relaxation

Five ways to slow down and stop rushing

people rushing in Shinagawa Station, Minato, Japan

As I was meditating this morning, our cat hopped up in my lap. It felt sweet to sit there with him. And yet – even though I was feeling fine and had plenty of time, there was this internal pressure to start zipping along with emails and calls and all the other clamoring minutiae of the day.

You see the irony. We rush about as a means to an end: as a method for getting results in the form of good experiences, such as relaxation and happiness. Hanging out with our cat, I was afloat in good experiences. But the autopilot inside the coconut still kept trying to suck me back into methods for getting relaxation and happiness – as if I weren’t already feeling that way! And of course, by jumping up and diving into doingness, I’d break the mood and lose the relaxation and happiness . . . that is the point of doingness.

Sometimes we do need to rush. Maybe you’ve got to get your kid to school on time, or your boss really has to have that report by end of day. OK.

But much of the time, we rev up and race about because of unnecessary internal pressures (like unrealistic standards for ourselves) or because external forces are trying to hurry us along for their own purposes (not because of our own needs).

How do you feel when you’re rushing? Perhaps there’s a bit of positive excitement, but if you’re like me, there’s mostly if not entirely a sense of tension, discomfort, and anxiety. This kind of stress isn’t pleasant for the mind, and over time it’s really bad for the body. Plus there’s a loss of autonomy: the rush is pushing you one way or another rather than you yourself deciding where you want to go and at what pace.

Instead, how about stepping aside from the rush as much as you can? And into your own well-being, health, and autonomy?

How?

  1. For starters, be mindful of rushing – your own and others. See how other people assume deadlines that aren’t actually real, or get time pressured and intense about things that aren’t that important. (And yep, you get to decide for yourself what you think is real or important.) Notice the internal shoulds or musts or simply habits that speed you up.
  2. Then, when the demands of others bear down upon you, buy yourself time – what the psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach calls “the sacred pause” – in order to create a space in which you are free to choose how you will respond. Are you letting the rushing of others become your own? Slow down the conversation, ask questions, and find out what’s really true. Consider the sign I once saw in a car repair shop: “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.”
  3. On your own side of the street, try not to create “emergencies” for yourself. You can get a lot done at your own pace without rushing; plan ahead and don’t procrastinate until you’re forced into hurrying. More fundamentally, be realistic about your own resources. It’s a kind of modesty, a healthy humility, to finally admit to yourself and maybe others that you can’t carry five quarts in a one gallon bucket. There are 168 hours in a week, not 169. It’s also a kind of healthy renunciation, relinquishment, to set down the ego, drivenness, appetite, or ambition that overcommits and sets you up for rushing. And it’s a matter of seeing clearly what is, a matter of being in reality rather than being confused or in a sense deluded. Nkosi Johnson was the South African boy born with HIV who became a national advocate for children with AIDS before dying at about age 12, and not one of us can do more than what he said here: Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place where you are.
  4. Also watch how the mind routinely gets caught up in becoming: in making plans that draw us into desires that draw us into rushing. The trick is to see this happening before it captures you.
  5. Most deeply, try to rest in and enjoy the richness of this moment. Even an ordinary moment – with its sounds, sights, tastes, smells, sensations, feelings, and thoughts – is amazingly interesting and rewarding. Afloat in the present, there’s no need to rush along to anything else.

Even when you don’t have a cat in your lap.

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“Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress,” by Dan Goleman

Cover of Relax, by Daniel Goleman

I’ve read a couple of books by Dan Goleman, who is most famous for being the author of Emotional Intelligence, but this is the first time I’ve encountered one of his audio programs, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Relax: Six Techniques to Lower Your Stress is, as you might expect, about stress and how to relax. It offers six guided practices intended to help develop a sense of ease, relaxation, and wellbeing.

In the introduction, Goleman points out that there are many and varied symptoms of stress, including psychological tension, muscle tension, and nervous system arousal, and that not everyone experiences stress in the same way. Therefore, not every antidote to stress will work for everyone, and each person needs to find relaxation methods that work for them. It’s worth bearing that in mind while reading my review; just because I found a particular exercise more or less effective than others doesn’t mean that you’d have the same results.

