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Five minutes before starting on this article, I put on a beautiful sitar piece by Anoushka Shankar. Then, centering myself, I began writing. The words began to flow through me as I remained a witness to this very creative and meditative process. Our understanding of meditation is very often limited to the strict visual imagery of a person sitting cross-legged, and eyes closed with a smile on his/her face. But that is only part of the story.
Meditation is the delicate and beautiful art of doing nothing, says spiritual master, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Many believe meditation in some way involves focused concentration, but according to Gurudev, concentration is an outcome of meditation. Are you thoroughly confused? Let’s unpack this.
One meditation practice is sitting cross-legged and meditating on a personal mantra, called the Sahaj Samadhi meditation, or meditating to guided instructions.
More from the blog: 1o Types of Meditation
But an activity as simple as using an adult coloring book can also be deeply meditative and calming, or listening to flute or classic instrumental pieces can lead you into a space of expanded nothingness. Let us look at some of the less traditional types of meditation that can still help your frayed nerves, reduce anxiety, get the good hormones flowing. and improve your mood.
Adult Coloring Books
As adults, you may finally find it easier to stay within the lines while coloring intricate mandalas and other patterns. But we say, STRAY outside the lines. Leave the confines of the black borders and color it as if you were a child. You will find a sense of relaxation and naturalness dawning in you.
Adult coloring books have become popular tools to reduce stress, bring relaxation, and lead you into a meditative state of being, particularly in people dealing with anxiety. Some of the benefits of the act of coloring include
- Reduced stress and anxiety levels
- Negative thoughts go by the wayside for the time that you are immersed in the activity
- Bringing your attention to the present moment
- Staying away from technology comes with its own share of benefits for the wellness of your body and mind. It anchors your attention to the present moment; makes you feel alive and connected to the real world
- You can do it anywhere and there isn’t any real skill set that you need to be successful at it.
Coloring books are also used as part of art therapy—where creative arts are used as a medium to help the patient explore and acknowledge their feelings, nurture self-awareness, reduce anxiety, boost self-esteem, manage addictions, and become more aware of the real world.
Research shows that mandalas in the form of geometric circles are more beneficial than other types of figures. In mandala art , several concentric circles overlap a few main circles in specific patterns. Here, the process of viewing and studying the finished piece is just as important as the act of coloring. At both stages of this activity, your mind becomes centered and expanded at the same time, like a meditative experience.
Relaxing the mind, giving your mood a good fillip, connecting you to the oneness of the consciousness, or simply helping you manage your emotions—music has a universal quality of meditation: putting the mind at ease and uplifting it. And now neuroscientists agree too.
Today there are music composers and creators who make music specifically to aid the practice of meditation. The music could be accompanied by sacred religious chants or just gentle instrumental music. Meditation and music attracts people for the common goal of transcendence. Both help us balance our emotions by giving us an outlet and silencing the chattering mind, which other times seems impossible to do.
Music can bring the mind to the present moment, an essential ingredient for meditation. Additionally, it also brings our attention to the melody being sung, hummed, or chanted, and in that way can be unifying and energizing when it is used as a collective tool.
Is it even possible to meditate while walking? What do you do? Meditate on the left foot and then right? At our Art of Silence Retreats, walking meditations are a favorite activity among participants. They are encouraged to walk amidst nature in total silence with full awareness.
Mindfulness is the state when there is complete awareness of every thought, emotion, feeling, the sensation of pain or pleasure, and surroundings.
In walking meditation, one walks mindfully. Normally, people tend to chat, listen to music, or keep looking around when walking—giving zero attention to the body or state of mind.
Walking meditations begin with focus on a couple of full breaths. This centers the mind to the moment.. You can inhale with one step and exhale with the next step. Try to avoid chatting or doing anything else while walking. Be completely with what is happening in the body, with awareness of the level of prana or life force that increases with every step, while the body may show some signs of tiredness.
Once you understand what it means to walk mindfully, you can move to the next step. While walking with focus on the breath and the body, bring the focus on the soles of your feet. Just observe whatever is happening in the soles without analyzing it. Then, take your attention to the various body parts in this order—knees, hips, stomach, chest, back, arms, neck, then face and head. Do it gradually and without any force. You just need to become aware of what is happening in each of these areas without getting stuck there.
