bottom should not be sticking out! Hole for a minute and then slowly unroll yourself onto the floor.

7 To release any tensions that may have built up in your neck and shoulder during the previous exercise, you are now going to do the fish . Begin on your back and gently arch your back keeping your buttocks firmly in contact with terra firma. Arch your back till your head can be lowered back to rest on its crown, and redistribute your weight so that your head and buttocks are supporting it equally. It is very impor tant that you do not feel that your head is wedged into position. When you are ready, bring your hands up to chest level so that the palms meet in the praying posi tion. Relax into this posture and hold for a minute before lowering yourself down using your arms as support. Close your eyes and give your mind a chance to clear.

8 Now stand up and place your feet at least a shoulders width apart in preparation for the triangle. Begin by raising your right arm so that it brushes against your ear, with your left arm flat against the out side of your left thigh. Take a deep breath and pull your self over to the left, allowing your left hand to slip down the thigh towards the ankle. Keep your hips facing for ward. When you are stretched as far as you can, hold the pose before raising yourself gently upright. Repeat for width apart in preparation for the triangle. Begin by raising your right arm so that it brushes against your ear, with your left arm flat against the out side of your left thigh. Take a deep breath and pull your self over to the left, allowing your left hand to slip down the thigh towards the ankle. Keep your hips facing for ward. When you are stretched as far as you can, hold the pose before raising yourself gently upright. Repeat for

the other side, and then repeat the exercise three times. This may seem a lot, written down on paper, but if you concentrate fully on what you are doing, you will not notice the time passing.

9 Now move into the thunderbolt position, remembering to keep your back and head upright. Place your hands on your knees and take a deep breath, breathing from the diaphragm. Hold this pose for a minute. Keep your eyes closed but visualise yourself sit ting here so peacefully and still, like a living statue. Take a moment or two to come out of this pose.

10 An important part of every yoga session should be the workout of the face, so prepare yourself for the cow-face posture.Link your arms be hind your back, take a deep breath and visualise that giant clock face in front of you. Without moving your head or fur rowing your brow, look up at twelve o’clock and hold for a few seconds. Move to one o’clock, two o’clock and so on until you come right round to twelve again. Now repeat the process in an anti clockwise direction, tak ing care to stop at each hour for a few seconds. It is very easy to rush round the clock, espe cially going in the anti clockwise direction.

A good technique for slowing your self down is to concentrate on visualising each number in turn, and where exactly it is in relation to the other numbers. When you are finished, rub your palms together and cup them over each eye to soothe them.

11 Slowly stand up till you are in the tadasana once again. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and think of yourself standing on the top of a high mountain. Can the cold clean air? Take a series of deep breaths and en you joy the sensation of being upright, of your body naturally balancing itself. Hold for a minute, before relaxing.

12 The final stage, as with all yoga sessions is the corpse posture. Lie down on your back, and let yourself be heavy into the floor. Close your eyes and be on that beach with the soft sand underneath you. Begin with your toes, flex ing and relaxing each area in turn. For the relaxation ben efits of this posture to work, it is important not to men tally ‘hurry yourself up so that you can get on with mak ing the tea or whatever. This is your time, you deserve it.so sink into it as you would a wonderful hot bath at the end of an exhausting day.

If you are wondering, as you read through this suggested Programme, how on earth you are supposed to remember it all, then don’t worry, you are not the first person to wonder. Some people like to read out their routine into a cassette and play it back to themselves as they practise. The only draw back with this is that the pace is dictated by the voice, unless you are near enough to the tape-deck to press pause when you feel that your voice is being a little hasty or you wish to hold a pose for a little longer.

Alternatively, you can try to memorise the routine and draw yourself a series of twelve diagrams, to be placed somewhere visible to prompt you as you go along. You will find, however, that you soon know instinctively what comes next, though don’t repeat the same routine so often that you become bored with it. Altemate your sessions, adding in new postures or changing the order Remember of course, to counter each forward stretch with a backward stretch and to repeat side stretches on both sides.

  

 

A Healthy Mind Equals A Healthy Body

A Healthy Mind Equals A Healthy Body

A Healthy Mind Equals a Healthy Body

Dualism

Ever since the French philosopher Rene Descartes uttered I think therefore I am’. we have been encouraged to identify ourselves with our conscious minds. We are good at chess. or have a ready wit, or can recite the kings and queens of England without prompting: our cleverness defines us. Descartes philosophy of Dualism prompted us to view our minds as distinct from our bodies: the former was an organ of reason and imagination, the latter an engine.

This did not happen to the same extent in the East, where a more holistic, integrated approach to the human mind and body, as in acupressure and acupuncture, which relate to the emotions as well as physical pressure points, was observed. In the West, however, medicine approached the body rather as mechanics approached the car. The symptoms of physical ailments were treated with little reference to what circum stances caused them to manifest themselves. Well, who would worry about how a car’s tyre became punctured? Even worse perhaps, the human body was regarded as a series of sepa rate parts, each to be treated by a different specialist, with little reference to the rest of the body.

This specialist approach has lead to enormous medical and surgical achievements. Many diseases have been virtually obliterated due to vaccines, diseased organs need no longer threaten life if a donor can be found, even in the field of mental illness, drugs have been developed that can suppress some of the distressing symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia and manic depression. The rub is that Western medicine has all too often ignored

the fact that many complaints have their root in the mind, We call it psychosomatic if someone thinks they are ill just because they are depressed or out of sorts, but in fact we often become ill just because of those very feelings. Con sider how different you feel on a Monday morning, when you don’t want to get out of bed and go to work, and on a Saturday morning, when you can do exactly as you like. Of course, you feel ten times better on a Saturday. And we are not the only ones. Racehorses suffer from Monday Mom ing Sickness’ too, becoming jittery and out of sorts immedi ately preceding a race. For an entire system of medicine, so advanced in many other ways, to have drawn a veil over this link between psyche and health is astonishing.

Mind and body

Holistic (from the Greek holos, meaning whole’) medicine has become increasingly popular in the West, especially amongst people who feel that the use of drugs can only help to a certain extent. The holistic approach regards the body and mind as one, where everything is connected to every thing else,

and nothing can happen to one part without eve rything else being affected. Thus, a patient of a holistic doc tor might be asked about every area of his or her life, from many cups coffee consumed personal worries where precisely backache starts from.

