You’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of meditation by now, right?
Every celebrity seems to be meditating these days. Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Jet li, Eva Mendes… the list goes on and on.
They all meditate daily, and quite a number of them attribute their success, health, energy and even their good looks to a regular practice that gives them all the benefits of meditation.
When you’re just starting out though, there’s a lot of information out there. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
Even later on for those of us who know what we’re looking at, there’s a lot to take in.
So let’s break down the top 3 health benefits of meditation. With sources, so you know we’re telling the absolute truth.
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress.
We all get anxious at times – it’s that feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come; the worry, over-thinking things and getting stuck in mental loops.
But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, for example if they last for longer than six months, or if they’re interfering with how you live your life… you may have an anxiety disorder.
A report in 2014 looked at 16 studies among 1,295 participants, examining the effects of the ‘transcendental meditation’ technique on people with anxiety.
First of all, the meditation technique absolutely did no harm. I mean, that’s important when you’re dealing with cases of chronic anxiety, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and prison inmates in extremely stressful conditions.
Did it do any good though?
“Conclusion: Transcendental Meditation practice is more effective than treatment as usual and most alternative treatments, with greatest effects observed in individuals with high anxiety”. (Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014)
Depression is a mental health condition which can affect your thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour.
It’s really common (about 1 in 10 people are suffering from it at any one time, though in many it comes and goes seemingly at random through our lives), and can vary from mild to severe.
Depression can have a profound impact, affecting every aspect of our lives, our relationships, our work and of course, will also have a knock-on effect on the rest of our health.
A report in 2015 looked at 18 studies among 1,173 patients having acute major depressive episodes, and those with residual subacute clinical symptoms despite initial treatment. So, those in the midst of full scale depression, and those with on-going regular symptoms.
The studies covered 7 distinct meditation techniques, with mindfulness based meditation making up the largest proportion of studies.
They found that there were “moderate to large reductions in depression symptoms within the group” and they concluded that there is “a substantial body of evidence [which] indicates that meditation therapies may have positive effects on patients with clinical depressive disorders, during the acute and subacute phases of treatment.” (Fain, Walsh, et al, 2015)
Ever suffer from insomnia?
About half of us will, at some point in our lives.
For some people, it’s an ongoing issue through our whole lives. Insomnia is the most common reported sleep disorder, and there are limited treatment options (which mostly involve medication).
Now, don’t think for a second that there’s anything wrong with taking medication. That’s unusual to hear from an ‘alternative therapy’ source right?
The way we see it though, there are a lot of mental health and situational conditions people go through in their lives that require standard medical intervention. We’d never interfere with that, no more than we’d advise anyone to stop taking heart medication if they had a heart condition, or chemotherapy if they needed that for cancer treatment.
Standard medical practice saves (and improves the quality of) lives every day. Where we see a problem is if that’s viewed as the one and ONLY way to treat or support a person, which sadly is often the case.
But it doesn’t have to be.
A 2014 study looked at the treatment of 54 adults with chronic insomnia, to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of their chronic insomnia.
Some meditated, and some didn’t, to provide a control or comparison group. The participants who meditated used either a mindfulness based stress reduction technique (like our 5 Minute Body Scan, only a bit longer), or a mindfulness based therapy specifically designed for insomnia.
“Conclusion: Mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia, and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia.” (Ong, Manber, et al, 2014)
There are many, many more benefits to a regular meditation practice, and many different techniques and systems you can try to access the benefits of meditation for yourself.
Why not give our free Guided Meditation mini course a go, and get some of the health benefits of meditation in your own life?
Jain, F. A., Walsh, R. N., Eisendrath, S. J., Christensen, S., & Cahn, B. R. (2015, 03). Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatics, 56(2), 140-152. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
Orme-Johnson, D. W., & Barnes, V. A. (2014, 05). Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(5), 330-341. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0204
Guided Meditation is a particular meditation technique, which just means ‘meditation with the help of a guide’, so you don’t have to try and follow a path all alone.
We could all use a little help and guidance sometimes, right? Especially when you’re just beginning your meditation practice. It can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to try and take in, and a lot to learn.
When you begin your journey to a regular meditation practice, you can access guided meditation audio, video, and scripts in the Irish Pagan School, and on Patreon; as well as interesting articles and resources on guided meditation journeys here on the blog, to try and make it easy for you to get going, and enjoy the benefits of meditation in your own life.
Guided meditation is one of the easiest ways to enter a relaxed state, especially if you know and trust the voice that is leading you through your meditation journey.
