Whole Body Meditations
Help yourself. Heal yourself.
You, me, every human being on this planet, is born with an incredible capacity for self-healing. As we move through life, this ability to heal and repair works with every single breath we draw, 24 hours a day – especially when we kick off our shoes and rest!
The mind-body system heals itself of whatever injuries it has suffered, be they:
• Simple daily fatigue
• Deeper trauma.
Sometimes it takes weeks or months to return to a sense of wellness. Sometimes longer. Sometimes the attention of an external healer is required, and at times we are left with scars.
The rhythm of life is that we go forth boldly and live, and then repair to our nest and rest up in order to do it all again. The more quickly and thoroughly we can revive and heal, the sooner we can get back to doing what we love.
Simply spending a few moments with yourself each day can help you tap into the body’s inner-healing wisdom.
For thousands of years and in many cultures, wise women and men have practiced daily meditation as a way of cooperating with the body’s wisdom and of living life in a more continually rejuvenated state.
Since the 1950s, scientists across the globe have measured the physiological changes produced by meditation. And have affirmed that, yes, meditation boosts health and well-being and contributes measurably to the management and healing of many ailments.
Meditation helps you handle:
• Addictions, allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, eating disorders, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, immune system disorders, heart disease, hypertension, infertility, insomnia, menopause, muscle tension, skin problems, and tinnitus.
You can do it anywhere.
Again and again in different studies around the world, researchers have found that meditation often aids significantly in
• Treating symptoms
• Preventing relapses,
• And helping the body to heal itself.
Also, meditation is something that you can on you own, at home, on the train, at the beach—and it’s free.
Perhaps this is why so many self-help groups and 12-step programs employ meditation as one of their most powerful tools for coping. And healing.
Meditation is something the body and mind naturally want to do. And it has been found that anyone who wants to meditate can meditate, often very easily, and with only a few words of instruction.
Enjoy a rest deeper than sleep.
How can one simple practice, in which you sit for half an hour with the eyes closed, thinking of something pleasant, produce all these diverse benefits?
The remarkable thing is within minutes of entering meditation the body becomes more restful than in deep sleep and the muscles become very relaxed, yet you are awake and alert inside.
These conditions allow the nerves and the body to let go of stress and fatigue. The relaxation and sense of ease carry over for hours after meditation, contributing to a more centered and healthy approach to life.
Doctors have known for decades that human illness is stress related, meaning that chronic stress is a significant factor in making existing medical conditions worse, causing flare-ups, and in general taxing the overall health of an individual.
And the list of stress-related illnesses known to medical science is very similar to the list of ailments detailed above.
When scientists test meditators, they are able to measure within minutes a whole set of positive physiologic changes:
• Metabolic rate
• Blood pressure
• Heart rate
• Muscle tension
• Stress hormones
All these decrease!
This is the mirror opposite of what happens when we are scared or stressed. (Remember the nauseating sensation of taking your driving test, for example. Clammy hands, racing heart, pounding headache.)
It makes sense then that meditation is a good way of helping the body restore itself from the wear and tear caused by stress.
Enjoy your busy brain
During meditation, the brain is very busy!
At the same time, however, you may experience a great deal of relaxation and repose. The paradox is: you can’t relax without letting go of tension ... and in letting go of tension you remember all the things you were tense about.
Relaxation, tension, relaxation, tension.
Whatever thoughts, sensations, or emotions you have been holding back by staying tense are suddenly free to flood your awareness -- and be dealt with. Meditation is a highly alert state, and so you often find yourself shifting every few seconds between delicious rest and anxiety, until your system works out just the right balance between ease, excitement, and alarm.
This is what makes meditation ideal for managing the challenges in your life, including your relationships and your health.
Don’t try to make your mind blank!
If there’s one golden piece of advice in meditation it’s this: Meditation is definitely not one monotonous state of inner blankness!
Even though everyone wants the brain to shut up during meditation, it almost never happens. Rather, meditation is a dynamic condition of relaxation and tension, inner peacefulness and excited musings about work and love.
When I ask people why they have quit meditating, the most common response I get is, “I just couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t make my mind blank.” They admit that yes, they felt relaxation, and yes, they felt better afterward, but all that inner noise -- that can’t be right, can it?
Almost universally, people blame themselves because their brains are so busy.
Make your busy, wonderful brain your ally. Go with the flow of your thoughts. Not against.
Learn new, more powerful responses to stress.
This play of opposites that occurs in meditation reminds me of the way vaccinations work.
When you get a vaccination, you take into your body a weakened form of a virus or bacteria -- and your immune system learns to fight it.
In meditation, the mind-body system instinctively enters a deep state of safety and relaxation, and then replays portions of what is stressing you -- so that you can learn new, more elegant, more adaptive, more powerful responses.
For example, in meditation you might find yourself replaying an argument you had with a loved one. You may experience snatches of conversation, the memory of muscular tension, and all the other aspects of what you feel emotionally and physically when stressed.
And then -- and here is the beauty of meditation -- you may spontaneously explore new and better ways of handling similar situations. You will actually get better at coping with stress!
This happens whether you want it to or not, for it’s an aspect of the body’s adaptation and spontaneous self-healing.
If you have a rich and full life, your brain is going to be very busy in meditation. This is good!
Pull out the thorns.
Give yourself time to get used to the tension-relaxation-tension-relaxation cycle.
Go easy on yourself. Resist the temptation to say things like, “This isn’t helping; it’s making me worse!” (Although it’s easy to feel that way at first.)
I once had a whole series of vaccinations before traveling in equatorial Africa, and some of them made me feverish for days. But it’s a hell of a lot better than getting the full-blown disease.
In meditation and in life, it’s better to pull out the thorns than leave them to fester!
