Discharge & Aftercare Coordinator
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” –Sylvia Plath
Recently I was leading a group meditation on our residential unit. When I walked up with my iPod speakers and a stash of pillows, one client immediately said, “Oh great, you’re going to make us get enlightened again.”
While it would be kind a great if imposed enlightenment was one of my abilities (I’d be on Oprah!), the truth is that meditation is never something that you do to somebody. You can’t impose meditation. But a growing body of research (see references below) clearly shows that meditation is a useful treatment for all kinds of addiction recovery, from cocaine to anorexia. And, as a treatment modality, it’s pretty great. Meditation has zero side effects (except maybe accidental enlightenment) and it’s very low-cost (free). If I had a free, low-risk pill that worked as well as meditation does, I’d be a gazillionaire. So I may not be able to make someone meditate. But I’m sure going to encourage you to!
So, let’s get meditating.
First, let’s talk about what we mean by “meditation.” One of the best-known yoga teachers, TKV Desikachar, said: “The ultimate goal of yoga is to always observe things accurately.” That’s all we’re talking about here: we don’t need incense or trippy music or a perfectly quiet room or a soothing voice speaking to us to meditate. It’s just simply the act of noticing, of finding that clarity that is awareness without interpretation.–seeing something without filtering it through the lens of the story we’re telling ourselves.
So, where do we start? When the Buddha was giving advice to his son Rāhula on the matter (and he’s someone I’d generally agree with about meditation) he said, “If mindfulness of breath is practiced continuously, then your last breath will be in knowing, not in unknowing.”
Most Western meditative traditions also include some kind of breath and body awareness as a first step. So right now, while you’re reading this, notice where your hands are? Send your awareness down into your hands. I know, you feel weird doing this, but hey: just give it a try. Send little tendrils of awareness down to each fingertip. Notice if your ring finger feels different than your middle finger. Feel your palms light up. You may notice that your hands automatically start to feel a little bit warmer, or maybe a little tingly. Let your hands be filled up with simple awareness. Hey, guess what? You’re meditating! Congratulations.
That’s it, just that simple noticing. There are a lot of different forms of meditation, and a lot of different types, but that’s where we’ll start, with just simple noticing.
So, here is a quick, 5-minute-or-less meditation that you can start practicing, anytime, anywhere. Give it a shot, if you’re curious, and let us know how it goes in the comments.
“Count Five to Calm” Breath
Place a hand on your chest and another on your belly. If it is uncomfortable to put a hand on your belly, send some awareness to your internal abdomen instead. Start to notice the fact that you are breathing. Then take a deep breath, deep enough that you feel it pressing out the hand on your belly and you feel your ribcage expand. Notice the slight tension caused by the inhalation; hold it for just a second, until you start to feel some resistance. Exhale slowly, noticing the release of that tension. As you exhale, gently press the thumb of the hand on your chest down, and say “Five.” Pause for just a second, until you want to take another breath. Repeat: inhaling, holding for a second, releasing, and pressing down another finger. Continue to count each breath, pressing down the next finger each time, until you hit “one.” Take one more breath with your whole hand pressing into your chest and, if you’d like to, say to yourself, “This is my steady breath” as you inhale, and “This is my calm breath” as you exhale.
Note: This is a good meditation to try, especially when you are angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed. It’s also one kids can learn. (If you’re doing it with kids, check out the Elmo “Belly Breath” video on YouTube) You can do another variation before going to bed: lay flat on your mattress with your palms face down on either side of your body (like a gingerbread man). Press your whole body down into the bed on the inhale, like you’re trying to push the bed away, then relax into the bed on the exhale. Do it five times and see if it helps you sleep any better.
Go meditate, yogis!