Tuesday, January 29, 2008

30 day Meditation experiment

In this blog series, I will document the effects (mostly qualitative) of a meditation experiment on my physical and mental well-being. I will also document the duration and quality of sleep on each day.

The meditation technique I am using consists of two parts:

a) Auto-suggestive relaxation : This is a relaxation technique where one relaxes every organ of the body by mentally focusing on the organs of the body and relaxing them. One needs to try this technique out to understand how it works.
b) Observation meditation: In this meditation, no mantra is used, actually nothing needs to be done. All I do is observe my thoughts non-judgementally and accept them irrespective of how good or bad they seem. I also don't participate with the thoughts. I just act as external observer.

Posture: I usually sit in padmasana (lotus posture) with spine erect. I sit on the ground on top of a folded sleeping bag.

Duration: For this experiment I will start with a duration of around 15 minutes and go upto 30 - 45 minutes by the end of 30 days. The duration for most part on any given day would depend on how long I am comfortable with the meditation. This duration, I have noticed, increases as one meditates regularly.

Time: I am a graduate student with loaded course work, so right now I am flexible with when I meditate. But if possible, I would like to do it at a particular time during the day, preferrably after waking up in the morning.

I am also a runner, so that is already a beneficial thing as far as physical/mental well-being is concerned. Ideally, meditation effects are studied by having a placebo group and a treatment group with similar characterisitcs. In this case, the sample size is 1, that is me!!

Diet: I am a vegetarian and include a lot of fruits, vegetables and bread in my diet.

Last but not the least,

Why Meditation?
For me life in the recent 1.5 years has been a total roller coaster. As mentioned in my 'about me', I am a Phd student in Transportation Engineering and I came to the US in 2006 with great expectations (not the book :D). I was really into research the last 6 months before coming here and I expected my research in a US university to match up equally to what I had done in India. Sadly, my expectations were dashed since I landed an inexperienced advisor with whom I didn't have great relations from the beginning. I was bossed around ocassionally and didn't like it (ofcourse the university is a really great resource in terms of books and people, just that having an amicable relationship with your advisor goes a long way towards productive research). Unfortunately I didn't think rationally about my other options. During this ensuing period which has lasted 1 year, I have had a lot of depressive periods and lots of experiences, so much so that I am no longer the person I was 1.5 years back. Back then I had a lot of expectations of the world, but now I am learning and possibly relearning the truth, "Having no expectations on people's behavior or life in general" would lead to very enjoyable or atleast more peaceful life. There's another truth that I am comprehending currently, "Nothing matters". That's right. The second truth follows from the first truth. When you have no expectations on people or events, you are ready to accept whatever life brings you, and hence nothing matters.

All this history is great you say, but why meditation specifically? Well, I have
learnt meditation in India during a spiritual workshop not unlike the many workshops that happen in US on a regular basis. The workshop was expensive but it gave me many important relaxation and spiritual exploration tools: a) Pranayama (breathing techniques) b) Different meditation techniques.
I am using one of these meditative techniques in my meditation experiment.
And these meditation techniques are purported to bring about a much needed balance to people(I am one of those people) who take a lot of stress. And I am not just stating this as an axiom, that's one of the purposes of this blog series isn't it: To answer the following questions:

a)Do these meditation techniques actually enhance the quality of life (we are not talking about material riches here although that could be considered a side-effect or side-benefit) - physically, intellectually, mentally and spiritually? Now what do we mean by spiritually here - Spirituality has to do with discovering one's true self and it is said that becoming more spiritual is consistent with an enhanced quality of life - an equanimous state of mind or reduction in mental noise, which is a product of the wandering and untamed mind, clarity in thinking and decision making, etc - You can put all the benefits of personal development into this category.
b) What experiences come about through meditation(Read here to know about my upper body movement experience during meditation) ?
c) How does the quality of sleep change with meditation? The last 2 months I haven't had a single night were I could say I slept deeply and soundly. Hopefully, this should change through this experiment.
d) How do the different meditation techniques compare with each other in their effectiveness? The current meditation technique I am using for the experiment is the "Observation Meditation Technique" described above.
Other meditation techniques I learnt at the workshop in India are:

Gap meditation:
In this technique one observes the gaps between thoughts and tries to increase the gap. So if I observe that on an average a thought pings my mind every second, I try to reduce this frequency or in other words, I increase the duration of the gap between thoughts and in effect aim towards a mental state with very few thoughts.

Ana pana sathi or observing your breath
This meditation technique is very popular among beginners in meditation. All one has to do in this technique is to observe the movement of breath. As the air moves in and out of your nostrils, you observe its flow and forget about the mind and its wanderings for the time being. The theory here is that, every state of mind has a corresponding state of breath. For instance: When you are angry or frustrated, notice your breath; you would be breathing in short, quick bursts. On the other hand, when you are really relaxed and peaceful, you would be breathing in deep and slow.

So I guess I have given enough background into the significance of this experiment atleast for myself (and hopefully for you guys too); now with the grace of the supreme being(Brahman, Tao, chi, or any personal diety) I hope this experiment turns out to be a personal success and of benefit to the readers of this blog.

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