Thursday, January 11, 2007

Breath and Seated Meditation

Breath and Seated Meditation is sometimes called Insight Meditation because the practice has been known to lead to those “Ah-Ha!” moments.

On the surface, seated meditation appears to be the least active of the meditation styles which may be why it is considered to be the most difficult. If you are usually a very active person, doing what you perceive as “sitting and doing nothing” can be challenging. It goes against the grain of Western education and culture to not be “doing something” every waking moment. It’s very important to understand that while conscious physical activity is at a minimum during this style of meditation, you are far from “doing nothing.” There is quite a lot going on, energetically speaking, within your body and mind during seated meditation.

As with every meditation style, you should always strive to practice daily; the benefits of meditation are cumulative, so practicing five minutes every day will be more beneficial in the long run than a once-a-week marathon session lasting an hour or two.

The first thing to do for seated meditation is to be seated comfortably.

The Lotus Position is best for seated meditation. Take note of the picture above and notice how the toes are pressing on the thigh. I believe that posture is important, and will explain why in a moment.

The second best position can be attained easily by kneeling and using a meditation bench. Usually made of wood, these can be found from very simple to very elaborate designs, and come in two styles, one center leg or two legs. I prefer the center-leg version because I find it much easier to get into and out of the seated position, and it allows more freedom of leg movement. When using a meditation bench of either style, the tops of your feet will be on the floor and your toes will be pressing onto the floor from the top and outer-edge angle. (I’ll come back to that foot position soon.) The added benefit of kneeling while using a meditation bench is that you are not sitting on your legs and completely cutting off your circulation!

If neither of those postures suits you, just be seated comfortably in a chair with good back, shoulder, and neck support. Do not put your arms on the arms of the chair. That posture often forces your shoulders into a hunched position which creates tension and discomfort. Find something rounded that you can rest your foot on; it should be something fairly small (any smooth, round object about an inch in diameter is perfect) that will rest comfortably under your foot in the soft spot just behind the ball of the foot.

For all three seated styles, keep your elbows at your sides, and let your hands rest in your lap. You may do a mudra if you wish. (If you aren’t familiar with mudras, see Mantra and Mudra Meditation.)

Now, about that foot position: Here is why I believe it is important to sit in a position that creates pressure on that upper, outer edge of the toes and feet. On the side of the little toe that touches the toe beside it is the start point for the kidney meridian, an upward-flowing energy pathway that travels from your toes to your kidneys and onward. The spot just behind the ball of the foot is the second point on that energy pathway. By stimulating these points in the feet, you encourage the energy to flow in its upward direction. When it reaches the kidney, the main energy path continues on, travels through the liver, through the lungs, and ends at the base of the tongue. As this energy channel passes through the lungs, a secondary channel branches off, passes through the heart, and connects with yet another energy channel in the chest area. Knowledge of this energy flow is important because, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidney is the storehouse of your life essence, that energy that keeps the form of your body working and in balance, the source for growth, development, and reproduction. By placing your feet in a position that puts slight pressure on the first or second points of the kidney channel, I believe you are in effect giving yourself a mild acupressure treatment, and encouraging the flow of health-restoring, harmonizing, life essence energy through four very vital organs: kidney, liver, lungs and heart.

There are three breathing styles you may practice during seated meditation.

The first is “Belly Breathing,” or Tan Tien Breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply, filling your lungs. Inhale as though you are breathing so deeply that the oxygen is filling your lungs, your chest, and your abdomen. Always inhale through the nose; you may exhale either through the nose or the mouth. Done correctly, your abdomen will expand slightly as you inhale, and return to normal on the exhale. Of course, don’t “push” out the abdominal area, just let it rise and fall naturally. This breathing style is fluid; do not pause between breaths. You may count breaths if it helps your focus, or simply apply your attention to a positive emotion and let each inhaling breath fill you with gratitude, compassion, love, or the emotion of your choice. As you exhale, see yourself sharing the gratitude, compassion, or love with your family, your friends, your community, and beyond if you like. You may want to start with a five-minute session (yes, it’s okay to use a timer!) and build up to the amount of time that suits your schedule; twenty to forty minutes a day is recommended.

