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There's No Place Like Om

by LORI GRUNEL

LET'S FACE IT. We have a lot of crap and stress to contend with every day. Our brains, while remarkable in their adaptability, are natural organisms battling it out in an unnatural world full of obstacles: waiting, noises, rudeness, social pressure, and weird food. The mental effects of this turmoil manifest in random shootings, road rage and a general dislike for our fellow humans. All it takes is one unprovoked selfish act to unleash negative feelings inside of any one of us. Mental stress can also cause the body to break down in a thousand different ways – high blood pressure, ulcers, bad skin, nervous tics, dull hair, muscle pain, and socially unacceptable digestive disorders, to name a few.

There are lots of ways to cope with stress – exercise, drugs, alcohol, food, padding, and let’s not forget institutionalization. Some are helpful and some only postpone the inevitable crash. But there is a miracle ‘drug.’ It’s right in front of you and it’s as free as the air you breathe. In fact, it is the air you breathe – combined with a daily meditation practice. It’s about turning down the volume in your mind and giving it a tune-up.

Giving your over-hyped brain a break for ten to twenty minutes, once or twice a day, can change your life. Not always in sudden and big ways, but often in subtler and gradual ways.

What meditation can do is make all of the things you have to deal with more bearable. It’s a simple way to bring order to the chaos in your cranium, and, eventually, to the rest of your life. If you exercise your body to have strong, healthy muscles – why not give your mind some of the same treatment? That’s precisely what meditation will do – make your mind strong, healthy and clear.

peace

Meditation is a state of deep concentration in which the practitioner is keenly aware yet very still. In this state, you allow the mind to float without attaching to thoughts. Essentially, what you’re doing is training the mind to let go of clutter that impedes your mental functions (and can literally make you sick). The immediate goal of meditation is to achieve peace. The long-term goals are mind maintenance, and physical and spiritual well-being. Spiritual well-being is different for everyone. It may manifest in your ability to focus on a goal, to not sweat the small stuff, to let go of things you have no control over, or to be happy even when things don’t go the way you planned.

how

There are many ways to meditate. You may do it by concentrating on sound (mantras or chants), visualization (a scene or object), physical sensations, or breathing. There is also a form of meditation called ‘mindfulness’ that entails being aware of the entire sensory experience (mind-body-emotion-sound) of each moment. You can meditate sitting on the floor, sitting on a chair, walking, doing exercises (yoga or tai chi) or laying down. The easiest way to begin a practice is with a seated, breathing meditation. It is more comfortable and familiar to most people. If you choose to sit cross-legged on the floor, you may want to use a cushion or blanket to take pressure off your knees and alleviate back discomfort.

practice

Here’s what you do to start your daily practice:

• Set aside a time when no one will bother you (morning or evening are best)

• Turn the phone off

• Wear comfortable clothing

• Find a place to practice that is neutral & comfortable

• Practice in the same place every day when you can

• Get a cushion or folded blanket to put under your butt and sit in an easy, cross-legged position with hips elevated at or above the level of your knees. (If in a chair, you should be able to easily set your feet on the floor)

• Lengthen your spine, relax your shoulders down your back and rest your hands in your lap or on your knees

Now you’re ready to begin.

Close your eyes and start to observe your breath. Don’t alter it, just watch and listen. Feel it coming into and leaving your body. Let your thoughts come and go without attaching to any of them. Relax. Whenever you realize that your attention has wandered from the breath, return to it. Gradually deepen and lengthen your breathing – long and slow, in and out. You may want to count breaths or use a word or two to keep your concentration. For example, ‘at‘ on the inhale and ‘peace’ on the exhale. It doesn’t matter what the words are. And avoid getting distracted and questioning if you’re doing it right. Like any discipline or form of exercise, meditation gets easier with practice.

just do it

We’ve heard all of the arguments against it. I can’t sit still for five minutes. I have too much energy. It’s boring. I’d rather run a marathon. Fortunately, practicing yoga and meditation clicked for me when I began to realize how much this meditation was doing to alleviate stresses in my go-go life. The whole concept of ‘stillness’ was novel. It was also quite challenging to achieve and still is. It may take years of effort to achieve true stillness, but meditation is simple and rewarding. You just take a moment to breathe and sit, sit and breathe. Each moment leads to the next, which leads to the next, one at a time through time.

Aim for five minutes per session in the beginning. When comfortable with that shoot for ten and then twenty minutes. The longer you meditate, the stronger your mind will get and the more grounded you will feel. But even for beginners, the benefits of meditation – serenity, improved physical and mental health, greater concentration – will be immediate.

Om. •


March-April 2013











It’s about turning
down the volume
in your mind and
giving it a tune-up.
be here now

CONCENTRATIVE
MEDITATION
Attention is focused on
your breath or an image
or sound in your mind,
or an object.
Most people find it easier
to meditate with eyes
closed so staring at
an object is not
especially popular.
It is easiest to focus on
your breath, concentrating
on inhaling and exhaling.
Say a one-syllable word
or utter a sound, tone
or chant to yourself
at each exhale.
When distracted return
your focus on breathing.

VISUALIZING
MEDITATION
If concentrative meditation
proves too difficult
consider visualizing after
your body relaxation.
Allow your mind to
journey to a beautiful
and peaceful place –
perhaps a beach,
a garden or
a mountaintop.
Try to experience the
sights, sounds, smells,
textures, tastes and
energies of that special
place in detail
and understanding.

MINDFULNESS
MEDITATION
This type of meditation
involves simply
heightening your
awareness to your
place and time.
It strives to ‘keep you
in the moment’
by witnessing and
appreciating what is
happening in your mind
as well as in the quiet
of your surroundings




The immediate goal
of meditation is to
achieve peace.
The long-term goals
are mind maintenance,
and physical and
spiritual well-being.