Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meditation Practice and Improvement (part 2 of 3)

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows the effect of the “Monkey Mind” where one’s mind jumps around from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch in a tree to another. This article from Wildmind gives some practical advice on how to train your mind to improve your practice. The second principle in this article is to learn to accurately recognize the hindrances that cause your distractions.

Faith and Discipline (week 2 of 3)
By Vajradaka
“In the following week you could take on another task for each meditation practice. This time have the general intention to recognize accurately the hindrances underlying your distraction. To call this ‘wandering off’ is not really enough. At this point it is worth mentioning that there is an important relationship between knowledge and discipline. It is helpful, for example, to be familiar with the traditional list of five hindrances — the varieties of distraction — and their antidotes. This kind of knowledge comes partly from reading and being taught by others, and partly from learning through your own experience. For instance, on the basis of knowing the symptoms of ‘restlessness and anxiety’ you can differentiate them from ’sense desire’. Taking time outside formal meditation to consider whether you’re recognizing the hindrances accurately can be useful. Correct recognition of hindrances allows you to be more effective in countering them.”
There are 5 ways that the mind wanders during meditation. These are typically called hindrances (nivarana). The 5 hindrances are “sensual desire”, “ill will”, “restlessness and anxiety”, “sloth and torpor”, and “doubt”.

Sensual desire is a desire for pleasant experiences. Your mind may wander off and think about something pleasant, like food, sleep, or sex. It may also be pleasant thoughts of planning for a event, like a holiday party. These things attract our thoughts because them seem more interesting than our breath.

Ill will is the reverse of sense desire. It is related to painful experiences, like physical pain. It may be an unpleasant encounter that you can’t let go. The true problem is preoccupation with the experience.

Restlessness and anxiety is a quick-moving or unsettled mind or body. It may happen when you have a lot on your mind. You may not be able to get comfortable. Something always aches or itches.

Sloth and torpor happens when we are tired or have eaten too much. Your body and mind just want to give in to the easy way. Be aware that it may also include a deep resistance to meditation. There may be something else going on that you are not aware of.

Doubt is when you start to question whether or not you are doing the right thing. It creates a difficulty in committing to the practice. “Is this helping me?”

When your mind wanders during meditation, it is because of one of these reasons. Your focus can improve by simply naming these hindrances. “That is sense desire. It’s OK to ignore it.” “This is restlessness. Let it go because my meditation is important.”

There are a couple of other things to try to help maintain your focus in the face of the hindrances. First, Try to remember why you are meditating. Don’t fight the hindrances. Don’t argue with yourself. Just bring your mind back where you want it.

Second, “cultivate the opposite” hindrance. Focus on the opposite to counteract an undesired hindrance. The opposite of sense desire is contentment with our situation. The opposite of ill will is enjoyment in our experience. The opposite of restlessness is calm. The opposite of sloth is activity, with the intention of getting your mind involved so you can come back and meditate. The opposite of doubt is commitment, where you can just do your meditation and clarify your doubts later.

For more about this topic, there is a good article by the Dublin Buddhist Center at .

This is the second of 3 parts. Next week, I will post the rest of the article. This will give suggestions for the third week of Meditation Practice and Improvement.
© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Meditation Practice and Improvement (part 1 of 3)

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows the effect of the “Monkey Mind” where one’s mind jumps around from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch in a tree to another. This is an excerpt from an article from Wildmind gives some practical advice on how to train your mind to improve your practice. The first principle in this article is to learn how to recognize when your mind begins to wander.

Faith and Discipline (week 1 of 3)
By Vajradaka
“Most of those who have difficulties are not disciplined enough in the way they work in meditation, and a measured amount of discipline each day can make the process easier and more enjoyable. For example, you can set yourself the task of shortening the time it takes you to notice when your mind wanders off. At the start of each practice, form an intention to catch yourself as soon as possible each time your mind wanders. If you consciously decide to do this every day for a week, a positive inclination to acting in this way will develop. Your skill in noticing your attention wandering will increase and your concentration will benefit. Taking on a task like this is within your ability and if it succeeds it will increase your confidence, interest and engagement. It will make the practice feel more your own.”

I don’t totally agree that one week of extra focus will make much difference. I have been practicing standing meditation daily for more than that and I don’t think that I have noticed much change in my ability to notice when my mind wanders off. I think that it takes more time for people with active, or jumpy, minds like mine. I have difficulty concentrating anyway. I have started meditation practice to try to improve that.