Illness never specific area organ. Rather prescribe drugs, holistic doctor may prescribe subtle change lifestyle, some nudging body back gear. Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, patient expected participate healing process. Pharmacology accustomed that tient’s passive one: expect the doctor work, from diagnosis selecting right chemical. Holistic medicine more honest acknowledges help stimulate body healing itself, which usually very capable doing, given right circumstances. Meditation, frequently prescribed holistic doctors, stack scientific evidence proving enormous physical health.

Stress

Stress essential fulfilled life. Without would never best, therefore never fulfil potential. would need loveless avoid friendless, opportunity-less. That does sound recipe happiness health! But course, much astrous, though how much much varies from one next. Some people, often drawn careers such speculating, fast-moving business, sport absolutely thrive high amounts stress, often desolate when their working lives over. others, even relatively minor stresses, such small money problems forthcoming social events, very distressing. Bore dom can also be very stressful, and many unemployed people are plagued by stress-induced problems. Stress triggers off the ‘fight or flight’ response, which pre pares the body for a burst of intense physical activity. The

heart rate increases, more oxygen is pumped into the lungs, sugars are released into the blood stream to provide energy for the muscles, while digestion stops. This is the perfect state to be in if you are about to race off into the sunset or knock someone for six, but when negotiating a new bank loan or sitting in a fuming traffic jam, this response is less than useless. Your body can neither utilise this response, nor recover from it if the situation persists, as is the case with a rush-hour traffic jam. By the time you reach home you are more than ready for a drink, a cigarette, a row with someone

– anything, to dispel that feeling of being ‘wound up. Stress is also very damaging in the long term. Too much too often can result in hypertension (high blood pressure), asthma and migraine, and be a contributing factor in major diseases such as cancer and bronchitis. Research suggests that being over stressed can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to viral and other infections. and prolonging the recovery time. Even unborn babies can become the victims of stress if their mothers suffer from it while they are in the womb: such babies may develop more slowly, and have more emotional problems in later life than they would have had otherwise, through a tendency to cave in under pressure. Some estimate that as much as 70 percent of illnesses are stress-related.

Meditation and stress

Physical exercise can help to burn off a lot of this useless adrenaline, but a more lasting and effective antidote to stress is to tackle it at source – in the mind. The fight or flight’ response is caused initially by thoughts that produce the re sponse of fear, which then triggers off the biochemical reac tion. Once this chain reaction starts it is very difficult to stop. Think of working to a deadline and realising that you are way behind schedule. The best thing you can do in this situ ation is get to it and try to make up for lost time. However, there is every possibility that your body is getting geared up for a boxing match: your heart is racing, your throat feeling tight, your palms sweating. Rather than setting to your work, you may be forced to sit back and let the stress reaction run its course. Which may very well leave you feeling even more

stressed. Suppose, however, you realise you are way behind sched ule and instead of panicking, take control of your thought processes and thereby avoid the stress reaction. Regular meditation, because it enables you to recognise and there fore take charge of thought processes and how we are ma nipulated by them, can eventually enable you to take con trol, even in the most desperate of situations.

Meditation and smoking

Although most smokers would love to be ex-smokers, most cannot make that transition because they fear the withdrawal symptoms, which often include depression, and because they feel that nicotine is essential to concentration and confidence. like the slimming industry, companies that make products that are designed to help us give up smoking thrive on our yoyo-ing habits, but most over-the-counter products only help in the very short term.

adrenaline, but a more lasting and effective antidote to stress is to tackle it at source – in the mind. The fight or flight’ response is caused initially by thoughts that produce the re sponse of fear, which then triggers off the biochemical reac tion. Once this chain reaction starts it is very difficult to stop. Think of working to a deadline and realising that you are way behind schedule. The best thing you can do in this situ ation is get to it and try to make up for lost time. However, there is every possibility that your body is getting geared up for a boxing match: your heart is racing, your throat feeling tight, your palms sweating. Rather than setting to your work, you may be forced to sit back and let the stress reaction run its course. Which may very well leave you feeling even more

stressed. Suppose, however, you realise you are way behind sched ule and instead of panicking, take control of your thought processes and thereby avoid the stress reaction. Regular meditation, because it enables you to recognise and there fore take charge of thought processes and how we are ma nipulated by them, can eventually enable you to take con trol, even in the most desperate of situations.

Meditation and smoking

, most cannot make that transition because they fear the withdrawal symptoms, which often include depression, and because they feel that nicotine is essential to concentration and confidence. like the slimming industry, companies that make products that are designed to help us give up smoking thrive on our yoyo-ing habits, but most over-the-counter products only help in the very short term.

Hypnosis has proved to be successful, but again only in the short term: after a few months, many people feel that they are just as vulnerable to temptation as they were the day after they gave up. Meditation is a very different way of going about it, because it is an internal, rather than external approach, and goes right to the very heart of what prompts you to smoke in the first place. As the layers of who you thought you were, a clever person, a working mother, a good boy, start to melt away in your mind, leaving you with a clearer picture of yourself, you will also discover that you are not a ‘die hard smoker’ either.

You will probably dis cover that you no more need a cigarette to get by than some one who has never smoked in his or her lives. Alongside this growing self-knowledge, which is also helping you to cope with a lot of the things you would instinctively light up in the face of, is a growing sensitivity to your own body. Even tually the desire to stop poisoning your body with nicotine will override your desire for a smoke. Studies of smokers who learned Transcendental Meditation showed that, after 24 months, 51 per cent had quit, and a significant number of them began the course without even a desire to stop smok ing.

Meditation and general wellbeing

Meditation, because it allows us to take stock of our inbuilt ideas about things, is also effective in combating health prob lems other than those that are stress-related. Negative emo tions, such as suppressed anger, guilt or resentment, can be the starting point for digestive disorders, tension headaches and lowered immunity to infection. By contrast, visualisa tion techniques, such as visualising a diseased organ transforming into a healthy one, have proved remarkably suc cessful in the treatment of cancer patients in the USA, as discussed in Dr Carl and Stephanie Simonton’s book Get ting Well Again (Bantam, 1986).

