Melbourne writer, reader and Managing Editor of Lip Magazine. www.lipmag.com
Published March 12th 2010
If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear (or in this case, read) about meditation is orange-clothed monks sitting cross-legged in a circle and collectively oming, you've probably been watching too many movies.
But while the image described does border on the stereotypical, it isn't too far from Meditation's ancient roots. The Buddhists have been doing it since about 500BC, and the Hindus, the Christians, the Taos and the Jews, among others, have been doing it for a long time too.
It was practiced in the East for thousands of years before it made its way to the West where it was adopted by spiritual movements like New Age and Yoga. But it didn't grow in popularity here until the 1960s and 1970s when folks fell in love with its therapeutic benefits. Some say its surge in popularity had a lot to do with The Beatles and their famous stay in India where they studied under a Maharishi, but this is largely debated.
Advocates swear on it as a natural, non-invasive way to improve a person's emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health. Many use it as a way to relieve stress or wind down after a busy day, and to achieve greater focus and increase creativity. Some say it can increase happiness, and it's often reported to help people quit smoking and overcome drug and alcohol addictions.
So what exactly is meditation all about?
This varies but it's basically about finding your centre, clearing your mind and getting beyond your "thinking" mind and into a deeper state of relaxation and awareness.
It's not as full on as you might expect, though, and you don't need to be a spiritual or religious person to benefit.
All you really need is a space in your home or garden that is free from noise and distractions, some soothing music, perhaps a few candles, an open mind and the willingness to learn a few simple techniques. (And they are extremely simple!):
1. Cross your legs and sit up straight, but make sure you are relaxed. Posture is important and sitting up straight is said to encourage the circulation of your "spiritual energy";
2. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing, letting it become slow, deep and even;
3. Quietly focus on your breathing until your body begins to relax and you are able to pay attention to feelings and sensations without reacting to them.
Now, you may not experience a state of enlightenment or find your Nirvana, but my bet is you'll feel calmer, more relaxed and whole lot happier.