Weekly Work-In: Week 5 - Use Meditation to Calm Mental Conflict
On our journey through the five layers of the self, we have arrived at the mental body, known as manomaya kosha. The mental body lies under the energetic body, which in turn lies under the physical body. We are now two steps removed from the physical body itself.
Modern science continues to unravel the complex and infinite network of connections between the mind and the brain and then between the brain and the body. Studying of the mindstuff, as it is known in yoga - the constant flow of thoughts and the mental program that determines our reactions - is an ongoing and constantly challenging practice.
What Is the Mind?
From a scientific perspective, the mind part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a relatively recent evolutionary development that allows us to reason. This part of the mind passes information onto the limbic system, the lower part of the brain that connects it to the body's multiple response systems. As such, much about our physical health depends on our mental health. That is to say, the messages our PFC sends to the limbic system and then through the body through the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland deeply affect our physical health and our personal happiness.
There are various tools to sort out and calm mental suffering. These include psychotherapy, journaling, somatic (body-based) therapy, and, in some cases, medication. But on a very basic level, much mental suffering can be calmed through meditation. Meditation is a mystified topic in our culture. For the purposes of this week's Work-In, meditation will simply mean a quiet time of inner contemplation. Think of meditation as the gymnasium for your mind. You go to the gym to work out your body, so take time this week to come to a quiet place and focus on developing a stronger, clearer, easier mind space.
Meditation for a Strong Mind
There are infinite methods for meditation, with each bringing about a calmer and more focused mental space. In this case, since we are looking at supporting and strengthening each individual kosha (layer), our meditation is specifically for mental strength.
- Come to a comfortable position in stillness with a tall spine. This may be lying down, but if you feel you may fall asleep, it is best to sit up.
- Take ten full, complete, and slow breaths to simply become aware that your meditation practice is beginning.
- Ask yourself: How strong is my mind today? Have I faced any challenges where I doubted myself? How did I respond to those challenges? Do I feel certain of what I must accomplish today to get where I am going tomorrow, or am I lacking clear guidance? Am I able to sit in silence, or do I have continually disturbing thoughts that interrupt my contentment? Did I fall asleep easily last night, or was my mind racing? Remember, these are just exploratory questions. Do not judge or even analyze your answers. Simply become aware.
- Think about the biggest challenge currently in front of you. If you are uncertain, trace the source of your current mental suffering. You will likely find one culprit, one part of your mental program that is particularly troublesome in your current situation.
- Now, abruptly, change directions. Think of a time in your life when you were particularly strong. Perhaps you competed in a challenging athletic event. Maybe you have given birth. You may remember being put in a difficult situation at school or work where you did not question your abilities, but instead simply worked hard to achieve a positive outcome. Remember every detail of this situation. Try to see yourself in this moment, notice your physical posture, the clarity in your mind, the surge in your emotions, the intensity of your strength. See everything as if you were experiencing it again right now.
- Think again about the biggest challenge you currently face, but try to apply the same feelings from your past moment of strength to the present moment. If possible, assume the physical posture that provided your strength. Flex the same muscles that you used before.
- You are fortifying the wiring within your brain. You found connections to your strength in the past, and now you are going back and reinforcing those connections, enhancing the strongest part of you. Your brain will never be the same. Each time you flex these mind-muscles, they become wired together even more. Try to see this within your mind's eye. Take as long as you would like to do this work, going through your mind and forging more connections with your source of strength.
- Take ten more breaths to become aware that your meditation is reaching its conclusion. Draw these breaths deep into the energetic body. Then, refocus on the physical body, where it sits or lies, and move it gently.
- You are now ready to go about your day as a stronger, clearer person.
Try this meditation at least once this week. Remember, the more often you seek out your mental strength, the more you fortify your connection with it. In brain science and therapy, we use the saying, "Neurons that fire together wire together." The act of meditating will always enhance the mind-brain connection. With this meditation, you are turning on connections to build a mind-brain network set up for strength.
1. Hanson, Rick, Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (New Harbinger Publications, 2009).
2. Mukti Yoga School Teacher's Manual.
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