It may take a few weeks of practicing walking meditation to get it down. Be consistent! The results will be improved blood circulation, healthier joints, improved digestion, and a fresh and energized mind.
“There is little use in having a machine that you cannot operate without a manual,” says Sri Sri, “Spiritual knowledge is like a manual for life. Just as we have to learn how to operate the steering wheel, clutch, brake, and so on to drive a car, similarly, to move towards stability of the mind, we must know the basic principles about our life force energy. This is the whole science of pranayama.”
What helps us increase our prana is pranayama—the secret lies in our breath, which connects the body and mind. Our emotions are closely linked to the way we breathe. When you are sad, you are likely to experience longer outbreaths versus when you are happy. Similarly, when you are at a place of worship, your breath becomes steady. Pranayama is the art of reversing this loop in our favor, to develop a say over our emotions and mind. When we start paying attention to and regulating this breath, we come closer to a newer dimension within us which is peace and joy.
Pranayama basically prepares you for meditation. Meditation is a mindful art of doing nothing, which may be hard to do for many of us, given our constant impulse to act in order to achieve something. What makes it easier and more effortless for us to meditate is pranayama. When the prana flows through the body-mind complex smoothly without resistance, you are likely to be more centered, meditate better and deeper. Pranayamas are a mechanism to eliminate the need for you to ‘focus’ or ‘concentrate’ in order to dive within yourself, because breath as a tool is the most powerful and simplest of ways to unite the mind, body and spirit in meditative awareness.
“With the help of these breathing techniques, as prana rises in the body, one starts to feel a transformation as direct experience and not as a forced mental exercise. One starts becoming happier, creative, and more in command of their mind and emotions,” says Sri Sri.
Try some of these breathing meditation exercises!
Mindful Eating Meditation
Researchers have discovered that mindful eating as a meditation practice can help you deal with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, eating or binging disorders, excessive emotional eating, and obesity. Eating more mindfully can bring about a positive shift in one’s food habits and portion sizes. An NIH-funded study showed mindful eating practices helped treat binge eating and depression. Additionally, mindfulness helped people actually relish their food rather than struggle with controlled reductions in their portions. This was because of more acute recognition of emotional hunger versus physical hunger due to one’s heightened awareness.
The concept of mindful eating is not new. In fact, the principle of conscious eating finds mention in the timeless text of Ayurveda. Ayurveda talks about how our mind is linked to our digestion, how one eats is as important as what one eats. The quality of your digestion is affected by mind, environment, body, and emotions.
The autonomic nervous system controls digestion. Now, what happens when you are eating while watching Netflix? You may feel strong emotions like anger or anxiety come up while watching intense drama or thrillers, as you are eating. The sympathetic nervous system responsible for fight or flight gets activated. This increases blood supply to peripheral muscles instead of the digestive organs. As a result, the process of peristalsis is stalled, that is the muscular movement in the digestive tract that helps move food.
But when you are mindful while eating, the parasympathetic system becomes active which is responsible for all the involuntary systems in your body while you are at rest, including your heart rate, digestion, among others.
Unconscious eating is also the reason why you feel hungry soon after eating a meal versus when you have eaten a meal with more awareness. Our brain requires about 20 minutes to fully register the process of having eaten and digested the food. But when you eat quickly without paying any attention to it, for the brain it is as good as not eating a meal. And so, though there is food in your stomach, you may end up feeling hunger pangs soon again, which can encourage overeating. Overeating can lead to multiple metabolic disorders including diabetes, obesity, weight gain, and heart ailments.
Try a Mindful Eating Exercise
Try to remember two types of experiences. One is when you had a small serving of the best tiramisu in the world. You remember its flavors, texture, lightness, and the feeling of joy and positive energy you were left with post-dessert. You felt satisfied, grateful, and remembered the sensory experience associated with it.
In the second experience, you had a big bowl of your favorite pasta that you polished off quickly because you were too hungry. You ended up feeling heavy and lethargic, with no food memory and plenty of regrets. You probably felt bloated and uncomfortable. Overall, nothing about this meal was memorable (at least in a positive way) or pleasurable.
The first experience is an experience of conscious eating and the latter is unconscious or mindless eating. In either case, your digestive experience will signal if the meal is supporting your metabolism or if it is rejecting or overburdening it. Perhaps the most popular mindful eating exercise comes from mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, give his “raisin meditation” a try.
A Quick Checklist for the Conscious Eater
Eating consciously can enhance our dining experience greatly. To help you eat mindfully and meditatively, here’s your checklist on conscious eating:
- Can you tell the taste of every bite that you take?
- Can you taste the juices swirling in your mouth as the food touches your palate?
- Are you enjoying the meal or not?
- What is your portion size? Regular, smaller than regular, or larger than regular portion size? Why are you eating less or more than usual?
- Is your mind right here with you focused on the food or are you daydreaming or planning?
- Is your food giving you guilt or joy?
- Is your food ethically and sustainably sourced?
- Are you rationalizing or justifying your decision to go for the extra serving of ice cream or slice of pizza?
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Meditation
There is rhythm in nature. Seasons follow a rhythm, the sun rises and sunsets have a rhythm, the animals and their life cycles have a rhythm, and so does our breath. Yet, we have hardly explored the potential of this rhythm in going deep within ourselves. Rhythmic breathing can relieve stress, improve mental and physiological well-being. Sudarshan Kriya yoga is a popular breathing technique, practiced by more than 450 million people worldwide, that taps into the rhythm of our breath, to release toxins from a cellular level. The practice is concluded with an effortless meditative state where practitioners report clarity of mind, prolonged moments of thoughtlessness, slower and steadier heart rate and calmness of being.
Meditating on Water
Do you feel most at peace on or near the water? There are several ways to take your practice with you! Canoeing, paddle boarding, and even swimming, can become legitimate meditation exercises. Paddling or stroking slowly, deliberately, or simply floating can help set the stage for a complete experience of the senses. Focus on the movements, the sensations, the smells to achieve a meditative state.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that involves a series of slow, gentle, focused movements accompanied by deep breathing. Postures flow from one to the next without pause, a constant motion that becomes meditative as you focus on your bodily sensations.
Yoga is another form of meditative movement that involves various physical postures and breathing techniques. Many yoga practitioners will say that yoga isn’t really about the poses or the stretching—it’s about the meditation. And when you think about what happens in your typical yoga pose, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice acceptance of discomfort. Those who practice mindfulness are also practicing non-judgmental awareness of both positive and negative emotions, thoughts, and situations. You can observe that you’re feeling sad, or happy, but it’s only by identifying with those emotional states that we grant them power over us (“I am sad and that is a bad thing”). Yoga poses are often painful and uncomfortable. If we can observe the physical discomfort of a particular pose from a detached position, neither running from it or dissolving into it, we are practicing true mindfulness.
When done correctly, each of these practices can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression; improve mood; enhance sleep quality; lower blood pressure; and provide many other well-being improvements.
Meditating and consciously bringing to mind all the gifts we have received from nature including this life, body, breath, mind and all the qualities and material gifts, is part of many ancient spiritual traditions.
Gratitude is not just about being thankful for the good experiences in life, but the sum total of experiences that have made us grow, tear through our weaknesses and brought us to who we are today, even as works in progress. but it is about being thankful for everything in your life. Part of gratitude involves acknowledging the blessing in all of life’s experiences.
The practices may also include journal writing. According to research, practicing gratitude for as much as four times a week, lasting at least three weeks helped reduce levels of stress and depression and increased happiness.
You might notice that when your prana or life energy is low, your mind reels in doubts, skepticism, and clouds of negativity. You may have thoughts of being undeserving or that the good things don’t last or that someone is being nice to you to extract something out of you.
It is difficult to feel grateful in such a grumbling state of mind. But once you raise your life force with the help of spiritual practices and breath work, you will see that the mind automatically becomes grateful, clear, and happy. A calm and meditative mind is an incredibly powerful source of prana or life energy. Practicing meditation helps improve your present moment awareness, makes your mind joyous, helps you take a qualitative pause and opens up your heart to feel more gratitude.
Here’s a beautiful, guided gratitude meditation with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for you to turn the written words into your own experience.