The book Meditative Yoga: Integrating Body, Breath and Mind by Are Holen and Torbjørn Hobbel (Dyade Press, 2012) presents the principles of meditative yoga, as well as more than 60 yoga exercises. Three points are particularly important. Read more…
Focused or Nondirective Attention
By Øyvind Ellingsen
Shifting the mode of the mind is a common feature of various types of meditation used for stress management and personality development. In this article, Øyvind Ellingsen discusses similarities and differences in the ways mindfulness and Acem Meditation achieve such a shift.
In mindfulness, focused attention directed toward the breath and other body sensations is the basic training for reducing stress, mind wandering and negative thoughts. Acem Meditation is practiced with a nondirective mode of attention that allows spontaneously occurring thoughts, images, and sensations to emerge and pass freely. Using a meditation sound induces a marked relaxation response and facilitates emotional processing. Read more…
The meditation sound may be repeated in different ways. It may be clear and distinct or light and more fluid. The body and breath may be more or less involved. A young woman was in doubt about how to repeat the sound. Her uncertainty might reflect her relationship to herself and her life.
At a guidance seminar in Acem, a young woman asked about the repetition of the meditation sound. When she first learned to meditate she found the method simple and easy, but now she was in doubt. Would it be better to involve muscles and the tongue in the repetition of the sound, almost as if she were saying it aloud? Or would it be better merely to think the sound in her mind, without trying to make it distinct? The former solution made her more confident that she was repeating the sound correctly, whereas she found the latter more relaxing. Read more…
This week I went to a guidance seminar led by Acem’s founder Dr Are Holen. A young woman in the audience raised a question regarding the mental repetition of the meditation sound, which is a central element in Acem Meditation. When she first learned the technique, she found it easy to practise, but now she was in doubt. Would it be best to sub-vocalise the sound, almost as if she wanted to say it aloud? Or would it be better to think the sound in her mind without any attempt at clear enunciation? The first solution would make her feel sure that she was repeating the correct sound, while the second solution would feel more relaxed.
I recently read an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn about mindfulness meditation. One of his main points was that we are too concerned with doing, instead of just “being”.
It all sounds very well, and quite poetic, and it’s easy to see that modern hectic life-styles have too strong a focus on what you do and achieve, and that something is lost along the way. A similar feeling has been conveyed by Buddhist teachers advocating seated meditation through the humorous twist on an old phrase: “Don’t just do something! Sit there!”
Beyond the clichés
This easily leaves the impression, however, that meditation is not about doing, just about “being”. This fits well with a view of meditation as a specific state, perhaps a state of “just being” where you’re “totally present in the here and now”, as some of the clichés go. For sure, meditation may lead to states of intense presence or contentedness, but it also includes phases of restlessness and boredom, or even pain and sadness.
I went to a lecture with one of the foremost spokesmen for mindfulness in the West, Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Oslo last week. There are many interesting parallels with Acem’s approach to meditation, and some interesting differences.
Like Acem, he points out that meditation can build on basic traits of the human mind that are not culture-specific: “Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist.” And: “Anything ‘ancient’ in this lies in our DNA.
He is also concerned with recent research on neuroplasticity and knows, of course, that meditation may change both the size of the brain’s cortex and the way the brain functions. He is interested in epigenetics, the science of how even our gene pool is directly affected by our environment and experiences. For instance, he points out how stress degrades the telemores (the end parts of our chromosomes) and thereby makes us age before time, while meditation may do the opposite. In other words, many of the things we used to think were set from birth have been shown to be much more flexible and adaptable, and meditation seems to have a positive influence.
Embrace your thoughts!
Brodmann Area 47, in the prefrontal cortex, is the brain area that most specifically characterises meditative activity, but only in techniques using an open, relaxed focus of attention.
Imagine yourself lying in the grass in the forest on a pleasant summer day. You feel the warm wind, the grass tickling your legs, you hear insects buzzing nearby, you see the sunlight shining on millions of green leaves in the branches overhead. You experience a thousand little things all around you.
Then change the scene: You are now at work, preparing intensively for a meeting with your boss and several customers in an hour’s time. Co-workers try to stop by for a chat, your phone receives text messages, and it is raining outside the window. But you are not aware of any of this; you concentrate solely on the task in hand, excluding almost everything else going on around you.