Yoga and stress

Yoga also works effectively in the war to reduce stress be cause it requires absorption, diverting the mind from sources of anxiety. With regular practice you will begin to know your true self, not the one who attends meetings or has clocked up 10,000 air miles, but the essence of your being. This self knowledge will lend you a deep-rooted confidence that will enable you to reorder your priorities in such a way that you are not permanently exhausted or missing out in the good things in life. It will help you to be assertive, but not aggres sive, generous but not a doormat, and content without being complacent.

It can also bring about increased communion with, and respect for your body, the desire for artificial stimulants less ens (after a few months of yoga, many smokers quit with relative ease), as does the tendency to eat whatever is con venient and skip exercise because you are too tired. Yoga will help you to be less tired as its ability to reduce anxiety will result in more restful sleep. This new wellbeing is lasting, and can help to reverse the effects of even serious complaints, like heart disease, and can reduce the signs of aging. As one centenarian responded when asked the secret of long life: ‘It’s simple. Good food and no worries.

Meditation In The World’s Religions

Meditation In The World’s Religions

Buddhism

Meditation lies at the very centre of Buddhism, the term used in the West to describe the teachings of an Indian prince, Guatama Siddhartha, who lived from c.563 BC to 483 BC. Siddhartha’s wealthy father did everything he could to pro teet his son from the evils of the world and it was not until the young man was in his late twenties that he saw a beggar. a sick man, a decrepit old man and a corpse for the first time and realised just how privileged he was. When he asked a wandering monk about sickness and suffering, the mendi cant told him that misery and pain were part and parcel of everyday life. Inspired by the monk’s example. Siddhartha left his wife and family and turned his back on wealth and self-indulgence At first he looked to Hinduism for answers to the problems of suffering but, finding no answers in the faith of his ancestors, he began to conduct his own search for the truth and meaning of life.

Six years later, sitting deep in thought in the shade of a bo tree on the banks of the River Neranjari he achieved enlight enment and, seeing it as his duty to help others along the path he had trodden for so long, he began to preach his message. In Buddhism it is important that, having achieved enlight enment, one then returns with it to the marketplace’, that is teaches it for the benefit of other people. The Buddha taught that insight would be achieved not through self-indulgence (which hinders spiritual growth) nor self-denying fanaticism (which is physically and mentally dangerous), but by fol lowing The Middle Way.

Like other Indian religions, Buddhism subscribes to the idea of karma, which is the belief that we experience the consequences of all our actions and thoughts. Because Bud dhism also subscribes to the concept of reincarnation, these consequences may be felt in the next life, or the one after this. Thus are we trapped in a cycle of birth and death, which can only be transcended and escaped by following The Mid dle Way. This latter demands trust (until they can see for themselves) in the Four Noble Truths, which are:

• All life is suffering

• Suffering is caused by ignorance of what we are, which leads us to desire transitory pleasures that cannot make us happy

Suffering will end when we realise what we are and stop desiring transitory pleasures

• To find out who we are, we must follow The Middle Way

It also requires those who seek enlightenment to have the right values, the right speech, conduct themselves in the right manner and have the right means of livelihood. They must endeavour in the right way, have right control of their minds and have the right kind of meditation

One of the major disciplines of the Buddhist meditator is to attain “unification of the mind’ by eliminating all distractions. As the practitioner learns to meditate for long periods, agita tion, scepticism and doubt disappear and are replaced by a feeling of bliss, The meditator becomes absorbed in thought (a process known as jhana) and moves deeper and deeper un til he or she finally acquires an awareness of infinite space.

Many Buddhists regard the pursuit of various jhana levels as secondary to the Path of Mindfulness’, which in the end leads to nirvana. The meditator learns to break out of stereotyped thought and comes to perceive every moment of everyday real ity as if it were a new event. The ego shrinks in importance: the universe is seen to be in a state of total and ever-changing flux. This realisation leads to a sense of detachment from the world of experience, an abandonment of all desires, the abolition of self-interest and, ultimately. the ego itself.

Meditation can take place anywhere, for Buddhism is es sentially a religion for the individual. Meditation is not a communal act. Even within organised Buddhist communi ties, the way one meditates is a matter for the individual and not for the community. There is no prescribed pattern of worship for Buddhists. They may, if they so wish, visit pa godas, temples and shrines and focus on something there while they are meditating. However, it is equally proper for them to meditate in their own homes, sitting in whichever position they choose (usually cross-legged) on the floor.

Some Buddhist families may have a statue of the Buddha in a specially built shrine in their homes; some burn incense and use prayer beads to help them concentrate the mind; some use mantras  and mandalas , while others simply adopt their usual meditative posi tion and quickly lose themselves in meditation

It estimated that more than 300 million people around the world practise Buddhism, and it is an interesting ment late twentieth-century life that more and more young people in the West treading the same path and that Bud dhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in the Western world.

Zen Buddhism

According to legend, in 520 the Indian thinker Bodhidharma (the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism) journeyed from India to China, where he presented himself at the court of the Emperor Wu, a devout Buddhist. When the emperor asked Bodhidharma what merit he, the emperor, had gained on the Path to Enlightenment by building temples and siduously copying holy writings, the Indian incurred his wrath by telling him that there was no merit in such deeds as they showed worldly attachment. True merit was only to be found in acts of absolute wisdom, beyond the realm of ra tional thought. he said, emptiness, and holiness for holiness’ sake has nothing to recommend

Wu was so furious with Bodhidharma’s doctrine that the Indian left court and spent several years in a monastery con templating a wall. He later communicated his thoughts and teachings – the Visudd-himagga, or Path to which describes the meditative approach from the Buddhist point of view to Hui-k’o who thus became the second triarch of Zen Buddhism.

Meditation has always been a keystone of Buddhism. Zen teaches that it is everything. Through meditation a Zen Bud dhist will realise his or her true self, that is, find the Buddha that lives within us all. To achieve this, all inner conflicts

must be resolved. This stilling of the mind reaps psycho logical, physical and spiritual dividends. Apart from being generally more serene than others, Zen Buddhists also tend to have very positive approach to their health, listening to their bodies without waiting for the spur of physical crisis. Its followers do not believe in rituals or reading the Bud dha’s sermons (sutras). In Zen, meditation is more total and more intense than in any other Buddhist sect. The Buddhist who follows the Zen path must strive to avoid all conscious thought except the point on which he or she is meditating . There is famous story of a man who went to a Zen mas ter and asked to be taught Zen. The master said nothing but poured the seeker cup of tea, using a cup that was already full, and kept pouring until the pot was empty. Then he spoke.

