In this writing, I share my understanding and practise of meditation with you. This is primarily for people coming to our Friday Meditation class. Please contact me if you have any queries.
Stir fry and meditation……. it’s a matter of technique.
When people tell me that they love stir frying I always wonder what they mean by that. Sure, you get some food ingredients in a pan/wok, stir it around and voila- stir fried cuisine. In practice, there is a little bit more to it than that. What herbs and spices are you using? Or are you just using a can of ready made sauce? What order are you putting the ingredients in? If you are using meat, are you marinating it first? Is your stir fry dry or are you making it with a sauce? What are you going to thicken your stock with? What stock are you using? Yes, if you just want to stir things around in a pan without any consideration to the above and still enjoy it, that’s fine. But by taking the points raised above, you can easily create a delicious stir fried dish. Look on our facebook page for cookery tips.
Meditation is the same as stir frying. Anyone can do it. Is it just a simple matter of sitting and doing nothing? Yes and no. Like stir frying, there are points to observe which makes meditation a wonderful and powerful friend and support in our lives.
What is Meditation?
Meditation can mean different things to different people. It is simply a process of looking inwards, creating stillness and clarity. A way of getting to know our own body. A way of accessing our wisdom and truth and enlightenment. A way of feeling at one and connecting with our Universe or gods. This means that any one of any faith or persuasion can “meditate”. Meditation has nothing to do with religion; it is to do with spirituality and spiritual growth. I define “spiritual” as anyone who ever question and ask “why?” I define “religious” as anyone who follows blindly, often out of fear, ignorance and bigotry.
What can meditation give us?
I think the above question already answered this. When we have understanding, awareness, and focus in our lives, then our lives will have meaning and direction. It is only when you can make a relationship with yourself and your own body, then you are able to make a relationship with other people and their bodies. It is only when we can be kind compassionate and empathetic with ourself, that we can truly be kind, compassionate and empathetic and others.
What is “stillness”?
The Chinese term “Wu Wei” means non-action. The action of non-action is not the same as stagnation. Winter in nature is a period of stillness, of inactivity, cold, and damp. This introspection and restfulness consolidate and prepare for the outburst of new life and energy in the spring. Definitely not stagnation. With stillness comes clarity. Think about a glass of murky water, if you leave it awhile, the sediment will sink to the bottom and the water will become clear.
Do you have to sit when meditating?
No. You can meditate sitting in a chair, on the floor (cross legs, half-lotus, full-lotus etc), standing (mountain pose or shoulder stance), or lying down in the corpse pose.
So whatever state of health you are in, you can meditate.
Is physical health and awareness important in meditation?
Let me tell you the story of Bodhidarma( 5th-6th century). He was a Buddhist monk from India, went to China and there taught the monks at the Shaolin Temple. Bodhidharma was so disturbed by the poor physical shape of the Shaolin monks, after which he instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition as well as teaching meditation. He is said to have taught a series of external exercises called the Eighteen Arhat Hands (Shiba Lohan Shou), and an internal practice called the Sinew Metamorphosis Classic. This later evolved into the Shaolin Martial arts.
Chang San Feng, the acknowledge founder of the Taoist art of Tai Chi Chuan was a senior Shaolin master who went to the Wudang mountains to follow a life of meditation and contemplation as a hermit.
A house is made from a strong foundation; you cannot build an attic unless there is a strong house underneath it. In the same vein, one cannot or should not do meditation without a strong robust body. Sadly, I have come across Westerners who claim they are Buddhist and chant, but have no body awareness and have no particular interest in their physical health.
Tao, Prana and Qi
In Taoism, the Tao or the Way is seen as the manifestation of the perfection and harmony of the Universe. Therefore we strive to be at one with the Tao, we try to become the Tao. Interestingly enough, Prana in yoga is seen as the total and pervasive energy that is in everything, so when we breathe, we link into to the universal prana. Qi or Chi in Taoism is seen as our vital energy, life force, psycho-physiological energy.
My own personal understanding is that although Qi and Prana is easily interchangeable when we talk about breathing and meditation. We must strengthen and refine our personal life force and in meditation link to the universal life-force.
Is breathing techniques important in meditation?
The human body can survive weeks without water or food, but three to four minutes without oxygen results in brain death. So yes, oxygenation and breathing is important. Most of us breathe in a shallow manner using only a third of our lung capacity. If we were to breathe deeply and fully, our health would improve dramatically. In Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan and Yoga, the way of breathing is vital. In fact, Qi means breath, so Qigong means cultivation of the breath. One of the eight limbs of Yoga is Pranayama- the way of breathing. When we carry out our asanas in Yoga practice, once again, breathing is part of the technique.
So how do we breathe? There are lots of different techniques. I will share with you how I like to do it.
On inhalation, focus on expanding your chest. Do this in three parts- 1. Downwards into your diaphragm, 2.sideways into your ribs and 3. Upwards into you clavicles.
On exhalation , focus on pulling your navel (belly button) back to your spine. When you do this, your diaphragm will push up and expel air effectively from your lungs.
Your breath must be slow, smooth and deep- but only as deep as you comfortably can. No straining, no forcing, no hyperventilating. Cultivate what we call the inner smile, relax, someone once said life should be a one big letting go. So let it go, out with the bad, the negative and the indifference, and in with the joy. You might find that your don’t feel comfortable to breathe deeply all the time- just do what you can and are happy with.
