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An Introduction to Meditation

Meditation can be considered a state of the body and mind. Meditation practices originate from spiritual traditions, but are useful in daily life with or without that emphasis. They are used in therapies as an aid in stress reduction and relaxation, and are components in many approaches to holistic living. This introduction looks at meditation in general, and offers some basic practices.

If you have ever gazed in a fire and felt yourself being quietly drawn into it, while your mind slowed down and your body relaxed; then you were approaching a state of meditation. If you ever were so entranced as to "lose yourself" in some music, the beauty of a sunset, or the smell of a flower; then you were in a meditative state of mind.

Most of us have had similar experiences at some time. We might not have called it meditation, but that is what we were experiencing. A practice of meditation is a way to experience that state and deeper ones at will. It takes practice to gain the skill and ability to do something. Practices used to gain a meditative state include sitting, moving walks or dances, using sound or being quiet. In some a person concentrates on an object, saying, question, or seeks an experience.

Here is an experiment to try. Stand up and note how you are feeling. Then stand tall, stretch your neck up, lift your head high until it is level, breathe deeply through your nose and abdomen, relax your face, and make a loud humming sound for a few moments. Then relax some more and walk in place very strongly. Increase the strength and length of the tone. Extend your arms, swinging them more and more strongly until you are practically marching in place - chest out, knees high, strongly but calmly breathing in out through the nose, and periodically and rhythmically humming or sound a "hummm" tone. Then stop and breathe.

How do you feel now? More relaxed, yet at the same time more invigorated? More alive, stronger, or focused? What changed? Only a few moments spent concentrating on a form, motion, and sound; and combining them. You have probably changed your attitude, focus, feeling, "atmosphere", desires, and depth of experience - all through a very simple exercise.

We do this sort of thing all the time; whether we are aware of it or not. Actually, whole schools are based upon these fundamentals. Sound, breath, movement, form, and attention can have a profound effect on how we feel and to what extent we can experience or do something.

We can control the influences of our feeling, experience, mental, emotional, and physical states through learning how to apply to proper combination of sound, breath, form, and motion. From a spiritual point of view, these tools, if properly applied, can help increase our awareness of the infinite and assist us to broaden toward that ideal.

Here is a meditation practice to do. It is very simple. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. I suggest a chair - not too soft, and preferably straight backed. If you prefer to sit on the floor on a cushion with crossed legs, or a flat mat and are comfortable in a lotus position that is fine. It is not so much where or how you sit but rather that you are stable, solid, and able to relax. It is more important that your back be straight, with your head balanced on top of your spine, not drooping down or sagging on one side or the other. Your hands can be on your legs, in your lap, or crossed. Your eyes can be closed, open, or partially open. Relax and start with what feels easiest for you. You do not have to be in a room with no noise or distractions. Just don't dwell on them.

Try to let go of any tension that you feel. Don't try to force it away, just what you can drop away. Now put your attention on your breath. Breathe in and out through your nose. If you need to breathe through your mouth then do so. Don't worry about it. Try to relax your diaphragm so that you "breathe through your belly" rather than have your chest expand. In other words, let the lungs sort of drop down instead of pushing out your chest. This takes a little practice to get the hang of, so try it, but if you have trouble with it, don't worry. Do it a little each time you sit and it soon will become easy. For a minute or so regulate your breath so that it is even both in length and strength on inhale and exhale. When you feel that your breath is fairly even, then start to count your breaths. Each time you breath in count one and each time you breathe out count two. That is all you have to do. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to what you are doing; sitting quietly and counting your breaths. After you have done that for a few minutes just relax. Pay attention to how you feel and the quality of your mind and body. You have just started to learn meditation.

You can do this practice for several days. When you begin to feel as though it is becoming easy and your mind does not wander, then stop counting your breaths. Start to feel it "in" and "out". Experience the qualities of breath. Try this for several days. You do not have to spend lots of time doing it, but when you do, try to keep your attention on this only. As you sit, let go of tension and let your body readjust to its most comfortable positions in which the breath can "flow" through it. After several days of doing this, when you begin to feel that this is natural and more easy - that is when you are not "fighting it" - you can make one other change. In this step, you stop the thinking/feeling of "in" and "out" of your breath. Now just follow it as you breathe in and out, and experience it penetrating and flowing through your body.

This is quite an ambitious undertaking to do in one month. Keep in mind that this is not a race. It is your own process and experience, and it will be different for someone else. It is the quality of the work and experience that counts. It is helpful to set a regular time and place to do your practice so it builds consistently. The next part of this series will consider some of the health aspects of meditation. There will be some related meditation practices; however you will probably want to continue doing this also.

Part 2: Meditation and health ... Part 3: Meditation and the Mind
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