There are many definitions of mindfulness and meditation. There are also many and varied methods of mindfulness and meditation practices. Sometimes mindfulness and meditation are terms used interchangeably and in some ways they mean the same thing and in other ways they are quite different. There are “sound meditations” offered where participants lie down to be bathed by sounds. I would say these are more sound relaxations however some forms of conscious relaxation could become meditation. In fact practicing a progressive muscle relaxation and/or body scan done seated or lying down is a technique that combines the benefits of relaxation and meditation.
Generally speaking though relaxation is practiced lying down and meditation is practiced seated on a chair, a cushion or stool. This is all to do with the autonomic nervous system which includes the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system controls our activation response whereas the parasympathetic nervous system controls our relaxation response. If we lie down to meditate we don’t activate the sympathetic nervous system so we may fall asleep. When we are able sit upright with the pelvis slightly tilted and the sternum slightly lifted we engage both the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems. This upright position encourages an optimal relaxed yet alert situation for meditation. Ultimately sitting in the posture that is most comfortable for you is best and even lying down if you are too tired to sit.
In Dru Meditation we begin a class with some mindful movement to ground ourselves in our physical body before we come to sit in stillness. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga includes this transition from movement to stillness:
- Asana (body movements)
- Pranayama (breathing practices)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses)
- Dharana (internal concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
Dru Meditation practice has three stages, mindful movement, breathing practices and concentration practices which lead us into the silent space that is meditation. Dru Meditation is kriya based meditation as it combines movement, breath and affirmation and also focuses on the koshas with different levels or layers of awareness. The five koshas are:
- Annamaya kosha (physical layer)
- Pranayama kosha (energetic layer)
- Manomaya kosha (emotional layer)
- Vijnanamaya kosha (intellectual layer)
- Anandamaya kosha (blissful layer)
It is all about quietening the mind and stilling the body. From this stillness we can become aware of the present moment and change our relationship to our experience including thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness and meditation do work, a bit like physical exercise, if we practice on a regular and consistent basis our mental health, self awareness and self compassion will improve. Like learning any new skill, for example a learning a new language or a musical instrument, we have to keep practicing and cannot expect to master this new skill straight away. Also realise that the result of mindfulness practice is not to stop your thoughts but to change your relationship to them. The point is to practice intentionally directing your attention and become more connected with your awareness.
We are in the midst of a global mental health crisis, which has been heightened by the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, and science is uncovering the immense benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is not the panacea that will solve all the world’s problems and the science is still inconclusive on mindfulness as a cure for depression, anxiety and trauma. I would add there is no single practice that can fix or cure complex mental health issues however practices like mindfulness meditation with a focus on gratitude and compassion can enrich our lives in meaningful ways.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness consider registering for the 4 week “Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation” which I will be facilitating in Bunbury for Mindfulness Works Australia. More details on the Events & Courses page of my website.
“Mediation leads us from the body, through the breath, beyond the mind to the presence of soul.”
Patricia Anne Brown, Senior Tutor, Dru Yoga Australia