The benefits of meditation cannot be understated. For a healthy life, you simply must include it in your daily practice.
‘Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?’ ~ Lao Tzu from Tao Te Ching
A mountain of literature is written regarding prayer and meditation. It is perhaps the most important spiritual practice, yet the most illusive for most.
Let me make a distinction, first, between what is prayer, versus what is meditation. A very simple way to look at it, is prayer is you talking to God, and meditation is giving God/Source the opportunity to talk to you. The contemplative Christians call meditation, "centered prayer," to distinguish it from prayer, where one does all the talking.
I will use the terms "meditation" and "centered prayer" interchangeably in this article.
Documentation is everywhere regarding the benefits of meditation and the positive effects of this practice on your life. I don’t think anyone but the most hardened of individuals would refute the power of prayer and meditation.
It is my opinion that meditation is the most effective of the relaxation techniques. According to the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, 60-90% of all medical office visits in the US are due to stress related disorders! Never before has the need for slowing and quieting the body and the mind been so great! The benefits of meditation and centered prayer have never been so needed.
According the University of Maryland Medical Center website, the regular practice of relaxation techniques such as daily meditation or centered prayer can help many medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, pre-menstrual syndrome, tension headaches, high blood pressure, anxiety, high cholesterol, arthritis, infertility, and many more.
I personally believe that there is no condition that cannot be improved by learning the techniques of meditation.
More benefits of meditation are shown in the Mayo Clinic website. when you practice these relaxation techniques, this website states that symptoms of stress will be reduced because:
Did I really need to show you the medical evidence for the health benefits of meditation? Is there really any reason to not commit to a daily meditation practice?
A regular practice of silence and stillness, or some form of contemplation or relaxation technique is paramount if one wishes to find optimal body-mind-soul health. One can lower one’s blood pressure merely by creating time and space for oneself to create peace and healing in their lives. This is why I believe in meditation. The simple self-care practice of meditation can reduce one’s stress more than any other singular activity. Chronic stress and the concomitant high blood pressure is a known killer. Daily meditation practice can do wonders in stress management and the lowering of blood pressure. Through the benefits of meditation, it can now become a physical healing practice.
Movement can also be meditative (See Intuitive Movement) and music, as well as art. Ancient practices of Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and others are a testament to movement as meditation. The benefits of meditation or centered prayer will provide healing for your body-mind-soul and change your total health.
Stillness and silence also allow you to connect with your inner self and inner creativity. I have heard it said that Albert Einstein was accused of being anti-social because he would sit inside his apartment for days on end, just staring. In fact, in his silence, within him, he was creating ideas and solving formulas. While I will never be an Einstein, those times that I am the most creative, are in the moments of silence and stillness when things come to me that I would not have otherwise heard. The creative benefits of meditation and silence is immeasurable.
It is worth repeating that prayer is when you talk to God, but meditation is where God talks to you! In order to connect with with this Universal Spirit, and find union with God, is is necessary to meditate and sit in silence.
The concept of Bhakti Yoga or a 'devotional union with God,' (loose translation from the Sanskrit) is achievable through meditation. Much beyond health and healing, union with God/the Universe is achievable through meditating. That is why meditation is so important.
Everyone has a version of how meditation is best done, what meditation posture is best, what words, like “om” or a personal, special sound, should be hummed or chanted. People who use prayer are taught specific language and lines that are said over and over again, until sometimes, the meaning is lost, or it was never found to begin with. There is comfort in repetition and familiarity, but adding your own personal touch of spiritual awareness, I believe is important too.
The language and form that we use are less important than actually doing the stillness practice. As you might guess by now, I prefer to throw out any dogma that I have learned, and create my own intuitive stillness practice. It is my own unique daily meditation.
I will attempt to give you some ideas to try, to create your own form of meditation. None of these ideas are new. However, I as always, prefer to keep things simple - the simpler the better. The simpler the daily meditation practice the more likely you are to keep at it and reap the benefits of meditation.
Despite all the knowledge we have about prayer and meditation, connecting with the Divine seems too mystical for most of us, and way too time consuming. We may have negative or positive images of what this entails. We have very high expectations of what should occur, and how much time it will take, when our inbox is so full. Understanding meditation and what it can do for you is the key to consistency in your practice.
First and foremost, make the meditative practice as simple as possible, for you, to increase the likelihood that you will incorporate it into your daily life. Pick a time of day that suits you best. I prefer the morning, but not always.
I would recommend starting slow, allowing 10 minutes or so at first and just be awake, alert and still. This in itself can be a task for a lot of people, since we wake up and the first thing that enters our minds is all the things we have to do that day and where’s the coffee? Lying down is not recommended because it's easy for our bodies to resist the process by falling asleep.
