Monday, February 16, 2015

Ira Israel: Mindfulness Meditation, Day 6 (A Little Bit of Ira | A Little Bit of Me)

Day 6:  Controlled Focus  (10 minute meditation)

Unlike the previous meditations commonly known as open monitoring, today we are trying another type of mindfulness meditation where we direct our attention towards specific areas of the body.

For this kind of meditation you can lie down.  If you're concerned that you might fall asleep, sit up and create the frame.  I personally recommend lying down.

This might be a long post because this is my favorite form of meditation and the form I've been practicing for about 20 years.  First, I will share Ira's technique.  Then, I will share my own as it slightly differs.

Ira draws your focus to each body part, asking you to focus on its point of contact with where you are lying or sitting.  If it's difficult to draw your focus to the body part, he suggest visualizing a butterfly touching that body part.  Focusing first on the bottom of the left food, you progressively focus on the back/front of your left leg, back/front of your right leg, pelvis, lower back, upper back, abdomen, chest, back/front of your left arm, back/front of your right arm, neck, face.  He guides you through it all at a somewhat rapid pace and it's a great exercise to become aware of your body and to really focus your mind.

The way I've been practicing is somewhat different.  I initially found this type of meditation desirable and helpful when trying to manage pain, to assist with sleep and overall relaxation, and to calm my entire body when stressed.  Though it's helpful to have someone guide you through it, I prefer to go at my own pace, a slower speed, in the comfort of a quiet and comfortable room (warm temperature), and set to some peaceful, soothing, and solely acoustic music.

If it's most comfortable to lie on your bed, I suggest it.  Strongly.  You want to be able to melt into the surface and I personally find it difficult to do that on the hard ground.  If you do use the ground and might need a little support, bolster your neck  or lower back with a small pillow.  And if you have pets, get ready.  They'll be all over you like mine are.  It makes this exercise even more challenging to not focus on a little lick or foot rub, but it will definitely hone in your ability to focus.

Now, to my method.  Like I told you, I use this for pain management, sleep and relaxation, and for calming my stressed body, so I don't want to just focus on the body part.  I want to comfort and soothe it.  Instead of a butterfly touching the body part I'm focusing on, I visualize my body being filled with a warm, orange liquid.  I don't know where the orange comes from.  It was just a color that I first picked and have constantly used in my visualization.  Pick whatever color works for you.  Pick something vibrant that sticks out in your mind.  Or pick something calming, soothing, and flowing. Mine is energizing, bubbling almost, and glowing.

I start with my left foot and as the orange liquid starts to flow into my toes, I visualize that specific body part in my mind frame as a sort of glass case.  I can see the liquid slowly trickling in and I can feel the warmth.  Remind me to tell you about the power of your mind in changing your body temperature.  Trust me, you can feel the warmth.  You have to try.

The liquid continue to fill my foot, ankle, shin, up to my knees, and settles in my hips and buttocks.  I want to say butt, but I feel like I need to be scientific.  Oh well, I already said butt.  I'm such a child. I then repeat this on the right side of my body.  I go as slow as my mind needs to properly and sufficiently focus on this meditation.

After reaching both of my hips, the liquid then fills my back, covering my organs, and then topping off at my abdomen.  It's incredibly easy to forget about the parts of your body you've already filled as you're progressing upward.  I like to take a few seconds, scan my body, feel if I've lost my focus and warmth anywhere and instead of filling that spot, I focus on my breath and I send a rush of warm orange liquid to that spot.  I also use this technique if I'm feeling one particular body part in pain.

For example, today I'm dealing with horrible menstrual cramps.  You might be feeling arthritis pain, a headache, a sore throat, a strained muscle, or even some tightness in your chest from allergies, asthma, or a respiratory bug.  Whatever the little pain is, you can focus your energy on it.  I breathe into it and and use a technique called Qi Gong.  Qi Gong is the philosophy and practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for health of mind, body, and spirit.  Though my instruction in Qi Gong is relatively limited, the techniques my instructor has taught me really help me focus my breath and movement to that area of pain.  After going through this meditation and before releasing, I still felt a lingering ache in my pelvis.  Using my hands to motion inwards towards my body, I breathed in a deep and soothing breath.  Using my hands to motion outwards from my body, I exhaled the pain.

Okay, that was a little tangent.  Back on track.  After my torso is filled, I focus on my left arm, starting with my fingertips.  I like visualizing even down to the tips of my fingers, not just my fingers, to really allow this meditation to hit every part of my body.  After my left arm is full, I focus on my right, up through the back of my neck, covering and soothing my throat, and then filling my head.  No, I don't focus on my chin, lips, cheeks, ears, piece by piece.  I fill my entire head and then focus on my face a little differently.

It's almost a little creepy, but I visualize my face melting.  No, not like the Nazis in that one Indiana Jones movie.  Just like softened wax.  Just like someone is molding a face out of clay.  Malleable and soft.

With my lips closed, I drop my jaw and let it relax.  It's easy to open your mouth and think you're relaxing your jaw, but I find that I do it better keeping my lips together and just slightly, slowly letting the bone just hang.  Then I picture my cheeks getting heavy, sagging towards the ground as if gravity has intensified and is softly pulling.  My earlobes do the same.  Then I picture the corners of my eyes pulling downward, too, and my forehead softening.  I really want to feel like my face looks like some wax sculpture that's been in the sun for a little too long.  Weird, I know, but it's the best way for me to really relax and calm my face.  

When most meditations are over, we draw our focus back to the room and become more present.  In this case, I'm a little different.  I don't want to let go of that visual.  I want to keep the warmth and orange glow with my body.  This isn't a daily meditation for me.  This is a specific meditation to treat and soothe my body.  So I need that warmth to continue to help continue to soothe.  Even now as I'm writing this, I'm visualizing a glowing orange belly to mitigate my cramps.  I'm visualizing it in my chest as it's also a bad asthma day for me.  I keep this visual with me until I no longer need its support.

I think that this is an amazing too and technique that should be retained in every single tool box.  It only takes a few minutes but creates the most pleasant and comfortable level of awareness and care for your body.

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