Shameem Akthar, yogacharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, gives you a lowdown on how to do this tricky meditation, and provides more evidence to lure you towards this practice. Read on…
Photograph: Nickolai Kashirin/Creative Commons
When you first hear of it, you may be lulled into thinking that it is simple. However, practitioners will reveal that 'mindfulness meditation' is anything but that.
But, it is easy in a way -- if you decide to stick to it and transit the usual beginner's hiccups to such disciplined practices, it will fall in place.
Ultimately it becomes a habit that is difficult to discard.
It costs nothing, and can be done anywhere, and at anytime. Also, you stand to lose nothing.
It does not need a mediator or a teacher, and there are no disheartening goalposts.
In fact, every time you sit down to do it, you have progressed -- whether you succeed in counting your breath without a thought or feel crowded by them may not even matter. It will still add up to your health and healing.
A study by the Pittsburg University found out what meditating monks had known for centuries. That 'being mindful is healing'.
The university research team tested this theory on around 300 people with lower back issues and found that being in the present moment, however skittish the latter was, helped to control the back problems.
How to do it?
Though at first sight it appears to be easy, it needs a disciplined approach.
You must choose a spot in your home where you are likely to be least disturbed.
Decide on a realistic time that you can adhere to daily -- early morning from 4 am to 6 am is the best, but in yogic terms it may not be practical for many.
This must also be a time when you are least likely to disturbed by the people you live with, which does mean that you will need to factor in house help.
Start off with just five minutes. Set a timer to ensure that you do not need to keep checking on a clock. This is likely to happen if you are a rank beginner.
Decide on a posture which is comfortable, yet not so comfortable that you fall asleep -- this happens even when the mind is alert because the brain wave pattern shifts often during meditation into theta or delta wave patterns which are very relaxing.
Settle down on either reciting a mantra, japa, prayer or anything sacred continuously.
If you are not a believer, you can try to focus on the inhalation and exhalation (this is far tougher), or the rhythm of your breath at the nostrils, the chest or stomach (if you are lying down, this is easier).
You can progressively increase the duration up to 20 to 30 minutes for proper benefits.
Difficulties you are likely to encounter
The most obvious obstacle that no guru will warn you about is that you will get bored with the practice.
Most people expect explosive, exciting and crazy (even ludicrous) experiences from meditation. They expect to be entertained by a mind (their own) and hope to find a genius lurking behind their obvious modest mental faculties.
It's extremely disturbing to find out that the mind's preoccupations are very dull. It does not have grand plans and keeps looping itself over inane stuff. This can be very disturbing.
For others, it can be very boring to find out all this. The activity in itself is also very boring.
So what can engage millions of people in this practice, including celebrity names?
The exciting aspect of this practice is to be able to become comfortable with the simple needs of the mind, accept its need for engagement, and yet be strong enough to say to no its childlike habits.
If you transit this stage of discovery, which can have a very strong impact on smart people, but turn off the less disciplined, you will suddenly find out that this whole business of simply sitting and watching one's breath can be life-transformative.
As many researches have established, healing in not just back pain, but also very chronic and debilitating sicknesses.
The biological benefits of mindfulness meditation that research has established:
- First -- and the most obvious -- is stress relief
- Anger control
- Impulse control
- Drop in blood pressure, and control of high blood pressure, through regular practice
- Controls psychosomatic triggers in auto-immune ailments, like skin problems, respiratory problems, insomnia, migraines and heart problems
- Immunity boost
- Pain control in debilitating disease
- Hastens healing
These are just some of many benefits of meditation.
The emotional benefits of mindfulness meditation
As mentioned earlier, it helps with stress control, and relief in psychosomatic triggers of many ailments.
But the most exciting benefit is that of discipline and impulse control.
Meditation helps with:
- Impulse control -- and this includes binge or emotional eating
- Weight management, especially when weight issues comes from emotional triggers
- Recovery from illness
- Restoring self-esteem, boosting confidence
- Dropping out of an addictive behaviour including smoking, substance abuse and alcoholism
Implanting affirmations become easier when the mind is in a meditative stage.
The ability to counter the heckling of the subconscious mind is also achieved, which helps with dealing with problems that arise from childhood conditioning or abuse.
Progress in the practice
Once you have achieved your five-minute daily goal, you can build up the practice, over several months and years, to a 20-minute daily practice.
This has to be at a set time and place (ideally or at least similar to it) initially.
Later on, you can bring this state of mindfulness into daily tasks such as eating and cleaning the house, so that it becomes a moment-to-moment practice and is not limited to a short part of your duration.
In the initial stages if you have problems to settle your mind, you can check out sites that offer voice-overs, recordings and transcripts of meditations.
This will help tie you down to a habit of meditation. But it is best to see them as props, and learn to be able to meditate without them.
Watching your breath, and thereby watching the subtext of your mind is what this is really about.
The final analysis: Bliss quotient
It is known to add to your overall bliss quotient. You will learn to be able to recover from setbacks faster. You can rush through a hurried day, but manage to retain your center while skidding.
It is also known to delay ageing, simply by weeding out negative patterns of thinking (often triggered by hormonal shifts that happen with ageing).
It removes your dependency on external props -- whether it is in belongings or relationships, or even while having all of these around.
This self-contentment is a rare mind space, and is usually a result of regular meditative awareness of your own mind.