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Meditation & Breath
Meditation and Breath in a strange world . . .
As within, so without…
At some point in our modern life we come upon a fork in the road. One road leads to Meditation and the other to Medication. The journey on the path of Meditation leads to self reliance and the journey on the path of Medication leads to dependence. To explain the importance of meditation is not to solicit one into a new age cult, or an old age cult, but rather to present a practice that will enhance the quality of health and well being. Since I am putting it in health terms it would be important to understand how the Autonomic Nervous System functions. This will make more sense in approaching meditation as an essential practice for physical and mental health.
Whatever we have created or invented in the material world is patterned from our own physiological systems: as within, so without. Our nervous system, superimposed onto the world, becomes the Internet; the super highway of information and its infinite links of communication. With the Internet, we can now communicate instantly around the world in ways never dreamed of less than a few decades ago. Along with that marvel comes an information overload that never sleeps. With satellites reflecting every crook and cranny of the world, we are constantly gathering data, and piping images and information through channels of communication via television, radio, cell phones and computers. Through the medium of television and radio we can only receive as we listen and watch talking heads, but through the Internet we not only receive but also send out a communication about any event. The World Wide Web is the technological nervous system and as marvelous as it is in how it functions, it can be as equally detrimental to our own nervous system.
The Physiology of Stress
A major part of our nervous system which regulates organ function is the Autonomic Nervous System. It has two major divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. These two divisions act as checks and balances to maintain a sense of health. The sympathetic system causes the body to respond to danger, fear, stress, anger, and ecstasy by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, stimulating the adrenal glands, increasing air exchange volume and blood flow to muscles and everything that is needed to spring into action. The parasympathetic system monitors body functions during times of rest, sleep, food digestion, elimination etc., when the body doesn’t have to spring into action.
As stressful situations occur in daily life, the sympathetic response is activated over and over again. Often it cannot discharge the accumulated stress because modern society does not allow sufficient opportunity to relax into a parasympathetic mode. Therefore the level of tonic activity of the sympathetic system increases day by day as we accumulate more energy from stressful stimuli than the parasympathetic can dissipate. This constant increase in the sympathetic nervous system causes the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, the heart to speed up, the blood pressure to rise, the stomach to tighten, the bowels to move toward spastic conditions and the blood to be diverted from the vital organs to the muscles. Left in this state of alert condition, the body begins to break down rapidly. In order to counteract the “fight or flight” condition instituted by the sympathetic response, the parasympathetic nervous system has to act more powerfully to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, aid the digestive processes and reduce the spastic condition of the bowels. When the parasympathetic nervous system can no longer cope with the ongoing stimulus of the sympathetic response, the autonomic nervous system has lost its flexibility. It can no longer deal effectively with the accumulated stressful energy within the sympathetic nervous system. In short, this is what is called a “nervous breakdown”, and in today’s world, it occurs at a very young age.
In our high stress society it’s rare to take a little time out to smell the roses. Our minds are immersed in streams of thought, incessantly flowing from techno news centers informing us of the latest disasters, murders, scandals, abductions, economic breakdowns or simply, tales from the shadow side of the life cycle. Somehow, electronically, good news cannot be translated. Then come the commercials with station identification sponsors of pharmaceutical companies, hell bent on selling you a pill in promise of a good night’s sleep or a way to cope with our dangerous world. Ask your doctor if the blue pill or the red pill is right for you. The new normal is a world with a custom built reality designed to be maintained by drugs. This is the path of Medication and it comes with a price. Unfortunately, where medication is most effective and intended for the few in need, the many are mesmerized to believe they need it. The more we deviate from a natural path the more we enter the maze of artificial intelligence.
The Art of mirroring your true nature
Meditation has the effect of quieting the mind and allowing thoughts to settle. The authentic self is the observer of change. It is the you who watches the constantly changing scenery in the landscape of the mind. In meditation we won’t find the carpenter, dancer, painter, mother, father, lover or even spiritual seeker, we find only the Self which has no name. This consciousness is the inner witness of what and who we really are. In meditation we have the opportunity to watch our own minds and observe the thoughts and emotions that manifests. Eventually we arrive at the realization that we are not our thoughts or emotions. In a sense, all that is not real will pass through our consciousness and when the passing clouds of thought begin to diminish and finally settle, we experience serenity with a glimpse of our true nature.
Meditation is called a “practice” because like any skill that needs to be cultivated for any level of mastery, consistency is key. To approach this practice we must summon the warrior within us and activate the right use of will. How hard can it be to just sit for twenty minutes a day and shut off the stream of thinking? Some philosophers say that the longest journey started with the first step, and with meditation they can add that the most difficult journey is from the bed to the cushion.
