Stretching the mind with more meditation

March 03, 2007|By Tim Swift | Tim Swift,sun reporter

For some yoga students, the hour of practice finally becomes worthwhile when they stop stretching and start playing dead.

Savasana, or corpse pose, gives students who come to yoga class for a workout a taste of the benefits of meditation. In corpse pose, students lie flat and still for a few minutes and attempt to avoid distracting thoughts. Many come out of the pose refreshed and wanting more.

To an outsider, more intense meditation may seem like a personal and solitary activity, best done away from a crowd. But Gen Atisha, a teacher at the Vikatadamshtri Buddhist Center in Charles Village, advises the opposite for newcomers who want to study the art of clearing the mind.

"Many people start meditating by reading a book, but quickly become discouraged," Atisha says. "A class at a meditation center is helpful in a number of ways, including giving people encouragement."

This encouragement is important, Atisha says, because meditation is an activity that needs to be cultivated, and few, if any, novices, will be able to maintain long periods of concentration right away. "Keep expectations modest," he says.

Atisha says newcomers typically can concentrate during meditation for only a few seconds at a time. A meditation class may last an hour or more, the actual meditation time is only a portion of that. Pohwa Sunin, a teacher at the Baltimore Zen Center in Severn, incorporates conversation and tea ceremonies to break up practices in his meditation class.

Many teachers suggest setting aside five minutes at first to practice and building up to 20 to 30 minutes through daily attempts at home.

"People need to be prepared to have patience," he says. "It's a lot like training a puppy. In the beginning, the puppy will begin to run away, and we have to bring it back again and again. This is a good analogy for the mind."

Sunin says newcomers and experts in meditation are equal players in the practice, so prior knowledge or practice is not needed. "Come as you are," he says.

The Zen center also encourages children to take part in family sessions. Parents and children can learn from each other during the sessions, Sunin says.

At the Vikatadamshtri center, students learn Buddhist meditation techniques. The practices start with the students sitting either cross-legged on the floor or in a standard chair. Atisha says items like special cushions are extraneous.

The instructor guides the students from the top of the head to the tip of the toes as they think about relaxing each part. As they relax their body, students focus on their breathing, trying to avoid distractions.

"Focusing on the breath is a very universal and fairly simple way to get started," Atisha says. "It's not easy, but again it is very simple."

Some weekend classes

Vikatadamshtri Buddhist Center, 2937 N. Charles St., Baltimore, has introductory classes 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m. Sundays. meditationinmaryland. org

Baltimore Zen Center, 913 Reece Road, Severn, has family Zen sessions 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

Baltimore Shambhala Meditation Center, 3501 St. Paul St., Baltimore, has a sitting 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sundays.

Baltimore Meditation Group, 835 W. 35th St., Baltimore, meets at 9 a.m. Sundays.

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