A few nights ago I went to a meditation class. There is a new yoga studio in my neighborhood and it has a peaceful vibe. I know about it because one Sunday morning I was walking through the Brentwood Farmer’s Market and a young man looked me straight in the eye as I passed him and handed me a flyer. Adam was his name and I felt like I already knew this Adam. He was that yogi with the calm face and limpid eyes. He wore loose fitting clothes that reflected a balanced only acquired from practicing yoga a long time. He smiled as he handed me the information written on a simple orange and beige 4x 6 card.
“Please come on Monday nights for a free meditation class,” he said. “It’s open to all.”
I made an intention right then and there to attend the meditation group on Monday nights. It seemed simple enough. I’d come home from teaching a yoga class at 7, get a light bite to eat and head on over to the studio. In my mind, I was in heaven.
In reality, it wasn’t that easy. Monday night I was tired and I hadn’t planned what to eat and how fast to eat it. My mind kept racing to how late the meditation was going to last and would I be in bed at a decent hour and all those resistant thoughts that crowd out what we want to do, need to do, desire to do and then never do them because there is some inconvenience, some roadblock we put in front of us.
I moved forward with intention, left my apartment and arrived to meet Adam and Samir outside the studio in the back. There was a cool motorcycle parked next to them and we communed over yoga and meditation and tidbits about life. I was very present at that moment of conversation and very mindful of why I was there at the studio: it was to release the toxic negativity that had been building up in me for the last 5 weeks. I had to get out of myself, take a look at my thoughts (mostly negative), surrender to them and move forward.
I set up my mat in the studio against a wall because I didn’t know if I could sit for over an hour without a back stop. It turns out that was a smart move, secure and comforting. A half hour of personal meditation to settle our minds and more than a half hour of chanting for abundance in our lives. It was a long mantra – 5 words in Sanskrit – and we chanted it 108 times on our Mala beads (beads used for meditation).
As soon as I stood up, I began to feel a lifting of what I surmised was a mild depression and anxiety levels too high to sustain on a daily basis. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation can cut the recurrence of depression by 50% and neuroimaging scans have shown significant positive change in brain activity of long-term meditators. Scientists have researched how mindfulness has an affect on the brain, in particular UCLA’s Imaging Center and through their mindful meditation studies, but they haven’t exactly known how until recently. I could have been one of their volunteers at that moment.
The pattern of depression manifests itself by negative preoccupations, through worries and thinking that tears at the fabric of our well being. Instead of disengaging and moving on, human beings just find ourselves digging deeper into negative thought patterns. We just can’t help ourselves. Why the negative loop is so attractive is beyond me. Maybe we are all more comfortable being self-obsessed. Maybe we’ve come to believe that negativity is our comfort zone.
How can we ourselves regulate attention so that it doesn’t become a negative bias toward negative physical sensations and thoughts, as in a depressive state. Interesting to the history of mindful meditation is that the early Buddhists advanced a similar theory 2,500 years ago in a practice called “Mindfulness of the body and breath.” They knew a thing or two about depression way back then and they didn’t even have the brain scans to track the alpha rhythms, which organize our sensory information in the brain.
There is also the concept of “pain body” that Eckhart Tolle writes about in his book, The Power of Now. When our emotions are unacknowledged, they gradually manifest as pain on an emotional level as well as a physical level. Mindful meditation helps us turn in to our emotions, accept them, embrace them in an effort to resolve what is causing the pain. My Jungian therapist would counsel me to “just sit with your emotions and feeling” and they will pass. Recently, I read in a health magazine that these uncomfortable and often painful emotions last about 15 minutes. I wish. Mine lasts for about 2 hours until one of my friends gets in my face and straightens me out. Those are the best kinds of friends.
Mindfulness meditation is a simple and efficient technique to realize, acknowledge and surrender to what we are feeling. Letting go of the negativity, letting it slip away, or as my master yoga teacher said, “let these thoughts pass like clouds in front of you without attaching any importance to them” is a way to relieve stress and anxiety from our lives. It’s really as simple as letting the mind go, relaxing it and not filling up our mind with murky thoughts that provoke the negativity. It’s abundance we want to create in our lives. Negativity means scarcity and scarcity is mental gridlock.