Since moving to Cleveland I’ve been looking for things to do in my new city. This has lead me to join a Shambhala meditation group that meets every Wednesday nights at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland in Shaker Heights. My uncle Steve has been going for months and invited me to join. I’m always up for something new, so I accepted his invitation. Although I was raised Catholic, recently I’ve considered myself more spiritual than religious. Shambhala is not considered a religion itself and is open to all doctrines. I found the mediation group to be enlightening and restoring. There are so many positive benefits to meditation, I need to take the time and practice more often.
Shambhala takes its name from a legendary kingdom famous for being an enlightened society. It welcomes people from all walks of life, faiths and backgrounds. Shambhala has a rich history rooted in the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, but predates both religions. It’s teachings of mindfulness and awareness may very well have been an indigenous belief system that has been absorbed into other faiths. The Shambhala training that’s practiced today was developed by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa and later carried on by his son, Sakyong Mipham.
During my visit at the church we went though a series of motions and meditations. When I arrived, it was a small group. One women who was probably in her late 60’s wearing a brown short-sleeved T-shirt with an olive green skirt that ended just above the knee. She had short cut gray hair and glasses. I would later find out she was Jewish. My uncle Steve was there with his tried and true white tee and worn-out blue jeans. He has thinning long black hair, arm tattoos and a stiff walk from MS (Multiple Sclerosis). Then there’s me – twenty-something, curly hair, mixed, black yoga pants and a hipster tee. And the instructor, she’s probably in her late 50’s and had a very calming aura about her.
The instructor lead us off by sitting on blue cushions on the floor, with legs loosely crossed, backs straight for good posture and eyes slightly open looking 3-4 inches ahead. Hands were placed face down on the thighs. We were told to focusing on our breathing. The idea was to clear your mind and concentrate on your breath moving in and out of your lungs and through your nose. If a thought came into your mind, that’s okay. Welcome it in the front door and then politely usher it out the back. Easier said than done! She said an opening chant, stuck the chime and allowed us to sit still in meditation for 20 minutes. Then we rose for walking meditation. We all walked clockwise around the room. The idea this time was to focus on your steps. Feeling the hardwood floor beneath our feet. That lasted approximately 10 minutes. Finally, we sat back down on our cushions for another 20 minutes of meditation. Breathing in and out.
It was really hard for me to clear my mind completely. Each time I noticed I was thinking about something I entertained the idea for a minute or two and then shut it down. It helped me learn to think about things, but not dwell on them. I have a tendency to over think and over analyze everything. After the final chime I felt lighter and more relaxed. I’m glad I went and experienced something new. While I probably won’t become a regular member at First Unitarian, I will incorporate some of the things I learned into my daily life.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Much of our daily lives are spent scheduled, planned out and busy. We have to stay sharp at our jobs by always thinking ahead. When we get home, there are kid’s activities, cooking dinner and homework. It’s hard to fit in time for yourself. Think of meditation as a workout. It’s just as important as going to the gym and can have real physical benefits.
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Increases your energy level
- Increases serotonin production which improved mood and behavior
- Lowers levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks
- Decreases tension
- Slows aging
Mental Benefits of Meditation
Meditation can also help improve your mental and emotional well-being. This can lead to better decision making, rational thought and increased creativity. Skills that can help in your personal and professional life.
Taking time to meditate can:
- Decreases anxiety
- Decreases depression
- Increases creativity
- Increases happiness
- Improves emotional stability
- Gain clarity and peace of mind
- Increases focus
- Increases self-awareness
Active Meditation Techniques
Undoubtedly, there are tons of benefits to meditation. If you’re new to the practice try these simple steps that will guide you through.
- Commit to meditation at least 10 minutes a day. I would suggest adding it to your morning routine. This can help you get focused and prepared for whatever you day has to offer. Another good time to meditate is right before bed. It can decrease anxiety and help you sleep better.
- Find a quite, secluded space. Sit in a chair or cushion on the floor with your back straight, hands palm down resting on your thighs and eyes slightly open.
- Focus on your breath. Relax your abdomen, feel the air coming in your nose, through your lungs and back out. Try to spend equal time inhaling as exhaling.
- Find a technique that works for you. Some people find that focusing on a specific word or phrase helps guide their meditation, also known as Mantra Meditation. Or you could try Guided Meditation (aka guided imagery), with this method you form mental images of places or situation you find relaxing. I practiced Mindfulness Meditation. Check your app store too, there are a few good ones for meditation. I would recommend Headspace, it’s free and great for beginners.
Don’t worry about the “right” way to meditate. Just remember to keep an open mind. Experiment with different ways to meditate and find out what works best for you.
I hope this post was helpful to your journey. Please feel free to share your own experiences below in the comments section.
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