“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.” – Alan Cohen
What Is Meditating
Most of us have a definition of what we think meditation is. TV and movies have led us to believe that it is the process of sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed and channeling your bring into achieving insights or enlightenment.
Although this can be one outcome of mediation, it is definitely not an encompassing definition of what meditation does or is about.
The best definition that I have found for describing mediation comes from Headspace.com:
Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.
Different Types of Meditation
There are a variety of different styles and types of mediation. They vary in their: method, delivery, focus, origin, purpose. Meditation has been around for thousands of years and as a result there are hundreds of different types and variations.
The cleanest way of differentiating the different types of meditation would be:
- Guided vs Non-Guided: Guided meditations involve a teacher walks you through the steps of the mediation and teaches you how to channel your mind. Unguided meditations are silent and only involve yourself. They can be as long or as short as you would like and you can take your mind in any direction you wish.
- Calming vs Insightful: Calming mediations teach you to focus and center your thoughts from restlessness. Insightful meditations teach you to look inwards into your own thoughts and ego to discover the hidden meanings or causes.
- Consciousness: Meditations to help you build deeper awareness and perception of how emotions, thoughts, interactions, doubts, experiences can make you feel.
My Choice Of Meditation (Open-Focus)
Our brains operate across a spectrum of different states. These brain wave states are Alpha, Beta, Theta and Delta.
In the Alpha state, we tend to be imaginative, meditative, and creative (or even daydreaming)
In the Beta wave state, we are hyper-alert and think rationally.
In the Theta wave state, we experience deep relaxation, hypnosis and hypnogogic (drowsiness before sleep)
In the Delta wave state, we dream.
Open-Focus mediation is a technique of meditating targeted to get the brain into the Alpha state where it is relaxed, diffused and receptive. According to the criteria I provided earlier, it would be a combination of Guided + Calming. It was developed by Dr. Les Fehmi.
Dr. Fehmi believes that many of us have become stuck in a tense, constricted survival mode state where we suffer from chronic stress which has resulted in increased symptoms of anxiety, depressions, hormone imbalance. This is the root cause of many ailments to the body and internal organs.
Using the Open-Focus meditation we can relieve that stress and defuse the brain into a relaxed state, which can improve the body’s condition and repair the damage.
Where Did I Learn About It
I learned about Open-Focus mediation through the book You Are the Placebo by Dr. Joe Despenza. The book explores the power and influence of the brain to heal the body.
Dr. Joe shares his and other cases of those who have reversed cancer, heart disease, depression and other severe ailments by just by believing themselves getting better. Focusing on this belief the book outlines that the mind has the ability to manifest healing if the individual is able to train the mind to think that way.
At the end of the book, Dr. Joe provides a set of meditations he created using the Open-Focus technique to relax the brain and train it into triggering the body to heal itself.
Why Did I Decide To Try It
You Are The Placebo introduced me to the power of the mind. By the end of the book, I was eager to tap into this hidden power of the brain and utilize it to improve my health.
At the time I was dealing with a few nagging body injuries from poor posture and weightlifting. They had been bothering me for a while and conventional remedies were not working.
I also had an acute intrigue of mediation and the proposed benefits.
As an Indian, I come from a culture that is familiar with mediation and the mind-body connection. I was familiar with popular apps like Headspace, Calm and 10% Happier. I had also heard about different types of meditations referred to by popular podcasters like Tim Ferris and Joe Rogan.
I figured that the Open-Focus meditation from You Are The Placebo would be a great place to start. It would be guided and it was only three sessions. It provided the perfect amount of structure and guidance that I could follow without giving up on.
The following is a breakdown of my meditation experience from the first session. This experience has been broken out into three parts (start, middle and end) because I experienced different sensations through these phases.
The meditation begins with a few techniques to establish consciousness within the present moment.
You are guided to focus on your breathing. After that, you focus on building awareness of the space around you. You build a 3D mental image of the room or space you are sitting in and relation to your body in it.
Next, you focus on your body by building awareness through all of the sensations and points of contact you feel. Similarly, you build a 3D mental image of your body starting with your face and moving all the way down to your toes.
Eventually, you have connected map of your body and surroundings. You get the sense that everything is connected and you feel the energy flowing from you into the room and vice versa.
As the meditation continues, you start to fall into a trance state. Your focus has narrowed but your awareness of your surroundings, feelings, and thoughts has increased.
Your mind has expanded to the size of the room and every sound, sensation and through are all taking place within it. As new thoughts occur, they come into the room, you notice them for a few seconds and then they vanish out of the room.
At this point, you are guided to start focusing on the 1 or 2 things that you would like to improve or change about yourself.
My two items were:
- Straighten my posture and back
- Make my muscles stronger
I chose to straighten my posture and back because I have always suffered from slouched shoulders. I have tried back straighteners and back exercises, however, my posture never seems to improve. I figured mediating about it might be able to subconsciously train my mind into straightening my back throughout the day.
I also chose to make my muscles stronger because I was frustrated with my progress in the gym. I have been powerlifting for a while and it seems as though I have hit a plateau. I have not been able to make strength gains despite refining my technique and programming. I am a firm believer in the mind-muscle connection. I am also confident that my body can lift more than I am currently able to. Mediating on it could allow me to better utilize my strength and lift more.
Focusing on each area, you try to visualize what they would look and feel like if they were true.
