Yotus Wellness: What is Meditation?
Eduardo: Meditation can be described both as a state of consciousness and as a technique / practice that changes our state of consciousness. When we speak of a state, we speak of being whole, present, focused, connected (to ourselves, to others, to what happens inside, to what happens outside), without losing ourselves in the compulsive mind, in repetitive thoughts - that wander through the past and for the future - and on autopilot, where we act without conscience. This state can be seen by the impact it has on our nervous system and other physiological changes. When we speak of a technique or practice, we speak of different types of techniques that help to focus attention and lead to this state of awareness of presence, wholeness, reality.
Although there is no single understanding, meditation and mindfulness are considered the same for many.
Yotus Wellness: What is not Meditation?
Eduardo: Meditation is definitely not thinking about life, problems, what happened yesterday, what can happen tomorrow, possibilities, inductions, expectations, among so many situations where our compulsive mind is in charge.
Meditation is not being under the control of the autopilot and the beliefs that inhabit us.
Yotus Wellness: Types of Meditation that exist (different techniques, lineages, brief history of Meditation)
Eduardo: There are hundreds or thousands of types or techniques of meditation. There are many types of meditation / mindfulness practices, formal and informal, active and passive, which end up working with different focuses and, consequently, can trigger different areas of the brain. Vipassana, repetition of mantras, Transcendental meditation, Sufi gyration, body scan, compassion meditation, meditative walking, contemplation, are just some of the existing formal names and techniques.
A possible classification is to divide meditation into three categories, as follows:
- Attention, which focuses on the development of attention and concentration in different ways, such as the body, breathing, a point, a word, etc.;
- Construction, which is aimed at cultivating or building positive qualities, such as values, ethics, gratitude, compassion, etc.;
- Deconstruction, which, as the name suggests, uses self-observation to understand the reality of the experience and deconstruct beliefs. The practice of non-duality or empty meditation are examples of this deconstruction.
- Perhaps the oldest form of meditation is connected with contemplation. It is thought that it started thousands of years ago, when the man discovered the fire and was able to sit around it and simply watch it, relaxed and attentive, without being concerned with defending his life (due to the threat of certain animals, which moved away from the site due to fire).
Yotus Wellness: How to prepare to meditate (physical, mental, emotional, environmental preparation)
Eduardo: The preparation of meditation requires two basic pillars: relaxation and concentration. A previous stretching, for example, can help in the practice of a passive meditation (which is when we stand still), relaxing the muscles and facilitating the standing without pain / physical discomfort.
Mental and emotional relaxation also help a lot. Calming the mind, avoiding talking about controversial subjects, which stimulate negative thoughts and feelings, as well as the compulsive use of cell phones or social media, when we seek to know about the world or the life of others, and which stimulates thinking, are some examples of care.
Seeking a comfortable and quiet place is another pearl. And if it can be in the middle of nature, then it gets even more delicious.
Yotus Wellness: What are the effects of a meditation practice on the mind?
Eduardo: The effects and benefits on the mind are many, but one of the most important is the ability to discern reality, really knowing what is real and what is the creation of our mind. When we are under the influence of negative emotions, for example, fear generates a set of chemical reactions (such as cortisol and adrenaline) and physiological reactions, orchestrated by the activation of the cerebral amygdala, bringing anxiety and stress. Stress has significant adverse health effects and is a risk factor for many diseases. There are scientific studies that show that meditation and mindfulness impact the mind, decreasing the activation of the brain amygdala, and consequently fear and anxiety.
Still in the field of science, the practice helps to activate the area of our prefrontal cortex (part of the brain that is just behind the forehead), which is responsible, among others, for attention, decision making and planning, improving our choices. In a simplified way, which can be verified in a large number of studies, when we practice meditation and mindfulness we usually have a decrease in the activity of the cerebral amygdala and an increase in the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which expands our competence in making choices rationally and positively, not relying on conditioned and negative reactions.
We are talking about having emotional intelligence, that is, the ability to perceive and understand emotions - ours and others', as well as using them -, which requires self-control, in a positive way, in a way that will help to obtain a positive result, a peaceful coexistence, the union of a group, the deepening of intimacy, among others.
To make the process within us clear, let's compare a situation where we don't have the capacity for mindfulness, presence, with one when we have it. If we are affected by some fact or event and are not present, attentive, this episode will provoke a negative thought. We will think about that thought and compose a plot based on components of our needs and traumas that will result in an infinite universe of other... thoughts. All generated from negative emotions that feed on each other. We create a story through thoughts that provoke negative feelings that will influence our actions - or reactions -, which in turn will generate consequences, obviously unfavorable, that will feed the whole process.
All of this without being aware that we are generating, from this process, negative situations for ourselves. In fact, we can get lost in this cycle of confusion and disharmony simply for a lifetime.
However, if we develop meditation and mindfulness, the same event that would affect us, triggering the compulsion of thoughts, is just observed, without judgment.
We remain focused, calm, without starting the procedure used by the defense mechanism to launch projections to those involved, or to boost the “label and judgment factory” that our mind tends to execute indiscriminately. We act from this state of tranquility and presence, using the knowledge obtained through emotional intelligence. Naturally, positive actions will arise from this position. And of them, beneficial consequences. In this way, the process will be replied in the affirmative. Simple (and positive) like that.
