Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Meditation and Prayer

Ever since I took a semester of "World Religions" class at BYU-Idaho several years ago,  I have been fascinated by meditation. I even did a big project on it near the end of that semester. After researching it, I was surprised to discover that I'd been doing forms of meditation my entire life without even knowing it. 

Cat Pose (above), Cow Pose (below.
Example #1: When I was in kindergarten I faced a fairly traumatic event involving bullying that left me very shaken. My family came with me to speak to a children's therapist who taught me some ways of relaxing so that I could de-stress and sleep better during the night. The first method was something called "the cat" where I would, on hands and knees, slowly arch my back upward and downward, breathing deeply. This, I later found, was two common yoga poses called the "cat" and "cow" poses. My therapist also taught me a technique of full-body relaxation where I would lie on the floor and slowly relax one isolated body part at a time until my whole body was completely free of tension. I started with relaxing the muscles in one leg, then the other, one arm, then the other, the torso, the neck, the head, the face, etc. This also is one of the most commonly practiced forms of meditation and let me tell you, it works! 

Example #2: When I was eleven years old I took classes in tae kwon do (I eventually made it to a yellow belt by breaking a board with my foot! LOL) At the end of every class our sensai would have us sit with our legs criss-crossed on the floor and our hands sitting palms-up in our lap, one resting over the other. He asked us to silently think about ways in which we could use what we'd learned to better the world. We did this for about 5 to 10 minutes each time. 

Example #3: There have been countless times when I've put on a beautiful piece of music (soft music or classical) and found somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down and just listen. I remember becoming calm and still, focussing on the way the rise and fall in the sounds awoke different emotions in my heart and guided the pleasant images in my mind. Under my closed eyes I saw colors and felt my heart beating gently in my ears, sometimes even in sync with the beat of the music. When the music was over, I always felt relaxed and refreshed. This is a kind of meditation that I did without anyone even telling me I was meditating, and I did it without any goal in mind except to relax and ponder. 

What can be gained from meditation that is so vital? And does it align with the teachings of the gospel? From my own experience I can say that meditation is definitely a powerful tool in which we can open infinite possibilities of health, peace of mind, and even good fortune. For these reasons I would even go as far as to say our Heavenly Father wants us to meditate as an exclusive branch off of prayer. 

I recently purchased a beautiful children's book called "I AM a Rainbow" by Roseanne D'Erasmo Script. It tells the story of a teacher taking two of her students, a little boy and a little girl, through the seven different "worlds" inside the rainbow and showing them how each color is connected with one of their seven chakras. (For more info on chakras, click here: When the children reach the color violet (which represents the chakra involving spiritual connection) the teacher has this to say:

"This is where you connect with spirit, a higher power or universal good. It is the point of prayer."

They then go on to briefly discuss how prayer works with opening the chakras. I was amazed when I read this! So very true.

I have heard so many General Conference talks and read so many scriptures mentioning the word "meditation" that there wouldn't be room in this post to list them all. However, I will share some of my favorites. 

But first, what does meditation really mean?'s definition states:

Meditation- 1) continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation. 
                   2) devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection.

The practice of meditation has been used in every religion and belief system around the world since the beginning of the world itself. 

The Book of Mormon provides several mentions of the words "meditation" or "pondering" including this passage in 
2 Nephi 32:1-5:

 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?
 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Not only is meditation a way to relax as much of the modern world believes, it is also a tool to connect more closely with the spirit!

Joseph Smith History 1:44 states:

44 I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.

The mind and the heart are connected in meditation. As we see in Joseph's account, when the mind is pondering wonderful things, a path is made for the light to shine through, thereby making the way for us to understand. 

Psalms 49:3 states:

 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.

When we shut out those things in life that distract our mind, we start listening to the pondering of the heart. Only then can the spirit fill us and give us guidance. 

President David O. McKay in a 1967 general conference address emphasized the importance of meditation as an essential feature of worship in the lives of Latter-day Saints. He said:

“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.

Meditation is the language of the soul. Meditation is a form of prayer. We can say prayers without having any spiritual response.

Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.” (“Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82.)

So how does one go about meditating? Well to be honest, there technically isn't a wrong way to do it! Still, here are a few techniques I've tried myself that provide wonderful results:
The "Root to Leaves" technique- Sit or lie down in a position where your spine is straightened and you are perfectly comfortable. Breathe in and out slowly until you reach a steady breath. Close your eyes and imagine the twisting roots of a large tree embedded in lush, rich soil. In your mind, move your gaze upward very slowly until you see the base of the tree. Imagine every detail; every chipped piece of bark, every knot, every bit of moss and continue this as you stare further up the trunk. Do this (slowly still) until you are all the way to the tip of the leaf at the highest point of the tree. When you are finished, take a deep breath and you're done! This technique provides clarity of mind and relaxation. 
The "Opened Chakras" technique- Sit or lie down in a position where your spine is straightened and you are perfectly comfortable. Slowly focus on each of the seven body parts in order as you open each one.
1) Root: feel the vibration at the base of your spine and imagine the color red. Breathe deeply in and out, awakening feelings of security and connection with every living thing around you. 
2) Sacral: feel the vibration in your lower abdomen (just under your naval) and imagine the color orange. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of inspiration and creativity.
3) Solar Plexus: feel the vibration just below your ribcage and around your stomach, imagining the color yellow. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of bliss and confidence.
4)  Heart: feel the vibration in your chest, lungs, and around your heart while imagining the color green. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of love, compassion, and peace.
5) Throat: feel the vibration in your throat and imagine the color blue. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of positive self expression and uplifting communication with others. 
6) Third Eye: feel the vibration in your forehead, just above the center of your eyebrows, and imagine the color indigo. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of clarity and understanding.
7) Crown: Feel the vibration at the very top (the crown) of your head and imagine the color violet. Breathe deeply, awakening feelings of spiritual connection, revelation, and eternity. 
When this is done, you may either be finished or do the chakras backwards from crown to root. Once finished, arise slowly, take a deep breath and just smile. You are filled with light! This technique provides heightened spirituality, better sleep, clarity of mind, confidence, and increased self-esteem. 

The "Cleared Mind" technique- Sit or lie down in a position where your spine is straightened and you are perfectly comfortable. For a 5-10 minutes, focus on nothing but your breathing and imagine only white light beneath your eyelids. Try to focus on nothing but those two things, noticing the steadying of your breath, the rise and fall of your chest, etc. This technique provides feelings of relief and calmness. 

The "Calming Music" technique- This is the same technique I mentioned above where I simply sit or lie calmly with my eyes closed as listen to classical or calm instrumental music, imagining positive images as the music plays. This technique provides feelings of elation and peace of mind. 

The "Limp Body" technique-  This is the same technique I mentioned above where I lie on the floor on my back, palms facing upward, relaxed. Focus on fully relaxing one isolated body part at a time, starting at the feet until you've worked all the way to the top of the head. This technique provides relief from tension in the body and boosted energy. 

Meditation is always best done before or after prayer, but it is helpful at ANY time! :)

These techniques have all worked for me in different ways and I hope they work for you too! Remember to always focus on those things of the light, not of the darkness, and the spirit will always be within you. 

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