Ashlee Polarek || Online Editor
They say that the center or the ‘eye’ of a storm is the calmest. Chaos lurks in the gray clouds that swirl around, yet at the center there is peace. Occasionally life is its own version of an F-5 tornado. It’s as if things are being hurled at us—deadlines,work, friendships, life after graduation. One thousand voices telling us to accomplish one thousand things in 24 hours.
When the body is stressed, the immune system is at a higher risk of being attacked. Therefore, those that are stressed have a higher rate of contracting sickness. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect the body in many ways including; headaches, sleep problems, muscle tension, anxiety, depression and irritability. Stress may also lead to changes in behavior, possibly resulting in substance abuse, eating disorders and social withdrawal.
A study released in Biological Psychiatry early this February found that mindfulness meditation is linked with improvements in markers of health. The study showed that after three day intensive meditation treatments participants produced more of a chemical in their brain that combats inflammation.
Many Americans are turning to meditation to combat some of the results that stress has played in their lives. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 18 million adults in the U.S report using mediation as a complementary and integrative approach to their health.
In his book, “Awaken to Superconsciousness: Meditation for Inner Peace, Inner Guidance, and Greater Awareness,” guru Swami Kriyananda taught, “Center everywhere, circumference nowhere.”
Kriyananda said that most people live superficially and show their ‘circumference’, which is created of chaos and vibrations, to the world and others. In order to achieve inner peace and turn outer peace and improved health, one must learn to find the peaceful center and project that center outwards.
Attitudes of a Successful Mediator
Kriyananda offers several attitudes of success that help capture successful meditation to find one’s center during a time of great stress. If warding off illness isn’t enough reward for practicing mediation, recent studies by Yale, Harvard and John Hopkins University conclude that meditation improves concentration, reduces anxiety, and helps individuals recover from addictions and lower blood pressure.
Kriyananda claims that the first step to beginning successful meditation is self-acceptance, writing, “You are who you are. Make the best of it, and envy no one for what he or she is. Don’t draw comparisons between you and others: encourage yourself, rather, in your efforts to attain your own highest potential. Self-acceptance will come progressively as you try to live up to the highest that is in you.”
The second step to successful meditation is kindness. Practice kindness outwardly as one does inwardly. Be kind to others, but also to yourself. You will never get over your failings, like bombing a test or forgetting a friend’s birthday, by hating your mistakes or yourself. Be stern with yourself but do not be judgmental.
When to Meditate
Tris Thorp, a certified yoga and meditation master, offered some tips for mediation, claiming that the center is not based on balance, but on harmony. According to Thorp, balance in life is nearly impossible, but harmony is more feasible. To achieve a state of centered harmony, Thorp recommends meditating twice a day.
“Start and end your day with time in stillness and silence,” said Thorp. “If you can start your day with 15-20 minutes of stillness and silence in meditation before you greet your day, then essentially what you’re doing is beginning your day coming from that place of centered, restful awareness.”
When the day begins frantically, the rest of the day usually continues in chaos. Things are forgotten, you’re late to class or meetings or you say things you don’t mean. Meditation in the mornings puts us in a place of “restful awareness” as Thorp calls it.
Meditation in the late afternoon or early evening is just as important as morning meditation. By meditating in the later hours of the day for 10-15 minutes, you’re essentially hitting the “spacebar’ between the busyness of the day and the winding down of the evening.
To make time for meditation, Thorp recommends making a change in your routine. Wake up earlier, get the coffee pot prepared for brewing the night before or take 5 minutes off your morning shower. She also reminds those new to practicing meditation to schedule meditation for the same time everyday, so it becomes routine.
Types of Meditation
The next step to meditation is choosing the type of meditation desired—either mantra or breathing. The purpose of both is to give the mind something to focus on while in meditation.
Breathing meditation is focused on the cycle of inhalation and exhalation, sitting with your back straight and eyes closed.
In mantra meditation, a word or phrase is repeated. Not so it sounds like a broken record, but rather as a means of focus through repetition. The classic is ‘Aum’ which in Hinduism is said to mean ‘it is’, ‘it will be’ or ‘to become.’ According to Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, monks used to say the mantra Maranatha, which in Aramaic means, “come Lord”, which is the final instruction of Saint Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians.
Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders onto other thoughts, like thinking about homework that needs to be completed or the coffee date that’s rapidly approaching. According to Throp, it’s natural to get distracted, but when you catch yourself becoming unfocused, go back to repeating your mantra or focusing on breathing.
Throp notes that some people experience negative emotions or physical pain a week into meditation. This is a good sign—it means that you are accessing deeper layers of yourself. She likens this to the beginning of a workout routine. After the first couple of workouts, your body is sore, but you know if you do it again the soreness will go away. If you keep meditating, the pain and negative emotions can pass.