The Pearl of great price
There are as many types of meditation as there are scales in music. As one begins to develop consistency with practice, one will soon enter a “Field” of awareness, just as a musician discovers new expressions in the language of music.
To begin, find a designated place in your home where you can retreat and sit quietly. Early morning, before the working world awakens, is an optimum time for meditation. Sitting cross-legged on a cushion, offers a slight elevation at the base of the spine that is balanced with the crossed legs, giving one a tri-pod balance. If this posture is uncomfortable, then sit in a chair and place one foot forward and the other foot back in order to keep the base of the spine from slipping forward into a slumped position. Place your left hand over your right hand or vice versa and maintain an erect posture as comfortably as possible, enabling the spine to free itself of any tension. This posture also helps the lungs to function in its greatest capacity of breathing, beginning from the lower abdomen to the upper respiratory.
In this particular meditation there are two points of attention that need to be focused upon in order to allow the parade of thoughts to pass by without drawing attention or engaging with the thinking process. That truly is the greatest challenge for most of us. First, allow your attention to gaze upon the floor directly in front of you at a 45 degree angle and focus on a dot that will appear in the general area. This is a grounding focus. Second, place your attention on your breath. Take a deep breath in with a count of seven, hold one count, then exhale seven counts, hold one count and again breathe in seven counts, hold one count, exhale seven counts and on and on. When you are comfortable and begin your breathing sequence, start with deep audible breaths. This will help to establish a rhythm. After about four to six sequences of audible inhalations and exhalations, allow your breath to soften into a quieter rhythm, until eventually you experience the sensation of expansion in both the inhalation and exhalation cycle. With practice, your breath will eventually become totally silent in the expansion of breathing in and breathing out. When you find yourself engaging with thought, gently return your attention to gazing upon the dot on the floor as well as the rhythm of your breath. The exhalation is the easier part of the cycle to place one’s attention. With each breath, consciously release any tensions until all you feel is the constant expansion of your breathing and your body is totally relaxed into mind space. When your thoughts disappear, dwell into the open spaciousness of your being for as long as you can maintain it. This is an experience of Meditation and even if you can only experience it for one minute you will sense great benefit.
Begin with twenty minute segments daily and increase to longer sittings as you get the hang of it. Keep your eyes open throughout the meditation. This allows the practitioner to take in the surrounding sounds of the house and outdoors as part of the meditation and not be disturbed. With eyes closed, most outside noises can be distracting. But like music, when you’re in the groove, you can alternate with eyes open and closed and not be disturbed. Please know that even if you are bombarded with thoughts throughout the twenty minutes of sitting, do not make the meaning that you have failed or received little to no benefit. All attempts have merit. That is why I mention that one has to summon the warrior within to practice meditation daily. The monkey mind wants to grasp at all thought. In today’s corporate advertisements they often pride themselves by saying they are so innovative that they are, “thinking out of the box”. When it comes to meditation, “thinking” is the box. This practice teaches us to tame the mind. It sounds simple and it is, but mastering it is a gradual unfoldment. At least try it for a month with a consistent discipline and for sure by then, you will notice the many benefits it offers. In a mysterious and wonderful way, the next step will be shown to you…May you experience the most beneficial results with your practice…
Some benefits of Meditation
When one enters a state of mind in total relaxation without thought it is likened to an alpha state. Back to technology, meditation is like inserting a new program into a computer. In order for the hard drive to configure the program, one has to boot or shut down the computer. When it is re-started, the program can be fully accessed. When a practitioner reaches an alpha state, or simply a quiet mind relaxation, it is like shutting down a computer; the adrenal glands stop secreting adreniline, lowering the level of cortisol and shutting down the fight or flight mechanism. It reconfigures the endocrine system, increasing levels of DHEA, melitonin and dopamine, which slows the aging process and most important, boosts the immune system.
Meditation calms the body and mind while it maintains alertness. It stimulates the imagination and higher awareness, creates a detachment from outcome, improves mental processes of concentration, memory, decision making, clarity of thinking and concentration. It helps one to sleep more soundly throughout the night. It increases learning ability and creativity. In essence, meditation builds an escrow within that is naturally utilized in stressful times, enabling one to be less reactive and more level headed.
The following are teachers who have influenced my understanding of Meditation and Breath: Reshad Fields, Mantak Chia, Deepak Chopra, John Upledger , Sogyal Rinpoche, Ramacharaka, and many others. From the practice of meditation, the knowledge of rhythmic breathing then carries on into active and passive forms like Yoga, Martial Arts, Sports, Chi Qong, Tai Chi, Healing arts and everyday activities that invites one to experience a deeper awareness in a given moment. For individual or group instructions such as a treatment or workshop, you can contact me with the information enclosed.