What is the difference between Relaxation and Meditation?
Relaxation techniques are the first small step on the long path that is meditation. Good relaxation habits: taking a walk or just sitting alone for five minutes.
Meditation is a shift in focus and awareness. In a meditative breathing practice, there is certainly an immediate "relaxation response" that you feel in the first 15 minutes. However, meditation techniques quickly take you beyond states of relaxation to shift your energy and to achieve higher states of awareness.
Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM)
Heart Rhythm Meditation uses attention on breath and the heartbeat. Our breathing rhythm affects the physical heart, and the physical heart reflects our emotions and our internal physiological and unconscious states. With a focus on the breath, we can calm these internal states. What we practiced in the exercises required a physical as well as mental focus. As this is accomplished, there is a calm and large perspective that includes much more than the (racing) mind. The technique we use is to concentrate on something, like breath and heartbeat, because concentrating on nothing is so very hard in an age of Twitter!
On balance: Heart-centered meditation and intensity
The great counterpoise to the active mind is an activated heart. We would specifically like to apply heart-energy to parenting. The parental themes that have come up are intensity, excitability, and reflection. Meditation, and specifically HRM, provides some strategies that are available for balance, compensation, and healing.
Intensity. Intensity is certainly concentration. This is concentration of focus, like a sun-glass, a coherence of attention, collected by the will. Intensity is also passion, as in a passionate search for truth, a need to know. Here is a great clue, I think. There is what we would call an emotional energy connected with intensity, a current. Good news here: the breath and the heart are quite good at handling emotions, so we can find some solutions to our problems.
Excitability, has a similar emotional current, whether as cause or effect is hard to say.
Reflection of intensity. Many of you reported problems with reflecting the intensity of your child. Everything can be amped up as a parent: our natural love increases our sensitivity. It is our job to be responsive. Many of us come with plenty of similarities to our children, both of personal history, and a strong biological tendency to excitability of our own. Add in any child’s regular needs and high likelihood that an asynchronous child’s needs will not be met in regular classrooms—and we have a powerful mix. Meditation has a gentle healing effect on all relationships and a practice of awareness allows us to step outside our reflexive responses. Meditation strengthens us to trust our inner knowing and find unique or creative solutions.
Starting exercises: Being conscious of the breath, being conscious of the heartbeat
This exercise is just sitting and being aware of your breathing. Find a good chair; sit in an aware but relaxed position. Use a pillow to brace your lower back if you like.
The breath is perfectly under control by your autonomic or unconscious systems, but it is also possible to observe the breath consciously, and that is what to do here. Pay attention to each in-breath, to each out-breath. See how each feels, see how many physical sensations you can find that are associated with each breath. Do the sensations change? There can be emotions tied to the breath—think of a sigh—(try it out!). So you can also observe that.
We expect that thoughts, noises, or feelings will show up. Just bring your attention back to the next breath. This is not about clearing your mind, just about paying attention to your breath. The great thing is-- there is always another breath coming around, like a new train to catch. Each breath wipes the slate clean and gives us a new opportunity.
See if you can observe your breath this way for 15 minutes—I think you may find it easier to do than you might think. Journaling is a great way to record your experiences in this practice.
Now when you are ready to go further, try the following. Counting to yourself, notice the duration of each phase of each breath. One’s counting generally corresponds roughly with the pace of the heart—a second is about an average time between beats. The sole intervention that you do here is to lengthen either the inhale or exhale so that they are equal in time. The actual count will vary from one person to another, the point is to make the inbreath and the outbreath take the same amount of time. This practice is a balancing practice, and it has a harmonizing effect on the breath and the body, and so on the emotions and the mind.
Finally, notice if you are aware of the pulse or the heartbeat. The pulse may “show up” in your hands, neck, temples, legs, or some other place. In case of difficulty, go ahead and place your hands over your heart (which is a wonderful practice anyway), or find your pulse in the normal way at your wrists or neck.
Now you can count by the beats of the heart, as reflected in the pulse. Use whatever count you found worked before to make the breath even. You are now allowing the breath rate to be a perfect multiple of the rate of heart. In music, this is a harmonic relation. Right now, in this experience, this is the harmonizing of the two most pervasive rhythms of your life.
The Institute for Applied Meditation (IAM) teaches basic and advanced courses. This seminar is a subset of the 101 web-course. IAM teaches a “downward” meditation that centers one in the self and body, and seeks to improve the world from the heart outwards. You can find instruction in some yoga studios. You can pick one of the specifically religious methods, or you can start with a 101 IAM course.
Some parent strategies: how to change the energy of the situation by changing your own attitude and energy.
A drop in the ocean—a daily meditation practice anchors and centers the being in the heart. A little bit of excitement can hardly move your center, it is so large and enduring.
Remember to breathe—developing a familiarity with the breath gives us a tool—just breathe in the situation. This checks the headlong flow and gives us a moment to remember ourselves.
Be yourself, be in your heart—don’t underestimate the effect you have when you are calm and centered in the heart. Your change in behavior changes the behavior of others.
Healing happens in the heart—the heart is wounded every day by the knock-about of life. But the heart will heal itself if you use breath to send appreciation and attention to it and all the feelings it holds (this works!).
Breathe in another— You do this with a current of love. Imagine that you breathe in the heart of another, breathing in to your vast and calm heart. Then breathe out from your heart to the other heart, sending peace, compassion and love out on the breath.
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