In the final moments before dawn, a smiling crescent moon lights up the water in the bay. The early morning air is cool and silent. My mind is a bit agitated for some reason, so I swing up into a sitting position on the edge of the bed and begin to notice my breathing.
Feeling the release of tension with each breath, my body relaxes, thoughts stop, and then only light, and lightness of being. It’s easy to disappear into meditation in the silent darkness of the early morning hours before the dawn spreads its colors across the open sky. A special kind of peace and silence hangs heavy and strong – so still, that you can hear the uninterrupted songs of the birds and the other sounds of the forest from a distance – a gentle, magical quality welcoming the new day.
About 10 years ago, an emergency ostomy-related surgery in Bangkok literally saved my life. Sensing a divine directive, I resigned from my overly stressful full-time job, moved to a quiet seaside setting in the south of Thailand, and began doing just short-term consultancies. A major factor in my successful recovery has been my daily yoga and meditation practice, and I have also begun teaching yoga and meditation as a seasonal volunteer at YMCA family retreat and conference centers in the United States.
Anyone can meditate, anywhere, and at anytime. By calming the mind, thoughts just drop away – effortlessly, and solutions to problems simply present themselves clearly and spontaneously – like magic. Above all, meditation is something you can do by yourself, for yourself – it is a highly individualized practice. Apart from remembering to meditate and setting aside a bit of time for it, no lifestyle changes are involved. But in practice, bad habits tend to slip away and meditators tend to find themselves adopting healthier lifestyles.
Meditate with Yoga
Originating in India many thousands of years ago, yoga is the oldest system of personal development in the world, encompassing a balance of physical, mental and emotional health. It combines all the movements needed for physical health, with breathing exercises that calm, revitalize and refresh the body, and meditation techniques that ensure mental power and peace of mind.
Anyone can practice yoga regardless of age, condition or religion. And because yoga is not a competitive sport, you can practice at your own pace –- freely, with no pressure, no comparison. In time, if you continue with regular practice, you will become aware of a subtle change in your approach to life –- for through persistently toning and relaxing the body, and stilling the mind, you begin to glimpse a state of inner peace, which is your true nature.
Designed primarily for promoting and maintaining overall physical, mental and emotional health, yoga also has powerful healing qualities. For example, just quietly chanting the simple mantra ‘om’ with every out-breath filled my body with deep mystical, healing vibrations and was hugely therapeutic following my abdominal surgeries.
Meditate in everyday routines
Swimming compliments yoga to gently strengthen the body, and can become a form of meditation as well – as can any number of activities, such as running, walking, eating, or even washing the dishes. The next time you are rushing to finish post-dinner clean-up, notice how your mind is ‘unconsciously’ already in the future – looking ahead to things that exist only in your mind, and in the process you miss out on life right now. Instead, take a moment to ‘consciously’ wash the dish you are holding in your hands and practice being in the present. Take pleasure in each and every moment, living life fully and in peaceful celebration.
Meditate with mindful walking
Whenever some mental agitation is keeping you awake at night, or if you feel anxious, depressed or upset, instead of pacing the floor nervously, find relaxation through walking ‘mindfully” to bring yourself out of your nervous or tense thoughts, and into the peace and tranquility of the present moment.
Take note of your intent to walk, and then proceed by slowly lifting the right foot, noting silently ‘right’ while lifting your foot, then step forward noting again ‘step’ before placing your foot on the floor and noting ‘here’. Continue walking putting the left foot forward, then the right, in turn, noting each incremental movement of each step.
By slowing everything down, separating each physical movement, every sensation and emotion into distinct parts, walking “meditatively” takes you out of your thoughts and emotions and into the present moment –- to an inner peace.
You can also practice mindful walking whenever you are going anywhere by simply coordinating your steps with your breathing. For example, take three steps for each in-breath, and three steps for each out-breath. Find a comfortable rhythm –- perhaps four steps for each inhalation and exhalation, or two steps for each.
In meditation, there is no effort. As in yoga, the correct posture or ”asana” is achieved when you simply can relax into the pose –- effortlessly. Tension releasing with every breath. This is the key -– there is no struggle to make things happen –- it just happens. You feel yourself relax, no longer driven blindly by ambition, by the ‘outer self’ insidiously conditioned by society. Meditation allows this outer “ego self” to drop away, leaving just our true or inner self –- our authentic being –- connected as one, in union with a universal consciousness at the core of life.
Meditate with S.T.O.P.
The STOP exercise is a simple and effective means to get more deeply in touch with “reality” and requires only a few moments: S stands for stop and pause. Step out of your “automatic pilot” mode. T stands for take a breath (take a moment). Be only with your breathing. O stands for observing. Observe your physical state. Are you aware of the sensations on or within your body –- any touching, tasting, smelling, hearing or seeing? Is your body trying to tell you something? Observe your emotional state. Are you worried, angry, depressed or happy? Observe your mind state. Are you thinking about the past or the future? Are you trying to solve problems or improve a situation? P stands for proceed with your agenda. Return to your daily routine.
Whenever I am faced with some adversity, unpleasant thoughts or emotions –- especially ones that can trigger an IBD flare-up –- living "the yoga and meditation lifestyle” helps me to become more relaxed, open, alert, and able to see clearly the measured and correct ‘response’ so there is no struggle or tension.
Give meditation a try. Choose a form that works for you, or seek out a local yoga class for deeper instruction. Take the inner journey and live the gift of life to the fullest by looking inside as well as outside. Dive deeply into the innermost, eternal core of your being, and enjoy dissolving into it on a regular basis.
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Over the past 35 years, Jim Mielke, who has a doctorate in Public Health, has lived and worked in 23 developing countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region assisting governments, international aid agencies and communities to strengthen local and national health systems. Since receiving his ileostomy when he was 19, life after recovery felt as thrilling as being shot from a cannon. Following years of depression, pain and suffering with inflammatory bowel disease, Jim is still flying high with renewed health and freedom while living in a quiet seaside setting in southern Thailand. You can read more about Jim’s overseas experiences here or connect with Jim on his Facebook page.