Friday, March 5, 2010

Mindful Meditation

In The Moment – Meditation & Breathing, Contemplation & Renewal

In modern terminology, it is sometimes called “Mindful Meditation” or “Mindfulness Meditation”; it is also termed “One-pointedness of Mind Meditation.” People often think of Hinduism, Buddhism or Zen Buddhism when they speak of meditation but this practice is not about religion, though it definitely is about the spiritual realm. The realm of stress-free, relaxed, peacefulness that comes when the mind is quiet; when the mind is focused on one thought or (better still) no thought.

Research has suggested that meditation may improve mood, decrease stress, and boost immune function. It has long been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and calm the spirit.

What is One Pointedness of Mind Meditation?

One Pointedness of Mind is a form of meditation that essentially involves focusing the mind on the present; in Shinto terminology, Naka-ima (Center-Now). Naka-yima is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the present, without judging yourself.

How to Practice One-Pointed Meditation

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff. Sitting on the floor can be with legs crossed (tailor style), legs folded onto themselves (Lotus or half-lotus position) or legs bend under yourself (suwaru – Japanese style). Whether on a chair or the floor, try to position yourself so that the crown of your head, your shoulders, hips and tip of your tailbone are aligned.

2. Put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present. This is the core result for which we are striving. This will take time. For me, initially, it took a great deal of time. Be patient. If you have expectations of results, you are not being present; you are in the future.

3. Be aware of your breathing, focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your chest or belly rise and fall; feel the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to each breath, how each breath changes and is different; yet don’t think about the sameness or differences. Just breathe.

4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it is a worrisome thought, fear, anxiety, fantasy or just wondering if the light in the refrigerator is on. When thoughts appear, don't ignore or suppress them, just note them and let them go. Stay calm and use your breathing as an anchor.

5. When you find yourself getting carried away by your thoughts, observe where your mind went, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Don’t be hard on yourself when this happens; it’s just stuff. As my beloved teacher, Baba Ram Dass, once told me, “To chastise oneself for worldliness is just more worldliness.”

6. As the ending time arrives, just sit for a minute or two and let your mind reactivate, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Focusing on breath is a technique for quieting the brain/mind – the thinking self. When you first begin this work, the inclination is to think about not thinking and while you can see the paradox of such a head trip, none-the-less, that is what you will do. There is almost a fear that if you are not thinking, you’ll die or go crazy or something. However, when you stop thinking incessantly, you will begin to truly live or become sane. You will relax.

There are variations of this practice. You can focus on your breath, you can focus on your anatomy of breathing where you note “rising” with each inhalation and “falling” with each exhalation. With your eyes open, you can focus on a single burning candle in front of you. Each time you find yourself thinking, resettle on the flame. The goal is to be in the moment – Naka-ima. The result is relaxation.

Being in the moment is furthered through sound. Use of mantra is an excellent method for reducing stress, tension and other stress-related symptoms.

Herbert Benson, MD, coined the term Relaxation Response, “a state that is opposite to the stress response”, after he investigated Transcendental Meditation and found that people who practiced TM could lower their heart rate, their blood pressure and slow their breathing by significant percentages.

The practice of focused attention on a prayer, a sound or a mantra, is a multi-thousand year old practice. The repetitious use of a word, group of words or vocal utterance has long been used in spiritual traditions to achieve and maintain a “super-state” of relaxed awareness. It is the practice of repeating a word, prayer, sound or phrase so as to exclude other thoughts or mental activity. Mahatma Gandhi uttered the word, “Ram” (GOD) all his life; so much so, that at the moment of his assassination, the last word he uttered was ‘Ram’.

How to Do It

The wonderful thing about using sound for meditation and relaxation is that you can do it anywhere and anytime, alone and with others. It is incredible to sit with several hundred people and chant a sacred sound over and over again. This is how you can begin your practice and use it for your own private mental health exercises.

1. Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Relax your muscles. (I have read instructions where it is said to “try and relax your muscles” but this is a contradiction of terms, if you TRY to relax, you aren’t relaxing. Don’t try to relax, just relax.)