For straightening my posture, I visualize my shoulders un-rounding. I visualize my back muscles getting bigger and stronger. I visualize my height increasing and my chest rising. By doing this I am also able to feel the increased self-confidence that I think would come from other people noticing my good posture or seeing how good I look in pictures.
For making my muscles stronger, I visualize my muscles getting bigger and more vascular. I visualize me easily picking up heavy weights (much greater than my current max lifts). I visualize a muscular body in pictures and mirror. Similarly, I am also able to feel the increased self-confidence from other people noticing my new strength and body.
By the last phase of the mediation, you are experiencing an out of body experience.
You still feel that you are in the same room, however, you are now out of your body and observing the present moment like a fly on the wall.
Everything which you are visualizing, feeling and observing is taking place in your mind’s eye.
The improvements you were focusing on in the last phase are now manifesting in front of you. You are not only visualizing and feeling them, but you are also seeing yourself become them.
The improvements are now so much a part of you that you feel that they were always there. It is as if, you are seeing into the future and improvements have already taken form and are part of you as if it was always the case.
It becomes hard to believe that these improvements were every not part of you. You start to shed the thinking that these are things that you “want” and start believing that these are things that you have always “had”.
For my posture, I now felt that I had always had a straight back. I believed that there were these invisible threads that had been sewn into my body which pulled my shoulders back and kept my chest up. As strange as this idea was, I felt that it was perfectly natural and those threads had been there all my life.
For my strength, I was not extremely confident that I could (and already had) lift much heavier weights. I believed that my muscle fibers were extremely dense and firm allowing me to lift multiple times my bodyweight in any lift. Just as with the posture, I felt that this was always the case and those strong/dense muscle fibers had been there all my life.
Any and all fear and doubt of these two thoughts from the start of the meditation had completely vanished.
When the meditation ended and I opened my eyes it was like waking up from a dream. The real world felt strange and foreign to me.
In the state of mediating my mind was wide, open and free. I was able to visualize and go a million different directions without any restrictions. In the real world, the laws of physics started to enforce rules and limitations on me. Suddenly, my mind and perspective were only as large as the range of my eyesight.
It took my brain a few minutes to adjust and for the next hour, these feeling persisted, eventually fading away.
In the coming days, I noticed changes in my body regarding the two areas I focused on during my mediation.
At the gym when I was about to lift heavy weights, the sinking feeling in my stomach was replaced with confidence. I did not really feel any fear or anxiety. Weights that were once heavy for me started to feel a little bit lighter. When I looked in the mirror I saw more definition and thickness in my muscles.
I also noticed that my back was straighter when I would periodically check myself in the mirror. I was subconsciously keeping it straight throughout the day. Even my mom took notice and commented on my improved posture.
What I Learned From The Experience
The biggest takeaway from the experience was demystifying some of the unknowns of mediation.
Prior to the experience, I had no idea where to start. I did not understand the differences between the many styles and techniques. I did not understand the process and nuances of meditative practice (do you think of nothing, do you sit up/lie down, do you control your breathing, how long do you do it for…etc). I now had answers to all of these questions and a good sense of what meditation was.
I now understand a general framework of meditation, I can be better prepared for my next session:
- Create awareness
- Get into your mind (state of trance)
- Focus on one or many themes
- Slowly ease back into reality
I was able to better understand the power and influence of the mind. I was able to witness how my mind was able to elicit strong emotional and physical connections with my body. Prior to this experience, I had no idea that the mind was capable to have this level of influence.
Will I Do It Again
The short answer is Yes. The truthful answer is Maybe.
This first session gave me a glimpse but that glimpse was enough to ignite a spark of curiosity in me. Curiosity to see how much more I can tap into the influence of the mind. Curiosity to see the impact of longer meditations or states of mental trance. Curiosity to see what other aspects of my body and health I can change or improve.
I am definitely convinced of the power of meditation. I can imagine that by doing it everyday over the course of months and years, you can profoundly see benefit.
However, the challenge for me is time commitment and the mental drain. I do not see myself dedicating 1-2 hours per day or week to this. Either I would not want to give up that much time in fear of opportunity cost, or I would become lazy and not plan out that chunk of time.
In addition, the mental drain of this mediation was taxing. It had felt like I had made a mental journey for days. I experienced more thoughts and feelings through this one hour of mediation than I had for the whole day prior. By the end, I was exhausted and had very little energy to do anything else but sleep or take a walk.
I am not at a point in my life that I have the financial or time availability to dedicate to long mediations and their drowsy after-effects.
I will most likely seek more manageable mediations the require less time commitments, are guided and build up the endurance over time.
The first step is to try at least one more session of open-focus meditation. I was very happy with the process, flow, and benefits. I want to do it again and see where it takes me.
I also want to try other forms of guided meditation. I do not feel that I am ready for un-guided meditation yet. I lack focus and discipline.
Sam Harris has a new meditation program called Waking Up. It is available in the form of an app and each session is guided by him. The program runs for 50 days and repeats after that. The purpose of the course is to help one better understand meditation and connect with consciousness.
What Are Your Meditation Experiences?
What I’ve shared above are learnings from my own experience. However, I am sure there is plenty of other types of experiences. I would love to hear what meditation lessons/techniques you have tried or if you have any corrections to my points. Feel free to comment below with some examples. Please share so we can all learn and grow.