And it’s better to give your body a chance to explore more elegant ways of dealing with stress, rather than staying in Alarm Mode for long periods of time.
As you can see, meditation is NOT one single state, but rather a continually changing inner-theater of quiet/explosive/erotic/placid/turbulent intensity, in which each breath brings drama, catharsis, rebirth—and yes, even healing.
Take time to tune up.
Meditation feels different each time you do it.
Each breath, each moment of meditation is different from the next as your body rests up, revitalizes itself, and tunes up for action.
The more you cooperate with this process, the more the vaccination quality we discussed above will work for you.
You will become more skilled at handling the stresses you are facing; be they long hours, aches and pains, too many tasks to juggle, or a medical condition.
Should you find a moment to meditate each day, you will soon realize that here -- at last -- is the deepest quality of rest you have ever experienced. And as your body gets used to it, you will feel yourself healing very gently and gradually, on a deep level.
Develop an approach that works for you
I have found that people who are hurting in some way have a natural affinity for meditation.
Illness disrupts our lives, and the symptoms often make us feel like resting and recuperating. So it’s natural we seek out healing.
In researching this book, it struck me that it was important to develop an approach to meditation to suit the person, not the disease.
I asked people, “What works for you? What works in your situation?”
Many people said, “What works for me is nature: fresh air, sunlight, the earth, water, rivers, the ocean. I meditate on that if I’m inside, and I often go outside to meditate. I am often in a building, but when I close my eyes to meditate I breathe as if I am standing on my favorite mountain or beach, looking out over infinity.” Some also said, “Yes, there are techniques. But the important thing is to find what you love, what makes you want to be well, what reminds you of when you were well -- and meditate with that. Be with that, and that’s the technique.”
As a consequence, instead of writing about specific ailments and meditation techniques, I found myself writing about nature, the elements, the instincts, and the rhythm of adventure.
Your body is the closest bit of nature to you. Perceive it as nature—as made up of the elements and instincts.
Allow it to happen
The point of any good meditation book is to be an ally on your journeys into your inner world.
You do not need to know everything in this book in order to meditate—just one bit of information, represented by one sentence, paragraph, or chapter, may hit the spot.
Since meditation is an instinctive skill built in to human beings, we do not so much learn it as allow it to happen.
The skill of meditation is in cooperating with what life is doing on every level of your being—biological, relational, and spiritual. You have the skills of meditation within you already because meditation is about being open to your senses and following your instincts. Tolerating this openness is one of the major challenges along the path of meditation.
Over the years, you may have “learned” to shut down some of your senses and block some of your instincts. In that case, your path may involve opening yourself up to new ideas, new emotions, new impulses -- unlearning your old ways.
Learn new ways. Explore and enjoy your senses. Give your instincts room to play.
Free yourself up!
Accept the healing impulse
The approach to meditation I recommend is simplicity itself: Simply regard every impulse you witness in meditation as a healing impulse. Even those impulses that make you say ouch. Even the ones that feel irritating, scary, or outrageous. Accepting an impulse does not mean you will act on it. Indeed, the more you feel into an impulse in meditation, the less likely you are to act on it, unless it is truly good for you and for the world.
With every breath, the brain, the nervous system, the mind, the body, and the heart are working in concert to heal themselves. That is to say, You.
Every part is working like an instrument in an orchestra. Every part is working towards making you whole. Healthy.
The mind is extremely purposeful (you could say it has a mind of its own!) and every impulse going through you in meditation has a deep connection to life. If you follow that impulse, it will take you deep into life’s essence.
From the time you close your eyes to the time you open them 20 minutes later, you will experience an entire odyssey of the heart, mind, body, and spirit.
You will see that a minute can be a long time!
A complete mini-cycle can occur in a minute: You may go from feeling totally at ease ... to sudden immersion in a fiery daydream concerning your greatest life challenges ... to sun-dappled relaxation again.
What if your impulses feel negative? Again, regard every impulse you witness in meditation as a healing impulse. Even those impulses that make you say ouch. Even the ones that feel irritating, scary, or outrageous. Accepting an impulse does not mean you will act on it. Indeed, the more you feel into an impulse in meditation, the less likely you are to act on it, unless it is truly good for you and for the world.
Make a new beginning
There is a sequence of little skills you need to learn within the first few minutes and days of beginning to meditate.
These have to do with accepting the range and fluctuations of your experience.
In those first few seconds, minutes, and days of meditation you will adopt one way or the other of dealing with the emotions, the sensations, and the myriad range and number of thoughts that arise.
Consider these first few moments of meditation a new beginning; an opportunity to make a completely new deal with your life; a fresh approach.
The essence of meditation is to select something you love, something you adore, and then be with it. Rest with it, and see what happens.
Something profound happens when you sit there and let your love impact you deeply and transform you from the inside.
Meditation is being there and noticing all the nuances that arise in you: changes in your breathing, changes in your heart beat, changes in your thinking. Watch your senses light up!
A final word
Most people who begin meditation quit in frustration within a few days or weeks.
The follow-through rate is much higher when the student is working directly with a meditation teacher or a therapist, doctor, or yoga teacher. But only a small percentage of the people who want to use meditation have access to a teacher or guide.
This book is written to offer useful information to that other 90 percent of the aspiring meditators, who want to meditate on their own, without a teacher, as part of their general self-care.
Make a connection between the act of reading and closing your eyes to meditate.
Every few paragraphs or pages, or whenever you find something interesting, look at the horizon or close your eyes and breathe with the thought and the feeling behind it. Let your mind drift. Or get up and take a walk and mull it over.
Ultimately, your real teacher is the play between your attention ... and what you love.
Turn and return always to that.