For thousands of years practitioners of meditation have used various forms of meditation for stress management and as a tool leading toward “enlightenment.” I have had personal experience using 4 forms of meditation for stress management and to a lesser degree for personal “enlightenment.” Each form has been described as an “Eastern” philosophical approach but all have been researched and used successful in Western cultures without religious or deep philosophical barriers. In fact, I would not put these techniques into a box that creates limitation for religious or philosophical reasons.
I will describe these 4 forms and the benefits that I have experienced without deep historical or philosophical backgrounds.
1. A Yogic breathing practice. At the core of every stress management technique that I teach, I ask clients to become fully “present” by breathing slowly and diaphragmatically. Yoga is an ideal form of reflection that asks the user to focus upon their bodies in positive ways while remaining in the present moment. It has been used for maybe 5,000 years. I ask my clients to lie back comfortably in a peaceful environment and to breathe slowly, focusing on cool air coming in with the inhale and then the warm breath as they exhale. To gradually slow breathing to 4 or 5 breaths per minute will gradually slow their heart rate and can help to reduce blood pressure (researched by Western scientists.) This is simple and effective.
2. Zen meditation is a mindfulness exercise that asks the user to keep their eyes open and to learn how to “soft focus” on the world which surrounds them. Breathing slowly and watching a candle burn or bubbles in the fish tank or the waves rolling up unto the beach or a campfire or a stream flowing will all give a similar result. A good exercise is to go for a short walk, moving at about 2/3’s of your normal pace, and feel the pressure of your toes and heels landing on the ground. Taking 50 slow steps can help create a more peaceful consciousness especially if you can also feel for the warmth of the sun or smell the fragrance of the woods/grass or listen for the soothing sounds of running water.
3. TM (Transcendental Meditation) was very popular in the 60’s and early 1970’s. It was a form process of sitting for 20 minutes (or longer) and holding your attention on a word or phrase by repeating this word over and over. Sanskrit words like “Ram ma” were assigned based on your “vibrational pattern” by your teacher. I like to use a word like love or peace. The difficulty for many Western people is that it requires a lot of mental discipline to “quiet the mind” and remain on the simple word/phrase. The skill of concentration requires motivation and lots of practice.
4. I learned a form of Kundalini meditation that was very “enlightening” to me in my mid-20’s. It was a 20 minute exercise that has 3 parts. The first 10 minutes, “focusing,” are spent holding my attention on an “uplifting” word or phrase. I used the words love, peace, or calm. After 3 months my mind cooperated better and was not so distracted. The second 10 minutes, “meditation,” are spent letting the mind watch images flow through as if I were watching a blank movie screen or blank TV. Thoughts that flowed through my consciousness during this section of the meditation were sometimes very revealing and interesting. The third section, “closing down,” was to take 3 deep breaths at the end, picturing myself surrounded and protected by white light. This ritual was useful for me and I had some pleasantly surprising revelations using this technique.
If you require instruction or support with getting started and using meditation, look for classes or workshops in your area. Some people find coaches or teachers to learn meditation. I found a group to meditate with (one time per week) and over several months this was very beneficial for me.
Meditation does not have to be a religion or dogmatic philosophy. It can be a mental, physical, and spiritual practice which allows you to “connect” your mind and body, in the present moment. Studies have indicated that even 20 minutes of meditation can take the place of up to 2 hours of sleep and you can be more focused and productive in your daily activities.
Western style meditation can be found in practices such as Autogenic Training and visualizations. Consider learning more at the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com.