British School of Meditation Blog
Does our Meditation Practice keep our feet on the Ground?
I attended a Meditation retreat with Frans Stiene of the International House of Reiki http://www.ihreiki.com.
During the course of the retreat we discussed how modern Meditations were based on ancient practices. Take for example the following meditation, which is probably the most taught meditation in the west.
‘Focus on your breath as you inhale, feel the coolness of the breath as it passes through your nose, and on the exhale focus on the warmth of the breath as it passes through your nose, when your attention wanders just bring it back to the breath’
This is just one example, but there are lots of variations on this theme. When this was first taught many years ago, people lived a very different life to how we live today. We worked the land, grew our own food, walked everywhere, went to sleep when it was dark and rose when it was light, we lived by the seasons. The human race you could say lived in harmony with the Earth, and the seasons. The Human race was part of the Earth.
These days in my view we live on the Earth, our lives are so far removed from the way ancient people existed, we live now very much in our heads, you just have to see people walking down the street with their phones, to see that the are just walking on the Earth and not part of the Earth. They live their lives to some extent in cyber space.
So, I feel we need to ask is the meditation focussing on just the breath and those meditations that are similar just allowing us to live in our head, without our feet firmly on the ground? Perhaps when teach Meditation and please don’t get me wrong this meditation is an excellent meditation to start with, we should also focus on other parts of the body, maybe a body scan.
In Martial Arts, the practitioner focuses on the energy centre which is found two finger widths beneath the navel, this can be known as the Hara or it can be known as the Dantian. By focusing the attention on this area, it gives the practitioner strength and helps ground them. Perhaps when we teach Meditation it would be good to bring this area into our meditations to ground us and help us to become more balanced.
One simple way of grounding ourselves, is to imagine that we are sending our breath to the hara, as we inhale, imagine the breath traveling to the hara, and as we exhale imagine that breath traveling out though your body to the area surrounding you.
We could also imagine the breath going to our feet, and as we exhale feel the connection with ground.
Another interesting article. https://www.osho.com/meditate/meditation-for-busy-people/hara-centering
On Saturday 3rd November I visited the Mind, Body and Spirit Show at the NEC in Birmingham.
I have attended these shows in London, but this was the first time I had gone to one at the NEC.
We went by train and walked from Birmingham International station to the NEC. The venue was much smaller than we had anticipated, and it was very noisy because the acoustics were dreadful. We struggled to get something to eat and drink and, in the end, had to go out of the show to find a café.
However, we did walk around all the stands and came across the Isbourne Centre based in Cheltenham. They were promoting their workshops and courses.
We also went to some free talks and especially enjoyed two. We went to a talk with Tim Wheater and joined in some lovely chants. It was very powerful.
On Tim’s website there is lots of information about him and his music.
Last fm https://www.last.fm/music/Tim+Wheater/+wiki says on its website:
‘Award winning composer, flautist, vocalist, teacher and public speaker, Tim has presented his acclaimed inspirational music, talks and demonstrations all over the world. He has co-presented with some of the finest renowned authors, healers and spiritual teachers including Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dwyer, Neale Donald Walsch, Julia Cameron, James Redfield and more recently His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His uniquely melodic and distinctive music has also led to recording opportunities with The Eurythmics, Donovan and the Grateful Dead; as well as receiving an invite to perform for HRH Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; plus the King and Queen of Sweden.
Having travelled millions of miles around the globe Tim has lectured and performed in theatres, festivals and stadiums in many major cities, which include Esalen, Open Centre, The Omega Institute, alongside The Whole New Life, New Life and Mind Body Spirit festivals. Tim has also performed at fundraising events for organisations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature’.
We also attended a session with Mr and Mrs Brilliant and heard some wonderful chanting. You can find examples on their website.
So, even though the venue was noisy and uninspiring we did have a good day.
Is Chanting a Mantra a form of meditation?
In my view yes, it is, during the practice you are focusing on sound vibration. Chanting is very simple and easy to practise.
As part of our training course, Meditation Teacher Training, we look at and practise Chanting meditation. To some of our students this is a new experience, to others, who practise Yoga, may chant at the end of a yoga session.
Is there any science behind Mantra chanting?
In an interview with Jonathan Goldman author of Healing Sounds by Vandana Mohata, states that:-
There are a number of different “sciences” behind mantric chanting. Some of these are the “hard” science—physics, psycho-acoustics, etc. Some of these are spiritual sciences such as the different yogic practices that work with sound. I write about many of them in Healing Sounds.
