Written by Maria
If you live in a concrete jungle like London, New York or Hong Kong, you are certainly very familiar with stress, anxiety, and pollution that negatively impact the quality of your life. Your tight schedule makes you feel like everyday is the same as the day before. All this planning in advance causes an amount of stress that it gets harder and harder to bear. You feel like you’re about to crush and then it is Friday again. A pub crawl on Friday, some laundry on Saturday, and a lazy Sunday. Of course it will happen that some weekends are more exciting than others, but some are just extra hours of work. If you are lucky you will spend them on a Ryanair cheap flight towards an unknown small town where they barely understand you and you barely understand them. And it is Monday again. How to get out from this ordinary nightmare?
As I see it, we are all left with 2 options. We move to a desert island and leave it all behind. But what about your friends, your family, and all your fancy clothes? Also, human are after all social animals, we really need people to get by. And some pets too. And a sofa. Fortunately, there is another option. It only takes 5 to 20 minutes a day and, once again, it comes from the Far, far East. Just Meditate. Mind I said “Meditate”, not “Think”. Think involves our brain to function in a certain way: to formulate hypothesis, to plan, to take decisions, to supress our emotions. It involves stress. We have just agreed that we want to get away from that. So, what is meditation?
Meditation is a practice which involves full concentration, awareness of oneself and one’s surrounding, and the aim is to reach stillness of the mind and a deep status of mind-body relaxation to prepare it. In a way, meditation is the opposite of thinking, because we want to observe our thoughts, physical and emotional senses, as they were pictures in our minds.
Rooted in Hinduist tradition and dating back as far as 4,000 years ago, meditation arrived in China with the diffusion of Buddhism, although meditative practices are also very common in the Taoist tradition.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine, Meditation has developed as a crucial as Acupuncture and a balanced diet, to favours the correct flow of Qi within and without body and mind.
Be Still: Meditation and Movement
In terms of techniques, stillness can mean many things. Stillness is about the mind, and it doesn’t necessarily imply that you only meditate in static positions, like laying down on the floor or sitting in a lotus pose with your legs crossed.
Yoga is a very popular choice. In Chinese tradition, Tai Chi and Qigong are the most common meditative movement practices. Apt for all ages and bodies, they engage in a sequence of slow, mindful bodily movements, to enhance balance, bodily control and breath. Such practices are great for your health, particularly for your muscular tone and your back.
To some meditation sceptics…
Now I can hear some of you saying ‘Do you seriously want to make me believe that if I lay down and tell myself not to think I will not think anymore? And isn’t it thinking about not thinking a thought anyway?’
See, that is the problem. A good meditator is one that focuses only on his breath. He does not impose himself what to think, he is not judgmental of losing his focus from time to time. When it happens, it only accepts it and comes back to his breath. It takes some time practice and time to appreciate the positive results of meditation. Some of us just call it patience. I prefer to call it commitment.
‘What if I fall asleep while I am meditating?’, or ‘How can I not think not to fall, if I am standing upside down in a very odd Yoga position?’ are other kind of concerns. Well, if you fall asleep, you reached your purpose: certainly you have gotten relaxed, although you should maybe work on your awareness, trying to counting your breath to keep your mind active, though even and stable. Same when your practicing Tai Chi or Yoga. Just focus on your breath and keep tracking of your movement through inhalation and exhalation: it will naturally relaxing your muscles, thus encouraging a better withstanding of the pose; also, it will keep you distracted from feeling challenged, unbalanced, by the position, pain, stretch etc.
Meditation as Medication in Chinese and Worldwide Culture
Meditation practices spread throughout all the East because of their link to the Buddhist tradition, and were used as a form of healing alternative to religious rituals and conventional medicaments. Still today, especially in ethnic populations there is a diffuse belief that bodily illness is only a physical manifestation of spiritual illness, caused by a bad thought, evil demons, etc.
But apart from the mystic side of meditation, its benefits are undeniable. As I mentioned already, meditation is an engaging practice, which trains our minds to control emotions and impulses in a healthy way, without ignoring or supressing them. It helps keeping an even attitude through stressful times, or to certain emotionally-charging events in our lives. And it is commonly known that a calmer temper is good to keep our blood pressure steady, our heart rate at ease, and our anxiety and sleepless nights only a bad memory.
Not convinced yet? Based on Eastern practice of Meditation, the ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof (among his Guinness World Record gestures: a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow, a swimming several times half-naked under the ice for more than 110 minutes) developed a method to defeat our human frailty and enhance our resilience through the power of our minds and breath.
Personally, I am a big fan of Wim and can’t wait to join one of his crazy expeditions. But many of you may disagree. Believe it or not, scientists and doctors still pop their eyes in front of his extraordinary, super-manly health conditions. It’s not about magic, it’s just about commitment. Meditation is a way of life. To keep a steady mind clears the view from dusty confusion, facilitates decision, increases our self-esteem. It is not a surprise that there is a corporate trend to integrate yoga and similar practices in their employee schemes.
So what are you waiting for? Close your eyes and just breathe.
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