2. Close your eyes. Breathe into and out of your belly.

3. Use a focus word, phrase, or prayer that has special meaning to you; one that is rooted in your belief system, or makes you feel peaceful. For example, the word "peace", “Om”, “shalom”, “Ram”, “Shiva”; the phrase "The Lord is my shepherd", "Hail Mary full of grace", or the prayer “Lord have mercy on my soul”, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, “Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari”, “Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram.” I commonly utter the sounds “SU”, “Su A Wa” or “Rama”.

4. Breathe slowly and naturally. Inhale through your nose and pause for a few seconds. Exhale through your mouth, again pausing for a few seconds. Quietly say your focus word, phrase, or prayer as you exhale. You may silently say your sound but it is more powerful if you can hear yourself utter your ‘prayer’.

5. Don't worry about how well you are doing and don't feel bad if thoughts or feelings intrude. Just say to yourself “and this too” and return to your repetition.

6. As the time comes to a close, continue to be aware of your breathing but sit quietly. Becoming aware of where you are, slowly open your eyes and get up gradually.

This technique is usually practiced for ten to 20 minutes per day, or at least three to four times a week.

If you have to keep track of the time, try using an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.

Breathe into Your Belly
(Breathing from your tanden)

Calm Your Mind

Stress, poor posture, snug clothes, and habit are some of the reasons that keep us from breathing properly. We wind up using our chest muscles instead of our abdomen.

Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple deep breathing technique that teaches you how to use your diaphragm, a sheet of muscle at the bottom of our lungs and the most important muscle for breathing.

Tanden breathing is deep abdominal breathing developed through the martial arts. It is also employed in yoga practices and opera singing. Belly breathing is very good, tanden breathing is much better.

It is often used as a complementary therapy for anxiety disorders and may also help to boost energy and stamina.

The goal should be to breathe this way all of the time.

Calm your mind. Forget about what you’re going to make for dinner tonight, the emails you still have to respond to, and the birthday gift you still have to get for your mother-in-law. Just let go of thoughts.

Don’t force it, just let go of any thought that pops into your mind.

Improve Your Posture

Proper posture gets air into your lungs and helps energy flow through your body.

Sit up straight, imagining a string lifting up your chest. You should feel the area between your chest and your navel lengthen. Sit in a chair, stand, or lie on your back. You don't have to sit cross-legged but whether sitting on the floor, on a chair, standing or lying on your back, be straight, be aligned. Although the classic posture is to sit cross-legged, what is more important is finding a position that is comfortable for you. Instead of sitting on a cushion or on the floor, you can also sit in a chair. Your feet should touch the ground. If they don't, place a stool under your feet.

As you try to improve your posture, you may find your muscles tensing up, especially around the abdomen. Consciously seek to release any tension from your body.

Breathe In Through Your Nose

Place one hand flat against the lower abdomen. Your thumb should be around/near your navel.

Breathe in through your nose at an even rate.

Allow your abdomen to expand, rather than your upper chest. You should feel the hand on your abdomen being pushed away from your body as your abdomen rises.

Count silently starting from "one".

Breathe Out Through Your Mouth

Breathe out slowly and evenly through your mouth.

Again, count silently. Exhalation should take about twice as long as inhalation. So if you counted to three when you inhaled, strive to count to six when you exhale, but don't force it.


If you feel light-headed at any time, you may be breathing too quickly. If you are standing, try practicing while sitting down.

I usually suggest starting with five to ten minute meditation sessions in the first week. Although that may seem short, as you may have already discovered, trying to clear the mind of thoughts can actually be quite difficult! Some people even feel a bit anxious in the beginning. So start slow and work your way up.

Try not to set time goals. Concentrate on the quality of your meditation sessions and on meditating consistently.

Eventually, you will naturally find yourself meditating for 20 or more minutes, a good length of time to calm and quiet the mind. You can also try meditating for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening.

If you have to keep track of the time, try an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.

Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs or knees.

Energy flows better through the body when you are sitting upright, so it is important to sit up straight. It may help to imagine your body being pulled up from the top of your head so you are upright without being stiff.


  1. Very helpful, looking forward to next installment!

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