Meditation

Zafu Cushions

Zafu CushionsMeditation is all about finding a space where you can quiet your mind and focus on the present moment. The medical benefits speak for themselves but finding that space can be quiet difficult. Some use binaural audio to help them focus, others find a quiet spot. Others use specially designed seating to help improve the quiet space. One such method is the use of a zafu cushion.

Although 'zafu' is often translated as 'sewn seat' in American English, the meaning of the Japanese 'kanji' is different. 'za' means 'seat' and 'fu' means a seat stuffed with Typha (the fluffy, soft, downy fibres of the disintegrating Typha heads). The Japanese zafu originates in China, where these meditation seats were originally filled with Typha. Today, that is no longer the case in Japan or China. An alternate translation of zafu is 'cushion for sitting' or 'sitting cushion', where za means 'sitting' or 'sit' and fu means 'cushion'. The words zabuton, zafuton and futon are closely linked. The word 'zazen' meaning 'seated meditation' or 'sitting meditation' is also closely linked. In western terms, colloquially speaking, 'zafu' refers to a meditation cushion, and 'zabuton' refers to the cushioned mat on which a zafu is placed.

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Binaural Audio Brain Training

Someone suggested in a recent post about meditation that I look into the effects of Binaural Beats. I had researched the subject several years ago and had good results but the technology for generating the audio was still in its proprietary phase and so the (free) tools that I was using required C compilers and building your own waveforms in text files. Today, there are binaural sound production application all over the mobile market as well as for home usage.

Meditation Techniques Overview

As I indicated in my previous post Meditation Changes the Brain, there is scientific evidence that meditation has beneficial effects not only on your mood and outlook on life but actual physical changes in your brain that increase your capacity to think and reason. Then question then becomes, "How do I meditate?" or even, "What is meditation?" Merriam-Webster defines the act of meditating as engaging in contemplation, reflection or a similar mental exercise. Some of the simplest exercises can be considered meditation. Many people subscribe to the simple 5-10 minute breathing meditation where you simply focus all of your attention on the act of breathing (usually focusing on the breath entering and leaving your nose) and counting those breaths with one count being an inhale and an exhale. Another meditation for those that have trouble sitting still is paying attention to the act of walkingLavender Fragrance--when your foot hits the ground; what parts hit first, next and last. Another meditation technique that helps those that are easily distracted is lighting a candle and focusing on the flame. A good addition to this exercise is to have a paper and pen ready and just mark down each time your mind wanders. When your mind wanders, simple put the mark on the paper and refocus on the flame. Do this for as long as you can muster. With this technique you can keep track of your focusing progress and how disciplined your mind has become.

Meditation Changes the Brain

Lavender FragrancePractitioners of meditation have long believed that the centering and calming ways of their life were directly related to their mindful meditations. A recent scientific study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging shows that subjects who meditated 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable increases in the amount of grey matter in regions of the brain associated with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. The other surprising aspect is that the meditation not only increased grey matter in areas of the brain associated with positive aspects of our society but it also showed that grey matter was reduced in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

What we can find from this study is that mindfulness as slowing one's self down, while not necessary to life, would improve brain function. Who knows to what limits we could achieve if we just spent 30 minutes a day meditating?

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