Rx: Meditate in Nature – Wide open spaces are good for the body and mind.

March 28th, 2016 by

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Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. He was outside, in nature, when he attained enlightenment – not inside a monastery or palace. Whether you believe the story to be myth or history, people have long known that there is wisdom, serenity, and balance in nature.

The Science of Green

Research, too, shows that green spaces bring benefits to people, more than just being outside. You don’t have to travel miles away from everyone — even your local park can help. A recent study compared walking in an urban park versus walking through urban streets and found participants had lower heart rates, lower anxiety, and greater subjective well-being after just fifteen minutes walking through a park. In another study walkers fitted with mobile EEG sensors were significantly less stressed when they strolled through green space than when they ambled through shopping or commercial districts.

In Japan, walking through the forest is known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”. Research has shown that it improves cortisol levels, heart rate variability, blood pressure, sleeplessness, mood, and other markers of stress. Researchers looked at the components of a forest bathing experience, including sight, smell, sound, and touch, all of which show benefits.

We often meditate indoors. It’s convenient and eliminates some distractions. The outdoor environment is less controlled. There could be traffic noise or kids playing or it might even start raining! While there doesn’t yet seem to be research that directly compares meditating indoors to meditating outdoors, every contemplative tradition includes meditation in nature, in both stories and prescribed practices. Given the evidence-based benefits of both meditation and nature, it stands to reason that we can reap significant benefits by meditating outdoors.

Try Walking Meditation

Any meditation that can be performed indoors can be performed outdoors, as long as you have a suitable space. While you may already be familiar with sitting meditation, the natural world is ideal for walking meditation. Most of the time, we use walking as a means to get somewhere. The hustle and bustle of the street, the hard concrete of sidewalks, our everyday shoes all serve to keep us moving.

A walking meditation, by contrast, has no destination. Wear comfortable shoes, or if the ground is safe go barefoot. Begin by centering yourself. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the air stirring around you, the sunlight or fog on your skin. Keep your gaze softly focused ahead of you. When you begin walking, the pace is not important, but awareness is. Walk at the pace that best allows you to be fully present. Feel the muscles in your hips and legs and feet as you lift each foot and replace it gently on the ground. Just as in sitting meditation, your attention will wander. That’s ok; the value doesn’t come in having perfect concentration, but in continually bringing your attention back to the present moment. Use the feeling of taking your next step to gently anchor your attention into the here and now. Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood, California notes, “I sometimes find it restful to think of letting my body take me for a walk.”

Realize You Are a Part of the Natural World

When I was working on my Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology in Boulder Colorado, our professors took my class into the outdoors for an experiential exercise. Each of us went on our own solitary “walkabout” in the gorgeous foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After a time of walking, sensing, and savoring the beauty and serenity of the natural world, I sat down to meditate among the wildflowers. My experience then is best described as completing a jigsaw puzzle by inserting the last piece that completes the picture. At first it seemed as though the pieces of the surrounding natural environment all fit together perfectly – it was only “I“ that was the last missing piece. I felt separate. However, as I continued to meditate – patiently returning my attention to the immediate experience of the present moment – it felt as though my mental idea of “I” – that concept that separated me from everything else – dissolved. Only then did the last piece of the puzzle find its home in the living experience that surrounded me. All was one. I was no longer separate from nature. I was part of it.

Some Practices to Do Outdoors

Sitting Meditation
Walking Meditation
Yoga
Qigong
Tai Chi

Graduate’s Story: Artist Theresa Girard

February 14th, 2016 by

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Many of you have seen the beautiful art on display in the Integrative Mindfulness studio in Bonita Springs, FL. These are the words of the artist, Theresa Girard, on her experience upon completing the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program –

“The discovery of this seemingly simple process reaches far beyond anything I had previously considered. Being present for me began a new emotional connection to who I am and what is embodied in my true spirit. At the same time, filling a spiritual void that had crept into my life.
Previous torments, such as anxiety, fear, a barrage of “what ifs” lessened in an acceptance of being where I needed to be in the moment. A certain quieter place comes forward and seeps into much of my decision making and provides a peace focused on awareness. Even when things are not going well, I was able to decrease my self judgement and negativity.