There are as many types of guided meditation as there are teachers and guides who do it, as everyone does things a little differently. They all follow the same basic pattern though.
First, you close your eyes, find a comfortable position, and take a deep breath. Your guide may lead you to spend a little time counting your breaths and focusing there, or you may be guided towards a ‘body scan’ that checks through your body to find (and release) any stress or tension.
Note: this falls under the ‘Ground Level’ resources in our free Getting Started Course.
As things are so different across traditions and teachers, I’ll use the example of how I do things, for clarity. In the particular technique I practice, there is then a ‘journey’ that I take you on. In my system, you progress from opening with this easy and relaxed meditative state, to a soothing ‘floating within the darkness’ phase. This is all still at Ground Level; it’s guided meditation for complete beginners, or those who are restarting a regular practice.
Ground Level is excellent for deep relaxation – it’s a fundamentally useful ‘calm your mind’ meditation technique that ANYONE can achieve, with a little practice.
When we progress to Level One, through different specific guided meditation journeys, we visit a soothing beach environment. There are multiple options at this point, which all focus on self development and personal growth, but are also perfect if you’re seeking that deep relaxation meditation experience.
The most important part in these guided meditation journeys though, and the bit that far too many ‘trained practitioners’ or teachers seem to forget about, is bringing you BACK safely after leading you off on a journey.
Sounds important, right? It is.
What you experience during a guided meditation depends on a number of factors, such as:
All being well, the guided meditation process will lead you to engaging deeply in visualisation as you follow the guidance, and this leads to generating mental imagery that can simulate or re-create the sensory perception. Over time and with practice, you can experience sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images associated with touch, such as texture, temperature, and pressure, in a truly ‘real’ manner, which is the best way to fully engage with the deepest levels of mindfulness meditation.
On a guided meditation journey, perhaps a little later at Level One in this technique, you will be guided to engage with journey content that you may experience as defying conventional sensory categories. In other words, you can defy what’s ‘real’, and have self development and personal growth experiences akin to waking dreams, as you are using the same part of your brain that is responsible for your dream state.
This can lead to strong emotions or feelings… hence why we feel it’s very important to make sure everyone we lead on a guided meditation journey gets ‘back’ safely, and is settled and well afterwards!
There is a wealth of clinical practice, scholarly research, and scientific investigation that centres on the benefits of guided meditation.
In short, guided meditation has been proven to:
Now, who wouldn’t want any of that?!
Guided meditation – and later on as you progress, guided meditation journeys – with a skilled, trusted practitioner or teacher, is a well established and effective way to bring all the benefits of meditation into your life.
Materials include Ground Level and Level One techniques, suitable for complete beginners, or those of you who may have stepped off the path a little and would like to get back on track with a guide you can trust.
Anxiety reduction through meditation. (1985). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e361312004-009
Epstein, G., Barrett, E. A., Halper, J. P., Seriff, N. S., Phillips, K., & Lowenstein, S. (1997, 02). Alleviating Asthma With Mental Imagery. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 3(1), 42-52. doi:10.1089/act.1997.3.42
Kosslyn, S. M., Ganis, G., & Thompson, W. L. (2001, 09). Neural foundations of imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2(9), 635-642. doi:10.1038/35090055
Menzies, V., Taylor, A. G., & Bourguignon, C. (2006, 01). Effects of Guided Imagery on Outcomes of Pain, Functional Status, and Self-Efficacy in Persons Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(1), 23-30. doi:10.1089/acm.2006.12.23
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
When I started studying psychology in 2011, with the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, I was very surprised to see ‘mindfulness’ on our lesson plan for the first term.
You see, I knew mindfulness was a form of meditation, because I’d been practicing it in a spiritual context since 1994, when I’d picked up my first book on Paganism.
I knew that science (yes, naysayers, psychology is a science!) didn’t usually give much credence to Pagan practices… so I was both fascinated and delighted to find it right there in front of me in class.
As my studies continued (and to be honest, they’ve never really stopped, though I’m not in formal education anymore), I became more and more enthralled with the science of meditation, and the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I had a key question that I keep revisiting – what is meditation, and how do you do it?
And that’s never stopped either!
You’ll hear people talk a lot about different techniques of meditation (mindfulness is one of them, for example), and different types of meditation (meditation for sleep, meditation for relaxation, meditation for anxiety or stress relief, and so on)… but at its essence, what you are trying to do when you meditate is to reach a place of deep peace, with your mind being calm and silent, yet completely alert.
Meditation then, is the practice of methods that can be used to reach this place or achieve this state.
