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22.06.2013

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This article offers step-by-step instructions for nine insight meditation exercises, as well as a detailed explanation of mindful eating, hints on dealing with problems such as wandering mind, sleepiness, disturbing mental images, unpleasant emotions, and more. Although these Buddhist meditation exercises come from the traditions of the Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw and the Thai teacher Chao Khun Bhavanapirama Thera, you don't have to be a Buddhist to practice them. To know an object during vipassana meditation means to experience it with bare, nonverbal awareness.
Here's how to use the mental noting technique with this exercise: As the abdomen expands, say the word "rising" in your mind. Imagine lying on your back, putting a coin or some other object on your stomach and, with your eyes closed, mentally "watching" the coin move up and down as you breathe. If you can watch your abdomen rising and falling one time, you can practice insight meditation. Likewise, although we are aware of the foot during walking meditation, we don’t care about its corporeal mass, which only serves as a "marker" for the important part, the movement. If meditation seems very difficult or you lack self-discipline, try this strategy: decide you will meditate just one minute per day. However, although the labeling technique is mainly for beginners, even advanced meditators benefit from using it when mindfulness and concentration are weak.
The instructions for noting secondary objects apply to all the meditation exercises in this article. In the beginning your mind will often wander during meditation, spinning out thoughts about the past and future.
When no thoughts or other secondary objects distract you, your attention should stay with the primary meditation object. But it should be understood that in any two consecutive moments the meditation object may be different. Put your hand in your lap, noting "placing." Now you are back in the original meditation posture. By practicing insight meditation we gradually realize there is no bodily position comfortable enough that we can always maintain it. Generally speaking, when feelings arise during meditation they should be observed and labeled with a mental note. If an image occurs, try to focus on the primary meditation object again (such as the rising-falling motions), ignoring the image.
Insight meditators usually alternate a period of sitting with an equal period of walking meditation, especially during an intensive retreat in which vipassana is practiced many hours per day. First, note your intention as "intending to move." Next, start moving the body slowly, breaking the motion down into a series of separate actions. Whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down, apply this step-by-step technique whenever you change posture during vipassana practice. Lift the left foot and place it down next to the right, noting "turning." By now you should be facing in the opposite direction, having turned one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. Since mindfulness sometimes gets "bored" or slows down when observing the same object for a long time (especially during a meditation retreat), changing to another primary meditation object can help mindfulness maintain strength and continuity.
The hand motions exercise, performed while sitting or lying down, is especially useful for those who can't do the walking practice due to illness or disability. Continue moving your hand down until the lateral side of the little finger touches the knee.
Continue moving the left hand down until the lateral side of the little finger touches the knee. There are a couple of Pali words worth remembering, because you will hear them over and over again in discussions about vipassana meditation. Intermediate or advanced meditators may practice this exercise for the entire meditation period, or for a few minutes before practicing the rising-falling exercise.
As soon as you're aware of an emotion during meditation practice, label it with a mental note.
The insight meditation method is a middle path between 1) suppressing an emotion and 2) indulging it by expressing it in words or actions, trying to feel it more deeply, or thinking about it further.
After noting the emotion for one or two moments, let go of it and gently bring your attention back to the primary meditation object.


