Monday, 12 August 2013

Learning to Control Your Mind: Yoga and Meditation

Over the past month I've been making a huge push towards learning how to control my mind. And ever since I started to put in serious effort, I’ve been experiencing some seriously rewarding benefits. Let me share my short story:

It all started around January, 2012 when I picked up a book by the 14th Dalai Lama. Titled, ‘How to be Compassionate. A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World,’ this book was the first thing to introduce me to the concept that all of our humanly suffering stems from our own minds, and that simply by learning to control our minds, we can feel peace and happiness regardless of our external circumstances. Anxiety, nervousness, anger, lethargy, sorrow, physical pain etc. – literally every source of suffering could, apparently, be overcome from within. I toyed with this idea over the next year and a half – meditating occasionally – but I yielded only moderate results. The longer this slow progress continued the more I began to lose interest in mediation and the like, but about a month and a half ago everything changed…

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”- Buddha

I've also found this literature to be complimentary to my practice. The Dalai Lama: ‘How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life’, Śāntideva: ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life’, Deepok Chopra: ‘Buddha. A Story of Enlightenment’

Near the end of July, 2013 I Hitchhiked through México (all links open in new window) for about 10 days, and during this time I experienced a number of unique experiences – a few of which really stuck with me. I’ve shared a couple of these on my experiences page, but at least one, remains close. The point being that during my trip to México I became much more spiritual.

[I will define 'spirituality' the same way a scientific journal I found defined it: “The quality of ones’ innermost values.” - or the measure of connectedness with your body, mind, feelings, and thoughts, and the way in which they effect your life]

One thing I started doing again was meditating. As I began to mediate more and more, the first thing I began to notice was how my thoughts rarely wandered off into the future – something that they used to do a lot. This made me feel more peaceful – more aware of my present situation, and more awake to my happiness. I continued to keep up my mediating when I returned, and a couple weeks ago I worked myself up to meditating an hour and half a day, and this is when it really started getting interesting.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” - Buddha

I started to receive some AMAZING compliments from people – including some from people whom I did not even know. People who I just met were telling me how peaceful I seem, how comfortable I seem, and how "attuned to life" I am. Even tonight as I publish this article a friend commented on how she finds it relaxing to be around me, that I am very laid back (these comments are 100% unprompted btw and did not come before México!). And the more of these comments I received, the more I believed them… the more I meditated. I was feeling happy, comfortable, relaxed, and peaceful – those people were right. But what they didn't know was that I was changing the way I was feeling simply by learning to control my mind through meditation.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” - Buddha

Now, working in a neuroscience lab, I understand that people are skeptical of accepting ideas like this as fact without scientific evidence – fortunately, the evidence for the benefits of meditation is overwhelming – a quick Google Search will show that. In fact, a fellow researcher introduced me to a type of meditation popular among a number of celebrity figures, Transcendental Meditation, which has been the subject of over 350 research studies, over a hundred of which are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. And believe me, this is NOT the most popular, nor the most published form of meditation. Try that Google search! I was also introduced to an awesome U of S meditation group, Meditation on Campus, which meets every Monday. I encouraged you to check out their Facebook page – it’s LOADED with publications, articles, videos, and everything you need to know to get you started.

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”- Buddha

As this wealth of beneficial information was being unfolded to me, I realized that I could adopt more than just meditation as a practice to control my mind. This past week I took it to the next level. I came across a 1 week pass for free yoga at the Ground Yoga studio on Broadway, Saskatoon. And in the last week I took 10 yoga classes for a total of 15 hours, and tonight I bought an unlimited 1 month pass for only $50 (being a 'student' is awesome)! Yoga was just the additional spiritual practice I was looking for. The instructors do a fantastic job at incorporating spirituality into the yoga, including Hindi greetings, Buddhist chants, meditation, and yoga sutras.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”- Buddha

Here is a look at the Ground Yoga studio. The warm room, candles, dim lighting, and soft East Indian music make for a perfect yogic atmosphere. I highly recommend this place. (I took this photo after 4.5 hours of yoga tonight :))

Overall, I feel great about the progress that I have made in effort to control my mind – and I've noticed some very real, recent, beneficial results: I was named volunteer of the month for July at SWITCH. Two weeks ago I golfed at a new course and shot a 79, my personal best by 5-7 strokes. The compliments I've received and shared above. And less measurable aspects such as reduced stress, increase happiness, increased work efficiency, and increased focus.

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”- Buddha

In the end, I realize that my lack of results before my trip to México was due simply to my lack of effort. And I think this is true with anything in life - if you want results, you need to put in time and effort. The amount of time that I've put into learning to control my mind over the last 6 weeks has far exceeded any practice I had done before - but the positive results have certainly come along with it. So whether you're wanting to learn to control your mind, become more friendly, or any other skill, just remember to be patient. Even with daily practice - sometimes the benefits don't come until many weeks down the road. Just please don't give up. "Hopelessness is the real cause of failure." - The 14th Dalai Lama

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”- Buddha

My pictures from around the world

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