Meditation for Modern Minds
The Global expansion of Meditation
We hear a lot about meditation these days, there’s a plethora of approaches, styles & methods, that its no wonder we feel like a stunned deer in the headlights when it comes to trying to discern between them.
Both scientific research and the ancient seers speak to the vast array of benefits of meditating covering the entire spectrum of human experience from the different stages of life and the evolution of the senses, heart and mind.
Depending on your need, interest or inclination it appears that meditation is the modern panacea for living well in a complex modern world. This is partially true. It also depends on the type of technique and of course the teacher's own level of embodiment, training & experience.
Scientific studies are discovering more and more of the physiological benefits of meditating such as:
Improving vagal tone facilitating parasympathetic activation
Improved heart rate variability which correlates to our ability to respond to stress
Enhanced oxytocin levels – those feel good brain chemicals that elevate our mood
Modern psychology and psycho-somatic studies speak to the underlying link between mental health and the physical body. Neuro-muscular knots formed by tension in the mind manifesting in a physical symptom such as suppressed grief being the root cause of asthma.
These, and other mind/body studies have enabled new perspectives to emerge and to be built into therapeutic models. Meditation has been identified as an evidence based therapeutic tool that has a place alongside the more traditional medical model.
Benefits of Meditation
reduces the pain response and assists the body to heal & find homeostasis
relieve stress and muscular tension as it induces relaxation
induces mental and emotional relaxation consciously affectively re-wiring neural pathways
relieves symptoms of imbalance that are associated with psycho- somatic conditions
Brings a sense of wholeness & connection that exits beyond the senses and mind.
Connects us to inherent peace and positivity which aligns us with a sense of our spiritual nature.
With more evidence based findings in recent years, the uptake on meditation has spawned across the globe. The 2019 Global Wellness Trends reports a staggering increase in uptake of digital consumption related to meditation Apps estimating, 1,500 meditation and mindfulness apps that make meditation more accessible, whether you are at home, work or travelling. Headspace App alone has 35 million users in 190 countries while Calm has driven 26 million downloads with 50,000 new sign-ups each day.
New hybrid forms of meditation combine fitness workouts with mindfulness in gyms and studios. Trans-cranial magnetic stimulation to optimise brain states, reduce stress, and create blissed out meditative states. Ecstatic dance, Binaural beats as a form of brain entrainment to enhance frequencies conducive to relaxation and calm. The range of techniques that harness the power of sound and group based experiences such as sound journeys, sound baths and silent discos are on the rise. It seems ironic that the need to disconnect from digital input now becomes one of the main providers of the sought after state of relaxed attention.
New technologies that capture our biometric data to create personalised, healing soundscapes—music is undergoing a sudden wellness transformation.
The boom in drop-in meditation studios worldwide indicates that meditation is very much the new yoga.
We need to take a moment to digest how young the research on and market around meditation is: It only bubbled up in the West 50 years ago and has only started to approach mainstream understanding, interest and investment in recent years.
Is there a downside to all of this access to meditation?
Are we bypassing perhaps the most important thing that the wellness world delivers—community with other humans, group rituals, healthy things that happen with real teachers and people?
The digital age has removed the human dynamic of transmission and personalised instruction.
Which brings us to the next question?
Which Meditation practice is good to start with?
Yoga Nidra is a safe and effective practice to begin with. It is a deep relaxation and meditation technique that meets both the newbie and seasoned practitioner where they are at. You are guided through set stages, safely and gently with utmost care. While remaining awake and being conscious in progressively deeper states of relaxation you are able to encounter layers of yourself known as the Koshas.
At each of these five bodies there are stored tensions, some of them are conscious, others not. When these come up to the conscious surface of the mind then they find some kind of release which is cathartic. The result being a sense of integration and grounding in yourself. One of the aims in Yoga is to purify & balance the different dimensions of ourselves so that we can gain more access to our true potential.
Through repetition of being in this (hypnogogic) state and with further insight from strengthening the witness quality the underlying forces that are driving you come to light, their effects are reduced and at the same time a grounded sense of self emerges. While letting go (purification) is important so too is the cultivation of peace and connection with wholeness (Anandamaya kosha). Building up a tissue memory of this state helps to re-wire the patterns in our nervous system which digests our experiences and expresses itself through the breath. Breath based meditations are simple, effective and transform us.
How I started Meditation?
How did I find my meditation practice? My initial teacher introduced me to Yoga Nidra. At first it was a time for a wee nap at the end of the class and I remember falling promptly asleep, often, waking up somewhere in the practice and then excusing myself from the class. She explained to me that ‘its okay to fall asleep’ and that it will change or not and that to relax about that happening. That with time the ability to be more present in the practice will arise.
Somehow I perceived sleep as an enemy to be avoided at all costs when in reality I was just tired, deeply tired. The kind of tired that you can feel in your bones, when you are stressed and worn out.
Using an audio of the practice at home I could continue to explore this state shifting practice and found it was so effective for stress relief and letting go of my busy day as a high school teacher. Yoga Nidra helped me to heal from glandular fever. To re-build lost reservoirs of energy and to give my mind a welcome space to just breathe and let go of deeper held tensions. Yoga Nidra was a saviour for me and many others who have healed and transformed through it. It built the solid foundation in meditation skills I needed to progress further.
Meditation and Essential skills: Grounding
Grounding: We hear this term used a lot. Bringing attention back to the physical body or sensation, to feel our senses. Why does it matter? Have you ever felt light and floaty after a yoga class, spaced out? Difficulty in locating or orientating yourself afterwards, forgetful, walked off leaving your things behind? Chances are you were ungrounded. This undoes the work that the practice does and discharges the energy produced. It's important to recognise this, if you want to progress further. Ensure you spend time externalising fully by tapping the body, taking child's pose for a few minutes, drinking some water and connecting back to your senses.
Bringing attention back fully into the body helps with integration of the practice benefits. When the benefits of our practice are expressed through the senses, at the level of actions and behaviour (initially with effort, then naturally) then we can know that the practice effects have been grounded. There is a depth that builds with the practice and a maturity with it as our inner compass is strengthened.
Where-ever you are at with your exploration of meditation I would encourage you to keep going. Ask questions? Join a class where there is the opportunity to debrief the practices and share your experience with others. This is beneficial and will bring a lot of context and relevancy to your practice. Enrolling in a beginners course will allow time for the practices to take root and for you to embody the positive effects. The ancient wisdom practices have a lot of relevance for us today and can be taken up with no prior experience.
Pure Yoga runs ongoing meditation courses online and from the boutique home yoga studio by the ocean. Check out the courses here: The current course running: https://www.pureyoga.nz/meditation
Go well in your exploration of meditation - its a journey!
Aum shanti - Pragyadhara