Title: Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress
Author: Daniel Goleman
Publisher: More Than Sound
ISBN: 978-193444-119-0
Available from: More Than Sound as a CD or MP3 download, and from Amazon.com (CD only).

The program on the whole is quite short, at 43 minutes and 33 seconds, and a fair amount of this time is introductory material. But don’t let that put you off; the practical material is very effective, and the entire audio program has a sense of spaciousness. In fact people who are stressed would probably be better focusing on a brief program containing short exercises like this than on a longer program that they don’t have time to listen to.

The six exercises are as follows:

  1. Deep breathing: taking long, slow, deep breaths.
  2. Muscle relaxation: systematically tensing and relaxing major muscle groups
  3. Autosuggestion: dropping into the mind key phrases that induce a sense of physical relaxation.
  4. Countdown: a series of actions accompanying a count down from twelve to one.
  5. Breath focus: simply paying attention to the neutral sensation of the breathing.
  6. Breath count: counting the in and out breaths, and using mental focus to help you drop tension and worry.

Goleman’s presentation is authoritative, assured, and reassuring. Early on he mentions his background at Harvard, and discusses scientific research, and this helps reassure the listener that they’re in the hands of someone who has a deep background in the topic of stress and emotional regulation.

The guidance is well-paced, and accompanied by what you could call “free time” — time in which the listener can practice on her own without guidance. There is some gentle background music accompanying the dialog and running through the “free time.” The music is unobtrusive, although at times I was reminded of the “angelic” keyboard music that I’ve heard at funeral homes. That’s not entirely a bad association, though. At times as I listened to this program I felt like I was ceremoniously saying farewell to my stress.

I found that the individual exercises varied in their effectiveness, but remember that your mileage may vary. Your stress response may manifest differently from mine, and a tool that doesn’t work for me may be just what you need in order to relax deeply.

The first exercise, Deep Breathing, worked well. We simply take long, deep, slow breaths and let go of them, with the hand on the belly. In a stressed state, the breath becomes shallow, quick, and short, and breathing more slowly helps us to bring our physiology back into balance. In addition, simple body awareness has a grounding effect on the mind (as long as you get beyond noticing only the body’s tension).

The Deep Muscle Relaxation exercise involves systematically and consciously tensing and relaxing large muscle groups. This exercise was actually counter-productive for me. I found the periods of tensing to be too long compared to the periods of relaxing, and I ended up with a headache. But remember that not all techniques work for everyone.

I found the Autosuggestion exercise to be very effective. We just notice various parts of the body in turn while dropping in a phrase, allowing the body to respond without trying to relax. So we may notice the eyes and repeat “my eyes are soft and relaxed” This is an exercise I’ll definitely take up. I had one caveat: one of the instructions was to become aware of the heartbeat, repeating “My heartbeat is calm and regular.” Here we hit the problem of affirmations sometimes not being true. Research has shown that affirmations backfire with many people, because in repeating them they’re reminded that they’re very far from the state that they’re telling themselves they’re in. If, for example, you’re so stressed that your heartbeat is pounding and erratic, then simply noticing that fact would likely make your stress worse. Telling yourself under these circumstance that your heartbeat is calm and regular could induce even more stress. But again, this is a case where Your Mileage May Vary. Not all these exercises are going to work with everyone. And in any event, the listener could do this exercise on her own in a modified way, where the statement are true, and where stress triggers are avoided.

The Countdown exercise is described as being “simple,” but in fact it’s a complicated sequence of actions and suggestions accompanying a countdown from twelve to one. I rather liked the fact that I never knew what was coming next. The exercise constantly takes you by surprise, stopping you from getting into a rut, and making it very effective. However, of all the exercises I thought that this one would be too complex to be practiced alone. As long as you’re listening to the audio program, however, there would be no problem.

In Breath Focus, we’re back to a simple form of mindfulness of the breathing. This was a reminder to me of how much can be accomplished in less than five minutes. This in fact seemed like a much longer meditation, and also seemed oddly spacious.

