Meditation is currently being explored and used to advantage in many cases of stress and pain management. Often, this leads the practitioner to a deeper interest in exploring the benefits of meditation for the more traditional spiritual purposes. Meditation has been proven to alter the brain wave pattern from one of high to one of low activity waves, associated with a state of alert relaxation. However, to the person who is anxious or over stimulated, the “monkey mind” is an obstacle and the experience of letting go of the tension seems out of reach, and may exacerbate their experience of tension! Do you have any comments to share about meditation and stress reduction?
I agree. The “monkey mind” is a real obstacle, and can inhibit or even stop a regular practice of meditation as “hopeless”.
What then are some tools to use to get through the thoughts that simply trying to mediate is just not working, and establish a regular practice?
Using a meditation technique to help to stabilize the wandering mind is useful. Traditionally the breath is a focal tool, although many people also use a mantra or an image as a focal point. Letting go a “wish” or “goal” in meditation to rid the mind of thoughts is helpful as well. The mind’s nature is one of generating thoughts. In meditation, one practices detachment from the thoughts by simply observing them when they occur, and remaining focused on the chosen object of meditation.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Meditation (Dhyana) is the 7th limb of practice - it is described as an uninterrupted flow of attention to the object which one has chosen to meditate. (For those interested, Patanjali offers suggestions for choosing one’s object of meditation and discusses also meditation without form). For most of us, this is a fleeting moment of one pointed attention, before we find ourselves distracted again by the turnings of the mind.
Related practices to support a daily meditation practice include the other limbs of Ashtanga yoga - yama and niyama (social and personal behaviors and disciplines), asana (to quiet the body and mind), pranayama (breathing techniques which can serve to increase one’s awareness) and pratyahara (the practice of turning the senses inward as we begin to explore the inner realm).
In my opinion, the intention to practice meditation on a regular daily schedule is supported by these practices, and the tendency for the monkey mind to be a real distraction is reduced by practicing detachment from results. This requires a gentle reminder for the mind to return to the focal point anytime you notice that it has wandered, and allows us to practice lots of compasion with ourselves as the process occurs over and over again! In time, the mind will begin to follow the direction which the meditator choses.
Meanwhile, daily reflections provide an opportunity to let go of the need to DO anything, and simply BE - just show up at the cushion and sit! There is no judge or jury to decide if it was done properly or not! A few minutes of asana to prepare the body, and some pranayama to settle your attention on the breath will support your intention to just being with your self.
Hope these thoughts have been helpful TOK!
Meditation for me is the number one stress reliever. It can take me from being wound up like a clock after a stressful business day and allow me to reconnect to my inner self. I use yoga techniques to quickly enter an inner focussed state of awareness. At first my monkey mind wants to stay turned on and participate in the experience but through repetition and patience it subsides and then I become relaxed and quietly observant. The difficulty at times for me is the next stage. The “I” part of me is observing and still in control and only when the inner grace of internal energy starts to “flow”, usually from my heart center up to my head center, does the feeling of at one with my spirit happen and there is just joy and peace. It is when I try to hold on to this experience consciously that it seems that I lose it. When it flows naturally it stays with me but when I try to understand it , it flows out of me. But either way it totally relaxes me and relieves any stress of the day. I get up from my meditation feeling very peaceful.
These are the fruits of your dedication to meditation - a sense of peace as your true inner state, which spills over to the busy life of action. Thank you for sharing your reflections!
Reading Chandra, Tok and Rumi’s posts, I’d like to add a few observations regarding meditation.
For me, meditation has been a life saver. I was introduced to meditation in 1973, and began a daily practice that has supported me through many truly challenging times.
In terms of working with meditation, I base my work in stress management on established programs such as those offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (see book Full Catastrophe Living), Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. (Minding the Body, Mending the Mind), Nishala Joy Devi (The Healing Path of Yoga), and Dean Ornish, MD (various books on addressing coronary artery disease and stress using meditation, yoga, pranayama, relaxation, and vegetarian diet). I have found the meditation component to be of great value in helping students become more stress-hardy.
