Monday, June 15, 2009

Alternatives to Meditation

It can be helpful to understand what the different components of meditation are because the different components have different effects. When you understand the components you can pick an choose which ones are right for you.

Components of Meditation

  1. When distracting thoughts arise during meditation, we let go of them and come back to the focus of the meditation. This process causes us to notice our thought and we see that our thoughts are constantly changing and running around out of control. This teaches us that our opinions and attachments and aversions are not real, they are just temporary states that arise unintentionally. Because of this, if we keep up a meditation practice over a long period of time, the force of our attachments and aversions weakens. This effect stays with us even if we stop meditating because it is something we learn about ourselves. It can improve the quality of our life because things upset us less when we have weaker and fewer attachments and aversions and that can improve our mood.

  2. Concentrating on some focus of attention or just the present moment and letting go of interrupting thoughts also has the effect of calming the mind. This helps us relax because a racing mind will stir up emotions, start us planning for the future, and remind us of regrets of the past - the things by which we make ourselves upset.

  3. Meditation is relaxing for the mind and body and it makes us feel good. This is due to the relaxation response. It lowers our levels of stress hormones, and I suspect increases levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Relaxation is part of why meditation also calms the mind. This is a temporary effect and you have to meditate often if you want to keep in this state.

A person doesn't have to engage in all three of these activities. If someone feels reluctance to meditate or restless during meditation, it might be because there is some thought about to rise up from their unconscious mind and they somehow know it will not be pleasant to work through. In a case like this, a person shouldn't feel obligated to work through it if they don't want to. Many people in this situation just decide not to meditate, which is unfortunate because there are an alternatives. There are other practices that can give the benefits of relaxation with out having to watch the mind and work through emotions. In a situation like this, a good alternative to meditation might be something relaxing like yoga, relaxation exercises, taking a walk, or even just a short nap.

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