Finally, there is the Breath Count, where we focus on the neutral sensation of the breathing to help us let go of stressful thoughts, and we count at the end of each in and out breath: In – 1 – out – 2 – in – 3 – out – 4 – etc. When we reach ten we start the counting over again. This is a very simple practice, and again it’s led in a very spacious way. After leading us through the practice a couple of times, Goleman gives us space to practice on our own. I suspect that for many people with very busy minds, there perhaps would be a need for more reminders to come back to their experience.

At the end of the exercises there are nice reminders to scan our experience and to take our time going on to our next activity.

This is probably not a CD that will appeal to experienced meditators, but then that’s not the target audience. For people who are stressed and who want simple exercises that help them to develop greater relaxation, this is an excellent program.

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The fourth R — helping stressed-out students relax

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Louise Brown, ParentCentral.ca: They come to the guidance counsellor with headaches and tears and insomnia and nerves and grades dragged down by the expectations that weigh on their teenaged shoulders.

In one of the most academically high-octane schools in Canada, the epidemic of student stress reported by one in three Ontario students has reached a point staff no longer can ignore.

Concerned at the growing number of students diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorders — and more who seem headed that way, especially in Grade 9 — North Toronto Collegiate has launched an unusual program to teach teens how to handle the stress thrust on them by parents, the school system, and themselves.

Through lunch workshops in meditation and kick-boxing, laughter therapy and yoga and even listening to new-age music played on crystals, the school is trying to teach kids what guidance head Michelle de Braux calls “the fourth R — relaxation.”

In this final week of exams, such new skills are being put to the test.

“We’re a high-achieving school — Type-A Personalities Welcome Here!” — but we’ve seen a gradual increase in symptoms of stress from low grades and difficulty attending school to panic attacks in class, crying, even suicidal ideation,” said de Braux.

“We want to change the school culture and teach students the strategies that help them cope with stress. And next year we want to start talking to parents about letting students spread high school over five years to lower the workload and give them time to take the courses that bring them joy, because stress seems to have grown worse since we dropped Grade 13.”

Worried about the number of students suffering from clinical anxiety and depression, de Braux and social worker Jeanne Middlebrook launched a series of “stress-buster” workshops before midterm exams last fall, bringing in consultants to teach students yoga, kick-boxing and “guided imagery” where they imagined themselves opening an exam and actually being excited because they knew all the answers.

When students called for more, de Braux hired the Youth Wellness Network consultants in May — another stressful month — to run a week of lunchtime workshops in meditation, laughter therapy, dance, tai chi and the “sound escape” of listening to music played on crystals.

“I attended the class in meditation and really liked it,” said Grade 10 student Sabina Wex, “because it teaches you to focus on your body and recognize when you’re getting stressed — with me, my jaw clenches and I get headaches and my back hurts.”

Student mental health has become a hot-button issue. A new provincial coalition of mental health experts and educators wants more support for schools to be an issue in the fall election. R.H. King Academy in Scarborough ran a series of spring yoga workshops that drew 40 Grade 12 students. The Toronto District School Board will interview candidates Thursday for the new position of Coordinator for Mental Health and Well-being.

“The latest study by CAMH showed 36 per cent of Ontario students feel stress, which is concerning, if not alarming,” said social worker David Johnston, the board’s senior manager of professional support services. “In part it’s the social stress of being in this age group, made even worse with social media, and the new four-year curriculum is also quicker and faster-paced. The good news is, 24 per cent of students now reach out for help, twice as many as 10 years ago.”

The bad news? Schools don’t have twice the services.

North Toronto plans to fundraise next year to be able to bring in stress-busting experts like the Youth Wellness Network year-round and may even make a day of stress-busting workshops compulsory next year. Network founder Michael Eisen speaks to students about how to avoid exam stress by taking a break every hour and focus on the joy of learning, not the pressure of the end result.

North Toronto has created a student wellness committee for which more than 20 students have signed up, and will run a stress-busting leadership camp the last week of August to train committee leaders.

To social worker Jeanne Middlebrook, these are lessons as crucial as the curriculum.

“It’s about balance; it’s a soft skill, knowing to get enough sleep and proper nutrition, but it can be taught — and it can be modelled.”

