Sunday, September 4, 2011

Meditation III: Calm

The human nervous system consists of involuntary and voluntary 'parts.' The working of the heart, liver, stomach, etc, are regulated by the involuntary - unconscious - part, while the movement of the arms, legs, eyes, etc, are generally under voluntary - conscious - control.

The involuntary system further divides into two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former galvanizes the body for action by speeding up heart and breath rate, tensing muscles, dilating the pupils, triggering the release of adrenaline and increasing blood sugar for energy, etc. The latter, on the other hand, counterbalances by slowing down and overall reversing the sympathetic wind up, bringing the body into a state of repose and calm.

If the sympathetic branch becomes overactive or 'hyper-arroused', an individual can become aggressive, nervous, impatient, on edge, and focused on dealing with the stimulus apparently responsible for the increased arousal. It is therefore important for one to be able to counter by maintaining calm, a state conducive to sensitivity, openness, patience, and a broad range of awareness.

If the sympathetic system is excessively triggered, the parasympathetic system may lose its ability to maintain equilibrium as part of the involuntary mechanism. Voluntary facilitation of parasympathetic activity then  becomes necessary. One method for inducing parasympathetic functioning is relaxation meditation.

My preferred form of relaxation meditation involves focusing the mind on one's breathing for approx. 15 - 20 minutes at a time. This is relaxing for several reasons:

a) one tends to feel stress and anxiety on account of the unpredictable nature of life. We are constantly on alert for the next challenge that may suddenly crop up. Breathing, in contrast to ordinary life, is repetitious and highly predictable. The knowledge that for the next 20 minutes one will experience the same gentle rhythmic pattern over and over again puts the mind at ease.

b) the mind tends to imitate the stimuli it experiences. Out of the four primary elements of fire air water and earth, air is the most lightweight and imperceptible. By paying attention to the gentle flow of air passing in and out of the nostrils, one's mind mimics the air somewhat and ones come to feel a lightness of being.

c) Respiration is a link between the unconscious and the conscious; the voluntary and the involuntary. Normally, breathing is an unconscious process and reflects unconscious activity. However, we can also regulate our breathing patterns consciously and voluntarily. Thus, by slowing down our breath rate we influence the unconscious attached to it into a calmer - parasympathetic - state.

d) During normal functioning one's attention divides between several different tasks, commitments, and alternatives. This tug of war over one's attention creates inner stress and tension. When one focuses their attention onto one object to the exclusion of all else, much inner tension is reduced and is replaced by stillness and calm.   

The body and mind share a two directional relationship. The state of the body tends to affect one's thinking, and thinking has an affect on the body. For instance, when the stomach is empty, thoughts about food enter the mind. On the other hand, thinking about food triggers the entire digestive system, from the salivation of the mouth to acid production in the stomach. Thus, if a person relaxes his mind, his body will become more relaxed as well, and vice-versa.                           

A relaxed state is important in skateboarding for many reasons. Firstly, when relaxed, one's awareness expands and one gains a clearer perception of what one is doing. Secondly, one becomes cooler headed and less fearful, open to attempt tricks which one usually finds too intimidating. Also, when the body is relaxed and supple it is easier to control when performing delicate and precise movements. Finally, in a relaxed state, one can enjoy every moment of skateboarding rather than being repeatedly frustrated and angered by an inability to land a particular trick - after all, skating is supposed to be fun...         

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