Welcome to our first article in a continuing series on meditation.
Meditation is considered by many to be one of the oldest forms of wellness practices around. Of course, no one can truly say the exact place and time where meditation practice began.
Some speculate that it can be traced to approximately 5000 years ago, when ancient peoples stared into the flickering flames of fire pits and noticed its calming effects. Some scholars postulate that its continent of origin was Asia and the practice spread, especially into India, Japan, and China.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is simply the practice of neutrally attempting to focus your attention on one thing for a period of time. You can focus your attention on an object (physical or mental), on a movement, or on a verbal phrase (for example, "Peace") for a period of time.
In this first article, we begin by learning about the Asian technique of Qigong and then we continue on to the practice of guided imagery.
What Is Qigong?
Pronounced "Chee Gung," Qigong is a unique exercise system of Chinese origin. Through individual exercises, practitioners build up their health and prevent illness by combining a discipline of mind, body, and the body's Qi (or "life force"). According to the National Qigong Association (NQA), Qigong (sometimes spelled Chi Kung) is derived from the Chinese words "Qi" meaning Energy plus "Gong", meaning work or practice. It is a term that describes a Chinese exercise system that focuses on cultivating and attracting Qi, the vital force or life-force energies. (For more information, see the National Qigong Association’s What Is Qigong?)
We include Qigong as a meditative practice here because it involves focusing the mind on simple body movements and the movement of the breath.
Qigong draws on many elements. It includes regulating the body through posture; regulating the mind through quiet, relaxation and concentration of one's mental activity; regulating the breath; and self-massage and movement of the limbs. It covers a wide range of exercises and styles, such as tuna (venting and taking in), which emphasizes the practice of breath; still Qigong, which stresses meditation and relaxation; standing stance Qigong, which emphasizes the exercise of the body by relaxed and motionless standing posture; moving and dao-yin Qigong, which emphasizes external movement combined with internal quiet and practice in control of the mind; as well as various forms of self-massage.
Chinese Qigong has been practiced with a recorded history of over 2,000 years, but it wasn't until 1953, when Liu Gui-zheng published a paper entitled Practice on Qigong Therapy, that the term Qigong was adopted as the popular name for this type of exercise system. There have been many Qigong schools in China. Although each school adopts unique methods, they all agree on the basic importance of regulating the mind and deepening the respiration.
The basic breathing technique is a simple one of bringing the palms up slowly toward the chin while inhaling, pausing briefly, then pushing the palms down toward the ground while exhaling through the mouth.
Check out this video to get you started.
What is Guided Imagery?
Guided imagery can be used as a form of meditation. It involves guiding yourself through a scene or scenes where each of the senses is evoked, using images that elicit relaxation. It can be a form of visual or sensory meditation, because you are using focused awareness on one or more of your senses. It is often used in reducing stress, boosting the body’s wellness, and enhancing a state of calmness.
The following is a brief exercise that you can do to show the power that the mind has over the body and its physiological processes:
- Imagine holding a fresh, juicy, yellow lemon in your hand.
- Allow yourself to feel its texture and see the brightness of its yellow skin.
- As you slice it open, you see and feel the juice squirting out of it.
- Taste the lemon and let the juices run over your tongue.
- Suck on the lemon and taste the sour flavor as you notice your cheeks pucker and you heavily salivate.
After this guided imagery exercise, notice what physical changes occurred in your body, for example, the extra saliva and the twinge in the cheeks. You did not have a physical lemon, however, with mental images you created some of the same effects. We tend to be surprised about how much our thoughts do, in fact, affect our body. Think of what you could do with this power.
There are several good books available with sample scripts on guided imagery. (See the Meditation and Stress Management article bibliography.) To make it easy for you to start the practice, here is a sample script I’ve created from various trainings, mentors and workshops over the years, which I use with my clients. It is best to get comfortable with the general structure of it and to read through it slowly to allow the visualizations and sensations to appear to you. You can then read it into a recorder for playback.
'Safe Place Guided Imagery' Script
To begin this guided meditation, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Notice your body and be aware of any tension. Begin releasing any tension you notice with your breath as you exhale. Allow your breathing to gradually slow down. As you do this, allow yourself to picture in your mind’s eye a safe place. Notice what the first comes to mind. What type of place does your mind choose as a safe place?
In our example below, our safe place is a beach. On this beach what do the waves look like? What do they sound like? Can you feel the mist on your face? Can you taste the salt on your tongue? Allow yourself to notice if there are any birds overhead. Hear the sound of the birds chirping, singing a song. Notice if there are any breezes in this place, feel the wind on your cheeks...
Notice the ground beneath your feet. Is it dirt or sand? What does it feel like on your feet? Is it warm or cool on your toes? Allow yourself to lie down in the safe place and feel the ground beneath your body. Notice the gentle sand below warming your body, allowing you to relax even more and feel safe during this meditation. Feel the weight of your body resting on the ground, allowing gravity to help you release any tension into the ground and let go of it. Imagine that with each rush of the waves touching the shore that any tension gets washed away with the tide.
Look above you into this sky and notice the color of the sky. Is the sun shining? Is the sky clear? Notice if there are any trees around. What kind of leaves do they have? What color are the leaves? Pick one of the leaves and notice what it feels like, what's the texture like? Then notice a tree stump in this place and go and sit on this stump, feeling the sun above your head warming you and further relaxing you. Breathe in the warmth and vibrancy of the sun allowing it to fill you with a sense of calm and peace from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice as you become part of your safe place that you feel more rested, more relaxed, more at peace.
When you're ready, allow yourself to come back into this room and leave your safe place for now, knowing that at any time you can return to your safe place, any time you need. After you have thoroughly visualized this place, open your eyes but stay in the same relaxed position. Continue to breathe smoothly and rhythmically, and take a few moments to experience and enjoy your relaxing guided meditation. Your safe place is available to you whenever you need to go there.
Now create your own safe place so you can return to this place whenever you need some peace and relaxation.
(This script is for personal use only, copyrighted material, ©Barbara Cox Ph.D.)
Using Meditation and Guided Imagery for Weight Loss
Did you know that you can use the power of your mind, meditation, and guided imagery to lose weight and feel better? You can! Check out our guided imagery meditation for weight loss.
Dr. Barbara Cox is a psychologist and spiritual counselor, who specializes in hypnosis, past life regression (and was trained by Brian Weiss M.D.), and sexuality coaching for couples. She holds a B.A. in Biology from the University of California, San Diego and advanced degrees in Psychology from Alliant International University.
Barbara teaches clients integrated tools that help them create the life and relationships they envision.
She’s been featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Love and Lust column, MSN, as well as other international media sources. A client recently said that, because of our sessions, they lost the fear to ask for what they wanted in life in general, so they asked for and received double their salary and several months’ vacation. Clients have revitalized their love lives and become more comfortable with themselves. The techniques she teaches are unique and powerful. She can teach you techniques to get out of the struggle mode and regain your sense of self, while still having an enjoyable work and family life using a holistic, integrated approach.
For more information on Dr. Cox, visit her website.