Yesterday you may have read my colleague Sam’s post, “Meditation — A Key to Success.” This article is part 2 of that post.
Have you ever been told or thought to yourself, “you just lost the game?” If you haven’t, I will do my best to explain: every time you think about this game — either on your own terms or because of someone else — you lose the “game”. The mere thought or conscious recollection of this game, which strangely consists of you not thinking about it, makes you “lose.”
As a child, I used to play an extension of this game with myself: I would challenge myself to not have any thoughts in my head at all; this would be my little escape and my moment to recuperate. Once I somehow rid myself of all thoughts concerning the world around me, I would think, “I won the game; I no longer have any thoughts.” However, of course, as soon as I formulated that thought, I had also already lost the game: I was thinking, after all! Having thoughts also meant losing the game.
Although I was not aware of it at the time, I was practicing a form of mindfulness. What is mindfulness, you ask? It is a form of meditation that allows you to consciously become one with the present and both your internal and external surroundings. Thanks to York University and the Healthy Student Initiative — an organization designed to make YorkU students live a healthier lifestyle — my colleague Sam and I were able to take part in a free mindfulness session open to the entire York community (you too!).
In a dimly lit room, Dr. Paul Ritvo, our instructor for the hour, explained that mindfulness starts with proper structure. For proper structure, your feet should be flat against the floor (this makes it easier for beginners; advanced meditators often meditate sitting on the ground); you should be sitting up straight; and strength should be emitted from your pose. You must either have eye contact with the ground at a 45 degree angle or have your eyes closed. Like many others in the room, I chose the latter. It is also crucial to find a structure that does not restrict your ability to breathe. Breathing follows a natural cycle: it starts off fast but then slows down, though only when you have proper posture. Dr. Ritvo then explained that by focusing on our breathing — which affects every part of our body — we are able to feel certain sensations occurring within our bodies.
Unlike the game that I played as a child, mindfulness is not necessarily about restricting or censoring your thoughts. It is about focusing on the present, and if other thoughts arise, disciplining yourself to finish your thought and return to your focus — breathing. As a newcomer to meditation, I found that it was hard to control my thoughts (especially at the beginning!), but as we delved further into the hour, I began to have small pockets of time during which I didn’t have to consciously discipline myself. I am unsure whether it was a figment of my imagination or the underlying effects of meditation, but at one point I felt as though submerged under water, with a faint flicker of sunlight escaping from the sky.
For me, this experience could be summed up in two words: enlightening and invigorating.
The time felt enlightening because I learned two things: about Dr. Ritvo’s experiences and about my preconceptions. Walking into the room, I was half shocked and half surprised about the sturdy-looking chairs spread out in a rectangle before me: I had assumed that we would be sitting cross-legged on the ground in a yoga pose, which was certainly not the case.
The experience was also invigorating for two reasons: lifestyle and aftereffects. After meditating for an hour, I could clearly see why many successful people — an example is Steve Jobs, who is my ultimate role model — incorporated mindfulness into their daily lives. Mindfulness is not only an effective and efficient way to reduce stress; it is a great way to be at peace with oneself. The thing that made me most curious, however, was the side effects both Sam and I faced. After the session, we both had headaches and began to feel light-headed. With the help of research, I later discovered that it is normal to feel some pain and discomfort after the first meditation session. When we sleep with our eyes closed, the darkness activates our pineal gland, secreting melatonin (a substance that induces sleep). When we meditate, we are actually engaging in a conscious sleep. Since we are not used to engaging in conscious sleep and are not accustomed to a constant state of calmness and focus, our mind resists this new feeling. But beginners do not be alarmed! This headache only lasts for a short time and is equivalent to the pain that an unused muscle would feel after a physical workout.
All in all, if you haven’t tried meditation yet, I totally recommend it. Mindfulness is an experience to which no words (not even mine!) can really do justice; it is something you will have to witness for yourself. Since sessions are held for free at the Behavioural Sciences Building, with an option for online participation, you really have no excuse not to try it! Also, make sure to check out my colleague Rebecca’s post on “How to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Student Life.”
If you have any questions or would like to share your mindfulness experiences, be sure to tweet @YorkUStudents with the #YUBLOG.