I am reproducing this in its entirety for your delectation. Chris McAlister is a Shiatsu practitioner and Shiatsu/Qigong teacher based in Sweden.
Meditation – What is it Good For?
It seems wholly paradoxical that just sitting still can be of any earthly use whatsoever! Strangely though, many find that the benefits of such a sedentary practice, especially on a semi-regular basis, are disproportionately large.
Meditation goes through minor waves of media popularity with catchwords like relaxation, calming, de-stressing, increases productivity, sharpens focus, clears your mind etc, etc.
The weird thing is – those are all side effects. It’s all true but it’s not the main thing. So, what is the main thing?
Sitting up straight is hard enough!
When you start out with any kind of meditation there are all kinds of challenges involved. One of them is simply sitting up straight. Most of us have absolutely no strength in our back and are way too tense in our neck and shoulders. So there’s a tricky one right there and it stops quite a few people in their tracks.
Then there’s all the non-physical stuff – pandora’s box, we might say. When you open that box you unleash everything you’ve stored within your system since the age of zero. It’s all been locked down in there, safely secured but now you went and lifted that lid, didn’t you? Well, guess what – get ready to meet yourself – warts and all, as they say.
It’s not all bad. In fact there are some wonderful surprises: happy memories and images of times a-pleasant, not to mention whole sides of your personality you buried either because they didn’t fit in socially or because you simply didn’t know how to handle them.
Gradually, maybe, you get used to the physical thing and maybe the non-physical stuff starts to calm down somewhat. What happens next? Well, usually your energy levels start to rise. You develop endurance, patience, tolerance even – we’re not talking miracles here, just increase. But still – how can all these things improve just by sitting on a cushion?
You release a whole battalion of bottled up blues
Well, let’s do the math: you release a whole battalion of bottled up blues, you rediscover parts of yourself you’d completely forgotten about, you align your posture and you find out that you can do this thing after all – an achievement!
Alignment of physical posture is no small thing. In my classes I spend plenty of time giving students opportunities to sink deeply into relaxed states. They learn how to ease old and stubborn tensions out of their physical tissues through minimal intervention.
In particular, they learn to let go of tension in the psoas muscles – those deep ones that connect the legs with the hips, trunk and spine. When that starts to happen, several other things flow from it. More energy flows down into the legs – we feel more stable in our base. More energy flows into the spinal area and the so-called core muscles – we get stronger and straighter. Then the diaphragm can begin to relax.
Why is the diaphragm so important? Well, that’s because of two things. First, it is the major breathing muscle – when it lifts and sinks smoothly and rhythmically we get plenty of oxygen into our blood and that has about a million positive consequences. Secondly, the diaphragm is a notorious holding area. Holding? Holding. Trauma. When you start to let go of trauma, your whole system perks up and begins to function at rates you probably haven’t experienced since you were a little kid.
Zazen – Zen Meditation – just sit!
When I first learned meditation it was in the Zen tradition – pretty hard core. Zazen: sitting Zen. They just call it sitting. No fancy words here – just sit! They teach you the posture, exactly how to sit on your cushion and then they tell you to count your breath. Up to ten. Simple. Yes indeed; very simple. Easy? Nope! The number of times I got to ten in a thirty minute session was about never. But herein lies the secret: just start over. No shame, no blame. Just get back on that counting wagon and breathe.
It is simply amazing how fertile the human imagination is, how creative is our fantasy, how inventive our thoughts. At first it’s just downright frustrating but gradually you get to laugh at your self and your total inability to focus on such a simple task as counting breaths.
Meanwhile, your body is transforming. You shed layers, you “empty the trash” several times a day. You rediscover your potential. Raised energy levels after that – no mystery, surely? Patience, tolerance, endurance? Completely understandable.
My meditation journey took me to Japan and there I met a wonderful, if barely communicative, old Chinese man, who showed me something of the Daoist meditation tradition: Earth Meditation and the utterly fathomless Shen Gong, which is actually Qigong – but that just goes to show you there are no hard and fast boundaries separating these inner traditions…
Different meditation practices
The Earth Meditation is a safe and secure practice for just about any human being. It does what it says – roots you into the ground of your physical being. Shen Gong does something else. It’s deep….
Once these foundations are in place, we introduce other types of meditation with specific directions and dimensions. There are of course no limits. Once you know how to sit calmly for ten, fifteen minutes the world is your oyster.
Over the past three years we have been exploring the effects of a meditation spontaneously derived from a Delta brainwave experience. This year we will be testing the Three Brain Meditation to integrate the cranial, heart and abdominal intelligence centres.
Alongside this we will be working with an ancient model from traditional Qi cultivation: The Three Treasures – Jing, Qi and Shen. Jing is usually translated as essence, Qi as vital energy or life force, and Shen as soul or spirit.
This concept is widely and actively used in traditional Oriental medicine, qigong and the internal martial arts. It denotes a dynamic process that involves transformation of Jing, the heavier, more physical and fundamental essence into a more refined and faster moving energy, Qi. From there we can envisage a further transformation from lighter, flowing energy to even more ethereal, spiritual energy.
We can also imagine movement in the opposite direction, the possibility of reinvesting the spirit back into the flow of life energy, and in turn moving the force and movement of the Qi back into the base essence for a further round in the process; recycling and reinvigorating essence, energy and spirit in a constant and endless transformational process.
Explore these inner worlds with me, Chris McAlister, in July: https://www.facebook.com/events/418257815654183/