*You are like this cup,’ he said. are full. How can I pour Zen into you? Empty yourself and come back. Zen has two schools: Rinzai and Soto. Rinzai uses or unanswerable questions – such as What is the sound of one hand or was your face before you were – to help the mind break free from the confines of logical thought. Soto Zen perfects the art of sitting and doing nothing, in order to focus the mind on the present moment. Both have the same goal: to see reality as it is. rather than as we are conditioned to see it. Satori is the name given to the experience of truly seeing

Christianity

Modern Christianity stresses the importance of doing good deeds, loving one’s neighbour and avoiding the mysti cal side of the religion has largely been swept aside. But Christianity is essentially a mystical religion, for the true Christian seeks to be united with God through following the way of Christ, who said, I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me. Meditation should play an important part in Christian

worship, and it is interesting to note in this respect the volume of music that has been composed down the cen turies to encourage meditation. The Gregorian chants and plainsong of the early centuries were intended to focus the worshippers’ thoughts on God. This mesmerising music is still very popular today, and taped versions of it are used as a soothing background for such therapies as acupressure and aromatherapy. and as an aid to medita tion. The solemn, silent atmosphere of a church is also conducive to meditative thought. For instance, visitors to the basilica of the Sacre Coeur at Montmartre in Paris, no matter how noisy they were at the portals, are invariably reduced to respectful silence once they enter the very awe inspiring and sacred atmosphere. Many find that their thoughts turn to more spiritual matters than the next tour ist attraction, and line up to light candles and close their

eyes in a short prayer. Traditional Christian teaching advocates meditation as a means of getting closer to God. St Teresa of Avila, for exam ple, recommended the via positiva – concentrating the mind on God’s love and absolute goodness in order to acquire some sense of His magnitude. St Teresa began the tradition of si lent meditation and contemplative prayer that is the main stay of the Carmelite orders. Carmelite nuns receive count less daily requests for prayers, and their raison d’etre is to answer these requests, as well as pray for those who cannot

or have not asked them, such as those of another faith or nationality, or those in too much trouble. It is through such contemplation that the Christian medita sor strives to overcome the limitations of conscious thought and achieve a state of ecstasy in the perfect union with God in love and adoration.

St Teresa of Avila’s message was that if you surrender to God’s work, and give up all your preconceived ideas of who and what He is, you will be able to commune with Him prop erly. This is akin to the non-religious idea of surrendering old ideas and thoughts in order to properly commune with the self, and therefore the world. This surrendering of the will is also prescribed for times of deep psychological dis tress, such as is felt when one fears the loss of faith or that prayer has ceased to have any meaning.

Meditation is still widely practised in monasteries, con vents and other religious communities, and more and more Christians are spending time in retreat’, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for longer, in quiet contemplation. Christian meditation usually concentrates on the life of Jesus, Mary and the saints, and the most common aid to meditation is probably the Crucifix, although some Chris tíans find that their concentration is heightened if they re peat the name of Jesus or Mary, or recite short prayers while

they meditate . St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, used a type of internal visualisation of the life of Christ for a course of meditation. His Spiritual Exercises were initially used in the training of Jesuits, but have been used over the centuries by many Christians who wish to meditate and develop their spiritual life.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, icons are still used as a focus for meditation. These religious icons are prepared with utmost care and ceremony. The wood and paint are blessed and the painter of the icon adheres to strict religious observe. ances and executes the icon in a meditative state. It is impor tant to remember that the icon itself is not the object of wor. ship but the focus, in much the same way as a Tibetan mandala .

Quakers gather for silent worship, meditating together on a particular theme, often that of other people or nations in crisis, Many experience a sense of being connected with the other worshippers, and feel that their meditations are the stronger for this connectedness.

Hinduism

There is no formal creed in Hinduism, rather a number of religious concepts have developed and have been elaborated since it was founded, probably about 3000 years ago. These ideas were centred on the aim of every Hindu, which is to attain ultimate freedom, or moksha, to be free of the endless cycle of rebirths and to be at one with Brahman – the one ultimate reality. Humans learn through yoga (the word de rives from the Sanskrit yuj, meaning to bind together”) to achieve this union

It is probably with yoga that most Westerners associate meditation. A few years ago the mention of the word would conjure up images of scraggy men, dressed in loincloths, sitting in a meditative trance, Indeed, stories were circulated of yogis who had been in such a state for so long that birds had nested on their heads. Westerners who did yoga’ were regarded at best as cranks, but today, with more and more people in the West taking it up and with a new interest in oriental religion generally, if someone confesses to trying yoga, the reaction is generally one of interest and an ex pressed desire to know more.

The rise of interest in yoga meditation probably came in the 1960s with the huge publicity given to the pop groups who travelled to India and returned extolling the virtues of transcendental meditation. Unfortunately, and perhaps the reason why transcendental meditation is still often regarded with suspicion, it tended, in the public consciousness, to be identified with other, so called, hippy pursuits, such as reck less drug-taking and promiscuity.

But what was new to the West has been practised for thou sands of years in the subcontinent. Yoga, the means of gain ing liberation from the senses, is one of the four main con cepts that underpin Hindu spiritual philosophy. The others are karma, the law of causality that links mankind to the universe, maya, the illusion of the manifest world, and nir vana, the absolute reality that lies beyond illusion. The con cept of yoga in Hinduism and in other religions is discussed later in this chapter

Judaism

“When a man strips away the material aspect which envel ops him, he will depict in his mind only the divine energy, so that its light will be of infinite greatness. The words of Rabbi Dov Baer underline the importance of meditation in Jewish mysticism, which has its roots in the Kaballa, the ancient tradition that combines a complex system of phi losophy with specific techniques for increasing spiritual awareness,

 Kaballistic teaching holds that everything in the universe is derived from one source and that the purpose of our exist ence is to recognise our identity with God and all of creation through meditation and other spiritual practises,