Awareness of the locks or bandhas in Pranayama and meditation
In Yoga, we are aware of our system of chakras. Chakras are a line of energy centres starting from our perineum up to the crown of our head. We recognise seven chakras, each has its corresponding acupuncture point in Chinese acupuncture, and each chakra can be linked to corresponding nerve ganglion in our autonomic nervous system. The chakras are base, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow and crown; do your own research. Different chakras control and influence different areas of our body and also different emotions.
By practising Qigong/Tai Chi/Yoga in all their breathing, stillness and movements techniques, we refine and cultivate and transform our Qi and increase our health and awareness to a higher level of consciousness.
In Yoga and breathing, we must be aware of the three locks.
1. The root lock or Mula Bandha. This corresponds to your base chakra. You can experience this by gently lifting your perineum.
2. The abdominal lock or Uddiyana Bandha. This corresponds to your sacral chakra, about two inches below your navel. In Chinese Medicine, this is your Dantien or Cauldron of life. This can be experience by gently pulling back your navel/Dantien to your spine.
3. The throat lock or Jalandara Bandha. This is situated at your throat. You can bring this lock into play by gently bringing your chin into your sternal notch. This lock can also be gently activated by constricting your throat slightly when you breathe in and out creating a sound that I think of as the waves coming into and out from the shore- this is called ujjayi or victory breathing.
When you breathe, try and have awareness and a sense of uplift in your two lower locks all the time. This will help to direct your qi upwards towards your solar plexus. Just as importantly, when you have awareness and tension in the two lower locks, this ensures that when you have a deep inhalation, your abdomen does not drop down beneath your navel. We would rather our pelvic organs have a sense of uplift than a sense of downward pressure and prolapsed.
On the out breath or exhalation, you can increase the upward pressure on the two lower locks. You can activate you chin lock while you are breathing or simply use the ujjayi breath. Yogis believe that the sound of the Universe is “Om”, therefore when you use this as a mantra; the vibration of this sound is very powerful. It is said that the sound of the waves is also Om, therefore by using Ujjayi breathing, we are also using this mantra.
Summary of how to meditate
1. Sit, lie or stand comfortably. If you are sitting , make sure your spine is straight and that you are not slouching, you can always use cushions to support your back. Sitting meditation should really strengthen your back and give you good posture- remember the story about Bodhidarma and the Shaolin monks.
2. When you breathe in, focus on expanding your chest, via diaphragm, intercostals muscles/ribs and right up to your clavicles.
3. Use Ujjayi breathing. Feeling the lovely soft sound of waves as you inhale and exhale. Don’t force this; make the sound soft and smooth.
4. Cultivate your inner smile, do not force your breathing,
5. Have a sense of tension and awareness in your root and abdominal locks. Increasing this as you breathe out.
6. If you find it tiring using this breathing technique, don’t breathe so deeply, or just breathe normally. You will realise quite soon just how shallow you breath has been.
7. Make sure you breathe slowly and smoothly.
For a lot of you reading this, meditation means just sitting, but hopefully you are now aware that meditation can be stationary (sitting, lying and standing ) and dynamic as in Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi. Also that meditation is not just something that might help with stress – that’s like having a space ship and using it to store your junk!
Benefits you would expect from meditation
1. Resting the body and mind.
2. Strengthening the body and enhancing good posture, especially in sitting and standing postures
3. Maximising gaseous exchange in your lungs.
4. Gently and powerfully massaging your abdominal organs. Increasing blood flow and nervous stimulation to your abdominal organs, especially helpful in helping bowel function.
5. Increase lymphatic drainage.
6. Revitalise and harmonise the nervous system.
7. Strengthen and tone abdominal muscles and strengthen back muscles
8. Increase levels of endorphins and serotonins, this is one reason why a sense of well being is experienced.
9. Increase in you red and white blood cells and heamogoblin to boost immunity, nourishment and healing.
10. Changes messages to central nervous system to promote health and break cycle of disease.
11. Non oxygen debt exercise- oxygen intake keeping pace with consumption.
12. Increase in alkalinity of body due to aan optimising of body biochemistry.
13. Increase in musculo-skeletal strength and endurance, in standing meditation and dynamic practice such as Tai chi and Yoga asanas
If we can achieve the physical benefits outlined above……we will not have any emotional issues.
We will be so strong that we could achieve and overcome anything. As a Health Practitioner, I have observed time and again where as patients become well physically, they then have the strength to make changes in their lives, from changing jobs to changing relationships.
Putting a wish out when meditating
It could be useful if you put a wish out at the start of your meditation. I feel the wish need to be in harmony with the creativity of the Universe; so if you have a serious illness, a wish for you to have the resolve to change and do all you can to overcome your problem is much more in harmony than just wishing for the problem to go away without any input from yourself.
I find that gratitude is a very powerful energy in a prayer or a wish. As I get older, I tend to be grateful for what I have and quite happy to let life surprise me with its abundance.
You could always start your meditation with a beauty queen wish:- World peace!
Spirituality and beyond.
Your spirituality is unique to you, let your meditation find it and express it for you.
I always feel that we have all the answers and wisdom in us. Life experiences and meditation will help us access it. We are being dis-empowered in every aspects of our life; we must take our power back and take control. We are programmed and conditioned to believe that everything should be “easy” or “instant”
Nothing that is worthwhile or wonderful is easy or instant. If we believe that, we are fools and idiots.
I don’t believe we can change “The World”, but we can try and change our own world. As I said earlier, this starts by making a respectful relationship with our own body. When we have that, maybe we can then make a respectful relationship with other bodies. Maybe if we can achieve that, then our world might change for the better; because it will be a world created by our own consciousness