Healthy Beginnings

The benefits of a meditation practice – and how to get started

Visitors to the Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters in Los Angeles meditate in the “Temple of Leaves.” The fellowship has more than 800 temples, retreats and meditation centers around the world, including in Reno and Carson City.

To keep up with the times and become a successful contributing member of society, it’s expected that we keep busy — constantly in a state of “doing” and not as concerned about whether we’re truly “being.”

When you create stillness in a frenetic world, you shift your perspective, better understand yourself, control your emotions and navigate inevitable stress and pain.

Yoga and the ancient practices of mindfulness and meditation offer that stillness and space for reflection, with practitioners able to put more room between stimuli and reaction.

“The goal of all mindfulness classes is to reduce suffering — psychological or physical — because we’re human and there is a lot of suffering,” says Katie Townsend-Merino, a qualified instructor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes who also teaches mindful eating at For Goodness Sake in Truckee. “Through mindfulness we learn to see life as it really is — without judgment. That’s the hard part.”

There is no “wrong” way to practice mindfulness, though it is a practice deeply rooted in ancient tradition and you can certainly follow it to the letter.

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the best-selling classic “Autobiography of a Yogi,” is founder of Self-Realization Fellowship.

The goal is to make space for yourself away from distraction, find comfort and ease in the posture you choose, focus on the breath to calm both the body and mind.

An ancient practice

Yoga was discovered by ancient sages of India and means union of the individual consciousness (the soul) with the universal consciousness (the spirit).

One system of meditation, Kirya Yoga, is an advanced technique of Raja Yoga, working with breath and life force control, reinforcing and revitalizing the subtle currents of life energy in the body to enable normal activities of the heart and lung to slow down, naturally.

“Kriya Yoga enables one to perceive one’s true self, the soul,” Lauren Landress, assistant director of public affairs for the Reno branch of Self-Realization Fellowship, told Healthy Beginnings. “Initially, when one practices meditation, they will feel a growing sense of inner peace. As one meditates regularly and more deeply, that sense of peace expands, bringing about an inner awakening of joy and expansiveness.

“Along with this comes a greater clarity, understanding and guidance from within.”

Find a comfortable seat in your home, away from distraction, and practice slowing down, breathing deeply, and redirecting the brain to the breath, should you become distracted.

Self-Realization Fellowship is an international nonprofit, non-sectarian spiritual organization founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to introduce people of all races, cultures and beliefs to the ancient science and philosophy of yoga and its techniques of meditation.

“In this state of stillness, the consciousness is drawn to higher levels of perception … we become more focused and aware of a sense of wellbeing,” Landress adds. “Meditation brings objectivity and intuitive knowledge of how to address the challenges we confront in daily life.”

Over time, practitioners associate not with one’s body, but with his or her true nature: the soul, resulting in happier, kinder, more thoughtful, more loving, more peaceful people.

Locally, Reno Meditation Group welcomes all those who are interested in beginning a meditation journey to attend its inspirational services as taught by Self-Realization Fellowship.

Truckee’s For Goodness Sake also offers an extensive class schedule that offers a robust community and resource for those looking for something deeper in their lives.

Meditation know-how

With a background in neuroscience, Townsend-Merino studies the biology of the brain and recommends considering the meditation practice as a “workout for your consciousness.”

Every time you meditate and fall out of the breath or have an outside thought, don’t judge yourself. Instead, kindly and non-judgmentally bring it back to the breath and consider these gentle redirection workout “reps.”

Often those new to meditation find frustration in their inability to “turn off” the mind and stream of thoughts.

The key to finding ease in sticking to meditation is practicing self-compassion as if you were consoling your best friend — speak to yourself lovingly and understandingly, acknowledge the outside thoughts, then return to the peace and stillness within.

How to Meditate:

The Reno branch of Self-Realization Fellowship instructs people based on Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings:

  • Sit either cross-legged on a flat surface, or in a chair with feet resting flat on the floor.
  • The spine should be held erect with palms upturned, resting at the juncture of the thighs and abdomen.
  • The body should be stable yet relaxed, and the eyes closed with the gaze gently lifted upward to the point between the eyebrows — the seat of concentration and divine perception.
  • Expel the breath through the mouth in a double exhalation, ‘huh, huhhh’ (this sound is made with the breath only, not the voice) then inhale deeply through the nostrils and tense the whole body to a count of six. Next expel the breath through the mouth in a double exhalation, ‘huh, huhhh’ and relax the tension. Repeat this three times.
  • After the breathing exercise, relax the body and leave aside all thoughts of the world.

Practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction:

For Goodness Sake recommends the following methods:

  • Go for a walk outside, be present and pay attention to nature. Walk slowly, appreciate the function and movement you get from your own body, hear the birds chirping, and feel the breeze; this is mindfulness.
  • Put your hand on your heart. The act itself releases oxytocin, which is a social bonding chemical and decreases the stress hormone. If you’re in a meeting or somewhere you can’t necessarily put your hand over your heart, you can gently rub your wrist or your arm, take notice of the emotions you are feeling, and be reasonable and understanding with your self-talk.
  • Bring mindfulness into your work environment by setting an alarm to remind yourself to take a break, breathe, and be present.
  • Check in frequently with what your body is doing and offer yourself opportunities to relieve tension. Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears, relax the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes.

Cassandra Walker is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group who writes regularly for Healthy Beginnings magazine. She can be reached at cwalker@swiftcom.com.