Hassidic Jews took the teachings of the Kaballa and spread them to the people (rather than leaving them to the mystic few), just as the Buddha did when he achieved enlighten ment. Meditative prayers are considered to be at their most effective when made for the sake of God, not the person praying. If a worshipper can forget his needs and lose him self in his praise it may then happen that his request will be granted because it resulted in his turning to God in prayer. according to Rabbi Judah Leib Alter, a Hasidic master. A nonbeliever might suggest that the worshipper got what

he wanted because he was in touch with his own being and therefore would only have asked for something he truly wanted, that is, not transitory or worldly riches. Kaballistic Jews most often practise visual meditation, focusing their thoughts on the Tree of Life or the characters of the Jewish alphabet, each of which is said to

contain an aspect of the creative energy. They believe that by focusing the mind on various combinations of divine names and characters a divine energy is released which not only spiritually enriches them, but also the world itself. Jews who follow the meditative path claim that they are open to a state of awareness that transcends their normal level of consciousness. They hold that their physical health also benefits. This is in line with the teaching of early Jewish mystics, who recognised the relationship between a person’s state of mind and his or her physical wellbeing.

Yoga and Meditation

Sufism

Some say that Sufism (the word comes from and originally applied to someone who wore or undyed developed from Islam. Others believe that developed reaction against it. Whatever its origins, most Sufis are although the latter is not prerequisite of the former. and non-Islamic Sufi groups are found in many parts of the world.

Sufis base their beliefs on certain passages of the and some early Christian ideas. Their aim is to transcend everyday thought processes and to achieve mystical union of the physical, the spiritual and the mental. The of life involves storytelling, dancing and meditation

There are many different types of meditation and many daily activities are ascribed particular significance in effect, makes them meditations. Perhaps the most sual is one practised by particular group of Sufists the Mevlevi, or whirling dervishes achieve state of tative ecstasy by spinning round and round at an ever-in creasing rate, hoping to empty the mind of everything apart from communicating with God. highly complex form of meditation in which all the dancers are in unity while. simultaneously, each uniquely experiences the ecstasy of divine communion. Most forms of meditation can be per formed easily in the home, whirling, however, should not.

Hare Krishna

Born in America in 1966 of his Divine Grace AC Bhatstivedanta Swami Prabhupada, but with its roots in an cient religions, Hare Krishna was embraced by the so-called hippy movement. Unfortunately, this lead to various false public perceptions about the religion which its devotees are today, still struggling to overcome.

Hare Krishna devotees are non-drinking, non-gambling. non-promiscuous vegetarians, who believe themselves, and indeed all of mankind, to be part of the supreme conscious ness that is Krishna. Their well-ordered days begin early with chanting rounds of Japa (the holy names of God). This chant ing. like the Sufist practice of whirling, is deployed because it is often difficult to clear the mind sufficiently to meditate. Their chant, the Maha Mantra, is composed of Sanskrit names for God, and as Krishna is non-different from his name, Hare Krishna devotees believe that they are actually associating with the higher consciousness when they use his name. Through chanting they are also clearing their minds of all conditioning and worldly illusions, and thus discovering their real selves behind the roles that they play in everyday life.

According to the Upanishads (the sacred Sanskrit books outlining the mystic doctrines of ancient Hindu philosophy), “Life comes from the spirit itself. Even as a man casts a shadow, so the spirit itself casts the shadow of life.’ In the same spirit, Hare Krishnas believe that only by embracing one’s spirituality, i.e., the source of life, can one truly expe rience existence. Hare Krishna meditation, being the method by which to embrace one’s spirituality, is the key to appreci ating existence.

In her biography I. Tina, written with Kurt Loder. Tina Turner describes how daily chanting enabled her first of all, to cope with the difficulties of her domestic situation, and then, to find the inner strength to do something about it. Chanting, she discovered, enabled her to shut out the voices of people telling her what to do and how to feel and listen to her own inner voice. It is not therefore only a tool for reli gious devotion, but also a valuable aid to self-discovery. Hare Krishnas are very open to nonbelievers and centres offer free (vegetarian) meals and classes on meditation, as well as the Hare Krishna faith, without any obligation to join them.

Taoism

Founded in the sixth century by Lao-Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, Taoism concerns itself with the underlying reality that pervades all of existence – the Tao, which cannot be described in words. According to Taoism, everything has a counterpart: dark and light, good and evil, man and woman. Like Yin and Yang (the complementary principles of Chinese philosophy). these things are not opposed, but part of a whole. It is pointless trying to oppose this natural order of things,

including progress, but that does not mean that Taoism is passive. Rather, it is about fitting in with, adapting to the flow, just as a fish adapts itself to the varying currents of a stream. Taoist meditation, or non-doing as it is referred to, is a focusing of the mind and body on the Tao. By doing so, the meditator hopes to realign himself to changes in the flow.and virtue and wellbeing will arise naturally once he is reattuned.

NB: The modern, religious, interpretation of Taoism. con cemed largely with magic and eternal life, is quite different from the philosophy mentioned above. In fact, eternal life is a concept that Lao-Tzu would have abhorred, as death is the necessary counterbalance to life, and so gives the latter its significance.

Yoga and Religion

 The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most famous text, dating from 300 400 BC, describes yoga as means ing enlightenment the context of the Hindu tradition spiritual discipline. However, Hinduism is by no means in trinsic yoga. All world religions seek to reintegrate the worshipper with the supreme being, and yoga practitioners of all denominations report an increased sense of their own spirituality thanks to the disciplines of yoga. It is all too easy worship by rote, saying the prayers, reading the texts, observing the duties, without experiencing the joy of faith and feeling of union with the creator. Yoga enables many do this.

Of course, yoga does not require religious belief at all. which one of the reasons why it will be around for long time to come. More and more people are turning away from orthodox religion, and instead are seeking to discover personal sense of spirituality – their own bespoke religion. you like, based on personally felt tenets of belief. Yoga is

an excellent means of tapping into this. Even spirituality is not something that interests you, yoga is also beneficial in enhancing your enjoyment of the present To be absorbed in an activity, like a child becomes when playing a game or drawing, is to experience it fully, and thus to wring every last drop of enjoyment from it. Who ever thoroughly felt the exhilaration of a cross-country canter, or the melancholy beauty of a sunset, while their mind was worrying over an overdraft or an future job interview? Yoga teaches you to let go to filter out distractions and just be.

