British School of Meditation Blog
Ancient Meditations for Modern Times by Frans Stiene
Many ancient Asian meditation practices have come to the west since the early 60's. But are they of benefit in this modern day and age?
We could say that any kind of meditation practice is of benefit, especially in turbulent times like the ones we are living in now!
However, we also need to look at what some of these meditation practices are doing to our mind, body and energy to see if they are of benefit or not.
One very common practice, currently taught in many meditation schools, is about resting our awareness on the tip of the nose and feeling the breath going in and out of the nostrils.
From an energetic point of view this meditation is more focused on the upper part of our body, mainly the head. Therefore, we also can say that it is helping us to feel our interconnectedness to heavenly energy.
But when this meditation originally was developed and traditionally was practiced, people lived much more in harmony with the earth. They were therefore much more grounded and centred to begin with. They had, and they felt, a deep interconnection with the earth energy.
In our modern society, often we have mislaid this interconnection with the earth. We have lost our groundedness and centeredness due to being more in our heads. In our heads (and often through our mouths), we constantly ask why, how, who, what, when? And therefore we are always analyzing and over thinking things. Living in the head is also due to mobile phones, TV's, computers, etc., all of which distract and take us away from grounded and centred interconnectedness with the earth. But it is not only this: many of us also live in concrete cities, work in crammed offices, and rarely walk in nature anymore.
Thus, by first (and only) practicing a meditation technique which takes us even more in our head, we will become even more ungrounded and uncentred.
In olden times when people lived more in harmony with nature and were not over thinking things, that ancient meditation technique was perfect. But we live in a very different world now. Things have changed. And therefore if we practice one of these ancient practices without first realizing that we need to be grounded and centred before we even start, we might unbalance our mind, body, and energy. This imbalance can happen even as we seek to find balance through the practice, because the practice needs a grounded, centred foundation that it will not have if we practice only from (and in) our heads.
Thus it is of utmost importance if we want to practice these ancient spiritual teachings, that we first work on rediscovering our interconnectedness with the earth.
A tree cannot start by growing leaves and branches; it first needs to grow roots. And if the roots are not stable and the tree grows more towards heaven, it might even fall over and need to start anew. But if the tree has stable roots, then it can create a beautiful canopy.
This stable, grounded and centred feeling comes from bringing our mind and energy deep into our body, just below the navel; this is the centre of our roots.
As meditation teachers, we therefore need to be aware of the effects of our own practice and the changes in our way of being before we start to teach specific meditation practices to others.
And just like the tree with stable roots can create a beautiful canopy of leaves and branches in time, if we as meditation practitioners and teachers work to rediscover and cultivate our connection to the earth, our practice can blossom and grow, literally from the ground up.
Gratitude every day.
Sometime ago I wrote a blog on keeping a gratitude diary, which I still try to do most days (notice the try bit). In this blog I am hoping to expand on this.
I have just come back from visiting my daughter in the US, and I did not have a great night’s sleep last night, most likely still a bit jet lagged. When the alarm went off, I got up, but was feeling in quite a grouch, the first thought that went through my mind was, ‘Why can’t David get up for once and bring me a cup of tea.’ You can see where this thought trail is leading, and I duly followed that trail.
After breakfast, which yes, I prepared, more thoughts! I sat down with a cup of coffee, for a few minutes peace and quiet to start my day. I opened my iPad and clicked on YouTube, and there at the top of my home page was a Gratitude Meditation, led by Bob Baker (who I have never heard of before) anyway I thought ‘Helen, let’s listen to this’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRnbKWapfEM
This simple meditation was just what I needed. It reminded me of all the good things in my life, and I have plenty. The meditation worked through gratitude for: -
My five senses, and paused to think about if one was missing what gifts would this bring.
Family and friends
My sense of wellbeing.
The food I have will have today and the farmers that have grown it.
This list went on, and I am sure you can think of other blessing in your life that you have gratitude for.