Original article no longer available

Bodhipaksa

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

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Cardiologist says meditation could be beneficial

wildmind meditation news

Recently, FOX 2 sat in on a group meditation session. You could almost feel the stress slipping away, which is good for the mind and body.

“So, what happens when we have elevated stress levels is the stress hormones in the body are produced in excess and there is a chronic elevation of those hormones. Those actually cause damage to the vascular walls, to the heart and to the other organs, and that is what raises the blood pressure,” said Beaumont [Mich.] Cardiologist Kavitha Chinnaiyan, M.D.

To mediate, all you really need is a quite place and the ability to still your mind. Dr. Chinnaiyan said just a few minutes every day could have tremendous benefits.

“Adding this aspect of meditation actually has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease blood cholesterol, reverse heart disease in some instances and actually prevent its progression,” she said.

“I go into my favorite room in the house, which is the living room, where it’s quiet and nobody’s out of bed yet, and this is where I usually find my time and my peace,” said Sandy Kovach.

“Having high blood pressure is not a normal thing,” Chinnaiyan said.

On the path to a healthier heart, Kovach is one of several local women taking part in the American Heart Association’s My Life Check Makeover. She and Kim Pratt are learning how this quiet relaxation can inspire change.

“Meditation … for one, has helped me lower my blood pressure. It’s helped me calm down and actually enjoy things around me. I just went on a trip last week, and I actually noticed the scenery more than I would normally just kind of (rushing) through,” said Pratt.

“If you’re driving and you get to some place and you have two minutes, that’s all it takes. Make it a habit. The issue is not about sitting down for 20 minutes every day. The issue is about making it a habit like brushing your teeth,” said Chinnaiyan.

Stress is one of the risk factors for heart disease. During the month of February, which is heart month, we’re focusing on how to reduce your risk of the number one killer.

To learn more about managing your stress or the My Life Check Assessment, check out the link below:

American Heart Association: Four Ways to Deal with Stress

My Life Check

Original article no longer available

Bodhipaksa

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Click here to find out about the many benefits of being a sponsor.

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Try something quietly profound

There is nothing noisier than silence, if your head is full of words. Escape the clamour of the city and at once an excited voice enthuses about the quiet. “How wonderful,” you tell yourself getting out of the car, “to have made it up to the Highlands, to have fled the traffic and the TV and the strident voices round the dinner table. Fantastic!” You strike off along a path through pine trees – isn’t the hush extraordinary! – and before you know it yesterday’s argument with your wife is playing out in your head. How could she have said that! “You’re lucky you still have someone to insult.” That would have been the smart answer. Why didn’t I think of it? Wait a minute, is my phone getting a signal? Damn.

When my father died I discovered, sorting out his papers, that he donated to the Noise Abatement Society. Dad was always hyper-sensitive to sound. Me too. I’m the kind of guy who keeps fresh earplugs in every coat pocket, to cut out the phone babble on the train, the buzz of announcements at the airport, or the beating music from an adjacent room. So when I hear about the Facebook campaign to make John Cage’s 4’33” Christmas No 1, I’m immediately on board. When I see titles such as Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence, or George Foy’s Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, I order them at once. The hunger for silence is growing, I tell myself. Great! Just that the quieter it is outside, the more noise there seems to be inside my head.

Read the rest of this article…

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Ten tips for priming an effortless meditation

woman meditating Meditation teacher and life-coach Srimati offers a ten-stage guide to getting the most out of your meditation practice.

1. Decide what you are doing

Before you start meditating, be clear how long you will sit for and what kind of meditation practice you will do. Have a silent watch or clock within sight so you can open your eyes and peek at the time if you need to. You may notice that you soon don’t need a clock. Before long you will instinctively ‘feel’ that the time you’ve allocated is up and it’s time to come out of meditation.

2. Choose your time

It makes a big difference if you can stick to the same time to meditate every day (or every other day or every week – whatever routine you establish). If you pick your time and stick to it you don’t have to keep re-making the decision to meditate and figuring out when. It just becomes part of your day or week.

First thing in the morning is great. It’s well worth getting up half an hour earlier to give yourself this start to the day. Some people prefer last thing at night when everything is over. Or perhaps your best time is when you get home from taking the kids to school. Or maybe after getting home from work and just before dinner.