As an artist, with an overly active and creative mind, I became able to self soothe in a forgiving way and found that my work actually raised to a higher level as I learned to slow down and really “look” and be a part of the painting in the present.

My new series of work is not based on comparison to other artists, but a peace at being here and a new self talk to encourage and gently disengage my focus from low self worth. I am lovable in this moment. My work is good, I can be successful for myself, just as a direct expression of my own energy……mindful energy….

Thank you!”

HEALTHY Mind Matters: Sometimes Unplugging From the World Helps You Connect With Yourself

July 31st, 2014 by

It’s always difficult to explain to friends and acquaintances why I go away each year for an extended silent meditation retreat. For the past five years I’ve traveled to Barre, Mass., home of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), for 10 days of intensive mindfulness practice: sitting, walking, eating and yoga—all in an environment of silence. Approximately 100 other yogis (the word “yogi” is used generically to refer to both male and female practitioners of yoga and meditative practice) gather here from across the country and around the world to immerse themselves in this unique experience —to strengthen our capacity to be “present” with life, moment to moment.

Above the massive front door at IMS, the word “Metta” is inscribed. In Pali, the ancient language of the Buddha, this word is sometimes translated as “unconditional loving kindness” or “unconditional friendliness.” It’s an openhearted welcome. As I step into the foyer, I feel the unmistakable sense of coming home.

Settling In
Upon arrival, each yogi is invited to choose a space in the meditation hall—a huge, tranquil space with large windows, dozens of meditation cushions arranged in rows, and chairs for those with less-flexible limbs—where he or she will meditate during the five to six formal meditation sessions we will have over the next 10 days. I find my spot and arrange what I’ll need—a blanket and a “zafu” or meditation cushion that will become my home base or “mind central” during my stay. As a symbol of our “renunciation” of the complexities and trappings of modern, daily life, we’re invited to voluntarily relinquish our cell phones, which will be locked in the main office—safe from temptation—until the end of the retreat.

The retreat center is set up entirely to support the community of practitioners. In the large dining hall, we share our (amazing) all-vegetarian meals in silence, except for the occasional sound of a chair sliding across the floor, or footsteps. During the retreat, I completely slow down and begin to savor every meal. After all, there’s nothing else I need to do, and nowhere else I need to be. Good food is even more delicious when you slow down and pay attention.

Sharing Rituals
In addition, every person is given a “yogi job.” We all contribute to the operation of the center while on retreat as a practice of mindfulness, interdependence, and generosity. On this retreat a woman, who I subsequently learn is an attorney, runs load after load of dishes through the steamy dishwashing machine as silent yogis line up after lunch with their plates, bowls, and cups. A surgeon sweeps the floor and wipes-down tables after the dinner period. My yogi jobs over the years have included vegetable-chopper, pot-scrubber, and dining room-cleaner. Shared work creates a sense of community during the retreat. Everyone is equal.

For the first few days of silence, my mind/body system seem to be in withdrawal—from the usual bombardment of sensory input I occupy day after day. I notice my mind wanting to fill up the silence with many thoughts. As a regular meditation practitioner, I’m quite used to letting my thoughts go and returning my attention to the present moment by linking it to an “object of attention” such as the breath or sensations in the body. But now the barrage of thoughts seems unstoppable. I find myself annoyed, thinking, “These thoughts are interrupting my meditation!”

Over time, I realize it’s my relationship to my thoughts that is the problem. Once I begin to cultivate Metta—that is, an openhearted friendly relationship with the activity of my mind—the thoughts slow down. The space between thoughts expands. My mind becomes quiet and peaceful, for the most part.

Finding Peace
On retreat, my body and mind have the opportunity to process experiences and feelings that I never deal with in “normal” life. Most of us live largely unaware of what lies beneath the surface of the mind and heart, as we rush through the busy and distracting momentum of life. When you become still and receptive for a while, whether it’s a few days or a few months, in an environment of safety and tranquility, the mind and heart can begin to reveal things you haven’t looked at in your life—and process them with Metta, that loving kindness that we all need and all possess.