At times though life can be very tough. My family and I have had to deal with a sudden bereavement which was very traumatic. However, even in the darkest moments I tried to think the blessings in my life. At this time, it was all the family and friends that travelled from great distances who supported us. Without them it would have be truly hard, they made us laugh and we cried together this was a great healing. I thank them and bless them.
A few weeks ago, I went down to Bristol to join with Sarah Presley and her trainee meditation students. They were studying Unit 5 of our Meditation Teacher Training course which looks at how you can start your meditation business once you have qualified as an accredited teacher with The British School of Meditation. We had a really good day and I was delighted to hear for one of the students that he is planning to run meditation sessions within his company once he has qualified. He is also going to volunteer at Sue Ryder’s Hospice in Cheltenham.
At one of the breaks I saw that Sarah had sets of mala beads for sale. Mala beads are used in Buddhist meditation. Mala beads consist of 108 beads which the meditator uses while meditating or chanting. The usual chant to do is ‘Om mani padme hum’. This mantra helps us to invoke loving feelings of compassion. It is the most widely used of Buddhist mantras.
I bought some sets of beads for my meditation students and at our next afternoon session we all chanted using the beads.
We listened to Tim Wheater’s track on his CD Invisible Journeys https://youtu.be/5eFLdqgOw-Q
You can buy the beads on Amazon and Etsy
Why I prescribe meditation by Dr Lisa Thomas
My favourite thing about being a GP is getting to know my patients and finding out what has led to the problem in the first place, then working with them to find a solution. I practice lifestyle medicine as part of my routine patient management, both in the NHS and in my private clinic.
Lifestyle medicine is empowering patients with tools to improve their health and wellbeing through lifestyle changes. This is backed by scientific evidence. My particular area of interest is in using meditation and it’s power to heal.
Through my lifestyle medicine workshops and regular general practice I have been prescribing meditation to patients for a variety of medical conditions. This includes heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and IBS as well as mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Patient feedback is fantastic and most conditions seem to improve with regular practice over an 8 week period.
There is considerable excitement in the scientific community regarding the emergence of more and more evidence supporting meditation as an effective healing tool. Better quality research is being conducted therefore making it more reliable. 8 weeks of daily practice seems to lead to the best outcomes, and this is why I usually recommend a trial of this duration for patients as a starting point. Most patients, however, want to continue with meditation as they feel so much better for it.
Meditation leads to measurable changes in the brain and body. It results in neuroplasticity (the development of new nerve cells in the brain) and so the brain’s ability to develop and change structurally. There is better emotional regularity, more positivity as well as improved memory. Great news for those concerned about conditions such as dementia. Benefits are also seen within the body right down to cellular level. Telomeres protect chromosomes, which carry our DNA and reduce in length with cell replication and ageing. The telomerase enzyme is linked with improved cell longevity through its ability to maintain the telomere. Meditation results in significant greater activity of this enzyme. This essentially means we do not age as quickly or become prone to disease so early. No more looking old and haggard when stressed! Changes are also seen in select biomarkers of the immune system. There is improved immune system function and less stress response. Meditation was even shown to be better than exercise in it’s ability to improve our immune system against the cold virus. It is also effective in improving blood pressure, reducing heart rate and breathing rate, helping us feel calm. Most people are aware it improves conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress. It has also been shown to be beneficial in patients with cancer and chronic pain. I believe that it can be useful as part of the management of any health problem.
I do find that I am prescribing less pharmaceuticals as patients favour the option of trying meditation instead. It isn’t that I am anti-medicine, of course not, I just like to offer a low risk, no side effect option to patients and let them choose. As I say to patients, medicines are always there as a backup or to complement the lifestyle interventions.
I have recently written a website to provide more information to the public about meditation as well as start a YouTube channel and Instagram account to harness the power of social media. I also host Revive Retreats, a health retreat centred around lifestyle medicine and meditation. I really hope to spread the message so that this can be a tool for everyone to benefit from.
Given the low cost and low risk of harm it is an exciting possibility that meditation can be implemented in anyone’s life and result in vitality and longevity.
I wish you all health and happiness,
For more information see:
Workshop with Dr David Hamilton
The British School of Meditation was delighted to welcome David Hamilton to the Isbourne Centre in Cheltenham.