However, I have observed that with many Type-A students, asking them to “Stop doing and just sit there and BE” is too much to ask, especially in the beginning. They can’t and won’t do it. Even the gentle yoga practice that Nishala Joy Devi recommends to reduce stress is too gentle for these students; they are too hyperactive and can’t settle down to do gentle yoga and meditation.
I’ve come up with a different formula that seems to work better for many of these students: They sit and center very briefly, or simply share what’s happening in their lives – they may need to talk a bit. Then I guide them through an active yoga asana practice that keeps them completely engaged physically and mentally. This is followed by relaxation, meditation and pranayama and, for those who are open, spiritual discussion and/or chanting. It seems that these types of students must first burn off some energy before they can meditate.
When they first start working with me, I keep their meditation time short. Over time, using daily homework assignments which require practicing what they’ve learned in their sessions, I gradually increase their meditation time - in their sessions at the studio, and in their homework.
Joseph LePage (Integrative Yoga Therapy) uses this general rule of thumb: ‘Give them a lot of what they are, and a little of what they need … then slowly shift the balance.’ That’s basically what I try to do.
Also, for some students, non-sitting meditation methods may be more effective: walking, coloring in mandalas, using mala beads, using mantras / affirmations / breath counting / tratak, sewing, or working with plants.
What works for us may not work for our students. What works for one student may be all wrong for another. We need to let go of our assumptions about “what to do,” and even “what works.” We need to throw away the rule book (thank you, Mukunda, for this wonderful advice!) and explore instead what this one student sitting in front of us needs. As yoga teachers, we can best serve our students if we let our students teach us how to teach them. This is a concept that Muktananda shared with Mukunda, and Mukunda shared with me a few years ago. I remain forever grateful for this simple, elegant, intelligent suggestion; it serves me and my students well every single day.
Integative Yoga Strategies
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<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Hamsa on 2002-05-19 16:11 ]</font>
I came to meditation because my stress levels where high and I felt thrown about by my emotions, unexamined conditioned thoughts, beliefs and grief. Initially is was very difficult and I was distressed at the sheer amount of random rubbish running through my mind and It wasn?t until I could just sit and allow thoughts and feelings to arise without judgement that I began to notice acceptance and space enough to witness thoughts coming and going. After some time a noticed a gradual natural ability to mindfully focus my attention which I now try to bring to my every day experiences.
When I first came to meditation I didn?t understand how the brain interprets and responds to stress, nor that I could truly influence this response. I have since learnt that it not the stress response its self that makes us sick but the continuation creates conditions for chronic disease within the body. I feel a real sense of responsibility to understand how the brain, endocrine and nervous system function when stress arises so that I can understand how I can help myself. Its through the mindful practice of yoga that I develop a deeper understanding of how asana, pranayama and meditation practise influence my body, mind, emotions and spiritual development and provide the tools to deepen self awarenessE in order to more effectively develop resilience in dealing with stress and my ability to live present and more fully.
to the person who is anxious or over stimulated, the “monkey mind” is an obstacle and the experience of letting go of the tension seems out of reach, and may exacerbate their experience of tension!
First sutra of Patanjali says “Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodha” (yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind).
Do you have any comments to share about meditation and stress reduction?
Almost 95% people who claim they are doing meditation are actually doing relaxation and such people can not get rid of tension.
A meditative person will always be relaxed but a person relaxing may or may not be in meditative state. Please understand it. That’s why such seekers wonder why they are not out of tension despite practicing yoga even for years or whole life.
When you surrender in totality to yoga meditation happens (you cant invite it) and then all questions drop. Situations (causing tension) don’t change but how you take them changes completely and you become a new person.
For me, meditation is not just about stress reduction, but to gain control of your mind, to acquire authentic power.
Have you all wondered, why our minds are always full of incessant chatter, never quiet down?
Do you feel that you are fighting against your mind, trying to make it relax?
Feel free to check out this link, to understand the truth about why our mind cannot seem to relax:
It reinforces the argument for Hatha. The slow movements and holding stretches gives the mind something to help focus as well as relieving stress. Fatter Hatha is the best time to meditate.