Whatever time you pick, have a satisfied tummy – neither hungry nor overfull. Choose your time and make it part of your daily or weekly routine.

3. Find your quiet spot

Find a place where you can be quiet and undisturbed. Be in a room on your own (unless others are meditating with you). Unplug your phone and switch off your mobile. Be out of earshot of TV or radio. Let others know to leave you in peace.

It’s nice to set the scene for yourself. Perhaps face a garden window or a vase of flowers or an inspiring picture. Burn some incense or essential oils. Make this your special meditation spot. You will find that this place will start to have a peaceful atmosphere, a meditation ‘vibe’.

4. Be comfortable

Find a chair where you can sit comfortably in an alert, upright position. A dining room chair is good, or an easy chair. You can also prop yourself up at the head of a bed. Undo any tight clothing, buttons or zips.

Wherever you are sitting, support your back with cushions so that your spine is reasonably straight and your head and neck is free. If you are on a dining room chair you can put a cushion under your feet. If you are in an easy chair you can see if you prefer having your legs folded up cross-legged. If so, make sure your knees are supported with cushions if needed.

Some people like to sit on a pile of cushions on the floor, or a meditation stool. If so, put a blanket down first as a mat, then your cushions or stool on top. Two or three firm cushions are about right. At the right height your back is not bowing or arching but relatively straight.

You can straddle the cushions like a horse, or sit with your legs folded in front of you cross-legged. Support your knees by tucking extra cushions under them if they don’t reach the ground so you can relax at the hips.

However you sit, you should have a strong base – a tripod of your backside and your two knees. Have your hands resting in your lap. Tying a shawl or scarf at your tummy gives a little shelf to rest your hands on if you like.

There’s always the option to lie down on a bed or the floor if you think you’d be most comfortable like this. The only draw back is that you may find yourself feeling sleepier than if you were sitting upright. None the less, the number one priority is that you are comfortable. So if lying down is right for you, that’s fine.

If you get stiff or pins and needles while you are meditating, gently and slowly move and re-position yourself and carry on. However, the idea is to find out how to sit completely comfortably for an extended period of time without having to move, so keep playing with your posture until you get it just right.

When you are settled, close your eyes lightly, or have them slightly open if you are very sleepy or disoriented.

5. Let the weight drop down

Take several big, long, deep, deliberate, audible breaths. As you breathe out, let your weight drop down through the sitting bones – down, down, down through your seat and the floor into the ground.

Even as we let our weight drop down, we are also aware of an invisible force supporting us upright. It’s as though we have a taut string attached the crown of our head, reminding us of our natural poise and alertness. The more we relax and drop down, the more we feel effortlessly supple and upright.

6. Relax and soften

Relaxing further, roll your shoulders a few times each way. Then move your head gently from side to side. Make some wild faces to release your face muscles (nobody’s looking!). Let your jaw hang slightly slack and your tongue be free.

You can use your hands to gently massage your jaw, cheeks and forehead. Carry on over the scalp and down the back of your neck. Give your shoulders a bit of a squeeze then stroke down your arms to your fingers.

Continue down the body with your hands, squeezing or stroking all the way down to your toes. You can hang over your toes for a while. Keep breathing easily and slowly uncurl. Finally, shake out your hands and finish with a nice stretch. Come back to a relaxed, upright sitting posture again.

Take a few more strong breaths. Let your tummy be soft. Check your jaw is still slack and that the tongue is free.

7. Drop into the breath.

Notice how you are breathing now, however it wants to come and go. Feel how it is to be breathing, how you feel inside yourself, the rhythm of the breath as it comes and goes. Let yourself be filled with breath. It’s as though your whole body is breathing, expanding and contracting with every in and out breath. Feel your breath right down to your toes, to the tips of your fingers, to the roots of your hair.

8. Give your head a rest

As you’re breathing, you may be aware of questions and preoccupations rippling around in your mind. It probably feels like its going on in your head. However, invite your thinking mind to rest for a little while. It’s not needed for few minutes.