On one level, one can see that mantric chanting, as observed years ago by Dr. Herbert Benson, helps induce the “relaxation” response, causing reduction of heart beat, brain waves and respiration. On another level, as Dr. David Shananoff-Khalsa believes, mantric recitation enables the tongue to stimulate the acupuncture meridians inside the mouth (particularly on the roof), thus enhancing help. Dr. Ranjie Singe found that the chanting of specific mantras caused the release of the hormone melatonin and is investigating the importance of this in the healing process.
He writes about this in his book Powerful Self Healing Techniques.
How do I practise Chanting Meditation?
Sit in a comfortable position, feet firmly on the ground, back straight, shoulders relaxed, you can close your eyes or gently focus on a spot about three metres away. Before you start just gently check for any signs of tension.
Take a deep breath in through you nose, expanding your tummy as you do this, and as you exhale begin your chant, just let the sound flow, you may say the mantra once to every breath or you might be able to say it several times.
A good mantra to start with is Om, this is traditionally chanted at the beginning and the end of yoga sessions. In the Hindi tradition Om is said to be the entire Universe in a sound, the unification of Mind Body and Spirt.
Another Mantra you might like to try is Om Mani Padme Hum. There is lots of information about this Mantra and perhaps you might like to read up about it, but in essence it’s about compassion to yourself and others.
Can I chant on my own?
Yes, you can Chant on your own as part of your practice, or you might like to find a teacher who would help you, please see our list of teachers on our website.
There are also lots of mantras on YouTube for you to listen to.
A book and CD worth a look at is Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrands
Quote from https://shiftyourlife.com/the-science-behind-mantra-chanting-by-jonathan-goldman/
Last year I joined a writing group run by Patricia Fleming www.writingyourself.co.uk
Pat has a first class honours degree in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham and a Post-graduate Certificate in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes from the University of Middlesex/Metanoia Institute.
I attended a course she ran at the Isbourne Centre in Cheltenham where we looked at a variety of different written forms including poetry to help us unlock our own creativity.
Pat then suggested setting up a group to meet up once a month. I really enjoy the sessions and it has encouraged me to do some more writing including some poetry. I have to admit that poetry isn’t my favourite form of writing and when Pat told us we would be writing a poem during the session I did feel apprehensive.
This is the poem I wrote last week. We were asked to close our eyes and visualise a special place, a place where we felt safe, at home. Not surprisingly, my special place is my meditation room. Here is the poem:
Away from home, I think
about my meditation room.
I look forward to my return
to the haven of peace I have created.
I sit on the train, homeward-bound,
close my eyes, and visualize
the altar I have created,
it brings me home to peace.
The statues, pictures and candle
evoke a sense of tranquility,
a reminder in the midst of busyness
of what is important.
The silence the renews,
empowers and brings me
back to me. Deep peace,
evocative, stillness, being.
What is your favourite place? We had a variety of different ideas and some beautiful poems. It just shows you what you can do when you are persuaded out of your comfort zone.
How do you meditate for the first time?
I recently taught a Beginners’ Meditation session for a local business. This session was part of the company’s Wellness Week, and I was asked this question several times. So, I thought this would be a great idea for a blog.
In my experience, most people start a meditation practice because they realise that something has to be done to help them over a particular problem, the most common reason for starting a practice is stress.
Once the decision has been made, how can you learn to meditate?
· Buy a good book about meditation and how to meditate, Mary Pearson’s book:
‘Meditation, the stress solution’ is an excellent book. Mary tells you how to meditate in a very inclusive way. Mary’s book is available on Amazon or at the Isbourne Centre in Cheltenham.
· Find a Meditation teacher in your area, the British School of Meditation has a register of qualified Meditation teachers.
All of the teachers have passed our externally accredited training course, they also undertake regular CPD. They are insured and have signed our Code of Ethics.
· Once you have either read a book on meditation or attended a course, set up your meditation practice at home. If you can find a quiet place and time where you can begin your meditation. You might like to download some music that will help you to meditate. Often people say things like my house is too busy for me to find a quiet place. I have then suggested they use their bathroom as it is often the only place you won’t be disturbed!
Think about the time of day you intend to meditate, for me this is first thing in the morning. Set you alarm clock 15 or 20 minutes earlier and get up and meditate straight away. This worked well for me when my family were growing up as everyone else was in bed, it was my time.
· How long should you meditate? In an ideal world, twice a day for 20 minutes is recognised as being the general rule. However even if you meditate for just 5 minutes, this is better than nothing, and as you develop your meditation practice this will lengthen. Please don’t feel guilty if you are unable to commit to even 5 minutes one day, just try again the next day.
