Meditation is an ancient practice found in many parts of the world. Some of the oldest texts relating to meditation come from India and China. The Upanishads, a collection of sacred Indian texts were compiled in the first millenium BC and there are clear teachings on psychology, states of consciousness and meditation practices. Many of these ideas and practices have reached us in the Western world through the spread and rise in popularity of Yoga. The Buddha taught various meditation practices during his life in the 6th century BC and many of these have found their way to the West perhaps appealing to our modern secular mind with their emphasis on awareness and states of mind rather than devotional practice or doctrinal belief. Modern science has given some attention to research on meditation and there have been clear indications that meditation has profound effects. Positive mood changes and a range of health benefits have been implicated in the studies that have been done. MRI scans suggest that some of these benefits are accompanied by visible changes in the brain.
What is meditation ?
There is no single agreed definition of meditation but there are a wide range of practices and types of approach. Many meditations begin with the body and the starting point is to ensure a good posture, deep physical relaxation and rhythmic comfortable breathing. This logically enough will produce physical benefits and is often enough to calm the mind and settle emotions. For some people who are naturally active and energetic sitting still and not ‘doing’ is very difficult and there is a legend that some of the martial arts exercises practised by the Shaolin monks were taught because the young novices found it hard to sit still with a focused mind.
Most forms of meditation involve the active use of voluntary attention, in other words, focusing the mind on a particular image, thought or mantra and returning to this focus whenever you become aware of your mind wandering. This can be seen as a form of training of the mind whose nature it is to roam restlessly but which we know can also be single minded and even obsessive. Meditation practice using voluntary attention avoids either extreme but instead encourages a gentle and firm persistence. This practice also works with the ‘will’. Rather than relying on outside stimuli to catch and stimulate our attention such as a teacher might use to hold the interest of his students, we are choosing from within to hold steadily to a particular focus. In most traditions what is chosen as a point of focus is also considered to be of great importance. A sacred image or prayer may be chosen with the idea that there is a two way flow between the meditator and that which is the point of focus, in other words, the notion that we are affected by what we concentrate on. This then introduces another significant aspect of meditation practice – receptivity and openness. We are attempting to become open and receptive to what we are focusing on. Many traditional practices will focus on images, symbols or words that carry significance and are associated with feelings of safety, security and devotion. These may or may not be relevant to the modern mind but the principle is helpful to understand so that one can choose a focus that has positive and healing associations.
Ripon Natural Health Centre Meditation Group
Our meditation sessions begin with simple physical movements which help with relaxation and posture. Emphasis is put on developing relaxation and body awareness, letting go of habitual anxiety and tension associated with past experience and opening to our inherent self healing capacities. Insight, mental focus and strengthening of our emotional life are important aims in meditation. Our response to any form of treatment is enhanced when we reduce stress and encourage a positive attitude in ourselves.
The meditation group is a drop in group that meets approximately once a month on Saturdays at 12 noon for about an hour, cost: £5.00. Dates for the next group meetings are Saturdays 9th February and 9th March at 12 noon.