Meditation opens path to inner peace
Every day, almost without fail, Connie Tellman escapes to the solitude of her grown daughter’s former room to meditate.
After doing yoga postures to relieve body tension, she sits cross-legged on a pillow, hands resting on her knees, eyes closed. For 15 minutes or so, she silently repeats her personal mantra, breathes rhythmically from her diaphragm and methodically touches the 108 small wooden beads of her mala necklace.
“Your mind concentrates on the breath,” said the 52-year-old Indianapolis woman. “You go within and close out the distractions of the world, so you can focus on your inner self.”
Local people who meditate agree on how it makes them feel: peaceful, calm, centered.
At a time when financial and job stresses are high and we’re bombarded with constant information, local instructors and practitioners say meditation can ease tension, produce mental clarity and create a climate of tranquility in your life. Some use the practice to help relieve anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia or physical or emotional symptoms of chronic illnesses.
“People who need to slow down, who are very stressed and overworked, can benefit a lot,” said Carol Crenshaw, co-director of the Inner Peace Yoga Center on the Northeastside, where meditation is routinely practiced with yoga. Those looking for something in life they haven’t found — a spiritual experience — also are drawn to meditation, said Crenshaw, long-time meditation and yoga instructor.
“It’s a practice that helps you during personal difficulties to keep yourself centered, focused and grounded,” said Tellman. She practices alone, but she also takes yoga classes with meditation at Inner Peace Yoga Center.
“After a good session, my mind is not focused on past or future concerns but the present moment,” she said. “I’m ready to face the day with a new awareness of what’s before me.”
While Inner Peace includes meditation in nearly all its yoga classes and teaches meditation workshops, many yoga studios don’t teach meditation.
“The heart of yoga is meditation, not postures,” said Crenshaw. “It’s something most people don’t realize.”
Many types of meditation exist, but most originated in ancient Eastern religious and spiritual traditions. Yet you don’t need to practice those religions to meditate.
A 2007 national government survey of nearly 24,000 adults found that 9.4 percent had used meditation in the past year, compared with 7.6 percent in 2002. While local numbers are hard to find, people have a variety of options to learn the practice. They include the Indiana Buddhist Center, Indianapolis Zen Center, Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center and a few yoga studios.
Considered a mind-body practice, meditation generally uses certain techniques — a specific posture, regulated breathing and focused attention.
At the Indiana Buddhist Center on the Far-Eastside, meditation sessions are open to anyone, not just practicing Buddhists. Techniques focus on Buddhist teachings and generally involve a mantra — a word, sound or phrase designed to block out distracting thoughts — and sometimes chanting. But people can meditate the way they are most comfortable.
“The main objective of our meditation is to help them reduce their level of mental negativities and emotions,” said Tibetan monk Geshe Jinpa Sonam through his translator, Tenzin Namgyal. “We want to help them as much as we can, regardless of their religion.”
More than 400 U.S. instructors teach Transcendental Meditation, derived from Hindu traditions, which also involves silently repeating a mantra. The practice is known for its stress-releasing properties.
“It’s not a panacea and doesn’t prevent you from experiencing the ups and downs of life,” said Diane Patton, who practices TM with local instructors Rich and Lois Neate. “But you can recover from them more completely.”
Meditation, like physical exercise, requires dedication and produces the best benefits when done regularly — daily, if possible, or even twice a day, for 10 to 20 minutes. To sit still and learn to meditate deeply is challenging, yet worth the time and effort, say practitioners.
“If it didn’t help me every day, I wouldn’t do it,” said Patton, 52, an Indianapolis nurse who first learned TM at age 16. She practiced different types of meditation over the years, but now does TM each morning and evening.
“It mellows me out,” she said. “It gives me a sense of being in control of my life and my emotions and less reactive to things around me, like work stress. I’m more kind and patient.”
Rich Neate, a 20-year TM instructor with a home-based practice here, teaches people to practice TM on four consecutive days, two hours each day.
“You meditate to make your daily activity better,” said Neate, director of TM teachers east of the Mississippi River. “The whole idea of TM is for you to be successful at what you do.”
When practicing TM, Neate said, as you dive deeper into the mind while repeating a mantra, the body becomes extremely settled, the breath is softer and shallower. You experience a decrease in oxygen greater than during deep sleep. Eventually, your mind talks to itself less and less.
“Calmness, clarity of mind and energy of the body — if you practice for a while, those effects stay with you,” said Neate.
Another longtime local meditation teacher, Rose Getz, said the longer someone experiences that peaceful feeling that comes with meditation, the more they can bring that feeling into their consciousness during the day.
Getz, director of the Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center of Indiana, said meditators are better prepared to handle daily stress and aggravation. The center is in Indianapolis.
“You take a breath, relax the body, and pull yourself back from the situation,” she said. “You feel that stillness within.”
Common elements of meditation
A quiet location: Practice is usually done in a quiet place with few distractions and noises, either alone or in a class setting.
A comfortable posture: Depending on the type being practiced, meditation is usually done while sitting (usually cross-legged) on the floor or in a chair, lying down, standing, walking or in other positions.
A focus of attention: Concentrating attention on a mantra (a word or phrase not spoken aloud), an object or the sensations of breathing.
An open attitude: This means letting distractions come and go without judging them. If your mind wanders, gently bring attention back into focus.
Indianapolis resources for learning and practicing meditation:
Inner Peace Yoga Center: Yoga/meditation classes and weekend seminars, 5038 E. 56th St., (317) 257-9642 or www.innerpeaceyoga.com.
Indianapolis Zen Center: Meditation instruction, 3703 Washington Blvd., (317) 921-9902 or www.indy zen.org.
Indiana Buddhist Center: Meditation instruction, 9260 E. 10th St., (317) 225-5499 or www.indianabuddhist.org.
Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center: Meditation instruction, 6018 N. Keystone Ave., (317) 374-5281 or www.meditation-indianapolis.org.
Transcendental Meditation Program of Indianapolis: Meditation instruction, 9465 Tanhurst Drive, (317) 225-4386 or www.tm.org.
Himalayan Yoga Meditation Center of Indiana: Private meditation lessons and yoga/meditation study group, (317) 363-7885 or www.hym center.com.
Open Heart, Quiet Mind: Yoga, meditation and wellness programs, 429 E. Vermont St., Suite 002, (317) 840-8393 or www.openheartquietmind .com.
Sahaja Meditation: Group meditation, two sites, 4805 E. 96th St. and 5550 S. Franklin Road (Franklin Road Branch Public Library), (317) 300-4560, www.SahajaMeditation.us or www.meetup.com/IndianaMeditation.