· It can be useful to keep a mediation diary, buy a special book and write down how the meditation went and how you felt. This can be a useful reflection for your practice.
· Starting a meditation practice is a bit like starting a diet, we say to ourselves, ‘I will start that tomorrow.’ Well make sure you do! You will soon discover many benefits.
Helen Galpin www.teaching-meditation.co.uk
This year my silent retreat was at St. Beuno’s in North Wales. www.beunos.com
Going on retreat has become an essential part of my spiritual practice and I now go on one at least twice a year.
We live in a noisy, 24/7 world, under pressure to respond almost instantly to texts and emails, to keep up to date with our Facebook postings, and join other social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. There is a 24 hour news cycle with constant updates so that we can know what is going on anywhere in the world by looking at Google or at an app on our Smartphone.
For me the opportunity to get away from this has become really important. I work from home so my work computer is in my home office. I have been to lots of different places on retreat and have come to appreciate deep silence while on away. Just getting away from home and the office gives me an opportunity to recharge my batteries and reconnect with my spirituality.
St. Beuno’s is a spirituality centre set in beautiful countryside, not far from Rhyl. The grounds are lovely and there are plenty of walks you can go on in the local area. The centre itself is a calm and tranquil place and you feel your cares and worries beginning to drop away from you as you are welcomed at the front door.
Silence begins on the first evening after dinner and a short meeting to go through ground rules. Silence is maintained then until breakfast on the final morning. However, everyone is given a spiritual director and you meet with them once a day for forty five minutes. This gives all the retreatants an opportunity to talk through any problems that may have come up coping with being in silence. It is also an opportunity to discuss deeper issues with someone trained to help with discernment.
The time is spent in silence but you are free to do whatever you wish to with your time. The only timetable events are meals and two daily services in the chapel. Attendance at the services is completely voluntary; however, I did find them a lovely way of joining with my fellow retreatants.
A silent retreat isn’t for everyone. When I tell people I am going on a silent retreat quite often the reaction is ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that!’ we can be afraid of silence because it is just you with your thoughts. However, silence can be very therapeutic in our noisy world.
One way you could discover if a silent retreat was for you would be to go on a day/half day retreat and see how you got on.
Another place to investigate for retreats: https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/
Every year Woodbrooke runs retreats and one is run by nuns from Plum Village in France and based on the teachings of the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. www.plumvillage.org
What is Meditation?
This is question is one that we are often asked, in fact it is one of the very first pieces of work that our students must write about for their qualification as a Meditation Teacher with BSoM.
Headspace defines it:
‘Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well’. https://www.headspace.com
The Buddhist Centre define it as: -
‘Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice, you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work and patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life’. https://thebuddhistcentre.com
My definition: -Meditation is the practice of observing your mind, thoughts and body, without attachment. Meditation helps to bring moments of peace and acceptance, a place of stillness where you can just rest.
My interpretation of meditation is that it is a practice, a skill that needs to be learnt. It is not something that can be done just once and you will reap the benefits, it is a skill that has to be practised by you regularly, hopefully, at least once a day. This might be for just 5 minutes but if you can meditate for longer periods this will be helpful. However, never feel guilty for meditating for just couple of minutes, some time spent in meditation will be better than none.
So, I ask myself, what are the benefits Meditation has brought to you? Well, it has helped me to deal with the stress that we all have every day, when I feel overwhelmed I just sit and take three conscious breaths; this helps me to refocus and calms me, this is also meditation in my view.
Meditation has allowed me to be more grounded, by this I mean more focused on the task in hand, less living in the future or the past. I have also noticed how beautiful the world is because I take time to look.
Meditation has taught me to be more observant of the world around me. I have just recovered from a couple of fractures in my leg, and meditation helped me deal with the pain, I would observe the pain, and somehow this would stop the discomfort from taking me over, it was just a pain in my knee, that was getting better and healing. I guess you could say it taught me acceptance.
One of the other benefits to me is that it has allowed me to be more creative, I used to worry if a picture wasn’t very good, now I enjoy the process and what it turns out like is a bonus.
If you wish to learn to meditate go to our website and find a registered BSoM Meditation teacher near you. http://www.teaching-meditation.co.uk/findateacher/
The vagus nerve and cancer - guest blog from Dr David Hamilton PhD
I recently read a scientific paper, published this year in the Journal of Oncology (see paper), with great interest. It linked the activity of the vagus nerve with cancer prognosis.
Why is this important?
I’ve written quite a bit about the vagus nerve in some of my blogs and books (The Five Side Effects of Kindness), mainly because the vagus nerve produces an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. I’ve also emphasised how this effect is even amplified by the experience of compassion.