Soften your eyes, let your eyes go soft and dewy (even though your eyes are closed you can do that) and let the brain itself feel slack in your head. Just feel the breath going in and out the body. Breathe in and out and let all those thought particles fall through the breath like dust particles falling through the air in a sunny room. Let them all fall to the ground.

9. Feel into your heart

Breathing into the body, notice how you are physically feeling around your heart area in your chest. Can you feel if it is tight or relaxed? Can you feel if your heart feels nice, or if it feels pain, or somewhere in between? Can you feel if your heart feels far away or if it feels very vivid and acute and present?

And whatever it is or isn’t, just noticing it as you breathe. Feeling the texture and the tone of our heart. You might be aware that there is a kind of atmosphere – an emotional atmosphere around your heart. You might not have a name for it, but you can feel its ambiance, its flavor. Perhaps you can even sense its color – the color of your emotional heart right now.

Breathe this emotional atmosphere, this ‘heartness’ into the whole of yourself. Let it circulate with the breath.

10. Being with all that you are

Continue to breathe with all that you are – all that you think, all that you feel, all that you sense and all that you know. Gather yourself into the breath and let yourself drop into the vastness of your total being. Getting into this zone is a meditation in itself and you need do nothing more. However you are now ready for a further focused meditation if that is what you have chosen. Enjoy.

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Meditation practice linked to less pain sensitivity

Modern Medicine: Experience in Zen meditation is associated with reduced pain sensitivity, a finding supporting the value of mindfulness-based meditation, according to research published in the January issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Joshua A. Grant, and Pierre Rainville, Ph.D., of the Universite de Montreal in Quebec, Canada, analyzed data from 13 experienced Zen meditators and 13 age- and gender-matched controls who were unfamiliar with meditation. All were exposed to a heating device on the calf that provided a series of episodes of non-painful warmth or moderately painful heat. In different experimental conditions, participants were told to focus all attention on the stimulation, observe the sensation in a mindful way, or were given no task.

Meditators needed significantly higher temperatures to produce moderate pain than controls (49.9 Celsius versus 48.2 Celsius), which the authors classified as a large difference. While attending mindfully, meditators had less pain, while control subjects did not, the investigators found. The analgesic effect in meditators was related to their amount of meditation experience, the report indicates.

“Overall, the meditators breathed at a slower rate than control subjects in all conditions and their mean respiratory pattern followed that of their pain ratings. In contrast, respiratory rate did not change noticeably across conditions in the control subjects. Slower breathing rates (typically meditators) were associated with less reactivity and with lower pain sensitivity,” the authors write. “These relationships suggested that the meditators were in a more relaxed, non-reactive physiological state throughout the study, which culminated in the mindfulness condition and which influenced the degree to which they experienced pain.”

The study was supported by a Mind and Life Institute grant.

Read more here.

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Health alert: meditation

WIS: As many of us look for ways to de-stress our fast-paced lives, new research finds focused meditation may work better than just relaxing.

Researchers at the University of Oregon compared students who used relaxation techniques to those given just 20 minutes of meditation training. After less than a week, they found a significant difference.

Amir Tahami, a meditation instructor with Sun & Moon Yoga Studio, says “time to find that inner peace that’s inside of you.”

Used for centuries in religious practice, today, people meditate in class, or on a park bench.

“[It] allowed me to relax a bit more,” says Klia Bassing, who teaches employees to meditate at work.

Bassing said, “They kept saying I’m so stressed out. I need something. I need something to relax, to help me focus. I’m having trouble sleeping at night”…

Read the original article

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The top ten myths about meditation

meditation incense

Buddhist meditation teacher Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

Even though meditation is now widely used in sports, medicine, psychiatry, and of course as part of the spiritual practice of millions of people around the world, there are still many misconceptions in circulation about what meditation actually is.

Myth #10. Meditation is relaxation

To say that some people’s conception of meditation is “Think of warm puppies, and let your mind go limp” is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Perhaps because meditation has found a home in stress management classes around the world, many people think that “letting your tensions dissolve away” is the be-all and end-all of a meditation practice. But while it’s important to let go of unnecessary effort while meditating, meditation is still a practice — that is, it involves effort. Sure, we start by letting go of tensions in the body, but that’s only the start.

