“Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be it’s master and not it’s slave.” ~
On most days, when I wake up in the morning, my mind begins working before I open my eyes. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it’s my mind, as it hums into consciousness, that generally wakes me up. Sometimes I’m startled awake by the thought that I somehow slept in too late. Other mornings, my thoughts start streaming in like a very efficient assistant, “It’s Tuesday… meeting at 8:30…show property at 1:00…yoga at 5:30…dinner at 8:00.”
But on the best days, I awake to slips of sunlight that penetrate the edges of my blinds. My brain boots-up slowly, without urgency, and my mind is calm. How I wake in the morning is not always the sole indicator of how my day will progress, but it can certainly have an effect on how it begins. And as the day unfolds, and the voice in my head gathers volume, I can simultaneously grow my workload, diminish my efficiency, raise my blood pressure, lower my tolerance, ingest the concerns of another and regurgitate all my faults and failings without ever leaving home. In fact, without ever leaving my HEAD, that’s exactly where I find myself. So I’m learning to meditate.
Meditation, for me, is a process, and like everything, it takes practice. Of course, there are some people who glide easily into a meditative state; my husband, for example. One day he agreed to be the recipient of my guided meditation. I feared it would be difficult for him to quiet his mind. He’s a highly motivated, bulls-eye-targeted man, who thrives on the stimulation of telephone, television and computer screen simultaneously. He rarely sits still, unless he’s dozing. Yet, on this particular day he positioned himself on the yoga mat, closed his eyes, and remained silent as I softly read a guided meditation on relaxation. He did open his eyes and declare he was finished before I was, but at the same time he said it was awesome. I apologized for my cough attack in the middle of the script and he said, “You coughed?” I’d like to think it was the expert timbre and rhythm of my voice that guided him to such peacefulness, but I’m sure it had far more to do with his own ability to gaze inward and tighten his focus. After 35 years of marriage, it certainly couldn’t have been related to his ability to tune out the sound of my voice…hmmmm.
Meditation doesn’t have to last any specific length of time and it doesn’t have to follow any particular protocol. We are all very unique, especially when it comes to the contents of our heads. But the benefits of meditation can be life changing. There is evidence that the regular practice of meditation can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It can increase focus, memory and creativity. And mindful meditation can even lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. There are multiple forms of meditation, and even more opinions on how it is best practiced. Here are a few methods to try and see what works best for you.
Find a quiet spot and a comfortable place to sit. You can sit in a chair, on the floor or in your car as long as you’re parked. And begin by just breathing. Taking your attention to your breath you can actually grow the volume of your inhale and lengthen the span of the exhale to begin relaxing and lowering your blood pressure. Sometimes just this simple practice of paying attention to the breath is enough to calm a stressful situation or clear your mind of the debris of anxiety.
Once you’ve established a quiet rhythm of breath, you move to the rest of your body starting at your toes. Imagine a softening or a relaxing of each toe, each foot and the muscles of the legs in a deliberate fashion. From here, you move your attention up your body to your trunk, chest, back and arms. Taking your time and picturing each area of your body along the way, you eventually reach your face and head. Guiding your mind and your physical body into a more relaxed state.
Another method of meditation is to use a mantra, repeating it slowly with the exchange of your breathing. The mantra can be anything that has meaning for you – maybe a short phrase or just a few words. Reciting the phrase or words silently to yourself in connection with your in-breath and your outbreath. For example, breathing in, “I am healthy,” and breathing out, “I am happy.”
Using a softly focused gaze on a particular object, like a lit candle, is another way to meditate. Each time you become aware of thoughts entering into your consciousness, you take your attention back to the candle, or to your mantra, and allow the thoughts to drift away.
I once read an analogy for meditation that helped me. It described the mind as a muddy puddle full of silt and debris. The more you chase after the individual objects that cloud the puddle, the more opaque it becomes. But if the puddle is allowed to be still, undisturbed, the particles sink to the bottom and the water begins to clear. Through meditation we aren’t trying to make the thoughts disappear. They continue to exist, but we no longer grasp or attach to them, allowing clarity and peace to rise to the surface.
Guided meditation is another way to reach the quiet corners of your mind. In guided meditation you simply listen as your instructor talks you through a mindful journey or body awareness exercise. It’s a little like listening to an audio book or a bedtime story. But the images projected are gentle and calming and there’s always a happy ending. We offer guided meditation each week through our yoga classes here on the island. They’re free and simple, two of my favorite words.
As I work toward a more yogic lifestyle, I realize that daily meditation is an important component in the intricate symmetry of staying balanced. I often feel I have to give myself permission to take the time to do it. Sitting still, breathing, taking attention away from the tasks, troubles, joys or decisions may seem like doing nothing, but doing nothing, after all, is really something.
Laurie Kasperbauer is an active Florida Realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. Laurie also enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes.