Monday Meditation: Focus on the Breath

As we begin our 8 week Monday Meditation Course this week, I thought it might be fun to start a Monday Meditation blog. Every week I’ll talk a bit about what we’re doing in the course and answer any questions that arise. Even if you can’t make it to our Monday evenings, I hope you can pick up some useful tips from the blog and use them in your practice at home.

So what is meditation?

The word conjures up images of orange-robed monks and cross-legged yogis, of sacred mountains and hidden caves, of mystics with long beards and strings of mala beads. Or at least, it used to. Today, meditation is becoming a mainstream practice, used by businessmen and doctors and lawyers, mums and dads, even schoolchildren. Some people call it ‘conscious relaxation’, others say it brings them ‘inner peace’. But meditation is not just a form of relaxation – it is also a way to access and enhance your internal resources, unleashing more of who you are.

Developing your insight

Meditation is a practice which allows you to still your conscious mind and become open to the insight that flows from your unconscious mind. It works by reducing your mind chatter and changing your brain wave patterns and brain functioning.

To get an idea of how this works imagine yourself at a heavy metal rock concert when someone rings you with a vitally important message. Will you hear the phone? If you do, will you be able to hear the message?

It’s the same with your brain waves – when you are actively engaged your brainwaves are at a Beta level (>12Hz). Recent studies have revealed insight is heavily associated with either Alpha (8-12Hz) or Theta (4-8Hz) levels of brainwaves. When your mind is busy, it’s almost impossible to hear the relatively quiet pearls of wisdom flowing from the innate intelligence of your unconscious mind.

Improve your resilience and your health

There is plenty of research around, as well as anecdotal evidence, that establishes the health benefits of meditation. It all arises from the mind-body connection, irrefutably established by Candice Pert (research for which she received a Nobel prize) in the 70s. When you are able to calm your mental chatter and consciously change your brain wave patterns, the body responds with gratitude. The mix of neuro-chemicals being flooded through your body changes to a more life affirming mix, you boost your immune system and reduce your stress response, heart rate and blood pressure.

It make sense, doesn’t it? Imagine going to that same loud rock concert 7 days a week, every day of your life. How would you be feeling after a week, a month, or year? Your mind is like a muscle – it needs rest and it also needs to learn the focus and control that meditation requires. By learning to meditate, you will develop neural pathways that unconsciously enhance your life.

Build a better brain

Here’s the other great thing about meditation. It changes your brain for the better, permanently. It increases activity in areas of the brain associated with happiness and the reduction of stress. More importantly, it increases global brain coherence – essentially you begin to use more of your brain in a coherent way. Increased brain coherence means increased IQ, greater sense of well being, better health, increased resilience… the list goes on.

So what are you waiting for?

Begin by being conscious of your breath

Every day for 5 minutes, take the time to focus on your breathing. You can do it in 30 second hits if you like, spread over the day. But for each of those 30 second or more intervals, put 100% of your awareness on your breath moving in and out over your top lip. Notice how it’s cold on the way in and warm on the way out. Follow it down into your chest and abdomen and back out again. Pause at the top of the inhale and bottom of the exhale for a second or so, and follow the cycle of your breathing.

If an errant thought comes across your mind, allow it to slide right on by and return to your breath.

It’s simple stuff, but developing this awareness is an important part of meditation.

Next Monday

… we’ll touch on some of the more interesting stories of meditation and take the next step on the creation of a better brain through meditation. Until, then spend a few minutes being aware only of your breath – it will be like a day-spa treatment for your busy mind.