Medito Terapio: Open Source Meditative Therapy
Over the years, I have developed a personal method of “meditation” which includes aspects from many traditions, including modern psychotherapy. I have termed this practice “medita terapio”, which is Esperanto for “meditative therapy”, to reflect its cosmopolitan nature. The term “meditation” here is conceptualized as a broad family of emotional and mental regulatory training exercises and regiments developed for various beneficial purposes, such as the cultivation of physical well-being, sustained memory and concentration, emotional balance, etc.
When one meditates the heart rate and breathing slows down, blood pressure normalizes, and oxygen is used more efficiently. This is one reason many hospitals often apply techniques including meditation and yoga to reduce complications associated with increased stress, such as a depressed immune system. There are many other physical benefits such as the production of serotonin (a neurotransmitter and neuropeptide that affects one’s mood and behavior), less cortisol (known as the “stress hormone” as it increases blood pressure and blood sugar), increased activity of natural-killer cells (a major component of the innate immune system), reduction of free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules), reduction of premenstrual symptoms, etc.
Dr. James Austin, a clinical professor of neurology, has noted in his book Zen and the Brain that meditation rewires the circuits of the brain. This is has been scientifically validated by functional MRI imaging. Dr. Herbert Benson refers to these changes in the body during meditation as a “relaxation response”. This response is the collective change of metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry.
Here I will provide a basic outline of medito terapio as a practice which can be used and expanded upon by anyone, regardless of religion (or lack thereof), health, physical capacity, etc. In this sense, medito terapio is essentially an open source, cosmopolitan approach to meditative practice.
When preparing to engage in meditative exercise, be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothes. It’s usually a good idea to have a special area set aside, however it is not absolutely necessary. Any small space will do so long as it is well ventilated. It is usually a good idea to keep this area as simple and quite as possible to free yourself from anything that may distract you, as all you really need is a chair or small cushion to sit on.
Possibly the most well known postures include the lotus positions. The lotus position involves resting each foot on the opposite thigh so that the soles face upwards, but if only one foot is brought into this position it is a half-lotus position. However, the most common cross-legged position in the West is the agura position (also known as the “Indian” or “tailor” style in the West). It involves both feet bent inwards and under the body, crossing each other at the ankle. Another position is the seiza style, in which a person kneels to the floor while folding one’s legs underneath the thighs and resting the buttocks on the heel. If sitting on the floor is not your thing, it is entirely possible to simply sit erect in a chair.
Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. The spine in meditation is erect, and the crown of the head is relaxed. Let your eyelids hang a little but keep the eyes slightly open so that your gaze rests upon the tip of your nose. The hands are either placed palms down on the knees or joined in front of the navel in a Cosmic Mudra (back of the left hand rests on the palm of the right so that the tips of the thumbs lightly touch each other). Lightly press the tip of your tongue to the upper palate just above the tooth line, and focus on emptying and being still — that is, to just be.
Take slow, deep breaths. With each exhale, feel the tension leaving your body as a wave of relaxation washes over you. Starting with the toes and working your way up the body, visualize each part of your body becoming lighter and lighter as the tension is removed.
Now begin to count down from 10 with each exhale. As you count, feel yourself sinking further and further into deep relaxation. An easy way to do this is to visualize yourself descending a staircase, taking a step with each number. Feel yourself becoming more and more relaxed and blissful as you reach the bottom. The purpose of this breathing exercise is to induce a trance-like state, which is simply a heightened state of mental absorption/deep concentration. Once at the bottom of the visualized staircase, meditation can truly begin.
It is usually best to choose an object on which to focus your mind, especially if you are just beginning with meditative therapy. This could be a variety of things such as an image, sound or intone, breathing, smells or any other sensation. This object will be the “home” object of meditation. The breath is most commonly used as the home object, and will be used in the example given here.
Keep your mind focused on your breath by finding the spot inside the nose or on the lip where the breath is mainly experienced as a slight friction or a temperature change. You may also follow the breath by focusing on the rising and falling of the abdomen. Be sure to make mental notes of “in-out-in-out” along with the rhythm. While noting the breath your mind may get lost or distracted, but just make notes of this too (such as “thinking”, “hearing”, “emotions”, “distractions”, etc.) So when the distractions come, just let them come; when they go, just let them go. If you become immersed in a stream of thoughts, let go of your involvement with them.
Keep letting go of involvement with your mental clutter whilst still remaining aware of them, making notes of them as they come and go. Simply let go and let it be as it is while being observant. So if you are feeling good, do not hold on to those positive thoughts or feelings. If you are feeling bad do not reject those negative thoughts or feelings. Likewise, if you feel nothing in particular and rather indifferent, do not drift into despair and lack of interest. Remain alert and attentive.
Also make notes of any physical feeling you may have. Always keep yourself aware of everything around you, within you, and anything that you may experience. This allows you to be present in the very moment itself. How long you will meditate and take mental notes of your feelings, thoughts, sensations, surroundings, etc. is completely up to you, but if you are just beginning it’s usually best to practice daily in the morning and evening for about fifteen to thirty minutes. Once you are ready to end your meditative exercise, take a few deep breaths and allow yourself a few moments before getting up. If need be, you could also opt to count your breaths.
Once you have finished the meditative exercise, record all the feelings and thoughts you may have experienced. Such as, “It was easier than expected”, “I felt relaxed”, “I felt nothing”, “I felt uncomfortable”, “I fell asleep”, etc. For example, if it was easier or more difficult than what you expected, ask yourself what you really expected, and what you based your expectations on. If you thought it was a complete waste of time, ask yourself what constitutes wasting time to you and why just letting yourself be is such a waste of time. If you enjoyed it – what did you really enjoy about it? Reflect upon these experiences and keep these records for future reference. They can provide you with things you may want to work on, with feelings you may have uncovered, and many more valuable insights.