Myth #9. Meditation is just self-hypnosis

Hypnosis, when used in therapy, involves a patient being guided into having experiences that he or she would have difficulty in attaining unaided — experiences as varied as being content without a cigarette in hand and remembering forgotten events from childhood. Self-hypnosis does the same thing, but the practitioner uses a remembered script or visualization to, say, increase relaxation or to experience greater confidence. There’s actually some overlap between hypnosis and meditation (although some meditation teachers, being suspicious of hypnosis, would deny this). In both disciplines we start with inducing a state of relaxation and then proceed to doing some kind of inner work. In hypnosis and in some forms of meditation that inner work involves visualization or the use of repeated phrases. But many forms of meditation (for example, Zen “just sitting” or Theravadin mindfulness meditation) make no use of such tools. The overlap between hypnosis and meditation is only partial.

Myth #8. There are technological shortcuts

“I want to relax, and I want to do it now!” is the approach taken by many goal-oriented Westerners. And that makes them suckers for promises of quick-fix technological approaches to meditating. The web is full of products that promise you that you’ll meditate like a Zen monk at the touch of a button. Just stick your headphones on and hit play, and let the magical audio technology do the rest! But like myth #10, this overlooks the fact that meditation involves effort. Sure, if you stop running around being stressed for half an hour and listen to some blandly pleasant music you’ll find you’re more relaxed. Why wouldn’t you be? But it’s a mistake to confuse this with real meditation. The “Zen monk” in these ads would surely be puzzled to think that someone listening to a CD for a few minutes had attained the depths of mindfulness and compassion that come from thousands of hours of sitting on a cushion watching your breath.

Myth #7. Transcendental Meditation is the most common kind of meditation

“Oh, so is it Transcendental meditation you do?” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked that question when people have found out I’m a meditation teacher. Just about everyone has heard of Transcendental Meditation because of famous practitioners like the Beatles and because of controversies about TM being taught in U.S. schools, but TM is very much a minority pursuit — probably because it’s so darned expensive to learn (and the question of where those millions of dollars go is still open). The most common form of meditation in the West is Mindfulness or Insight meditation, which comes from Theradavin Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia. Zen meditation and Tibetan meditation (which often involves visualization) isn’t far behind.

Myth #6. You have to sit in lotus position

In the Asian countries where Buddhist meditation developed people generally sit on the floor and have flexible hips. It’s natural for them to sit cross-legged, and so they sit in a variety of cross-legged postures in order to meditate, the lotus position being one of the most common and stable postures. In the West we sit in chairs from an early age and have stiffer hips. It’s therefore a rare Westerner who can sit in the lotus position to meditate — at least with any degree of comfort. In actual fact it’s possible to sit comfortably to meditate on a chair, a meditation stool, kneeling, or even lying down (although you’ll have trouble staying awake). The most important thing is that you find a posture that’s comfortable for you — and that you don’t beat yourself up about not being able to twist your legs like a pretzel.

Myth #5. In meditation you sit there saying “OM”

Mantra meditation is only one kind of meditation, and “OM” is only one mantra (or part of a mantra). ‘Nuff said.

Myth #4. Meditation is a religious activity

Although meditation comes from various spiritual or religious traditions, it’s not in itself necessarily a religious practice. The most common forms of meditation practice, for example, involve observing the sensations of the breath. What’s religious about that? Sure, there are some forms of meditation that involve using religious words of phrases as objects of concentration (e.g. Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist Mantra meditation, etc.) but many of the most common meditation practices have no religious overtones — which is probably one of the reasons they’re so common.

Myth #3. Meditation is somehow “Eastern”

A lot of people (usually Christians) have told me that they think Buddhist practice is “foreign” because it comes from an Eastern context. Hmm, where does Christianity come from again? Oh yes, the Middle East. But as with Myth #4 (“Meditation is a religious activity”) there’s nothing inherently Eastern, Southern, or Northern about counting your breath or wishing people well. Some Tibetan practices do involve visualizing rather bizarre (to Western eyes) figures, and mantra meditation usually involves repeating Sanskrit words or phrases — but those constitute a minority of meditation practices. Oh, all right, it’s a large minority — but what’s wrong with a little exoticism?