To get there, we can use any number of techniques. Honestly, the range of practices available can be entirely overwhelming. Meditation has been practiced for as long as we know, in a number of ancient religions and belief systems. Personally, I believe every ancient culture had its own form of ‘meditation’, though our ancestors wouldn’t have called it that.
The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise, ponder’ (Bailey, 1776).
So, as far as meditation techniques and practices go, the WORD meditation is relatively new.
But the formal definition we have now, runs like this:
“Meditation: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018)
Since the 1800s, people in industrialised cultures have been picking up the practice with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain… and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing (Shaner, Kelly, et al, 2016).
(You can see where I’m coming from and what’s available in This Article Here.)
Mindfulness, as mentioned, is gaining a fantastic reputation over the last 20 years or more, for being a science-based meditation technique, with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of a regular meditation practice (although the spiritual aspects certainly follow through with this method too).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2015).
We can sit or lie down, set some time aside and devote our attention to the mindfulness meditation by using body scan techniques, or observing as our thoughts arise and letting them go.
Or we can practice mindfulness day to day as we go about our lives, for example by focusing our attention on sensations of heat or cold in our bodies as we experience them, or by becoming fully aware of the taste, smell and texture of food as we eat it.
If you’d like to try some free ‘Ground Level’ meditation exercises, you can find them as part of our Getting Started Course – to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself…
Bailey, N. (1776). The new universal etymological English dictionary … To which is added, a dictionary of cant words. By N. Bailey. Printed for William Cavell.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015, 10). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481-1483. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0456-x
Meditate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditate
Shaner, L., Kelly, L., Rockwell, D., & Curtis, D. (2016, 07). Calm Abiding. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(1), 98-121. doi:10.1177/0022167815594556
Today, I wanted to learn about Wolves in Ireland.
Hold up, actually, let’s back it up a bit, and explain where I’m coming from, for those who aren’t familiar.
Each month on My Patreon Membership Site I release a series of Rewards through various tiers of membership/support. For example:
There are other reward tiers and benefits, but if you want more on that just pop over to My Patreon and take a look. The point I’m making is… each month, I look for inspiration for the Irish Folklore or Irish Mythology story to write, the Guided Journey to create and record, and the Sacred Site to visit.
This month (November 2018), I will be visiting one of the oldest Ogham stones in the country.
Now, it’s notoriously difficult to date stone, particularly when a lot of the Ogham Stones in Ireland have been moved out of context from their original positions and functionality.
But we know this one is pretty feckin’ old due to the lack of vowel affection… but I also love the inscription, which has been translated as: “Of Conda son of the descendant of of Nad-Segamon”.
The truly cool part of that though? (I mean besides the fact that we’re reading an inscription in an ancient script and language from 1600 years ago? Coz that bit’s pretty cool too, right?!)
The primitive name Cuna, or more recently Conda, means ‘champion of wolves’.
Champion of Wolves!
And so we get to the part – eventually – where I’m wanting to learn more about wolves in Ireland.
When I’m researching for my Patreon Stories each month, if I don’t have a particular character or deity from Celtic mythology or Irish legends that I want to have a look at, I’ll often dip into the Schools’ Collection over at Dúchas, the National Folklore Archive. It’s an amazing resource, do go and check it out.
Flipping through the transcribed Irish folklore tales about wolves, a particular one piqued my interest.
Only the second page of it was transcribed, so I quickly typed up the first page and registered it for approval (please do consider some transcription volunteering if you’re up for that!). Here’s the result, it’s not long:
Once upon a time there were two wolves on the Sliabh an Iarann mountains. The wolves used to kill everything they used to catch on the mountain. The people of the district sent for a man named Gildary (Gildea) to shoot the wolves. When the wolves would hear a whistle they would come to the place where the whistle was let. Gildea went up to the mountain and he started to whistle and one of the wolves came. Gildea fired at him. He had to hit him on the head between the two eyes on the star of his forehead. He had to shoot him with crooked sixpences. He fired several times at the wolf. At last he fell dead in the river which bounds Slievenakilla and Carntulla. The water ran red with his blood from the place where he died down to Lake Allen. After that the other disappeared. The wolf that was shot was much longer than a dog. The people were very glad when the wolf was killed because they could graze their cattle and sheep on the mountain then.
[ARCHIVAL REFERENCE] The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0206, Page 214
Now, a couple of things stand out for me here.
Sitting with it for a while, a story began to formulate, about the Tuatha Dé Danann – what happened to the members of the tribe who weren’t big names in the tales?
All of the elements matched up within the story I was telling, but I was a little stumped still about those crooked sixpences.
