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Mind Matters

The following statements, one by the Dalai Lama, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation”, and the other by Swami Kriyananda “Fifteen minutes of this practice every day, engaged in by thousands, or even millions, of people throughout the world could uplift the whole planet.” speak to the power meditation can have to influence positive global change. We are certainly living in a time when we are in desperate need of uplifting and elimination of violence!

In addition, recent research studies suggest partaking in a regular meditation practice may be a key component that supports our brain health by boosting our mental flexibility, focus protecting against cognitive decline, and encouraging our brain’s neuroplasticity. A UCLA study, reported that after just a few short periods of mediation, participants experienced an increase in brain tissue, cortical thickness, grey matter in both hippocampus and frontal areas. 

In addition, meditation reduces cortisol, which increases the sense of relaxation and decreases stress levels, and reduces our blood pressure. Meditation is a tool to get in touch with our creativity. It helps us to go inside, listen to our inner voice and tune in to our emotions and tap into stillness to reduce the external noise we are constantly exposed to in our lives. MRI scans of individuals who regularly meditate show they have increased density in the brain’s hippocampus – the area of the brain important for learning, memory, self-awareness, and introspection. These are all components that enhance our ability to be more creative and also help in healing. 

There are different types of mediation. Examples of the different types include, walking, mantra repetition, prayer, and progressive relaxation. Creating art, music or writing can be all be a form of mindful meditation. 

Meditation is not about turning off the mind – but simply watching what the mind is bringing attention to and accepting the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement or attachment. It helps quiet our mind; calms our brain and helps us get in touch with our emotions and creativity.

It is not about NOT thinking – it’s about training our mind to accept our thoughts and be soft vs. rigid in letting go of the thoughts that arise and refocusing back on our breath to break the loop and interrupt the pattern of cyclical depleting thoughts. It is about returning to presence and the present moment and gaining a deeper connection to our inner selves. 

In the book “Transcending The Levels of Consciousness – the Stairway to Enlightenment” Dr. D.R. Hawkins notes that, “99% of our mind is silent – only 1% is actually chattering.” The practice of meditation allows us to shut that 1% off and tap into the nurturing underlying silence. The silence that clears the space and encourages our mind to be present in the here and now. This is a clearing of sorts that is similar to clearing our desk before we begin to embark on creative outlets. Meditation helps to prepare our mind so we can be more present in our creative processes. 

We can meditate anywhere and everywhere. It is all about a state of being – being mindful of the sights and sounds around us and being aware of our own feelings and thoughts about what it is we are sensing. It’s about getting in touch with our emotions, without judging them as bad, or trying to suppress or change them. Breathing and living from that place of non-judgement, provides a powerful way to process and express our emotions and thoughts in appropriate ways. 

Meditation enables us to listen to our inner voice. By quieting the mind and removing the chatter it allows us to get more easily get in touch with our emotions. As a result, we are able to tune up the volume and tap into powerful self-expression. Creativity that comes from the core of pure emotion can have a significant positive impact on how well we are able to respond to life events and circumstances that we have no control over. Through meditation, we are able to quiet the excess chatter in our mind and in the silence our inner creative self emerges. 

Meditation has the power to make our perception of time stretch and stand still. Most WriteWell workshop participants feel that the writing they do, following a meditation exercise is much more personal and reflective. Even though they have been given five minutes for all of the writing exercises, participants often feel that they had more time to write after they have completed a short mediation. The meditation appears to make time stand still for them as they tap into their own stillness. 

Two key components to practicing meditation:

Relax, become more fluid and let go of the tightness and stiffness in our bodies. Systemically tense and release the muscle groups in the body. This is also referred to as body scanning, or progressive relaxation, starting from our toes and working our way up to our head. We can start by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the areas of our body as we move through them and tightening and contracting the muscles as tight as we can. Holding for a few seconds and then release as we progress slowly from our toes to our head. 

We can also relax by listening to soothing music, to usher us into a meditative reflective state. There are so many soundscape options to choose from. We may choose to have the music playing in the background as we create or listen to it before we start our creative process to awaken our muse.

Visualization or imagery meditation, is another way to engage our brain to help us to relax and expanding our capacity for creativity. We start with closing our eyes and activating our imagination. Picture ourselves in a comforting, calming place. A beach, a mountain, a forest or any scenery that evokes a sense of peacefulness for us. Visualize ourselves in that place and feel the landscape come alive activating our senses and bringing us into an increased state of responsiveness and mindfulness. 

Breathe, just experience our breath, the symbol of our exchange with life. When we put our attention on our breath and become aware of breathing in and breathing out, then our awareness of life will take on more clarity. There are many different ways to use our breath as a tool for relaxation. Abdominal breathing also referred to as deep breathing is one technique that support us to gain more clarity. With this technique, we breathe from our belly. As we breathe in more deeply through our nose, our belly expands instead of our rib cage, as the air enters our lungs. Exhaling through our mouth, we push the air out from the bottom of our lungs by contracting our diaphragm. To get the full relaxation effect of this breathing technique repeat this three times, three deep inhales and three slow exhales.

The other patterns of breath relate to changing the length of the inhale and the exhale. 4-7-8 Pattern Breathing, we start by breathing in slowly and quietly through our nose for a count of 4. Hold our breath for a count of 7 and then exhale loudly through our mouth for a count of 8 making a blowing sound. Repeat this three times. With the equal breathing technique our “out” breath and “in” breath are of equal length. Inhale slowly and smoothly for 5 seconds and then slowly breathe out for 5 seconds. It’s about creating a slow rhythmic pattern feeling the air move in through our nose and gently out through our mouth. The cycles should be natural and not forced. Do this for 5 – 10 minutes. 

Breathing techniques can help to create a receptive relaxed state of mind that helps to clear the way to being more creative. 

Practice using the different relaxation and breathing techniques and find a meditation pattern that feels the most natural to you and fuels your mindfulness practice. Mindfulness refers to our ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and to cultivate a sense of not being that is not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It’s more readily available to us when we incorporate a meditation practice into our wellness routines on a regular basis. Consider joining in on the weekly JCHAC Mymindful Movement program, led by Deb Taylor. Deb’s mission is to shine a light on best practices of these beneficial mind-body techniques for a healthier, happier life.  Her focus is on gentle Hatha Yoga and Qigong, marinated in mindfulness, supporting a healthy, inclusive, more mindful community. workshops!