Myth #2. Meditation is escapist

To some people, meditation is “running away from problems,” “navel gazing,” “lotus eating,” or “disregarding the world.” Actually, running around being busy and never having time to experience yourself deeply is escapism. When you meditate you’re brought face-to-face in a very direct way with your own anger, delusion, craving, pain, and selfishness. There’s nothing to do in meditation but to experience and work with these things. Also, some forms of meditation — such as lovingkindness and compassion meditation — involve us working at transforming our relationship with the world by cultivating love and empathy for others. Perhaps that’s why so many meditators are involved in social work, psychotherapy, nursing, bereavement counseling, prison work, etc.

Myth #1 Meditation is about letting your mind go blank

Here it is, the all-time number one meditation myth — that meditation is about “making your mind go blank.” Sure, in meditation we aim to reduce the amount of thinking that goes on. Sure, just sit there for a few minutes watching all those pointless and even downright unhelpful thoughts bubbling up nonstop in the mind and you’d start to think that a blank mind would be preferable! But what would it be like to have a blank mind? Would you even be awake? Would you have any consciousness at all? Would you be able to know that your mind was blank? The confusion arises because we identify so much with our verbal thoughts (our inner self-talk) that we think that that’s all our experience is. And if we reduce or even stop our thinking (and that can happen) we assume that the mind must be blank. But a blank mind simply isn’t possible.

No, in meditation we aim to develop mindfulness — that’s mind-full-ness. When we’re mindful the mind is very much not blank. Rather, we’re aware of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts — and of how all those things interact with each other. The mind is so full of our present-moment experience that there’s less room for it to be full of useless thoughts, and instead we’re aware of the incredible richness of our experience — a richness that we overlook entirely when we spend our whole lives lost in thinking.

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Making a game out of finding inner peace (Buddhist News Network)

Patrick Kampert, Chicago Tribune: In an age when most publicity for video games is reserved for the violent (Grand Theft Auto) and the ultraviolent (Manhunt), two Colorado entrepreneurs just want everybody to take some deep breaths and grab some inner peace.

In The Journey to Wild Divine, Kurt Smith and Corwin Bell have designed a computer game that teaches players to use biofeedback sensors worn on three fingers to help them control various events. Yes, in this game, the joystick is your body.

By using breathing techniques to stimulate or soothe their biological responses, players can start an onscreen fire, juggle brightly colored balls and direct the flight of birds.

“We took ancient technologies — yogic breathing methods — and coupled that with modern technology — computer gaming,” said Smith, whose background includes developing high-tech medical technology.

Both men are avid meditators as well as mountain climbers, and the Buddhist influence wafts through the game like a bowl of incense.

Wild Divine also features Bell’s visual artistry and gaming savvy. With Himalaya-esque peaks in the background, players navigate their way through templelike buildings, gardens and forests as they collect items that will later be used in the game.

Flowers, for example, are to be presented as “offerings” to see the Dancers of the Double Derga. Colored gemstones must be placed in the appropriate holders at the Rainbow of Rocks to unleash the power of harmony, love, truth, beauty, trust and peace. When that happens, lightning bolts arrive, the ground splits and colored lights erupt from the fissure like a Skittles commercial. Taste the rainbow, indeed.

Along the way, players meet various tour guides — actors, not 3-D simulations, who will help them on their journey. These, too, fit some karmic stereotypes with names such as Sophia, Cosmo, the Lady of the Wood and the Lady of Compassion.

The game also features an onscreen mentor, a Buddhist monk who in real life studied under the Dalai Lama, dishing out advice on Divine and the game of life. (The monk consulted with Smith and Bell on some of the game’s spiritual facets. So did Jean Houston, the controversial “human potential” mystic who guided then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on her imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt a few years back.)

The game is available online at www.wilddivine.com and through a few retailers for $159.95, including discs and sensors. Down the road, Smith said, he hopes the game’s appeal will fan out from home users into his old field of medical technology. He said he hopes to see, for example, patients in pain-treatment centers across the country using the game to bring them some comfort.

Original article no longer available…

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