That’s why I found the paper so exciting because it reviewed 12 scientific studies, involving 1822 patients, and suggested a link between high vagus nerve activity and better cancer prognosis. The effect, the authors wrote, was most likely due to an anti-inflammatory effect created by the vagus nerve.
I’ve summarised the main findings of the paper below.
The authors pointed out that three main biological factors contribute to the onset and progression of tumours. These are: oxidative stress(free radicals), inflammation, and excessive sympathetic [nervous] activity (stress).
Amazingly, the vagus nerve seems to inhibit all three.
Many of the studies measured heart rate variability (HRV), which is the main index of vagus nerve activity. Briefly, when we breathe in, heart rate quickens a little, only to slow down again when we breathe out. The vagus nerve is responsible for the slowing down, and thus the difference between this increase and decrease (high and low) of heart rate – heart rate variability (HRV) – is considered an indicator of vagus nerve activity.
Generally, the paper found that the higher a person’s HRV, or vagus nerve activity (also known as vagal tone), the slower the progression of cancer, and this was true for all cancers studied. The effect was especially pronounced in late stage, metastatic cancers.
The authors suggested that in early stages of cancer, the treatment a person receives is the overwhelming positive factor and so swamps out any observable effects of the vagus nerve, but at later stages, when treatments are often less effective, the vagus nerve’s workings are far more apparent and the vagus nerve becomes the main determining factor.
So much so, in fact, that the authors found that survival time in patients with high HRV (or vagus nerve activity) was 4 times greater than in patients with low HRV (or vagus nerve activity).
The effect of the vagus nerve on inflammation was suggested as the main factor. It is known as the ‘Inflammatory Reflex’. The vagus nerve basically turns off inflammation at the genetic level by turning
down a gene that produces TNF-alpha (Tumour Necrosis Factor), which is an inflammatory protein in the body that sets off a cascade of inflammation. Thus, the vagus nerve can effectively control inflammation in this way. Therefore, higher vagus nerve activity usually means lower inflammation.
In one study of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, for example, patients with high HRV (or vagus nerve activity) survived longer and had lower inflammation levels than patients with low HRV (vagus nerve activity).
The study authors wrote that, the vagus nerve “may modulate cancer progression by inhibiting inflammation.”
The study also showed that tumour markers in other cancers (like PSA – prostate specific antigen – for example) were also lower in patients with highest vagus nerve activity.
So, the question is: can we increase our vagus nerve activity?
The answer is yes.
There are a few ways, in fact, that include:
- practice of compassion
I’d like to draw your attention to the latter because I’ve written about this before and it demonstrates a powerful link between mind and emotions and physical health.
Studies have shown a link between compassion and vagus nerve activity, an idea first put forward by Stephen Porges, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and now widely known as polyvagal theory.
For example, vagus nerve activity has been shown to increase through regular practice of a compassion meditation (the Buddhist’s metta bhavana or ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation). Here, we consistently cultivate a feeling of kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.
The same meditation has also been shown to lower a person’s inflammatory response to stress, presumably via increasing vagus nerve activity.
So, yes, we can increase vagal tone!
For me, this research is extra evidence that exercise, meditation, yoga, and even compassion, offer us far more protection from illness than we have imagined up until now. Now we are beginning to see the underlying biological mechanisms that explain why these practices are so beneficial.
Of course, exercising, meditating, doing yoga or being a nice person doesn’t mean a person will be immune to cancer. We all know that’s not true. But it might mean that they offer us a degree of protection, perhaps lessening the impact of some of the factors that do cause cancer.
Apps and guided meditations can be very helpful and a support for your meditation practice. I am using an app on my tablet which is called Insight Timer; the icon is a singing bowl, it has a lovely sounding bell which you can set for time you want to meditate for and even set it so it can ring in intervals during meditation. The app also has guided meditations, one of which is by Sharon Salzberg. Mary also has a meditation there too. Put Mary’s name into the search box and her Waves meditation will come up. The app also shows with little dots where people are using this app though out the world at the same time as you, all good fun. https://insighttimer.com/
Another well known app and a very good one is Headspace. https://www.headspace.com/
Headspace was started by Andy Puddicombe. Andy says on the Headspace website:
‘Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace’.
Headspace is now used by millions of people all over the world. It’s a fantastic app. It is on special offer at the moment. 40% off your subscription. First 10 lessons are free.
Guided Meditation CDs (Mary has recorded several which are excellent) and Apps are very useful as a tool to help us to build our practice of Meditation, they are a bit like the small training wheels children have on their bicycles. while they are learning the skill of cycling, until they can to ride without them. This is what we should be aiming at with our practice, to become the meditation, in everything that we do, not just for 20 minutes or so, every now and then. It will be amazing when we all get to that point, for me I definitely still have my L plates on.