My sister, a spiritual director, actually prefers to do her centered prayer lying down, but only about half of the time. She lies down on the floor on her back but her legs are up on a chair, with her knees bent and her lower legs resting on the seat of the chair. She opens her arms out to her sides with the palms up for receptivity. She love this position because her back is supported and straight. This is a perfect meditative yoga pose, because her chest, and therefore her heart is open. When she relaxes her neck and shoulders and melts into her breath, slowing and deepening it, she opens herself to Love and to God. This is a marvelous way for her to intuitively let go in the stillness of the pose. She feels that this is her symbol for opening, resting in the Earth and resting in God's womb. This allows her to stop carrying others and letting God carry her for a while instead!
What a beautiful way to envelope yourself in the beauty of centered prayer! She also states that lots of people who suffer from insomnia use centered prayer to fall asleep at night. This is one of the best benefits of meditation - the relief of insomnia!
Petrofied Wood in the Bisti Wilderness, NM
At first, if you are a beginner and until you are able to meditate in any position without falling asleep, find a
comfortable upright position. I prefer sitting on the floor, in the
half-lotus position, since it forces me to balance my body and helps me
stay awake and alert. However, most people are most comfortable in a
chair. You don't want your mind to focus on stiffness or pain when sitting on
the floor. If this is true of you, choose a chair where you can keep a nice, straight spine.
I really prefer being out of doors whenever possible. I am lucky and have a deck that overlooks the mountains, where I find great solace. The half-lotus position also helps me stretch my piriformis muscles in my hips, an area where I tend to hold a lot of stiffness and tension. I realize that this is not a comfortable position for a lot of people, so use your own intuition and find a position that suits you best.
Sit on the floor or sit in a chair, but be upright, so you don’t end up relaxing too much and fall asleep! The goal is to be alert to stillness, not to fall asleep! As Will Smith, who plays ‘God’ in The Legend of Bagger Vance, says, the goal is to ‘stop thinking without falling asleep!’ If you fall asleep, all the benefits of meditation will be lost.
To ensure your mind is free of time constraints, set a timer, so you don’t worry about the time. My sister sets a music player to have music softly come on when her time is up. It is a very effective and very soothing way to bring you back to the present and get the benefits of meditation in whatever time allotment you have.
After you find your position, and begin the quieting down process, start by taking deep breaths. Focus on how you breathe, the swelling of your abdomen as you breathe in, then the relaxation as you breath out. If you find that you can’t really see your belly as you breathe, try relaxing your abdominal muscles and focus on making the breath deeper until you can see your belly move. If that doesn’t seem to work, focus on your chest and watch its movements. If your chest moves up and down, pay attention to that. You may close your eyes if you wish.
At times when I find my mind too busy to focus, I keep my eyes open and stare at a pine bough, on a pine tree, and focus on it instead. If you are indoors or don’t have a window to look out, staring at a candle flame or a fire also kindles the spirit. That staring can help me still my mind as I begin to focus on my breath. I often say my affirmations (See Creating Positive Affirmations for Health) as I breathe, and quiet down, to get me in the right frame of mind. I express my gratitude to God for all that I am and all that I have.
Continue focusing on your breath, and connect with your inner rhythm. If thoughts come, let them come, and then let them go. Refocus on your breathing. Don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to stop the thoughts. Let them come. Let them go. Again, refocus on your breath. This will get easier as you practice. The benefits of meditation are immediate as you learn to find time to love and care for yourself.
Some people light candles for their daily meditation to also
represent life, spirit and positive thoughts and affirmations they have
created. I like to use candles in the winter, since I meditate in the morning at the start of my day, when it is dark. As soon as the candles are lit, I immediately connect with the ambiance and beauty that the flame provides.
Another one of the benefits of meditation is that it really helps me with my seasonal depression. The mild depression I feel every year heading into the winter solstice is very real and noticeable to me.
In the summer, I often incorporate the sunrise and sit by a window, and stare at the beautiful colors that unfold. Or I go out into the sunshine itself and feel the warmth and presence of the Universe.
My daily meditation takes many forms, as I feel moved. Soon, the 10 minutes will go by quickly. You might find that the Peace you feel becomes addictive. On days off, you may find you desire to add more time than 10 minutes. The health benefits of meditation will soon show itself in your life.
My stepson finds that listening to music helps him to connect with his soul. Others prefer art. I prefer yoga postures and unique stretches that I create for myself, when I sense an area that needs work. I hold these postures as I breathe deeply and connect with myself, God and the Universal Conscious. The benefits of meditation through yoga stretches had been very helpful in my own personal health and healing.
Choose whatever daily meditation works for you. Just make it a stillness and/or mindful practice. Find silence to go inward and just be. I am sure the health benefits of meditation or centered prayer will show up in your own personal healing of your body-mind-soul!