Monday, May 2, 2011

My Philosophy on Teaching Meditation

I've often written about meditation, and it is, like many other practices, a beautiful, healthful and helpful tool on the spiritual path. In one of my blogs last year, I wrote about the purpose of meditation, and for this post, I wanted to spend more time talking about my philosophy around teaching meditation.

Keep It Simple
There are many styles and types of meditation, and I won't bother to list them all here. I think there's probably a different style and flavor of meditation for everyone, and if you go seeking them out, you will certainly be amazed at the wide variety of experiences and feelings you can have. I think that's beautiful, but for how I instruct and use meditation, I like to keep it very simple.

The reason that I do this is also simple: I think people need something that is easy and can fit into their everyday living. That's why I've titled my ebook, Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening. I'm not interested in creating an overly complicated system that requires people to leave their regular lives or involves a great deal of dedicated time. The busy moms and dads taking care of their families are happy to get 5 minutes alone, and so much of my philosophy honors and respects that people need tools like meditation that can work within limited timeframes.

Breathing and Sitting
The two most important tools really are to be able to breathe and to sit. Heck, you don't even have to sit. You can stand up or lie down too. There are other styles of meditation that involve movement, but I won't go into those here. The importance of the breathwork is huge. Focusing on the inhalation and exhalation pulls the mind out of its constantly spinning stories. It also helps to pull you out of states of fear and desperation.

A lot of people live in those states for most of their lives although many don't realize this. Those states can often be noted by a lack of depth in the breath. Try it for yourself. When you're really upset, stop and pay attention to how you're breathing. Are you breathing deeply or really shallowly.

On a subconscious level, I believe the mind and body associate a shallowness of breath with being in tense situations that are also associated with survival issues. It seems like a fight or flight mechanism is kicking in. Simply slowing and deepening the breath are two of the quickest ways to help someone relax, and in that relaxation, a lot of clarity can come in. It's as if all the muscles in the brain relax too, and ideas start to flow.

This is part of the reason why I think a lot of companies in the near future will want to have meditation programs. It's not out of any new-agey propensity; it'll be out of the realization that relaxed employees think better, work smarter, make fewer costly mistakes, and are subsequently way more productive.

Posture in Meditation
I also believe that posture is really important. It helps the whole body. While I often talk about how energy needs to flow, on a purely physical basis, sitting up or standing up straight helps to open the circulatory system and the respiratory system. I think this also adds tells the body that it is safe and secure. I've seen pretty amazing shifts in my students just by having them sit-up straight and breathe, and like everything else, this is an incredibly simple step to building a regular meditation practice.

Regularity in Your Meditation Practice
Regularity is often the kicker for most people, but it's important to carve out some time before the kids get up in the morning, during lunch break in the afternoon, or some time right after you get home from work. The regularity gives you a way to step back and come back to your center. It also helps you to know what that center feels like. Meditation is revelatory for a lot of people because they finally meet themselves and all the internal noise they're carrying around. This can be shocking for some people, and they may want it to all go away. Breathwork helps with letting go of the focus on the noise, but you shouldn't get caught up in the idea that you'll immediately go internally silent. Any expectation other than that you'll sit and breath will lead you to disappointment.

Mainly the whole process around meditation is about letting go of your attachment to what's going on in your life...at least for 5, 10, 30 minutes. This doesn't mean that you're not responsible, and how many of us really help situations out by thinking about them all the time? Very rarely does the incessant thought do anything but wind us up tighter and tighter until we lose it. Breakdowns don't help anyone much less solve problems. The constant chatter in our minds causes a lot more problems than it solves, and a regular meditation practice helps to let some of the steam off before you go critical mass.


Moving From a Space of Kindness
Above all else, be kind to yourself. I encourage people to be gentle and compassionate to themselves along with letting go of expectations. Don't try to "win" at meditation. Sitting for long hours with your brow furrowed up in concentration won't get you anything. This is a space to just be in. This is your opportunity to do something for you and to have no demands placed on it. Just sit up straight, close your eyes, and breath. Do this regularly for whatever amount of time you have available in your life. I guarantee that you will feel different, and building this type of practice can become a fundamental way to cope with life's difficulties and take care of yourself for your entire life through good times, bad times, and times of transition.
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