Reflections on Meditation
By: Kimberly Cihlar
May 23, 2021
I intone into the quiet of the early morning lavender-hued sky.
“Aummmmmmm.” Another pronouncement, more articulated.
“Aaaaaaauuuuuuuuummmmmmm.” The third and final sound is long and full. I pause, and flick the flame of my lighter across the end of a tiny Palo Santo stick, before gazing out of my window at the park. The wood flames, then smokes, and I set it into a small offering bowl, before continuing.
“Aum Bhur Bhuvah Swah Tat Savitur Vareynyam Bhargo Dayvasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayaat,” I chant the Gayatri Mantra, a Vedic meditation of illumination and connection to the sun, uniting intention with attention.
Brilliant streams of warmth and light begin to dance across my face, the rising sun rays stroke my cheeks. I sit comfortably and concentrate on releasing thoughts, clouds passing through my consciousness, floating behind my brow. I open my eyes, time stamping the verdant loveliness of the East Village park, that I am lucky to call my front yard, into my mind’s eye. I am meditating.
Some might say that sitting on your bed, in the early hours of the morning, watching life pass by across the street from your New York City studio apartment window, isn’t really meditation, but it is exactly meditation. Literally defined, meditation is “to engage in contemplation or reflection” and “to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
A tool for transformation, meditation unites body, mind and spirit. It doesn’t stop thoughts, but instead lets them flow and go. Guided or unguided, the act of focusing the mind, training awareness and attention for clarity of thought, calmness of being and a stable state of consciousness, also results in better health and wellness, for you and the world around you.
As a yoga and meditation teacher, I may partake in many forms of meditation, but I always return to the Gayatri. Those 24 syllables of divine activation, that my spiritual guide Datta Pandya calls the “manifestation of this Universal Energy called Pran,” are the source of the energy of everything conscious and unconscious in the universe. It is my favorite type of meditation.
Dhyana, Sanskrit for contemplate or meditate, is one of the 8 limbs comprising Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Those who’ve studied Buddhist or Hindu meditation styles, may have a solid daily practice. Others may have dipped a toe into meditation, with Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Challenges. Today, the number of books, workshops and events on how to meditate has exploded exponentially. Rock stars of the serenity business include, not only Deepak, but Light Watkins, Sharon Salzberg, Thom Knowles, Tara Brach and Hector Marcel.
So, for brand newbies, choosing a type of meditation can be quite overwhelming. Google “styles of meditation” and you will find up to 18 different options. Technology has also tapped into meditation with apps like Calm, Headspace and Aura. This overwhelming number of meditation styles may be just one more sign from the Universe that you really, really need to meditate! It’s a kind of inside joke, but Buddhist meditation experts like to say that, if you don’t have 10 minutes a day to meditate, you need to find an hour. Why? Because, truly, the positives far outweigh any possible negatives.
On his website, Deepak Chopra and his crew point to the “peace of present moment awareness” that meditation brings. In other words, Be Here Now. This is also the name of the book, by Ram Dass, that blasted open the lid on mindfulness and meditation for the masses in the 1970s. Scientific data shows that other benefits include:
- Lowered blood pressure, hypertension, cholesterol levels
- Reduced recidivism and relapse for those in prison or recovery
- Less production of “stress hormones,” like cortisol and adrenaline
- Better use of oxygen by the body
- Increased production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA
- Boosted immune function
- Decreased anxiety, depression, and insomnia
Yes, you might feel happier, healthier, smarter, filled with incredible love and light. Meditation reduces stress, anxiety, perhaps even pain and depression. It can help increase compassion, awareness, well-being, focus the mind, boost the immune system and calm the central nervous system. So, my next question is: what are you waiting for?!
Don’t get overwhelmed or stressed when deciding upon a style of meditation. Finding one that fits both you, and your lifestyle, is easy. Choose a quiet place, use the breath to ground you, and when the mind gets distracted, just bring the attention back to the breath. If you want a little more from the plethora of meditation style techniques, here’s a sampling:
- Buddhist Meditation, like Vipassana, spotlights conditions of human existence, such as suffering, impermanence and emptiness. In Zen, the practitioner remains silent. Vedic uses mantras like Om or the Gayatri, chanted up to 108 times. Loving-Kindness, Mindfulness, Moving Meditation, Reflection (with a focus on gratitude), all bring the mind to shine on itself, and are basically as each name implies.
- Guided Meditation is where a teacher directs you in a meditative sequence. Transcendental Meditation, aka TM, is taught one-on-one by licensed Maharishis Foundation teachers, twice a day for 20 minutes each. Kundalini concentrates on kriyas, or breath exercises. Chakra Meditation opens and aligns the whirling energy centers, or chakras, of the body. Tantric aims towards the exploration of bliss. Self-Inquiry is about visualizing a better you. There’s also Body Scanning and Tong Len, two other types of Visualization. A very popular option these days is Sound Bath meditation, where a leader, or teacher, creates vibrations, usually with singing bowls or gongs, that focus the mind and relax the body and state of being.
The styles I turn to most are Gayatri Mantra and Meridian Circuit Meditation. The latter is taught by Rose Erin Vaughan - author, acupuncturist and founder of Science of Self Yoga and Meridian Yoga Technique, which is based on the 24-hour flow of the meridian pathways in the body.
One of my favorites is Tong Len, a practice taught to me by Melissa Soong, a NYC-based yoga teacher and SOS Meridian Yoga practitioner. She says “I was coming from that social worker world and had to build up a ‘protective coat’, so many levels of protection were needed. That’s why Tong Len was so interesting to me. It chips away at those levels. It’s about true love and compassion. The heart is expansion, no boundaries, it’s just energy and always giving.” She, too, learned from the master, Hector Marcel, and so the lineage continues.
So beautiful - meditation that’s about love. It’s truly what the world needs right now, and if you want to be part of that change, then you should meditate. Find a seat. Get comfortable. Close your eyes and breathe.