Thursday, 21 May 2015

meditation for mental health

I want to write about meditation today, because it's on my mind and heart a lot these days. I started learning about, and playing with meditation in 2004.

I started doing yoga dvd's in my living room, and one of the teachers did this little meditation at the end of her class, which I've since come to learn is a spinal kriya - you focus on the breath at your tailbone, and as you inhale, you "watch" the breath travel up your spine to the crown of the head, and then you exhale, watching the breath travel down the spine to your tailbone. And you repeat this, over and over. It is a "Watching the breath" meditation. I didn't have the language or knowledge at the time to even really realize it was a meditation, but I loved it from day 1. Years later, with much studying and practicing under my belt, I was introduced to it in a formal, titled way, and understood more of what was happening, physically, mentally, and spiritually with such a practice. But at the time, as a beginner, I just knew I loved it and that it felt sweet and delicious.

As I am writing this, I realize that maybe my introduction to meditation began long before 2004 - that was just my introduction to yogic meditation. I think my introduction may have been a lifetime before that, through the Christian church and my bible-reading, faithfully-praying family. My siblings and I were raised to pray and to read the Christian scriptures. Verses from the Bible like

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

This sounds to me like great instruction for positive thinking, rather than thinking about things that are negative or hurtful. Not so different from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:)

The Bible regularly instructs its readers to meditate on God and his wonders. As do many scriptures from other world religions. There seems to be a constant desire, and consistent direction from all faiths, that meditation is good and helpful and delightful and important.

So I think it's neat to think that my introduction to meditation, and my desire to do so, came from a very young age. I'm forever grateful to my family and Christianity for that!

Now, I'm older. 38. Studied, thought, practiced, evaluated, all that rational grown-up stuff we do. Yoga is my path now. Has been for many years. Many of the meditations from the yogic and Buddhist traditions resonate with me more deeply than from the Christian tradition. I have a meditation teacher, Rolf Sovik, who is currently the President of the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania. He teaches meditation in a way that is simple and clear, and by following the guidelines he lays out, I come into a place of meditation quite easily and effectively. His "techniques" work for me, in that they help my nervous system quiet down before I sit and try to develop stillness in my mind. I need that.

I'm not much of a preacher of one right way - there are so many wonderful methods, techniques, and ways to meditate. Seek. Try some on. See what's right for you, what resonates with you, if you're interested in meditating. I'm just delighted to have found one that works for me.

I've had interesting experiences with meditation. Times when I'm so into it, I just want to do it forever. Times where I want to meditate for spiritual reasons. Definitely times when I let my meditation practice go for weeks or months because I just want to stay in bed. Right now, I'm coming back to a more regular meditation practice, for mental health reasons. I'm experiencing pretty high levels of anxiety right now, and have been for a few months. I've re-remembered that when I meditate regularly, the anxiety doesn't necessarily go away, but I don't feel despair or fear or terror about my anxiety. When I practice regularly, I am mindful of it, but don't have the devastating emotional and mental reactions about the anxiety that I do when I'm not meditating. I'm letting go of the strictness of the rules around a meditation practice (how long for, what techniques to get into it, etc), and am just sitting and meditating and watching my mind as I do. Sometimes the meditation time feels really chaotic. My mind is very busy, even during meditation. And that's just an opportunity for me to watch, to observe, to learn more about myself, to notice. To not get drawn into the stories or reactions of my mind, but simply to notice. With compassion. And the best thing about it for me, is that it really affects the rest of my day. My mind is still very busy, and worries try to take over, and my body does still manifest the symptoms of anxiety. But somehow it feels a little more quiet. Less desperate. I'm able to see and notice what's happening, and take a moment to breathe. To send love to myself. To be aware of my thoughts and feelings. All that precious cheesy stuff we do to keep ourselves moving forward:)

I think that's all for today. I am grateful for meditation. Right now, I feel like it's saving my life from the pain and terror of extreme anxiety.


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