by Nick Lingerfelt
While health tends to be thought of as solely physical, meditation can open people up to how much control they can have over their own health and life by taming their mind.
Candia Ludy, the director of the Pema Karpo Meditation Center, a Tibetan Buddhist- based meditation center in Memphis, said meditation can help people with different things depending on why they chose to begin the practice.
“Some people use it for health reasons,” Ludy said. “They’re anxious, or they’re looking for a way to lower their blood pressure. Or they’re seeking to calm their mind.”
The main meditation they teach at Pema Karpo is what Ludy called a calming meditation, which is basically stilling the mind. One begins by placing the body in a comfortable position with the legs crossed and the back straight, arms down on the thighs or in the lap with the head upright. It can be done inside or outside, while on a cushion or a chair. Then, one chooses a focal point, often the breath. Once a person starts thinking, they simply realize their focus has drifted, and they come back to the breath over and over, as many times as the attention drifts.
Ludy said practicing meditation takes commitment because it can become “a little heavy” after awhile because one is looking at one’s self for who they actually are.
“If you get out from under the confusion and the bad habit patterns and the misunderstanding, it’s all pure gold,” Ludy said. “You are wonderful. There’s such goodness and wisdom and kindness and compassion. This is innately who we are. We are wonderful. We’ve just got some crazy confusion stuff going on, and it’s pretty big sometimes, but that going in deeper and deeper into one’s self, you are going to uncover what’s called basic goodness.”
Michael Burnham, a meditation teacher for the Methodist Healthcare System, started his mindfulness practice about 50 years ago through learning about Zen Buddhism. He said he teaches many different types of classes related to mindfulness and meditation, but they all come back to some key principles.
“All of that is revolving around how do you live a more engaged and balanced life,” Burnham said. “If you’re being mindful and understand what that is, it will reduce your stress, but the purpose isn’t stress reduction. The purpose is to be aware of the gifts you’re given on a daily basis.”
Burnham said mindfulness meditation is paying attention to what is going on in the moment without judgment.
“Have you ever noticed how much time you spend thinking about the past, rehashing that, or planning the future?” Burnham said. “When you do either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future, what are you missing? The present moment. And where do you live? The present moment. So how do you engage in yourself so you’re aware of what’s arising in your life in a way that’s good for you?”
Leah Nichols, a yoga teacher who owns Evergreen Yoga Center, teaches Iyengar Yoga, which she said is referred to as “meditation in action.” While helping build strength and flexibility like in a regular yoga class, this yoga also works on the mind like one would during a seated meditation. She said this type of moving meditation is how she is learning to handle her thoughts.
“Instead of reacting, I’m able to take a moment and decide what is the next action that I can take that will be skillful in this situation,” Nichols said. “When you become aware of something, then you can change it.”