Guest Blog from Natalie Snuggs, BSoM Registered Teacher
How can I meditate over the holidays?
I have been asked this question so many times I decided to make it the subject of this month’s blog. As we all know when we start to meditate getting a regular routine going can be the tricky part; once that is established it is pretty much plain sailing for a while. But then a holiday comes along, and the combination of children, visitors, days out, trips away etc. throws all those good intentions out.
As a meditation teacher I have made a commitment to daily formal meditation and in some ways, this makes it easier as everyone knows I ‘have’ to meditate each day. However, I was contemplating this just the other day when stating my intention for that day’s meditation. I asked myself, ‘why am I meditating?’, the first answer, ‘because I have to.’ Then I asked, ‘is this the only reason?’ I soon realised that if someone gave me permission to skip my meditation for a few days I wouldn’t want to. I have learnt how beneficial daily practice is for me and I now make it a priority.
However, I also know how hard it is to juggle a full-time job, four children and elderly parents especially during the holidays, so here are my personal five top tips to help you:
1) Lower your expectations for a while
If you have to change your meditation time you may not be as alert so choose exercises you find easier, give yourself a break and remember you are doing the best you can. Use guided meditations more, do body scans before you get out of bed. The important thing is to keep trying; decide how long you will sit for and then just do it, however you think it is going.
Another trick is to do shorter meditations more often. Obviously, we want to extend our practice and learn to sit for longer periods over time, but sometimes this simply isn’t possible, so we end up just not doing any practice at all. Even ten minutes is beneficial; the worst meditation is one that doesn’t happen. A few minutes of mindful breathing at intervals throughout the day can work wonders.
2) Incorporate more daily mindfulness
Almost any activity can become a meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh says that any walk is a meditation, we can also eat mindfully, wash mindfully, clean mindfully etc. I would suggest two methods: first choose an activity for the day which you will carry out mindfully, decide what it will be the night before and how long you will spend doing this (e.g. the first three minutes of my shower or every time I wash my hands). This way you have a clear, manageable intention which you stick to and which helps you maintain some sort of daily routine.
I read a story once about a woman who had young children and was unable to find time to meditate. This was really getting her down until a visiting monk asked her what her daily routine was. Thinking he would try and persuade her to find time for formal practice she was surprised when he agreed that there simply wasn’t time in her day. Instead he encouraged her to see that caring for her family was a form of mindfulness and her daily washing up became her meditation practice for some years. Instead of this being a chore, it became something she looked forward to doing as ‘her time’.
Second, you can meditate anywhere: sit on a beach, close your eyes and just listen, allow sounds to come to you. Feel the air move over your skin, breathe in and notice what you can smell. Stop every now and then and examine a flower, a leaf, a rock as if it is the first one you have ever seen. Really listen to what your child / partner / parent is saying to you as if it is the most important conversation in the world, because in some ways it is.
3) Get the kids involved
Children are very mindful and love activities such as blowing bubbles and shouting goodbye to worries, watching clouds and noticing different shapes or colours and seeing how many different shapes of shell or stone they can spot. Just noticing without judging is a very useful skill for them to learn. They also love sound meditations, ask them to close their eyes and listen for a minute and then ask them what sounds they heard in order – it helps with their concentration and memory too.
When colouring with older children suggest they use their non-dominant hand for a while, it doesn’t matter how tidy it is, it is the fact that they focused well that counts. There are lots of sensory activities online which can be used as mindful activities. Sharing this kind of practice helps the whole family.
4) Have a clear intention
Write in your diary when you will return to your formal daily practice and stick to it. Discipline is part of meditation and I know from experience how easy it is to let it slide and how detrimental that can be. And if you feel part way through your family holiday that you really need time to meditate on your own don’t feel guilty about it. You wouldn’t feel guilty if you were ill and needed to lie down for half an hour so why feel guilty about doing an activity which will keep you happy and healthy? Making your meditation time a priority will also help your future practice and sends a positive message to those around you that you value your well-being.
5) End each day with gratitude
If every waking moment of your day is filled with family and loved ones who all want your time, remember to be thankful for this. Take a bit of time at the end of the day to be grateful for the health that allows you to be busy, for the people who want to be in your life and the amazing adventures you are having each day. Sometimes the best that can be said of a day is that we all survived in one piece ready to go again tomorrow; things don’t have to be perfect. When we count our many small blessings we realise how lucky we are, then we can sleep, reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can.
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.