Meditation – What It Is And What It’s Not

Art by Nicholas Roerich

Art by Nicholas Roerich

A student went to his Zen master and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, my legs ache, I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’

“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

The point here – the state of mind is in constant flux. Keeping it in a steady state comes with discipline and dedication. Meditation is one such technique to bringing your agitated mind into a balanced state. But it requires practice to sustain the beneficial effects of this mental exercise. For many of us, even if attained the “zen” state, it is more or less temporary because mind craves newness. The moment you think you got very comfortable with this exercise, you find yourselves distracted by a passing by event or a desire. That is what the Zen master was alluding to. Therefore, the key to practicing meditation is not to follow a formula but to understand the mechanics of our mind – how our mind controls our body and vice-versa.

Meditation pertains to the state of mind that is achieved by certain deliberate practices. What we are actually doing in this active process of “calming” our mind is bringing it from an excited state to a balanced state of equanimity. The key to achieving balance is to regulate our breathing pattern.

Imagine when you are stressed and anxious. The first thing you’d notice is your breathing is rapid and shallow. This stress response is actually helpful in the short term. It’s our body’s mechanism to counter physical threat or emotional disturbance. But if this stress response becomes our constant companion, our breathing gets into an inefficient shallow pattern, which brings in less oxygenation to the tissues. Adding to this, a perpetual state of stress keeps the body in a high adrenergic and cortisol flooded state, which is detrimental to the health of blood vessels in the long run. This results in chronic ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and muscle tension just to name a few. Beyond a doubt, the effects of long-term stress were detrimental.

The key to cutting this viscous cycle of inefficient breathing and chronic stress is to modify one or both of these variables. You can deliberately regulate your breathing, bringing it to a more efficient pattern by gently coercing yourself to take deep and steady breathing. By mindfully reminding yourself to focus on your breath, regular breathing eventually becomes habitual.

Meditation in the form of breathing exercises pertains to the mind-and-body aspect of our being.

For most of us, stress is an integral part of daily life. Sometimes, stress levels are at a breaking point. A good night sleep can rescue us and keeps us sane to take on the challenges of the next day. You can watch anyone in deep sleep – their breathing pattern is steady and more or less consistent. One of the main reasons behind such a rejuvenated physical and mental state after a good night sleep is because of the breath’s steadier pattern. Sometimes, a quick nap during the day can make all the difference.

In this calm state of mind, you can think sharper – reducing your mind-wandering tendencies. While this has tremendous health benefits, it is not to be confused with any spiritual liberation or salvation. Meditation in the form of breathing exercises pertains to the mind and body aspect of our being. To understand what is “spiritual” about your being, you have to go beyond the mind and body. But how?… 

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