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January - March 2009 lime 21

LIMELITE health 24 lime January - March 2009 YOUR B EGINNERS' GUIDE TO M EDITATION Lucia Cockroft shows how to meditate for the benefit of mind and body T hink of the word ' meditation' and images of monks in an incense-swathed temple in India or Thailand may spring to mind. But meditation can be for everyone. It's true that meditation has been practised for centuries in the East, and often in religions such as Buddhism. But the rest of the world is fast catching on to the benefi ts of meditation and its ability to calm the mind, improve wellbeing and help us to live more fully in the present moment - to be ' mindful'. And even though in the Caribbean we live in one of the most relaxing and beautiful parts of the world, we could all do with some stress- relief! Put simply, meditation is a state of concentrated attention on an object of thought or awareness. Often this focus is turned inward so that the meditator grows used to watching thoughts as they pass, instead of becoming involved with the sometimes obsessional thought- processes that rule us. One breath at a time One of the most diffi cult things to take on board is that meditation must be practised without a specifi c goal. It needs a relaxed, open approach that is without judgement or expectation. As most of us live in a fast- paced world ruled by deadlines and concepts, this can be rather challenging! Yet, it can also be liberating: learning to let go of outcomes and develop patience can be applied to just about all areas of everyday life. Y The fi rst step is simply to sit quietly and keep the body still. Doing this for even two minutes can be surprisingly diffi cult. The trick, however, is not to give up or become frustrated. The traditional way to Try and watch your thoughts without judging them or entering into them. Notice how one thought leads to another and how quickly a chain of associations is set up. Y Then become aware of your breath, without seeking to change it. A common meditation tool is to count your breathing - for example count one just before the in- breath and two just before the exhale. Your mind is likely to become distracted by the slightest whim. The trick is to notice this but not to become impatient, just bringing your attention kindly back to your breathing. If all this seems like hard work, consider this: the physical and psychological benefi ts of regular meditation have been scientifi cally proven and include helping with stress, depression and anxiety, decreasing high blood pressure, improving lung capacity and asthma and lowering the heart rate. So why not make yourself comfortable, take a deep breath and let yourself go...? Expert's view CAROLINE SYLGE Caroline Sylge, author of Body & Soul Escapes ( Footprint) and a regular meditator, has spent time at a Thai monastery and at retreat centres in the UK. She says: " Meditating is one of the best things you can do to feel calm and approach your day with equanimity. But it is very hard. I think you just have to be really kind to yourself - even if you manage ten conscious breaths a day, that's better than none at all." Even Sylge, an experienced meditator, admits to fi nding meditation diffi cult: " I fi nd sitting still at set times very challenging, so I try to stop and be aware of my breath at different times of the day instead - when I'm feeling stressed at my computer, when I'm waiting for something, when I'm caught by a beautiful view, when I'm lying in my bed and can't sleep at night." FURTHER READING Y The Meditation Bible: A Defi nitive Guide to Meditations for Every Purpose by Madonna Gauding ( Godsfi eld Press Ltd) Y Meditation for Dummies by Dean Ornish and Stephan Bodian ( Hungry Minds Inc) Y Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana ( Wisdom Publications) meditate is in the lotus position. But it can also be done walking, standing, swimming or sitting on a plane. For beginners, the best approach is to fi nd a quiet place, out of earshot of mobile phones and interruptions. Wear loose- fi tting clothes and sit in a comfortable position with the spine upright but relaxed. Set aside a short period of time: ten minutes is fi ne. Y Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing, bringing your awareness to each part of your body in turn. Become gently aware of your body and how it feels, but try not to fi dget or move around. It's all part of retraining yourself not to act on every impulse. Y Once you have completed your body scan, just sit for a while.