As a nation, we really are incredibly, ridiculously busy. The air buzzes with more than electricity and radiation waves, or with the sound of cars and buses, trains and planes: it positively hums with our own energy, constantly on the go and ever in conversation somehow, some way…
The time has come to slow down, to put our foot on the brakes before we are forcibly slowed down against our will (be it by chronic pain, or heart disease, or depression, to name but a few ways our bodies cry out, “Stop!”). Though there are too many automobile comparatives bandied about these days, noting the similarities between fueling a machine and fueling the human body – just as an engine needs to cool so as not to overheat, so too do we need to take a minute, or five, or twenty and just… breathe. Reconnect with us, as living beings separate from modern concerns – and content to be with ourselves, alone.
For many, moving meditation, i.e. a form of exercise, lends itself as the most obvious answer. And yet, as brilliant and crucial as exercise is for the body, is it enough to simply keep on going and add yet more frenetic movement to the routine quotidian? Perhaps for some, but for others certainly not. For some, there must be a real, veritable pause as well.
Meditation comes in many guises. It doesn’t mean you have to hoist your legs into the lotus position and chant. It can simply mean sitting and thinking; no sound, no company. Others believe a more natural way of living and eating and overall being necessitates a return to Nature itself, the being out of doors en plein air and enjoying all the physical and mental benefits a hike affords, whether the sun is shining or not. For the rest, there are some schools of thought for guidance:
The act of simply being fully present with your thoughts, in a dispassionate manner. Think you’re too busy to meditate because of the lengthy commute or the list of chores your other (better) half keeps nagging you to complete, and that there’s the dog that needs walking in the rain? Good news: you can spend the time meditating within your, er, mind while undertaking these other actions. Just don’t judge yourself.
This one takes a bit more commitment, but no one said achieving inner peace was a walk in the park (or perhaps they did…). You assign yourself a mantra (of words, of sounds, of a phrase) and repeat it over and over in a certain way. Done twice a day for no shorter a period than 20 minutes a session, remember to find a position in which you can sit comfortably and not focus on the pain in your left ankle; or that injury in your knee decades ago which you really should have gotten checked out (perhaps you should call Dr Jones after all…).
Quite literally meditation as guided or led by a teacher, the process involves visualisation of images and/or situations which infer a feeling of relaxation. What is suggested by the mental constructs is multisensory, involving scent, sound, and touch. The possibilities are endless…
One of the older schools of meditation, vispassana translates as “to see things as they really are” and dates back over 2,500 years. A deep connection between mind and body is sought so as to achieve ‘self-transformation through self-observation’. Simple, right? Perhaps note also that abstention from a long list of things is crucial for success, almost to the point of ascetism. Your call.
Otherwise known as ‘loving kindness’ meditation, one is meant to direct well-wishes towards another. Deep breathing gets you to a place of open caring, followed by the mantra, “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.” (You have to love yourself as well, you know.) However, this is afterwards altered, while visualising the intended recipient of the well-wishes to come, replacing ‘I’ with ‘you’ when repeating the mantra. Adapt for as many people as necessary and then close with the words, “May all everywhere by happy.” Sweet.
A crossover with certain yoga practices (kundalini, for one), chakra meditation is all about energy centres. Each chakra (literally, ‘wheel’) determines a certain part of the body and/or spiritual connective point. There are seven in total and each has a particular colour associated with it, which helps when visualising the chakra. As with everything, it seems, the goal is balance and well-being. Incense and crystals have been reported to help with this type of meditation. Indeed, the choice of either can be linked to the chakric focus in a session.
There are multiple schools of yoga. From hatha, to ashtanga, to vinyasa, to kundalini – the list is seemingly endless. Nonetheless, what they all include is (a) the asanas or physical postures, (b) pranayama (or breathing exercises), and only then (c) Dhyana, a meditative section (some at the start, some at the end, and some of course at both the beginning and the finish).
The benefits of developing a yogic practice are likewise numerous and include an alleviation of symptoms in IBS suffers, as well as improved mental health (and the usual positive exercise accoutrements of stamina, et al). Fundamentally, however, its focus is the spine: a flexible, healthy spine makes for a youthful, workable body – and, by extension, mind.