Yotus Wellness: How a Meditation Retreat works out? (What to expect?)
Eduardo: A lot of people don't know and / or fancy about what comes to be a meditation and mindfulness retreat. Retreat is a movement to withdraw, to move away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life (which makes it very difficult to focus attention, as it stimulates compulsive thinking). For this to happen, the retreat usually takes place in the middle of nature, which serves as a protection against this excess of stimuli, in addition to facilitating the practice of focus.
The reasons for doing so and its benefits are many. There are people who go to slow down, to reduce stress, to know and practice mindfulness and meditation, to clarify internal issues, to seek inner peace, to rest, to take care of the body and health (physical and mental), to get to know each other better and reconnect with yourself, to enjoy nature, among others.
Each retreat has its peculiarities, according to the line followed by those who lead it, but usually the focus is on the practice of techniques that lead to relaxation and concentration.
Yotus Wellness: Why is the experience of a Retreat different from meditating at home?
Eduardo: There are many reasons that make the experience quite different, mainly due to the intensity of the guiding, the group and the location provides. The first most obvious aspect is that during a retreat the person will meditate more, as he or she is there for that. As a person is guiding, this person can help in the use or improvement of techniques, in clarifying any limitations / difficulties and in encouraging the practices themselves. The fact of being in a group creates a space where meditation is usually easier and deeper - a favorable field is created for the reduction of mind performance. Finally, the fact of being in nature, in a quieter and more natural environment, triggers an incredible power to calm the mind and remind us or experience something fundamental: that we are not our mind.
Yotus Wellness: Can anyone go to a meditation retreat? Even those who never meditated before?
Eduardo: It depends on each type of meditation retreat. Many retreats are aimed at all types of people, those who already meditate and those who have never meditated. A basic precaution of a serious retreat is to check the mental health status of each person using a questionnaire. If she is in a crisis of depression or with psychiatric problems, there are certain precautions to be taken, including the intensity and type of practices.
In some retreats there is also a limitation on the participants’ age, normally people over 18 years old, but some allow the participation of teenagers, as long as they are aware of what will be done.
Yotus Wellness: Other information / data / research on meditation that you think is relevant to who never meditated before?
Eduardo: It is very relevant, to help to undo the vision that feeds the autopilot, to clarify possible mistakes or inaccuracies regarding the nature of the human being and the practice of meditation and mindfulness. This includes 4 basic understandings:
- Meditation / Mindfulness is not religion
At least not in the way we normally understand this concept, as a set of beliefs, symbols and rituals through which the faith and worldview characteristic of a specific group of people are manifested.
You do not need to have sympathy or connection with Buddhism, Hinduism or yoga, or any oriental philosophy to practice it. The practice of concentration is found in all the religions of the world, but it does not belong to any of them. We need to remove any remnants of the fear that meditation / mindfulness is a practice that wants to get the person out of one way and into another.
- Inappropriate use of technology can harm
The use of technology, like basically anything, can be positive or negative for our lives, depending on the use, the quantity and the existing dependence. An interesting survey carried out by Stanford University shows that people who normally use several electronic media at the same time, called heavy users, are more susceptible to interferences from irrelevant stimuli from the environment and from irrelevant representations in memory, as well as perform worse when changing tasks.
It is important to realize that technology, social media and the internet are revolutionizing human relations in all areas, but due to the novelty and lack of clarity of what is good and what is not, we are very dazzled and even mesmerized by so much news. We still need to learn how to use technology for the good of humanity and not to hurt ourselves and others. Meditation / Mindfulness contributes to this learning.
- Meditation / Mindfulness is not all or nothing
An existing myth is that if you are unable to be completely whole in meditation practices, the exercise is useless, it is not valid. This is wrong, as the training of attention consists exactly in perceiving inattention and focusing, something that, especially in the beginning, happens countless times and, little by little, generates more capacity for attention and awareness. And a minimal increase in awareness can represent the brake to avoiding a crime in a person who is blinded by hatred, for example. Any percentage increase matters, and that increase almost always requires discipline and resilience. This does not prevent that, at the same time, if I want to have a better life, I seek more and more, and why not, the 100%.
Some people say that they cannot be quiet, that they tried once and did not stop thinking, that they believe that they will never be able to calm the mind, and that, because of these beliefs, they give up thinking that they will not progress as they wish. Believing that you will not reach a higher stage in practices generates accommodation that restricts the possibility of change. To assume that meditation is unreachable serves as an excuse for our egoic mechanism - proud, childish, lazy, mechanical and reactive - to perpetuate the command of our actions. This thinking is one of the components of this gear that makes us stuck in obsolete patterns of conduct, repeating ad eternum the same behaviors that lead us to unhappiness.
- Meditation is not the magic solution to all problems
A myth that develops, mainly due to a certain fad of the moment, is that the practice of mindfulness solves everything. And quickly. This is not true. At least not in the beginning. Human beings are complex in their questions and their journey or evolution is often slow and with different stages and needs. Meditation helps on this journey, but it is long and there is a need for many other things.
Eduardo Farah has been working for more than 27 years in the development of people with innovative approaches. He is a Phd and professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (since 2001). He is a practitioner of several meditation techniques (since 1995); scholar and author of self-knowledge games, with 17 trips to India. Author of the book “Mindfulness for a better life”, by Sextante and online courses.