Peter Castle is a 73-year old Tai Chi instructor who also teaches meditation to his Tai Chi class. Filled mainly with the older generation (does Tai Chi, a slow martial art, appeal only to the older generation and does not look challenging to the younger lot?? If so, the younger ones are probably uninformed!) Peter thought it is only logical to include meditation as issues such as lifestyle stress often crop up in this generation.
The backdrop of how Peter learnt meditation is hilarious and worth sharing because it might resonate with many of us when we tried meditation.
In his words:
My first brush with meditation was after a Tai Chi session in a local park. It was a quiet, peaceful place next to a river, and feeling relaxed, I thought I’d stay a bit longer. So sitting under a tree, I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. As the saying goes, “how hard could it be”?
I closed my eyes and started counting my breath as I had read on good old Google. I planned to count to ten then restart counting. And, what a surprise, I didn’t even get to five. 1, 2, 3, …. “What will I have for lunch?”…. 1, 2, 3 … “I wonder if there will be a surf tomorrow”…, and so it went. I later learnt those intrusive thoughts are “naughty monkeys”! Very naughty, indeed! The young person stuck inside me just didn’t want to give the older person outside a rest!
I had already made grand plans to teach meditation along with Tai Chi in my classes. So, on Google again, forever hopeful that it could provide help, I found a group called “Inner Voyage”. They ran meditation teachers courses, either by correspondence over a year or full time for a week in a retreat. Being a typical male, always in a rush, I decided to give it a go with the weekly one.
The course was held in a lovely old church in the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland. Turned out it was a wonderful experience for me. It completely changed my understanding of meditation and reinforced why I should include it in my Tai Chi classes. Most importantly, I learnt how to tame the naughty monkeys! 🙂
So, from the knowledge I have gained from learning and teaching, I thought I’d share my thoughts on meditation, hoping it would rev up your interest and get you to give it a go!
What is Meditation?
Meditation can be described in many ways, mainly because there is a crossover between relaxation and religious practices. For me, it is a way of giving the mind a rest from everyday issues. In today’s “modern” meditation, this is typically achieved by making the mind think about a single thing rather than the multiple problems being addressed in normal life.
Can anybody meditate?
Yes, but some people find it easier than others. I found it difficult until I attended lessons.
How did meditation become a form of relaxation?
Buddhists in India and Taoists in China practised meditation at least 2500 years ago. Later, it also became a part of many other religions, particularly in the form of quiet contemplation and chanting (mantras). However, as far as I know, it was only in more modern times that it was recognised and used as a way of relaxing, especially with today’s people having more rest time when compared to the recent past.
What are the main types of meditation?
In general, the ones we hear most about are guided meditations, that is, in simple terms, where an instructor talks quietly and tells you what to think about. For example, they may describe a particular scene and persuade you to get into that scene, or they may just make you focus on your breathing. The instructor may also include mantras where you would simply focus on sounds.
Is meditation a religious or spiritual practice?
Yes, but it is also non-religious. A non-religious person can use meditation for relaxation, while a religious person can use it within their religious practices and for relaxation as well.
What will a typical meditation class be like? What can I expect?
They will vary significantly by the instructor and the aim of the class. Usually, a class consists of an instructor “telling” the class what to do. This is often done by using a step-by-step process of relaxing the mind until the desired level of meditation (relaxation) is reached. Then, after a while, the reverse is used to slowly come back to the present.
My class structure is basically about an hour and a quarter of Tai Chi, followed by about fifteen minutes of meditation. My main aim in the meditation section is to give class members the tools to use to comfortably meditate whenever they want or, more importantly, whenever they need to. It also gives them a chance to relax before we go for a well-earned coffee after the class! The class is usually comfortably sitting down, but some of the show-offs will lie on the floor.
One of the first things I learnt was that you can’t just sit or lie down and turn your brain off and meditate. The naughty monkeys become more like naughty gorillas! You need a step by step system that tells your brain that it is going to have a rest. To do this, I always use the same starting routine and the same music. My class members tell me that they start to relax as soon as the music begins. The other thing I do, and this is just me, is to join the class in closing my eyes and do the meditation with them. I don’t want people to think I am watching them, making it harder for them to relax.
How do I learn meditation as an absolute beginner?
It is difficult, but not impossible, to learn on your own, but it’s best to start by joining a class. I don’t recommend learning via google!
What are the benefits of practising meditation?
Our modern world is stressful! We can get stressed at home, at work, with health issues, and many other problems. And further, we are not designed to efficiently dissipate the chemicals, such as adrenaline, that our body produces when stressed.
Often we hear the term “fight or flight”. This relates to the ancient man, who, when faced with a stressful situation (e.g. being attacked by a nasty sabre-toothed tiger), had the choice of running or fighting. In these cases, the issue was usually over quickly and hopefully positively (for the person, not the tiger!). The person could then relax and let his body absorb the chemicals it produced. But in this modern world, stressful situations are more ongoing, and our body doesn’t get that rest time.
Meditation is a tool for you to help you relax and so more calmly deal with stressful situations.
I must add that a friend of mine was doing meditation with a group in a local hall. She was so relaxed she fell asleep. Not a problem except that the class thought she looked so peaceful that they left her asleep! She said she woke up later and found the hall empty with just her lying on the floor! They even turned off the lights in case the lights woke her up!
What is my favourite meditation?
I don’t visualise things very well, so my favourite meditation is based on “watching” my breathing. I do this sitting in a chair with soft music playing in the background. Always the same music so that it becomes a trigger for my mind.
Step #1: Relax my muscles
My technique is to close my eyes and consciously relax my muscles, starting from my feet and working slowly up my body to the top of my head.
Step #2: Observe my body
Once relaxed, I focus again on my feet and “observe” any sensations they feel, such as pressure from shoes or the floor and temperatures on the bottom and top of my feet. I use this method from my feet to the top of my head. After I finish with each body part, I try to “remove” the feelings so that that part of me feels like it is floating.
Doing this, you can feel quite light pressures, e.g. lips resting against each other and eyelids resting on the eyes.
I then try to make my whole body feel like it’s floating.
Step #3: Focus on breath
Next, I focus on my breathing. I start where the air around me becomes a breath (at the opening of my nostrils). Then, I follow the air into my lungs and feel my lungs expanding and pushing out my chest from the inside. I then follow the air as it comes out while again feeling my chest relax.
Doing this, you can even feel the difference in air temperature at your nostrils, cool going in, and warmer coming out.
I then try to just focus on breathing with the rest of me just floating, with no feelings.
The other interesting thing is that I am always aware that, in the background, a part of my brain is watching (supervising?). Hence, I know I can turn myself back on again at any time and come back to the present.
Step #4: Coming back
To come back, I just do the opposite. Move away from my breathing, slowly become aware of the sensations in my body, become more aware of the music, and slowly come back to the present.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and adventures in meditation, and this leads to you giving it a try.
Edited by love4wellness | Images: canva.com