Time to Think
Meditation is an extremely powerful method of relaxation with enormous benefits both mentally and physically. Healthanswers writer, Jennifer Paterson, explores an increasingly popular form of meditation retreat - Vipassana Meditation.
Meditation - not just a good way to relax
Meditation is an art which has been practised in a multitude of forms for thousands of years. However it is only over the past forty years or so that it has gained recognition in the West as a means of relaxation, therapy and self-healing.
Over the past twenty five years researchers have found strong links between meditation and more efficient mental and physiological functioning. Hundreds of individual scientific findings show positive benefits such as lowered respiration, reduced oxygen consumption and a correction of the hormonal imbalances associated with stress. Additionally meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and to relieve pain and stress.
Vipassana Meditation is one of India's most ancient forms of meditation. It has been taught for over 2500 years as a remedy for what are termed 'universal ills'. The technique is taught at ten day camps in which students are taught the basics of the method, then practice it in order to gain sufficient benefit from the retreat.
Vipassana is described as a means of "self-transformation through self-observation". It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body.
Students must agree to precepts such as abstaining from intoxicants, sexual activity, stealing, lying and bodily decoration before commencing the course.
Having commenced the course students must observe the following guidelines:
|discontinuation of other techniques, rites and forms of worship |
|"noble silence" - no communication of any form with another individual until the last day of the course |
|avoiding physical contact with another individual |
|wearing modest, simple, comfortable clothing |
|abstaining from contact with the outside world |
|abstaining from music, reading and writing |
The goal of a meditation retreat is to meditate as if you are alone. While the guidelines above may be quite challenging for those used to a fast paced modern existence, they are designed to minimise inconveniences and distractions that participants may encounter.
What benefits can I expect to gain from a meditation retreat?
Emma Hamilton, 25, recently completed a retreat in Sydney's Blue Mountains. "I've done a lot of yoga and meditation over the past few years but this was certainly a step up from that". She notes that it is certainly not something to take lightly "I found the first few days quite difficult."
For someone used to a busy lifestyle, days spent in complete silence was a shock to the system "for the first half of the course I dealt with a lot of the negative things I've stored up for years. I think it wasn't until the last day that I really managed to 'meditate' in the classic sense of the word, and when I did it was quite an amazing feeling."
Emma credits the course with providing her with a greater ability to focus on the postive, and an enormous improvement in the way in which she deals with potentially stressful situations. "I feel more relaxed and in tune with myself, like I've let go of a lot of baggage."
Meditation as a practice has been shown to have numerous benefits both physiologically, and mentally. A Harvard University study found a substantial drop in the frequency of headaches, colds, and insomnia among experienced meditators as compared with non-meditators. These changes were also accompanied by reduced dependence on alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and other drugs. In addition, the group of meditators reported more positive mood states and more regular daily routines.
Where can I find out more?
The official Vipassana web site dhamma.org has a large amount of information on Vipassana meditation camps, including the location of seven course centres in Australia and New Zealand. The Healthanswers Alternative Medicine site is also a valuable resource for information on yoga and meditation.