A note for nonbelievers

For atheists and agnostics, silent meditation is generally rec ommended as the better option: nonbelievers tend to feel uncomfortable with chants and prayers, however meaning less. Some would argue that nonbelievers are, in essence, closer to the transcendental state than the believer in that their spiritual consciousness is already clear of preconceived clutter

Yoga And Meditation

Yoga And Meditation

A stressful world

In recent years, developments in science, technology and industry have accelerated. So have trends, and every season we are under pressure to dress in the latest style, to change our hairstyles, our eating habits, even where we put the fur niture. Thousands of new book titles appear every year, chal lenging us to be well read and up to date, while dozens of TV channels and radio stations vie for your attention and sub scription. Coupled with this is the fact that few of us have only a job to worry about, or children, or the household, or our health. Most of us are juggling several of these at one time, as well as trying to keep up with all the changes around us. Further, almost all of us struggle to be everything to all people: caring parent, fun-loving but sympathetic friend, dutiful child, and efficient employee.

While our minds reel with all these demands, our bodies develop tension headaches and muscular pains. We can’t get to sleep at night, we drink and smoke too much, our relation ships falter, our self-esteem plummets and our health suffers. Our world is undoubtedly a very stressful place, but learning to cope with stress is not the impossible task it may at first seem. What we have to learn is that our usual reactions to stress, such as drinking more heavily or pushing ourselves harder at work, are only making it worse, Physical exercise and relaxation go some way to redressing the balance, but our minds also require attention. After all, relaxed and happy peo ple are healthier than stressed and miserable ones. We have to learn how to take a step back, clear our heads

take a deep breath, and just be. If, for just a few minutes every day, everyone in the world did that, there would be considerably less heartache and strife.

Towards contentment:

In the words of the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, The world of those who are happy is different from the world of those who are not.’ Meditation is the art of transcending our everyday thought processes and world view, if only for a very short period of time every other day. Our minds briefly escape the tyranny of worry and self-image, and we begin to get a sense of who we truly are and what we truly feel. If practised regularly, meditation will enhance our feelings of self-worth, and inevitably this will be reflected in the way we see the world. In short, by learning to like ourselves, we will also learn to like the world.

Meditation has physical benefits too. By enabling us to access inner calm, it helps us to alleviate stress, which is being linked to more and more physical ailments, from mi graine to high blood pressure to heart and lung conditions. Meditation has also shown itself to be effective in the battle against addiction to alcohol and cigarettes.

Buddhism holds meditation at the heart of its practice, as do the other great oriental religions, such as Hinduism, whose most influential book, Bhagavad Gita, devotes an entire section to the practice of meditation and Sufism. In religious meditation, the sense of self-worth is linked to a feeling of being closer to God. Meditation also has its place in West em religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, but it does not require adherence to a particular faith to be successful. Many people view meditation as peaceful but ineffectual self-centredness – in the words of one cynic. ‘a form of self indulgent, passive introversion. They are wrong – the ben efits to be gained from meditation in any of its various forms are many. Those who meditate regularly believe that it leads to a significant lowering of tension and negative emotions, while at the same time increasing efficiency at work and

deepening the sense of inner calm. This feeling of wellbeing brings physical benefits, for regu lar meditation eliminates or reduces stress, and who in the helter-skelter days of the beginning of the twenty-first cen tury does not experience stress at some time or other? In reducing stress, meditation can ease migraine and tension headaches, reduce blood pressure, benefit the heart and re duce the discomfort of menstrual cramps.

What is meditation?

In its simplest form, meditation is nothing more than allow ing the mind to be lulled by a simple repetitive sensation – waves lapping on the beach, the tinkling of water from a fountain, repeating a word or sound over and over again, even something as mundane as the sound of machinery. Any of these, and countless others, can be used as something on which the mind focuses itself completely, thus putting worry and anxiety on the back-burner for a while. We have all done this naturally at some time or another: you may have gazed

into a beautiful sunset and become absorbed in the flames of colour, or been seduced by the lapping of waves on the sea. shore and the heat from the sun, or even simply closed your eyes and savoured the taste of a delicious meal. Children are much better at this than adults. Think of a child, bent over half-finished painting, and think of the number of times be or she has to be called before they hear you telling them that their lunch is ready? The child is not ignoring you, he or she is simply too wrapped up in what they are doing to be dis tracted by anyone or anything.

Put simply, meditation is me-time in its purest form: it is just being and letting the world around you just be as well. Used in a religious context, meditation is a means of com muning directly with God, of focusing completely on him. and of seeing the world without the blinkers of selfish, worldly thought.

Meditation need not be a time-consuming process (twenty minutes a day are all that is needed). Practised properly, it is a voyage during which preconceived notions and ideas fade, the senses and the intellect are refined, and the ability to concentrate is increased,

Its benefits quickly become apparent, and those who prac tise it often say that the day they first took to meditation on a regular basis was a watershed in their lives.

What meditation is not: Self-hypnosis

Which requires the participant to reach a state of semicon scious trance. Meditation is very much about the ‘here and now and its aim is to enable the meditator to live in the moment.

 Relaxation

Which is essentially passive, whereas meditation is an an tive focusing of the mind. While meditation attempts to tran scend the normal thought processes. relaxation will often engage those very patterns of thought. However, meditation can be a great aid to relaxation, and relaxation a great aid to meditation

Necessarily tied to a religion

Although meditation is used in all world religions, it does not specifically belong to any one nor is there any need for it to be tied to religion at all. Meditation can prove just as posi tive and spiritual an experience for an atheist as for a Bud dhist.

Concentration

Which can be a means of achieving transcendence, but is not the object of the exercise. Concentrating on one thing is only a means to clearing the mind of all other thoughts. The object of your concentration is not important in itself, and. in fact, many meditators choose deliberately meaningless words or objects on which to concentrate for this very rea son

Stilling the mind

All day, every day, our minds are whirling to the tune of their own internal drama’. Not only are we subject to con stant sensory input, from the rumble of traffic to that of our stomachs, but our reaction to every single incident, every crap of memory, every concern about the future, be it to morrow, next week. or after we die, are all tumbling through our minds like a noisy machine-load of multicoloured wash ing Often, after a hectic day at work, or a row with a partner or friend, it is very difficult to switch off.

