Training the mind is vague to me. Training the body is a concept I learned and understood in elementary school. Initially I think most people understand training the body in terms of the activity you pursue. Dance, track, tennis, lacrosse, baseball, horseback riding, football, cheerleading, swimming, ballet, golf, flying planes, wakeboarding, water-skiing, singing, musical instruments, soccer, basketball, softball, gymnastics, cross-country, and a host of other activities require training the body to do these well. The correlation between a healthy body ready to perform, and what you do with your day-to-day life is easy to make. You train your body, and you improve.
As you move into adulthood, often times the primary goal of training your body is to be healthy. You would be hard-pressed to drive down most streets in the cities of this country and not see either a gym or studio of some sort.
We have so much available to us to train our physical body, but we are created to work as a triune being with a spirit, soul, and body. I understand our soul to be our mind. It is who we are. We are keenly aware of what is going on with our physical body, but how do we measure the health of our very soul? There is so much to explore for the full answer to that, but I believe training our mind to keep certain thoughts and let go of others is an important piece.
The first clue I had to the disarray my mind was in was during one of my first ever yoga classes. I was given the cue, “release the tension in your jaw.” I had never thought about my jaw before and wondered if it was actually cup-shaped and can hold imaginary tension. Come to find, the tension is not imaginary at all. It is very real and my thought life let tension ride around in my jaw all the time. My thought life let tension permeate a lot of my physical body, and even worse, hurt my soul.
Feeling uncomfortable with the silent lying on our mats at the end of the class, I open and closed my mouth several times thinking maybe that was the right thing to do when someone says, “relax your jaw.” The laying on our mats listening to monks singing lasted for another five minutes. Not wanting to turn my head to the right or left in case I would catch the glance of my neighbors, I just listened to the monks singing. I left my first ever yoga class with a peace I hadn’t felt before. I forgot all about how I felt uncomfortable with my butt in the air during down-dog, or how I felt like a lanky noodle as my arms flew around trying to get into the different poses. I drove home with no music. I felt happy.
I believe my mind, for the first time, felt the effects of a sort of meditation.
The basics for practicing meditation:
- Find a comfortable, seated position
- Reel in your mind with around five deep, slow inhales and exhales
- Focus on an image or a word
Meditation is a training of the mind. Setting goals may help you. Start with three minutes. Pick a peaceful noise on the stopwatch on your phone, and set it for three minutes.
Some people like to focus on one word or one phrase and gently repeat the word or phrase. I like to focus on the peace that word or phrase brings me. Often for me, my mind begins to think about what the word or phrase can mean in life, and that is too much thinking for me in meditation. I want my mind to release from its activity.
I also use images. Sometimes I will think about my favorite flower, a sunflower, and run my thoughts over each yellow petal, the brown inner circle, then the little outside green leaves, and then down the woody stem. Or sometimes I will pick a cross and run my thoughts over the bottom of the cross, up the left side of the cross, across the left arm of the cross, up the side of the left arm, across the top of the left arm, up to the top of the cross, and back down the right side. Our minds are used to going from one subject to another throughout our day, so inevitably thoughts will come into your mind during meditation. Gently let them go. Imagine them floating out of your mind. Do not be frustrated with yourself.
My husband and I light a candle as we sit on yoga blocks or meditation pillows. Raising your seat can often be more comfortable than sitting on the floor. The candle is an easy way to soften your mood, and it can be an image for meditation. When you realize there are several thoughts in your mind, gently open your eyes and focus on the tiny flame as you breathe deeply. There is benefit to simply thinking about the flame the entire meditation. You don’t have to have your eyes closed to meditate. If you prefer your eyes closed, you can use the flame to bring your thoughts back. When your thoughts wander, gently open your eyes, look at the flame, come back to your word, phrase, or image and then gently close them again.
Three minutes of this can be hard, but it is a wonderful starting point! My husband and I meditate for seven minutes right before bed. We pray together at night and we do that before meditation because most of the time when you pray, you are communicating about the many things going on in life. Meditation seals the end of the day and slows your mind, preparing it for the rest we need.
This is a subject for another post, but if you are interested in how mental health affects physical health, this article by Dr. Caroline Leaf encourages me to continue my mediation practice and share it with others.
“Our thoughts, with their intertwined emotions, produce words and behaviors, which in turn stimulate more thinking, choices and thought building. We are constantly reacting to the circumstances and events of this life and as this cycle goes on, our brains become shaped in a process that will either be in a positive direction or a negative direction. So it is the quality of our thinking and choices, our reactions, which determine our brain architecture.”
Brain architecture…. This is something I never thought about until introduced to mediation. From the moment we wake up, we are thinking and those thoughts are affecting your very DNA. There is plenty in this world to encourage toxic thinking from the beginning of our day, to the end. Try starting your day with some movement to wake up…ideas on how to do that here. Move into minutes of meditation before you let your mind start on your day. Meditation in the morning and at night can train your mind to let go of toxic thinking. So, my friend, start to train your mind as you gently bring every thought captive to what brings good to your life and others’.