Whether it is Buddhist monks, Lululemon outfitted yogis or Wall Street Brokers,
Meditation is helping people to handle life situations more calmly and tune into their intuitions much more reliably.
I had feedback from last week’s blog and a request for more on Mindfulness and Meditation -
“I think you should do more on mindfulness and meditation. Like can one meditate well while walking? Or other ways of coming at it.”
You may recall from last week, that I mentioned an extensive Harvard study and a body of work that scientifically demonstrates the stress reduction effects and benefits of mindfulness training.
Stress reduction is key in serious health issues such as heart disease, cancer and depression to name a few. Other studies have shown meditation keeps us sharper as we age, and yet another study showed correlations between meditation and the prevalence of disease.
Since my personal meditation experience is less than a year of practicing, and only recently have I developed a ‘regular’, daily practice, I am sharing my research findings and quoting others who have vast experience in mindfulness.
To better understand whether meditation can be done while walking or using various techniques, let’s start with defining it and creating a common base of language.
The most clear and simple explanations I have found follow:
Mindful people are those who consciously live in the present.
They can step back a bit, watching their current of thoughts, while NOT getting swept away by the content. They are present to whatever they are currently thinking, without attachment.
Meditation fosters mindfulness.
"People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind," says Mike Brooks, an Austin Texas psychologist at Austin Psychology and Assessment Center. "It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the meditation.”
And meditation expert Andy Puddicombe shared at the TEDSalon in London,
“Most people assume that meditation is all about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind, but actually it’s much different than that”. “It’s more about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly--witnessing it coming and going--without judgment, but with a relaxed, focused mind.”
My own experience is that meditation takes some practice. It will seem a bit strange at first. In time, the focusing on breath and just observing thoughts may also result in seeing colors or shapes or clearings or pictures - any, all or none of these may appear during your meditation. Just know, whatever your experience, it is great - just keep doing it - daily if possible, and breathe and focus.
As for walking and meditating - NOT a good idea for walking to work in an urban setting, with people and stoplights and cars to navigate.
Your brain must be ‘on alert’ for this type of walking.
However, a less dangerous and easy, well known route of walking your dog perhaps, or taking a hike or strolling along a very familiar stretch of beach, while focusing your attention on one thing - your breath is the easiest, but the sound of the waves, or the feel of the ground beneath your feet can also work.
When your mind begins to wander - notice that it has, and bring it back to the original focus.
Breathing is the easiest focus because it is always with us and a ‘present activity’.
We cannot listen to or focus on yesterday’s breath.
Some of the meditation experts I’ve read are so intent on getting people to meditate, that they say meditating while biking, running, doing dishes and a host of other activities is ok.
Though I’m no expert, I’m doubtful and cannot agree with these suggestions.
I am careful to not get carried away with thinking walking and meditating are compatible - ONLY in certain situations would meditation be effective AND safe, while walking - at least for me.
My feet seem to find every crack and stone when I run or walk. I need my attention focused on the path to not fall on my face:)
I can easily have my mind running in the background while I run, thinking of what I plan to do for the day or practicing a presentation or listening to music.
But none of those activities are meditation.
Being mindful while walking or running or biking or doing most anything is very doable and encouraged. Practicing meditation will improve your ability to be mindful and in the present, as an observer of thought flow.
Just starting to meditate?
The OpenMind Training Institute breaks it down into the following
1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, or in a straight-backed chair with your feet on the floor, or lie down. If seated, close your eyes gently; if you lie down, keep your eyes slightly open.
*Though I personally often close my eyes lying down. If you fall asleep, you are no longer meditating:)
2. Set an alarm. Try meditating for between 10 and 20 minutes.
3. Concentrate on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, or
on the rise and fall of your belly.
4. When thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise, don't try too hard to push them away. Mentally acknowledge them, but then try to concentrate again on your breathing.
The practice of meditation to promote mindfulness seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation. Yet, there are about 18 million U.S. adults practicing meditation according to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control. Worldwide, there are many millions more.
Meditation has improved my life! What have you got to lose? Give it a try!
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