Monday, August 24, 2015

The Relaxation of Moving Meditations

When we think of meditation, most of us picture someone in a seated position, remaining very still and upright, with eyes closed (or half closed), who might perhaps be working to monitor their thoughts, which rise and fall spontaneously.  But there is another kind of meditation called moving meditation, which is woven into various types of activities, particularly relaxing exercises such as Qigong, Tai Chi and Yoga.

With this in mind, we must reconsider what “meditation” means.  Is it just sitting still and  working to monitor the thoughts as they drift in and out of the mind?  Or is meditation about trying to remain fully present in any activity--be it sitting, standing, walking or other forms of movement? 
Whether one is attempting to stay in the present moment by not chasing every thought that arises, or whether one is trying to simply monitor the breath moment by moment, the common denominator is that meditation is that practice and effort which helps the practitioner stay in the moment regardless of activity.  Seated meditation is a meditation that represents physical stillness (as is standing meditation practice), but mindful meditation can take place in the movement of any activity be it the gracefulness of Tai Chi, or the skillful art of archery.
Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong are only a couple of the various forms of moving meditations, but you don't have to know a skilled martial art in order to use mindful and moving meditation in your life.  Walking can also be done in the form of a moving meditation, as can dance, running, or any other sports activity such as golfing.  The common theme that runs through them all is your state of mind--are you fully present and aware at this moment?
I once heard a meditation teacher say that the only difference between skilled meditation practitioners who go about their day walking to various activities and such, and those who are not skilled, is that the skilled practitioners are aware that they are walking and moving, and the unskilled individuals are not.
Every moment of your day is a moment to practice mindfulness.  Movement does not mean that mindful meditation has stopped.
Thanks to Reed George for his great photo - Kyudo Practitioner 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Finding Serenity and Peace in the Mountains

If you are lucky enough to live near one of the great mountains of the world, you may know the serenity of getting away and into the forest where you can smell the pine and feel the touch of moss and wild flowers in the palms your hands.  The mountains are associated with peacefulness, calm streams and waterfalls, as well as silence met only by the sound of wind or wildlife.

Just looking at a mountain from far or near is breath-taking and leads one to stop and pause.  In the autumn, the mountains are splashed with color that is weaved in and out of the greenery, and it's these kinds of awe inspiring views that reminds us that this is an incredible planet, and we are a part of it.  Finding time to get up into a nearby mountain area is well worth  it, and is part of the journey toward a well-balanced life that makes room for restful and relaxing activities.

There is a tremendous amount of spiritual symbolism in the theme of mountains; from the “paths of life” that meander up to their peaks, to the lofty plateaus along the way that take one closer to the idea of “heaven”.   Stories abound of the wise hermits and mysterious sages (some of whom still exist) who dwell in caves and crevices of the mountains and who learn the wisdom of the herbs, animals and elements.  There they are believed to wait for the traveler seeking wisdom, but this is part of the rich symbolism as well, for the stories live mostly inside the minds of many who eventually (with intent and contemplation) find that the guru they are seeking has been living within them all the while.

When you begin to feel that the stress of this increasingly fast-paced world is threatening to make you forget who you are, it might be time to head to the majestic corners of the nearest mountain and spend a few hours (or an entire day) getting back in touch with your spiritual center, where you can quiet the racing mind and find that sage within you again.  While there you can take in the energy of the forest, and if you get a chance, dip your toes in some of that beautifully flowing mountain spring water.  
Thanks to Chris Walker for his great photo -  Sacred Mountains of Nepal 21

Monday, August 10, 2015

Relieving Stress through Stretching

Stretching out is something we often see athletes do prior to playing their sport of choice, as it is a known tool in preventing pulled muscles and other injuries.  It also improves performance and allows a wider range of motion for a wide variety of activities.

Yet, stretching is also a helpful tool in Stress Reduction because it helps us to become familiar with the difference between tension and relaxation.  The reason this is so important in Stress Management is because we can sometimes reach the point of carrying chronic stress in the body, and when that happens, we lose touch with what it feels like to release tension and regain relaxation.  The result is that when we attempt to relax, we might feel too guarded to “just let go”, and releasing tension in the muscles becomes complex or nearly impossible.  This guarded stance can lead to insomnia and muscle pain.

In a well-known relaxation technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, individuals are trained to tighten, tense and flex various areas of the body.  They then learn to hold that tension for just a moment before letting it go in a release that relaxes the muscle and tendons completely.  For instance, tightening the fists as tight as you can, holding it, and then letting it go by relaxing the fists and letting them become limp and loose.  The strategy is not just for the purpose of stress reduction, but to train individuals to notice the difference between tension, and relaxation.

Very simple stretching exercises can be used for the same reason.  Reaching down to touch the toes, and then slowly coming back up.  Reaching up to the sky, and then lowering the arms and hands and shaking them out as if they were wet rags.  Wrinkling up the face and then releasing it into a smooth smile.  All of these methods use the same concept that Progressive Muscle Relaxation does, in that intentional tightening is followed by gentle releasing, and an awareness of the difference between the two takes place so as to train oneself how to first notice tension, and then how to release it at any given time.

Thanks to Tambako the Jaguar for the great photo Stretching lioness

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Observing the Relaxing Influence of Art

Looking at art is a very projective process.  Many times we see in the art something of a truth happening inside of us.  If angry, we see the art expressing anger.  If sad, we see sadness in it, and though it could be upsetting to have the emotions moved in so many ways from the observation of one piece of art to the next, many find it overall generally relaxing to spend time now and then just contemplating various works of art.

The medium of art could have an influence on the mood and feel of the perceiver, but it might be fair to say that the medium is only the preference, and the mood and feeling something else entirely.  Not only does art bring out mood and feeling already present in the human being, but it also has an influence that can stir and provoke one’s mood, sending it in a number of directions.  In fact, good art does just this.

Finding works of art that will intentionally move you to a state of relaxation means spending some time going and observing works of art while paying very close attention to how you feel.  If a work moves you to a contemplative and relaxed state, it may be the piece to take home or move to the office to help keep you balanced throughout your day.

Not everyone has a knack for creating beautiful art.  That’s why there are so many of us that are in this world to observe and appreciate the great art created by those who have the unique ability to speak by means of a brush stroke, carving, or other inspired medium of creative expression.  Our world is full of sculptures, paintings, carvings, and a number of other creative representations captured in time and carefully molded into elements that set, provoke, or tease out a mood from within the human being.

Thanks to Carlos for his relaxing artistic image - Another fractals experiment with Gimp