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, wasted an entire evening ranting about someone at work who has annoyed them? And who has never been told, when extremely upset or angry. that we aren’t ourselves”? Because, when this internal shout ing match is never still, we are never at peace, and who we really are is completely overwhelmed by our emotions. We become the sum total of our thoughts, rather than the insti gator and controller of them.To stop this, the mind must be stilled, all thoughts put onhold.

To rediscover that our thoughts are under our control is incredibly liberating and empowering. We must realise that we do not have to fail at giving up smoking just because we have all the previous times and a little voice is telling us that we are weak-willed and won’t be able to cope: You do not have to avoid doing certain things just because your mind runs through its catalogue of fears every time you try to break the cycle Taking control enables you to see things as they really are. without being hindered by associative thoughts. Taking con trol allows us to respond more appropriately, because our re sponse is direct, based on the here and now. Regular meditation helps you to live in the here and now, and to see yourself as the controller of your own mind and thoughts. In so doing,it also helps you to truly experience what happens to you

Meditation and contemplation

Confusion sometimes arises when the words ‘meditation and contemplation’ are used interchangeably. A working distinction between the two is that meditation can be con sidered a preparatory step and contributory to the achieve ment of contemplation.

Meditation involves concentration narrowing the focus of attention to a single theme, catechism or doctrine while re- maintaining cognitive and intellectual. Contemplation is a di rect intuitive seeing, using spiritual facilities that are beyond discursive thought. In the words of Richard of Saint-Victor. a twelfth-century theologian, “Meditation investigates, con templation wonders.

Yoga and meditation

What is yoga?

Stop what you are doing. Stand up, take a deep breath and have a really good stretch. Standing on tiptoes, make your self as tall as possible with your hands reaching up to the sky and your fingers splayed. Breathe out slowly, and slowly resume your normal standing posture Now doesn’t that feel good? Can you feel the blood tingling in your hands and feet? Do the muscles in your arms and legs feel relaxed and yet energised? Does your mind, be it only for a fleeting moment, seem to have taken a breather from its daily round of thoughts and worries? If your answer is yes, then you are feeling the benefits of yoga already.

Yoga is a system of physical and mental exercises designed to instil a sense of tranquillity and wellbeing in the practi tioner. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, though esti mates suggest that it has been practised in India for over five thousand years, and is believed to have been inspired by the contemplation of animals, particularly cats, as they stretched. Observers noted that, after a good stretch and arch, the animal’s energy and alertness was increased, and so they sought to utilise this knowledge for human benefit. To this day, many yoga positions are named after the creatures they were adapted from the tortoise, the cobra, the butterfly Yoga is a technique of self-awareness that integrates the

mind and the body. By uniting the iwo, yoga helps to control negative and destructive thought patterns and assist the mind to work with, rather than against, the body. Hatha yoga teaches techniques of physical control of the body through postures known as asanas and breathing techniques called pranayama. The asanas make the body supple and benefit the neuromuscular system, each posture combining mental acuity with breathing techniques and a specific body movement. Pranayama builds up the body’s

energy. Regular practice of the asanas and breathing exercises will induce a more positive frame of mind, not just during the exercises but throughout daily life. You will find that you are less prone to mood swings, and that you feel less at the mercy of external forces as you have developed an increased degree of inner strength.

Knowing yourself the yoga way is quite a different thing from knowing your habits, likes and dislikes. In fact, having fixed ideas about yourself can often obscure your true nature as you shut yourself off from experiences, or tell yourself, in advance, how you are going to react. For instance, if you be lieve that you are an impatient person who needs fast results, then you will become frustrated by the slow results of yoga. and perhaps give up without giving yourself a chance. If, in stead, you try turning this assumption about yourself on its head, and tell yourself that actually you have infinite reserves of patience, you will surprise yourself by having just such reserves. Bear this in mind when you practise your asanas too.

If you believe that you are stiff and unsupple, the exer cises will be tough. If, instead, you convince yourself that there is a super-supple person inside you just itching to get out, you will begin to feel a real difference. It is important to approach yoga with an open mind, and to shed feelings of pride and desire. This is called transcending the ego Far from being the self-abnegation that it sounds, transcending your ego is actually extremely liberating

If you are still resistant to the idea of finding your true self. perhaps because you feel that you are already very well acquainted, thank you very much, then consider how many times in your life you have felt that you are acting out of character. An occasion perhaps when you drank more alcohol hol than usual, said things you didn’t mean, or had unac countable mood swings. We do this when we are unhappy and out of touch with ourselves, usually due to stress and being constantly bombarded by external pressures that give us no time or freedom to look into ourselves.

Certainly there are few people who can claim that they never behave differ ently with different people and in different environments. sometimes endorsing opinions that they do not believe in. and acting against their instincts. Occasions like this often leave us feeling unworthy, and lacking in integrity. The im pulse to behave this way generally arises from a lack of self

confidence and a lack of a sense of our own selves. Now consider how it feels to be happily in love. This is ot to be confused with the intense infatuation characterised by highs and lows, but the later, more relaxed stage. When n love, we feel as if we have found our destiny and that

everything in the world is in its right place. We feel slightly

removed from ordinary life, and less thrown by external events. We feel that we can cope with everything, from big red electricity bills to three weeks of flu. In fact, being in love makes us more immune to disease, and makes our skin clearer and our eyes sparkling. Yet, for all that we are re moved, we feel as if our senses have been fine tuned, mak ing us alert to sounds and colours, so that we feel we are really seeing the world around us. We feel alive and at the centre of our being. Discovering your true self produces simi lar feelings of awareness and oneness.

Some people feel afraid of uncovering their true selves, regarding it as a sort of frightening therapy process wherein they will be forced to confront aspects of their nature with which they are uncomfortable. This is not so. Raja yoga, which focuses on the mental aspects, is not a form of therapy in the psychoanalytic sense. Rather it is tapping into the es sense of your being the spirit from which you sprang. In deed, this realisation of the inner self can provide enormous support when dealing with difficult personal problems, and a way of giving yourself temporary release from them.

