Meditation is currently being explored and used to advantage in many cases of stress and pain management. Often, this leads the practitioner to a deeper interest in exploring the benefits of meditation for the more traditional spiritual purposes. Meditation has been proven to alter the brain wave pattern from one of high to one of low activity waves, associated with a state of alert relaxation. However, to the person who is anxious or over stimulated, the "monkey mind" is an obstacle and the experience of letting go of the tension seems out of reach, and may exacerbate their experience of tension! Do you have any comments to share about meditation and stress reduction?
Using a meditation technique to help to stabilize the wandering mind is useful. Traditionally the breath is a focal tool, although many people also use a mantra or an image as a focal point. Letting go a "wish" or "goal" in meditation to rid the mind of thoughts is helpful as well. The mind's nature is one of generating thoughts. In meditation, one practices detachment from the thoughts by simply observing them when they occur, and remaining focused on the chosen object of meditation.
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Meditation (Dhyana) is the 7th limb of practice - it is described as an uninterrupted flow of attention to the object which one has chosen to meditate. (For those interested, Patanjali offers suggestions for choosing one's object of meditation and discusses also meditation without form). For most of us, this is a fleeting moment of one pointed attention, before we find ourselves distracted again by the turnings of the mind.
Related practices to support a daily meditation practice include the other limbs of Ashtanga yoga - yama and niyama (social and personal behaviors and disciplines), asana (to quiet the body and mind), pranayama (breathing techniques which can serve to increase one's awareness) and pratyahara (the practice of turning the senses inward as we begin to explore the inner realm).
In my opinion, the intention to practice meditation on a regular daily schedule is supported by these practices, and the tendency for the monkey mind to be a real distraction is reduced by practicing detachment from results. This requires a gentle reminder for the mind to return to the focal point anytime you notice that it has wandered, and allows us to practice lots of compasion with ourselves as the process occurs over and over again! In time, the mind will begin to follow the direction which the meditator choses.
Meanwhile, daily reflections provide an opportunity to let go of the need to DO anything, and simply BE - just show up at the cushion and sit! There is no judge or jury to decide if it was done properly or not! A few minutes of asana to prepare the body, and some pranayama to settle your attention on the breath will support your intention to just being with your self.
Hope these thoughts have been helpful TOK!