We have heard David speak several times and find he is one of the most popular speakers on our CPD days. 50 people came to hear him speak, he is a wonderfully engaging and amusing speaker and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day.
In this workshop David talked about the power of the placebo effect. https://david-hamilton.mykajabi.com/aboutplaceboschool
David recounted examples of how some people taking placebos, sometimes even when they knew they were taking them, did as well as those taking the actual drug being tested. This is truly amazing and shows us the power of the mind over the body.
One of David’s books, ‘How the Mind can heal the Body’ has been updated and re-published. The book gives lots of examples of the power of the mind to heal the body.
· 1.a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient's belief in that treatment – definition in the Oxford Dictionary
If you are interested in hearing David speak in person see http://drdavidhamilton.com/see-david-in-person/
Very Short Meditations and blood pressure
I promised in my last blog I would let you know how I got on at trying to bring in short mindful periods in my day. I have tried to remember, the most memorable times are when I have stepped outside and just taken a few deep breaths and given myself time to enjoy the sounds around me, or at night just looking at the sky. I am lucky I live in the countryside so I can see the stars at night.
I had to pop to see my GP the other day, and as they always do the Doctor checked my blood pressure and it was no surprise to me that she found that it was a rather high. I was then asked to take my blood pressure in the morning and in the evening for a period of a week. High blood pressure runs in my family, so I was happy to do this.
I have to tell you at this point that my husband over the years has built up a collection of USA and Canadian car number plates, and we have them on the wall of our kitchen. This one morning I took the first reading and it was rather high, so I thought right Helen take three breaths and focus on something, I looked over at the all of number plates and focused on the number plate for British Columbia, the number plate reads ‘British Columbia, Beautiful.’. So, I took three deep mindful breaths and focused on the word in front of me ‘Beautiful. I then took another reading and it was down to 120/60, the reading I had when I was in my 20s,30s and 40s. I was astounded, although you would think I would know this, but to me this was physical proof that when you can just take three deep breaths and allow yourself a moment of calm.
By the way the Doctor has not been back in touch with me about the readings so I guess they are happy with them.
Remember three deep breaths and allow yourself a moment of calm.
Acts of kindness
Yesterday I had an appointment in town and went in on the bus. I used my bus pass going but when I was coming home, I couldn’t find my pass anywhere. I paid the fare to get home, £2.30, and felt so grateful for the pass!
When I arrived home, I had a phone call from someone at the council to say someone had found my pass. They gave me a number to ring and I spoke to the person who had found my pass.
He offered to pop round to my house with it. So, having thought I had lost my bus pass and would have to go through a whole process of applying for a replacement, within the space of half an hour the lost pass was returned to me.
So, a lovely act of kindness.
It is so easy to focus on all that goes wrong in the world and forget that most people are kind and helpful. I was really touched by this act of kindness.
Do you remember the film ‘Pay it Forward’?
The premise of the film and of the book by Catherine Hyde is that you do 3 acts of kindness and ask the recipients to then in turn do 3 acts of kindness to other people rather than reciprocate your act of kindness. It is a way of spreading kindness in the world. http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/
So, this week I will be doing random acts of kindness to say thank you to Paul who restored my buss pass to me!
The meditation on LovingKindness is one of my absolute favourites. Metta or LovingKindness is a powerful way of extending love and kindness in the world. https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/loving-kindness-meditation
We can all be inspired by this meditation to be kinder to one another and also, importantly, to ourselves.
A general chat about meditation.
I hope you have read the last two blog posts, as both Mary and I have had what can be called very difficult situations to deal with, and we have both talked about how hard it is to meditate at times like this, and to basically just accept that’s how it is and not to beat yourself up.
This has made me think more about my meditation practice, and how when its difficult to bring mediation into everything (well that’s the plan) that I do.