Even if we are free of deep troubles and have sufficient confidence to be ourselves, we all live in a very manic, busy world, which bombards us with multifarious messages about how we should live and what we should think. Women es pecially tend to feel that they are pulled this way and that by contradictory demands, to be feminine but independent, good mothers but also good workers, and so on. Sometimes we need a touchstone, a talisman for instance, a place, or even a person, towards which we can reach when we feel the need to touch base’ and work things out. In ancient communities there would be wise woman or man who could counsel those who felt out of sorts and confused. Our equivalent today, perhaps is the agony aunt! When we achieve self-knowl edge we become our own touchstone, the person we can rely

on. Yoga is a means of seeing things as they really are rather than as they seem. In yoga, all body and mental tensions have to cease if this end is to be achieved. Accordingly, one of the basic yoga techniques is meditation, which turns our consciousness towards the inner calm helping us to achieve samadhi, or pure consciousness,

The first text

The first written yoga system is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating from around 200 to 400 BC. Written in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Pantajali’s text is the earliest collation and systematisation of an ancient knowledge that was previ ously handed down in the oral tradition. The Yoga Sutras are not advised as a teach-yourself companion, as they ure extremely complex, but rather as a guide for teachers to adapt. According to Patanjali, yoga brings about the suspension of the mind’s waves (vrittis), resulting in mindfulness, which

means the ability to pay attention to your life. To put it in modern terminology, to “wake up and smell the coffee’ or get real’, This means experiencing what is happening around and within you, rather than being consumed by internal men tal convolutions while life passes you by -thus avoiding the situation as described by W. H. Auden: ‘In headaches and in worry/Vaguely life leaks away!

achieve these, Patanjali advocates practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya). The latter does not necessitate the abandonment of all worldly goods, but a relinquish ment of assumptions about yourself and the world. Consider how many times you duck opportunities because you are not right for it’, either because you feel you are not capable of it, or because it is not suited to you. Many modern psy chologists would tell us, in no uncertain terms, that we are wrong in these self-judgements, and that in fact we do not really know ourselves at all.

Our beliefs are often based upon a hotchpotch of experience (often misleading), upon other people’s opinions, and our fears and prejudices. If this seems absurd, consider the reaction of children to new experiences: curious, eager and positive, they embrace the unknown, un hindered by accumulated memories and assumptions. Ex experience in a sense, actually blinkers us to the world, and hobbles our development.

The need for a teacher

No one in their right mind would sit down at a piano and expect to play a Chopin nocturne if they had never played before. So why should someone who is about to meditate for the first time sit down and expect to lose themselves in meditation right away? Like all things worth doing, the best way to learn meditation and yoga is to study with someone who has already mastered it. If we are to compare the mind with a piano, in order to create beautiful music, we need to study with an expert who is familiar with the instrument and who can assist us to gain mastery over it. A good teacher must be qualified, compassionate, expert

patient, sincere and sympathetic, and someone in whom the pupil has complete confidence. But where do you find such a paragon? Whether you are religious or not, a good person to guide you in the ways of meditation is an established religion gious teacher, such as a rabbi or a priest. It is highly unlikely that he or she would discourage a nonbeliever’s quest for inner peace, and religious groups are rarely averse to the idea of nonbelievers sitting in with them during silent war ship. Further, there are a great number of religious books, from all faiths, that teach the art of meditation. Apart from religious teachers, there are qualified thera

priests who, if they cannot teach you themselves, could cer tainly point you in the direction of someone who could. Some novices are lucky and find the right “guru’ straight away. Others may take months, even years before they meet the one who is right for them. Those who fall into the latter category should not be disheartened. They should carry on practising basic meditation techniques. trying different teachers and following their own judgement until, eventu ally, they find someone who can help them to get the most out of meditation

Like a therapist or a doctor, your teacher should be some one you feel you can trust. Many people also find it impor tant that their teacher is a good role model. After all, who will feel confident learning techniques to enhance inner calm from a person who is visibly stressed, abuses drugs and al cohol, drives like a maniac, or has affairs with his or her students’?

Do not be persuaded to part with large sums of cash by promises of masterly teaching. No one can predict exactly what technique will suit you, and no method is superior to another. The ideal teacher for you, just like the ideal tech nique, will only be found by a process of patient trial and error. Bear in mind, however, that even the greatest teacher can do nothing for you unless, like a pianist, you are willing to put in the practice.

Some people will prefer not to have a teacher at all, or be unable to find someone suitable. Instead they might take their instruction from books, lectures, courses and retreats. There are also many audio and visual tapes on the market, aimed at the increasing numbers of people who are turning to medi tation either for health or spiritual reasons. Before commit ting yourself to the expense of buying one, inquire at your local library to find out if it has an audio section. If there is such a tape on its shelves, borrow it for a few days to find out if it helps you.

Keeping a level head

Where you meditate and when you meditate is up to you. but a word of advice – don’t be tempted to adopt a holier than-thou attitude among friends and colleagues. You must remember that one of the most important lessons in medita- tion is that the subjugation of the ego is necessary if you are to transcend your normal state of mind. Rivalry with other meditators is also counterproductive. And what could be more ridiculous than two people arguing about who is the most af peace?

Friends may, after some weeks or months, realise that you appear to be calmer and more relaxed and that you have changed subtly in some way that they cannot put their finger on. They may ask you what has brought about the change Then by all means tell them that you have taken up meditation ing but broadcasting your experiences can defeat the object of the exercise!

 Caveat!

When you begin practising meditation you may experience a ‘honeymoon’ period, when you feel much more positive and relaxed. However, this may not last. Meditation is about being your real self and therefore, aspects of yourself which you may not like will eventually bubble to the surface, pro- viding a less than blissful focus for your thoughts. At this point, many drift away from meditation, feeling discouraged by this pain barrier’. However, if you persevere, that initial bliss will return.

A word of warning though. Most people can cope with the bad things in themselves, but some people cannot. An ob obsessive personality may find themselves locked into focus ing on a part of themselves they cannot cope with, and this could be extremely dangerous.

Anyone who is suffering from clinical depression or any mild form of mental illness should first consult his or her doctor.

Meditation should never be used as a substitute for medi cal treatment, and anyone on any form of medication should likewise consult his or her doctor. Meditation creates an altered state of consciousness, New

comers have no way of knowing how they will respond to it, so it is best to limit the first few sessions to ten minutes at most. Finally, meditation should not be seen as a panacea. It should be seen as a means to an end, not as the end in itself.