At first I thought about maybe a werewolf/silver connection, and wondered if my friends who study Irish lore as I do would have any insight.
Morgan Daimler, as usual, was exceptionally helpful (GRMA mo chara). But even they hadn’t come across the sixpence thing specifically.
Going with the possible wolves and silver bullets connection, I began to research what the old Irish sixpence was made of (Nickel, then a Nickel and Copper alloy), but that didn’t shed any light.
It was only when I saw the picture and was reminded of what it looked like that things started to make sense. An Irish Sixpence carried the image of a wolfhound. So, we’re into sympathetic magic territory now.
If I want to charm a weapon to harm a specific being, a great way to do it is to use an image to represent that being, name it for the target, and then bend or break the weapon – symbolically killing the being that it represents.
Now, if you add the physical element of doing that symbolically and energetically, and then using the bent weapon to literally shoot the target… there folks, we have ourselves some powerful magical weaponry. Powerful enough to kill a member of the Aos Sí.
Excited as I was to include this element in my story, I did a quick check in with myself (and my good friend Morgan), to make sure I wasn’t twisting the tradition in any way to suit my own ends.
Cultural Appropriation is difficult when it’s your own culture, granted, but I do still like to stay aware and make sure my work is faithful and respectful at all times.
Satisfied that what I wrote is “fair and true to the spirit of the folklore”, I finished the rest of the story.
Which sort of ended up accidentally also as a gay wolves love story, a little in passing, but there you go. Homosexuality is also fair and true to the spirit of the Irish tradition, as it happens 🌈👍
And that my friends, is an example of how we can unravel Old Magic in Irish Folklore. I teach a LOT more about Irish Magic in my courses on the Irish Pagan School:
The story we’re discussing is for Patrons only currently (but if you sign up for $3 now you’ll get instant access to that story PLUS over a year’s worth of other Tales of Old Ireland, and a new one every single month!) – Sign Up for $3 Here.
Or, if you’re reading this in December 2018 or beyond, you can go read the story right now…
Meditation and mindfulness are vital parts of any Pagan practice, and often they are either ignored by teachers, or it’s presumed that a student will simply… know how to do it.
Spoiler: most Western people don’t just *know* how to do meditation.
It’s a discipline which takes years to build: starting with simple breathing and visualisation exercises, and moving on to more involved practice such as guided meditation and Journeying in other worlds, for learning and healing purposes (primarily).
I’ve been actively meditating as part of my personal spiritual practice for over 22 years, and have been teaching my own Meditation and Guided Journeying technique – online and in person – to international audiences since 2013.
My basic technique was developed for beginners, over the course of a 20+ year personal journey, and in line with psychological best practice, to make relaxing meditation and Journeying in the Irish otherworld safe and accessible for everyone.
Guided Meditation is probably the most widely relatable and understood term for how I teach you to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, which comes easily and quickly after building a foundational daily meditation habit.
The Guided Meditation system you can learn with me is unique, and strongly rooted in my native Irish culture.
We start at Ground Level, and later levels fulfil a deep spiritual longing for ancestral connection and continuance, while the foundations you can build on will remain useful and suitable for anyone who just wants to learn a practical way to meditate – particularly if you’ve never been able to do that before!
We begin with simple, easy relaxation and mindfulness meditations, to build a habit and develop the necessary skillset to progress. This is ‘Ground Level’, if you like, for the complete beginner – or those who want to take a refresher with a new voice. As a bonus, it’s all done with my soothing Irish accent. 😉
As the Irish Pagan School curriculum progresses, more courses will be offered that will build a solid meditation and mindfulness practice for anyone willing to put in the work. The benefits of meditation are immense, and I will be expanding on them as we go through this series of articles.
Currently, the Ground Level exercises, as well as our Level One Introductory Class and Guided Meditation Journey to the Beach, are available completely free in the Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course on the Irish Pagan School.
When you have completed the classes and practiced the meditation techniques at Ground Level and Level One, there are other options for you to learn from, such as the Level Two: Irish Otherworld Journeys – Next Steps.
I am a Priest and a Draoí of the Old Religion of Ireland. As such, I have a duty of service and responsibility to my community, and to any who want to connect to Ireland in an authentic way.
Yes, I could charge for the free courses I offer through the Irish Pagan School. To be honest, I think folk might appreciate them more, and do more work with the materials, if they were paying for it. 🤷♀️ Such is the nature of humanity!
BUT, there’s plenty to pay for if you want to support the work I do. This one is a gift from a Draoí, for free.