So, when I chop vegetables, I am aware of the feel of the knife, the colour of the vegetables and so on. This can be brought into everything that we do, making the bed, having a shower. Reading a book, how many times do we have to go back and re-read a paragraph as our mind has wandered, or is this just me? Its all about being in the present moment, which is what living is really about, not just imagining the future be that good or bad, life is now, in all its glory. That doesn’t mean we cannot remember the past or people in our past, as those events will have an impact on how we are, but to just except that events were as they were, believe me I know this is very hard.
I will let you know how I am getting on with trying to be mindful all of the time, not just in my sitting practice.
I love this Chinese proverb:
He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey.
He who blames himself is halfway there.
He who blames no one has arrived.
Posted by Frans Steine: http://ihreiki.com/
See also mindfulness practice: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/
Sometimes it’s hard to meditate
In the last blog Helen wrote about her difficulties meditating recently when a family issue took up all of her headspace. I think we all need to appreciate that at times we will find it hard, if not impossible to meditate.
A similar thing happened to me at the end of last year. I came home after a choir practice to find my house had been burgled. Every cupboard and drawer in the house had been opened and the contents thrown on the floor. The mess was appalling. I was devastated by this intrusion and violation.
I phoned the police and they responded by sending 2 officers that night and a Scenes of Crime Officer the next day. They were looking for evidence to track down the burglar. There had been a spate of burglaries in Cheltenham and the police were anxious to catch the perpetrators.
What did the burglar get? About £30.00 in cash, and a pair of trainers (I know, bizarre!).
What did I get? My peace of mind and feelings of security were severely challenged. It is horrible to think someone can invade your property and go through your belongings.
I found it really hard to meditate at home because every time I went to sit and meditate, I felt tense and unsafe. I couldn’t focus on my mantra because my mind kept churning over thoughts of feeling unsafe and afraid it might happen again. I became hyperalert to every sound.
I have now installed a burglar alarm on the advice of the police and now do feel safer. Time has also helped me reconcile myself to what happened, as has the kindness of friends and family who have been so supportive. My brother and nephew came and installed the alarm for me.
I have therefore been able to resume my normal twice daily meditation practice.
It is good for us to realise that sometimes there are valid reasons why our practice is disrupted and be kind to ourselves. It is far too easy to beat ourselves up and blame ourselves when our practice goes awry.
We need to practice Loving Kindness and acceptance. We need to realise that we are only human, and that sometimes we cannot maintain our practice. However, we also know that this is only temporary and that we will get back into our practice and enjoy the benefits once more.
Is there ever a time when you just can’t meditate?
We are encouraged to have a daily practice, in fact the advice is 20 minutes twice a day. I have been thinking long and hard about this, and whilst this is good practice it isn’t always possible.
Recently I have had a family issue that has taken all of my time up. This would have been the ideal time to just sit and meditate, yet every time I sat down to start my practice, I just couldn’t, my mind simply would not let me. All sorts of thoughts and emotions swirled around my mind. At first, I was very frustrated with myself, thinking for goodness sake this is the time you need to meditate, so I was making this situation even more upsetting and stressful, increasing my levels of anxiety, which to be honest were at a high level as it was. I was sending myself in a downward spiral just when I needed to be strong.
So, I took myself in hand, and thought what do I need? I accepted that at that moment meditating in my normal way just wasn’t happening, I just craved peace and quiet, to be alone with my thoughts and emotions. I would take myself off to bed early with a book that really didn’t need much thinking about. A walk in the fresh air. Sometimes I just stood and took three deep breaths. Whilst none of these were meditating in the strictest sense, they were what I needed at that moment in time, and this was OK. Looking back this was the greatest kindness I could do for myself.
It is an easy trap to fall in, thinking that we really must meditate and not listen to what we need and are able to do at a particular time, it would be so easy to feel guilty about not meditating in the formal way, our practice does not need to be that rigid. However, I am sure that through my daily practice I was able to understand and listen to what I needed at this time, without adding an extra stress of guilt to all that was happening around me.
When the time feels right, just gently go back to your practice, with love and kindness. This is what I am doing.
The British School of Meditation has been established to train teachers in meditation techniques to meet the growing demand for highly trained and accredited meditation teachers throughout the UK including: the Midlands, South West, Wales, North West, North East, London and the South East.