In Western countries, meditation techniques, able to restore and maintain our mental health, are not embedded into our society as in India or Tibet. But this is changing. Nowadays, many forms of meditation are recommended to combat mental health problems. Some studies have shown the positive effect of meditation on our mental health. The worse the anxiety, the bigger the effect meditation has on our mental health.
Meditational practices come in many forms, including but not limited to:
·Resting the mind meditation
·Existence observation meditation (Vipassana)
·Body scan meditation
·Noting, awareness meditation (breath etc.)
·Sound bath meditation
A bit about meditation
Meditation moved from India to Tibet in the 8th century after the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen invited Shantarakshita, the abbot of Nalanda, to introduce meditation. Shantarakshita encountered problems while building the first monastery in Tibet. He asked Padmasambhava to join him and use his wisdom and special powers to defeat the spiritual forces sabotaging the work on the monastery. As soon as the building work completed, work on translating the Sanskrit canon into Tibetan started. Thereafter, meditation quickly became part of Tibetan culture.
Exactly when humans developed meditation is unknown. The Vedic scriptures go back to 1500 BC are the oldest known records to hold information about meditation and show that meditation is part of the Vedic tradition in India.
During the seventies, I came across meditation. It seemed exotic, mysterious which immediately intrigued me.
After reading some articles in spiritual magazines, I gave it a go only to find that sitting in Lotus position caused tremendous discomfort attempting to sit motionlessly. Even for a minute, it turned out to be impossible. Trying not to move only increase my desire to move.
Following the instructions given in the articles, to stay with one thought only resulted in a whirlwind, built from thoughts, to whirl through my mind, faster and faster. Separating one thought from all the others, holding on to it just turned out to be impossible. Soon I gave up.
At the end of the 90s, my health took a serious dive. This disastrous decline in physical and mental health made me try meditation again. Over the years, Fibromyalgia pushed me to the point of suicide. My way out came in the form of a man, Ozay Rinpoche. He introduced a few of the meditation forms and techniques mentioned above: Yoga Nidra, visualization, resting the mind, existence meditation, observation, contemplation, reasoning and, noting the breath meditation.
Ozay used his own experience to guide me through these meditational practices. In 1983, he started to meditate after he ended up in prison. Two failed escape attempts landed Ozay in solitary confinement. To deal with his anger, frustration, and claustrophobia, he created a routine to get through each day.
In the small cell, there were four items: a bed, a chair, a Bible and a bucket. The day was divided into section: reading, exercise, and meditation. Ozay left school in 1969, barely able to read a whole sentence. Reading the Bible helped him to improve his reading. During daylight, he made it a rule not to lie down on the bed. Within the small cell, he created an exercise routine. Ozay is a champion boxer.
From a very early age, exercise had become a tool to keep himself safe. Running over the Welsh mountains made him super fit. He also became strong after he joined the boxing club in Pontypool at the age of 11. A small cell wasn’t going to restrict him from doing his exercises. Ozay only had a title to go on when starting his mediation practice.
All he had was a title seen on the cover of a magazine someone left on a commuter’s bus. It said: End Suffering, End Mind written above a photo showing someone in the Lotus position. His routine prevented Ozay to lose his sanity, kept him fit, and made him reach a state called enlightenment. He left prison a reformed man.
My journey into yoga
In 2001 Ozay and I met through the internet. By that time, I found myself most of my days imprisoned within my body and Ozay a widower. He found himself on his own with a 14-year-old daughter after his beloved wife Kaye died in 1998 at the age of 45, six months after being given the diagnosis; cancer.
Hearing about my deplorable situation Ozay made me the focus of his life. Doing this helped him with his grieving. He took me under his wing, into his home, gave up his business to become my full-time carer. The medical world handed me the grave diagnosis of a 2% chance of improvement of symptoms Ozay advised me not to listen to these medical predictions but instead put my effort into meditation, to believe in my body to instigate healing. Meditation will change things around. For the second time in my life, at the age of 40, I tried my hand at meditation–this time under guidance from Ozay.
With nothing to lose, I started my journey back to health with a visualisation meditation called Yoga Nidra. Please don’t mistake it with Yoga, in which we move our bodies. Yoga Nidra journeys through the body using our mind. This form of meditation is ideal for those like myself unable to sit in Lotus because it is done lying down. The focus on each stage of the travel, resisting uncontrolled trains of thought taking me away from my meditation, strengthened my ability to focus.
This practice also brought me relaxation, calms my mind, and positively influences my mental health. I still use it at nights I am unable to fall asleep. Yoga Nidra is easy to learn. All it takes is the strength of will. Search online if you like to try Yoga Nidra. In 2002, I bought a set of Yoga Nidra CDs. A voice guides me through my body, and after many sessions, I reached the point where I became able to journey on my own visually.
How yoga has helped me
Yoga Nidra restored my mental health and improved my physical health. During the travels through my body things, connections became clear. For example how anxiety causes tension which in turn change the breath. Anxiety, stress, tension makes my breath short, shallow. Instead of breathing from the lower part of the belly, the breath moves to the top of the chest. Anxiety, stress and tension make the breath short, shallow. This brings less oxygen into the blood, which in turn erodes physical and mental health.
Doing Yoga Nidra meditation put me back in the driver’s seat; it empowered me. It left me with the feeling of being able to contribute to my recovery consciously. It also brought me awareness about the natural processes within my physical body and how they influence my mental health. Yoga Nidra brings relaxation needed in situations where I feel out of control, for example, by the unkind behaviour of others or in situations within society like the Coronavirus pandemic.
The regular I practice, the stronger I feel. Better days have appeared during which I can spend away from the bed. Yoga Nidra has not completely restored my physical health, but my mental health is restored beyond expectations. The dark clouds depression forms eroding my mental health are a part of the past–Yoga Nidra, my saviour. Meditation caused me to find the inner happiness which lies waiting within each of us.