Is meditation for everyone? There has always been a lot of talk in the self development world, that meditation is the answer to all of our problems! The aim being, to ‘quieten one’s mind’, ‘obtain a still mind’ and even ’empty one’s mind’. Personally, I have never been able to achieve this!! And on a more serious note, if an individual has experienced serious trauma (who of us hasn’t been traumatised in some form?), meditation or the prospect of being quiet, being ‘with oneself’ and feeling into one’s own body, can actually be a very frightening prospect.
I have been reading a book called “The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita” by Swami Dayananda and in it, he touches on the very concept that meditation is a practice much further down the line of spiritual development than what our modern wellness culture leads us to believe. He refers to the importance of firstly developing a “contemplative mind”, in order to eventually reach the stage of meditation. A contemplative mind is developed through purposeful actions… the practice of mindfulness, traditionally known as Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga is the yoga of action – work done as devotion, selfless acts… “By performing action with the right attitude, you will gain a contemplative mind. With every result received… your mind becomes purer; likes and dislikes are lessened and your mind becomes free of reactions. Eventually you will find that your mind is naturally contemplative.”
Meditation is really the act of directing one’s mind. Many options do not require that you are seated, with your eyes closed as we so often see Buddha doing. Karma Yoga is practiced as you perform tasks, ‘walking’ or ‘moving meditation’ requires that you direct your mind to taking in the intimate details around you, ‘dancing meditation’ calls you to notice the sensations in your body as you move and allow your body freedom of expression, intentional art making allows the mind to be directed towards the creative task which also becomes an expression from the soul.
Different meditation practices suit different mental states…
Some meditation practices suit people ‘on the go’, for whom it may be desirable to slow down and calm the nervous system. in this case, seeking out guided Yoga Nidra meditation is perfect for deep relaxation. There are many meditation apps available that provide recorded scripts that are easier to follow than attempting to lie there and ‘think of nothing’.
‘Pranayama’ is alternate nostril breathing, which helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest – calm system) and helps to balance an over-reactive sympathetic nervous system (the fight / flight survival – system). Again this is a great option if an individual is often occupied and has an active or busy mind. The alternating of nostrils gives one something to focus on and aids the ultimate aim: to direct the mind. Again, apps often have recorded guided sessions.
Using asanas – yoga poses – can also provide a form of meditation. An overactive mind will benefit greatly from a balancing posture that brings calmness and focus (Tree pose) and an introverted posture (Child’s pose) will introduce an introspective space that feels calming and soothing.
People who usually experience much activity in their head – analysing, procrastination, perfectionism (which often leads to feeling depressed), can not only benefit form Karma Yoga, but also from grounding activities such as gardening, walking amongst trees or on the beach, or lying on the grass in a park. So long as these actions are performed mindfully, with intention, one can experience a beneficial meditative effect.
Again, asanas (postures) can benefit, however they can be adjusted and tailored to suit… in this case, where one may be experiencing symptoms of depression, standing backward bend postures can activate the sympathetic system and open the heart chakra (Warrior poses). When we hold these poses, we release the ‘feel good’ hormones such as serotonin and if done mindfully, we further cultivate our mind towards contemplation.
There are many more ‘meditation’ style options available than what our modern culture presents to us! If we firstly turn our attention towards developing a contemplative mind, we will eventually reach the place where meditation is appropriate and most likely, the journey will be far more rewarding.