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by Aaron Hoopes
In true meditation there is none of the nonsense about emptying the mind or stopping your thoughts, or even contemplating your navel. That having been said, the Buddha listed roughly forty different methods of meditation and other ancient texts speak of over one hundred different ways to practice. There are more than enough books that go into the details of meditation methods, so I will refrain from doing that here. Just be aware that if you are having difficulty meditating, there are methods that might help put you into the ideal frame of mind.
Everyone is different and the methods of reaching a perfect state of meditation differ for each individual. It is important to find a method of quieting the mind and relaxing the body that suits you particularly, but remember not to get caught up in the method itself. The act of sitting quietly and breathing is what is important. Set aside whatever time you can spare (five minutes in the morning and evening is plenty to start). Remember you are not doing this for anyone but yourself. It makes no difference to anyone if you sit for five minutes or five hours. It is the state of existing that matters. Awareness of the thoughts in the mind and the breath in the body is all you need to be concerned with.
The body and the mind reflect each other. As one calms, the other relaxes and vice versa. Sometimes it helps to have some keys to concentration in order to bring the mind in tune with the body. These keys are general qualities of the breath that we want to have as a framework for our breathing. They work in two ways. First, by bringing quality to the breath within the body, we relax and enhance our breathing practice. Second, by focusing on these keys to concentration, we calm the mind and bring our thoughts into harmony with our breath.
Deep and Long
Breathing that concentrates on the keys of deep and long draws the air fully and completely within the body - not in the sense of inhaling to the maximum and tensing up the muscles, but in the sense of actually feeling the breath reach all of the deepest recesses within. Keeping the chest and surrounding muscles relaxed allows the breath to fill the lungs to their ideal capacity. Then inhalation and exhalation should be lengthened, allowing the body time to become used to the deep expansion within. The longer and deeper the breath, the more in tune with the natural world around us we become. Deep and long breathing relaxes the body, calms the mind, and focuses the spirit.
Silent and Slow
Breathing that concentrates on the keys of silent and slow allows even more relaxation. The silent breath is felt with the whole body instead of being heard. We become aware of the feeling of the lungs being filled. Slowing the breath relaxes the entire breathing process and extends the length of the breath to a point where it reaches a calm and natural state. Silent and slow breathing calms the body, relaxes the mind, and brings peace to the spirit.
Soft, Even and Continuous
Breathing that concentrates on the keys of soft, even and continuous brings completeness to the breath. Soft breath loosens the mind’s control over the breath allowing it to reach a more spiritual level. Keeping the breath even brings the mind into a meditative state where thoughts flow with the breath. Continuous breath is like a circle. Inhalation creates exhalation which in turn creates inhalation. Soft, even and continuous breath brings the body and mind together in a pure calm and relaxed state that allows the spirit to open up and expand.
With the tranquility that meditation brings, comes an appreciation for life as you begin to truly observe the world around you. You also begin to experience improved health as your body relaxes and functions naturally without the blockage that stress and tension bring. Meditation is simply the practice of existing in a quiet place and turning the attention inwards. By concentrating on your breathing and letting your thoughts flow of their own accord, you can find a deep inner stillness that will help you deal with the stresses and tension of life.
This article has been reproduced with the permission of Aaron Hoopes.
Aaron Hoopes is a native of Vermont and the founder of Zen Yoga. He is the author of: Zen Yoga: A Path to Enlightenment through Breathing, Movement and Meditation, Breathe Smart, and Perfecting Ourselves: Coordinating Body, Mind and Spirit. He has studied the martial arts, Eastern philosophy, and alternative medicine in the United States, Australia, and Japan for over twenty-five years. He has a degree in Asian History and Japanese Culture from Tulane University and spent a number of years in Japan studying under Masatoshi Nakayama, the chief instructor at the headquarters of the Japan Karate Association, until his death in 1987. He holds a third degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan Karate and is a certified instructor and one of the Hoitsugan Instructors. He is also certified as an instructor of Shanti Yoga and Meditation as well as Tamashii Tai Chi. He is trained in Chinese Qigong (Chi Kung) Energy Healing and studied Shiatsu Finger Pressure Therapy under Hitoshi Koeda in Japan. In addition, he has extensive knowledge of Iyengar Yoga, White Crane Qigong, Okinawan Karate, Shorinji Kenpo, Wing Chun Kung Fu and Zen Meditation.