Temporarily switch to a concentration technique until you are able to resume vipassana practice. Sleepiness may bother you more during an intensive meditation retreat than in your daily practice.
Reduced to their essentials, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are simply material phenomena (rupa) and mental phenomena (nama). But we should understand that during vipassana practice we won't always be able to focus on a "real" or "correct" meditation object, even if we try hard to do so. The way of focusing on objects in vipassana practice differs from that of concentration meditation, and it's important to understand the difference. So when we say, for example, "be aware of the rising motion," what should be observed is, "knowing rising," or "the-act-of-knowing-rising." That is true for all meditation objects, not just the abdominal movements. Although not all meditation objects will have such clearly distinct phases as a single step does, we can use this example as a paradigm of how to observe other objects, too, even mental events.
Please don't misunderstand: we don't mean you have to change to a different meditation object every single moment.
Most of us have seen jugglers at festivals or street fairs, and their touch-and-go skill is a perfect example of how to focus on objects in meditation. In this exercise your attention switches back and forth between two primary meditation objects. Although vipassana is a very simple method, many aspects of meditation only become clear by actually doing it. If doing the exercise lying down, put your hands on the abdomen, one on top of the other, or at your sides. In meditation these movements are called, respectively, "rising" and "falling." They never cease to alternate as long as you live.
If you want to meditate longer than an hour, it is best to alternate this exercise with walking meditation. If a secondary object makes only a faint impression on the periphery of your awareness and does not strongly hook your attention, ignore it and continue observing the primary meditation object.
It doesn't matter whether a thought is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; the conventional meaning is irrelevant in meditation. That doesn't mean you have to observe one object exclusively for the entire meditation period. Pain inevitably appears, even when lying down (if you doubt this, ask anyone who is bedridden in the hospital). If you are sitting, get up and practice walking meditation or do the hand motions exercise.
Here the process has been broken down into sixteen steps (this information has been adapted from Helen Jandamit's book, The Way to Vipassana, Bangkok, V.H. The basic walking meditation exercise is similar to normal walking, only slower and more deliberate.
Instead of looking around the room, keep your eyes directed straight ahead or slightly downcast toward the floor (but don't bend your neck too far forward, which may cause discomfort). Next we'll give five variations in which each step is broken down into a series of smaller movements. The method is simply to observe the posture for one moment, let it go, and then immediately bring the mind back to the sitting posture again. Whether an emotion is pleasant or unpleasant, the vipassana technique is simply to know it with impartial awareness, neither liking it nor wanting to make it go away.
For example, you might repeat the word "Buddho," or another mantra (a mantra is a special word or phrase repeated aloud and focused on in concentration meditation).
Switching to a concentration technique should not be used as a means of avoiding unpleasant emotions. In the context of vipassana meditation, some mental forms are "real," such as the intention to move the body, or a feeling of aversion or desire. Having identified the appropriate meditation objects, we need to understand precisely how to observe them. Even though we won't be able to do it clearly at first, our eventual aim during meditation should be to observe every object in this manner, knowing it with mindfulness from the instant of its arising all the way through to its ending, right in the present moment.


Students sometimes get confused because we say a meditation exercise such as the sitting posture can be practiced as long as forty-five minutes. You can use your own words, but the spirit of the aspiration should be something like this: "By this practice of insight meditation may I reach the end of suffering.
The practice of mental noting helps keep the mind on the meditation object and prevents you from getting distracted. The coin and the buoy are like the spot on the abdomen, and the meditator just follows the up and down movement. The same applies to the motion of the feet in walking meditation, the movements of the hands in Exercise 3, and so on.
You will find, however, that once you get "over the hump" of your initial resistance and actually sit down to do it, you might sometimes want to meditate longer. The strategy is simple: When you catch yourself thinking, silently say the mental note "thinking" for a moment or two, and then gently return your attention to the rising-falling movements (or whatever primary meditation object you were observing). Letting go of the previous meditation object happens automatically every time we focus in the present again. As a result of meditating, you begin to see that uncomfortable bodily sensations arise much more often than you had thought. Emotions are valid meditation objects, too, objects of the fourth foundation of mindfulness. In all the exercises except walking meditation your eyes can be either open or closed (in walking meditation your eyes must be open). But even when using the noting technique, we should focus on the actual experience of the object instead of on the label, letting go of the conventional names, associations and meanings that in ordinary life are automatically attached to sense-impressions. Then thoughts will get stirred up—distracting, delusive thoughts about how difficult or boring meditation is. Just keep observing the primary meditation object and ignore the thoughts, which will fall away on their own. So even if you sit down to practice the rising-falling exercise for thirty minutes, it doesn't mean you will observe the abdominal movements during every single moment of that half-hour period. The important thing is to follow the principle of breaking down larger movements into separate, smaller actions that can be noted one at a time, and to stop completely at the end of each action before beginning the next.
Every step has a clear beginning as you lift the heel, a middle phase as the foot travels forward, and an end as you place the foot down (these three phases segue into each other fluidly).
But even if you don't end up meditating longer, keep practicing one minute every day, without exception, and your attitude will gradually change.
And when the body sits, the mind experiences the posture as a group of temporary sensations, different from when the body is standing or lying down. Whether good or bad in conventional terms, all objects are treated equally during meditation practice.
Soon those thoughts will force you to stand up and walk away from the cushion without having finished your meditation session. In short, a secondary object is anything you're aware of that is not the primary meditation object. After one or two moments of noting "hearing," return your attention to the primary meditation object and forget about the sound. Be careful to follow the meditation techniques correctly so that mindfulness and concentration stay as balanced as possible. All we need to do is label the event with an appropriate mental note, such as "memory," "planning," or "imagining," and lightly bring the mind back to the main meditation object.
This is one of many aspects of meditation that only truly becomes clear with practical experience.
During a single meditation session mindfulness may jump back and forth from one object to another many times.




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