Another breathing style you may want to experiment with is breath pausing. This is performed the same as Tan Tien breathing, but you pause for a few seconds between each inhale and exhale. This style promotes deep relaxation. An advanced version of this practice is to lengthen the pauses between inhale and exhale until the pause is equal in length to the count of the inhale or exhale. For example, say you inhale to the count of 4, pause for a moment, then exhale to the count of four. The normal practice would be to hold the breath to the count of one then exhale. In the advanced practice, you may lengthen the pause to a two, three, or four count.

Alternate breathing is a style in which you inhale and exhale alternately through only the nostrils. It helps to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain. To practice, put your hands in the prayer position, and rest your thumbs under your chin. Place your index fingers so they rest on the sides of your nose.

1 - Press the left index finger on the left nostril so that nostril is closed and inhale through the right nostril.

2 - Release the left nostril, press the right nostril closed with your right index finger and exhale through the left.

3 – Don’t move your fingers; keep your right nostril closed and inhale through the left nostril.

4 - Press the left index finger on the left nostril so that nostril is closed and exhale through the right nostril.

5 - Repeat steps 1 through 4.

Are you vibrating at a higher frequency?

If you meditate, the answer is probably “Yes.”

If you have ever heard someone claim to be “vibrating at a higher frequency,” or if you have read things like “As humanity begins to vibrate at a higher level...” and thought it was a bit strange and “New-Age” (it’s actually very scientific), here is what that is all about. I have to admit that the reason I researched this topic was partly because you hear it everywhere these days, and partly because someone I trust actually told me I was vibrating at a higher frequency; I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to spontaneously combust or anything.

Brainwave frequencies as measured by EEG (electroencephalograph) are measured as follows (though there are slight variations on the ranges of cycles per second from source to source):

Delta: 0.5 to 4 Hz. (Hz or Hertz = cycles per second) Deep, dreamless sleep.

Theta 4 to 8 Hz. Deeply relaxed; daydreaming (the state between wakefulness and sleep).

Alpha 8 to 13 Hz. Relaxed but not sleepy.

Beta 13 to 27 Hz. Focused attention, alert mental activity

Gamma 25 to 42 Hz. Very high level information processing. “When the brain needs to simultaneously process information from different areas, its hypothesized that the 40Hz activity consolidates the required areas for simultaneous processing.”

This “higher vibration level” topic is usually spoken of within the context of recognition of spiritual energy or achievement. It takes time and dedication to achieve brainwave consistency at this vibration level, but it can be accomplished through meditation. It’s likely that the most devoted practitioners are found in Buddhist monasteries where up to eight hours a day is spent in meditation.

A small study compared the brainwave frequencies of long-term Buddhist meditation practitioners who routinely “vibrated at a higher level” in the Gamma range to a group of people who didn’t. These people expressed interest in meditation but had never practiced. The results of the study were extremely interesting [my emphasis]:

“Our study is consistent with the idea that attention and affective processes, which gamma-band EEG synchronization may reflect, are flexible skills that can be trained [i.e. learned]. It remains for future studies to show that these EEG signatures are caused by long-term training itself and not by individual differences before the training, although the positive correlation that we found with hours of training and other randomized controlled trials suggest that these are training-related effects.”

You may read the full study here: “Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice

The bottom line is: Yes, meditation can not only relax your body, lower your blood pressure, restore health and wellness, it can raise your level of vibration and lead to permanent improvements in many areas of brain function!


JLB said...

Greetings Michelle! It's great to see you back and online again!

Just wanted to share this with you:

Cloud Hands: Mind/Body Movement Arts
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Contemplative Practices

I found it through Sister Earth:

Have a lovely weekend!


Michelle Wood said...

Hi Jade,

Oh, Wow....the Tree of Contemplative Practices is a fabulous poster!!! Thanks so much for sending that link in this direction. :-)

I'm familiar with the Cloud Hands Blog, the author is a very knowledgeable fellow named Mike Garofalo. I've been reading his websites for several years. For anyone interested in martial arts, it's well worth a visit to his site. It's very extensive and comprehensive.

You have a great weekend, too!