I do expect to be able to notice a difference in the near future. I may be getting hung up on the physical difficulties of the standing part of the meditation. That part is getting better with time.

This is the first of 3 parts. Next week, I will post more of the article. This will give suggestions for the second week of Meditation Practice and Improvement.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Relax your way to perfect health

It seems that the mainstream news organizations are finally starting to see what has been right in front of them for years. I came across this article recently. It is from the British newspaper, the Independent.

Take a deep breath... How to relax deeply So how can you access relaxation's healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. "The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply-rooted the benefits will be," says Jake Toby. Have a go at one or more of the following for 15 minutes once or twice a day.

Body scan Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.

Breath focus Sitting comfortably, become aware of your breath, following the sensation of inhaling from your nose down to your abdomen and out again. As you follow your breath, notice your whole body and let tension go with each exhalation. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, come back to your breath.

Mantra repetition The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as 'Om'.

Guided imagery Imagine the most wonderfully relaxing light, or a soothing waterfall washing away any tension or worries from your body and mind. Make your image as vivid as possible, imagining the texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over or through you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meditation and Breathing

When we are stressed, our body activates the “fight or flight” response. Several involuntary responses follow (sympathetic nervous system), such as the release of stress hormones, increased heart rate and blood pressure, the activation of our immune system, etc. With long-term stress, our sympathetic nervous system gets overloaded and contributes to many chronic illnesses.

From the web site,, breath “…can be used to find a balance between the mind-body, the conscious-unconscious, and the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous system.”

Breathing is something that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily. We can use conscious breathing to affect the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system works to counteract the sympathetic nervous system. In other words, we can use conscious breathing to control, or even to reverse, the effects of stress on our body.

As we get older, we tend to breathe shallower than when we were younger. This means that we do not empty our lungs very well and we breathe with the top part of our lungs. Abdominal breathing is a breathing technique that helps you learn to use your lungs better. It helps your body develop the “relaxation response”, which is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response caused by stress.

To practice abdominal breathing, start in a normal meditation posture. Take several deep breaths with long exhales to allow your mind and body to relax. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen just below your belly button. Pay attention to how your hands move while you are breathing. Inhale through your nose and consciously expand your abdomen. Exhale through your mouth and contract your abdomen. You should notice that your right hand (on your chest) barely moves. Your left hand (on your abdomen) should move much more. After you become comfortable with this technique, you no longer need to place your hands.

Your exhales should be about twice as long as your inhales. In a yoga class, teachers often have students inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.

This breathing technique does not feel natural when we start. With long-term practice, abdominal breathing becomes natural and we always breathe that way.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Conscious-Walking Exercise

I generally prefer to give you my own work in this blog. There is not much value in just providing a quote to you. In this case though, I came across an article that I wanted to share. This exercise teaches you to be aware of the moment and to pay attention what your body is telling you.

Master Wasentha Young of the Peaceful Dragon School

Find a safe environment to walk. As you begin this Conscious-Walking exercise, in silence, stand and allow each breath to bring you into the moment, sensing your mind, your body, and how you are feeling. When you get the impulse to move, start the walking journey. Remain mindful of your body's movement as you walk down the street, on a nature path, or around in a room. Be aware of your feet placement on the ground, your legs supporting your body, and your arms gently swinging. You may also notice the emotions that arise and the thoughts going on in your mind as you stay aware of your breath. You are now doing Conscious-Walking, a type of walking meditation.

Now allow your senses to expand and begin to notice your environment: your eyes seeing the colors and shapes, your nose smelling the scents, and your body maybe feeling the wind. If you are walking through a neighborhood, see the squirrels, cats, dogs, and people gardening or doing home-based chores. If you are walking on a nature trail, see the trees, leaves, and rocks; hear the birds, or even a fly. Check in with how you feel and your emotions as you let your senses grow.

Before ending your Conscious Walking, allow yourself to revisit what your body feels like. What are you thinking? Reflect on your experience and feelings associated with what you saw, heard, smelled, and sensed in your environment. Do you feel a change in your state of mind from when you started? This dialogue between your mind, body, emotions and your environment can be very useful in developing an awareness of your relationship with the world around you.

Peaceful Dragon School
1945 Pauline Blvd. Suite B
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Copyright 2004-2008 Peaceful Dragon School. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduced with permission