I wouldn’t describe a retreat as “fun,” but it’s definitely healing. I go on retreat to discover and become receptive to the truth of my human experience: the fear, joy, sorrow and awe lying just beneath the surface waiting for my kind and openhearted attention. My job is to stop and feel what’s really here. With each retreat, I become more comfortable with the peaks and valleys of my own inner landscape, and more at ease just being me. I depart knowing that this retreat has been time well spent.

photo credit Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

This Morning Under a Tree

February 3rd, 2013 by

By Madeline Ebelini

This morning I sit in a chair, wrapped in a quilt, under a tree.

Eyes closed.

I feel the weight of my body, the gravitational pull of the Earth, connecting me.

I feel the movement of my belly with the breath, gently pulsing in and out, from within.

A wind chime hanging from the tree softly sounds with the breeze.

A bird calls, and when the breath is very soft and easy,

and the mind is immersed in the present,

dozens of  birds can be heard chattering in the distance.

An occasional “dust devil” arises,

pulling my attention into thinking, remembering, re-living.

Ah . . . . “Feel the whirlwind of this dust devil spinning the mind”.

Witness as it settles and comes to rest.

Then  . . . .the faithful pull of gravity connecting body to chair.

The gently pulsing breath within.

The truth . . . Here. Now.

The warmth of the quilt,

the soft sounds of the chime,

To “let go” into just this . . .

To let go of concepts and pre-made ideas, of push and pull, altogether.

To be just this sitting, this breathing, this hearing, this living.

 

I open my eyes.

The sun, shining through the tree

creates a blanket of soft, dappled light everywhere.

The moment beautiful, tender, and alive.

The murmur of a far away plane passes somewhere overhead.

I wrap the quilt around me and breathe in.

Image: Jim Liestman flickr.com/photos/gods-art

Are You As Busy As You Think?

November 4th, 2012 by

“When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else — we are the busiest people in the world.” – Eric Hoffer –

 

“I’m too busy to meditate.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this statement. My response is usually “You’re too busy not to meditate.” This Wall Street Journal article by Linda Vanderkam really goes to the heart of the “too busy” mindset.

Image (c) Moyan Brenn

Training a More Laid-Back Brain

September 22nd, 2012 by

One of the hottest forms of stress reduction today is actually one of the oldest: meditation. But the kind making the rounds of hospitals, community centers, and even schools in increasing numbers doesn’t involve chanting “Om” while sitting on a cushion with closed eyes; instead, participants are trained to pay attention to their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, and to view them neutrally, “without assigning an emotional value that they are strongly positive or negative,” says University of Wisconsin–Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson, coauthor of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Read more of this article by Meryl Davids Landau for U. S. News & World Report.

Living a Sacred Life

August 11th, 2012 by

The Cranes Return Image: alicepopkorn bit.ly/QCjDfA

“In the day to day unfolding of our busy lives, all that is so precious to us at the end of our life, is usually skipped over most of our life.”

This is a beautiful summation by Dr. Illana Berger of why it is so urgent and fundamental for us to learn how to live our lives mindfully.

Image: AlicePopkorn

The Fastest Way to Happiness

July 1st, 2012 by

The fastest way to happiness is within you, right here and now! It’s the absolute acceptance of WHO YOU ARE in this moment, as Marie Claire Bernards writes in this article. But most of us are not entirely aware of the subconscious ways in which we refuse to accept ourselves as we are. This is where meditation is so powerful. Through meditation we guide ourselves to ourselves – authentically – in the moment. We have a chance to “see” and “befriend” those unseen parts of ourselves that are refusing to accept the real person that we are. With regular practice, these parts begin to soften and relax and reveal the true vulnerable and beautiful Self within. Subconscious behavior patterns, generated and maintained by these parts, begin to drop away. This is the beginning of freedom, healing, and happiness!

Image: Natalia Photos

Meditation: A Compass and a Path

March 27th, 2012 by

” . . . if I meditate — that’s like preparation for the rest of my day — it’s a self education and one that you want to renew everyday…I sit to anchor and organize my life around my heart and mind, and to radiate out to others what I find.”A fascinating DailyGood interview with psychiatrist and meditation teacher Paul R. Fleischman.

How to be Present in the Moment

March 10th, 2012 by

 

Shubhra Krishan shares two wonderful techniques for shifting into the present moment she came across while randomly flipping through a book from her mother’s collection.

 

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