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- What is meditation?
- What is it not?
- The benefits of meditation
- The science behind meditation
- How do I meditate?
- Which meditation technique is the right one for me?
- What do I need for my meditation practice?
- How do I create a regular meditation practice?
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a state of mind when you enter into a deep thought, full relaxation, and inner calm. Meditation is about training your brain to develop a clear awareness of your thoughts and feelings; it’s the key to cherish every moment as it is and about finding who you really are.
Meditation is a method for relaxing the mind that helps you scape your ordinary state, your regular thinking mind and experience a higher consciousness. It is the journey to discover and feel all the possible levels of consciousness and finally enjoy knowing yourself at all levels.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. It was originally a common practice of the Buddhism and Hinduism as a mean to break with the ordinary thinking and elevate the mind to a higher state. Since then mediation has evolved and become what it is today: a powerful technique to discover and fulfill your full potential, all that you can be.
When people think about meditation, they usually see a Buddhist monk in a robe sitting beside a waterfall or a Sufi whirling around to an enchanting melody, which isn’t necessarily untrue, but at the same time it’s not limited to a religion, a spiritual movement or exclusive to certain places. Meditation is more; it’s a technique with specific exercises and procedures to help you train your mind and enjoy its many benefits. Even modern physicians consider meditation a type of mind-body complementary medicine and recommend its practice for stress reduction. Moreover a number of recent research studies have shown the amazing benefits meditation can have for your body, mind and soul.
You may already know these things and think that mediation is one of those things that require a lot of time, time that you probably don’t have. But actually it doesn’t. Meditation only takes a few minutes out of your daily routine and who doesn’t have a few minutes to spare, right? Meditation techniques are not complicated; they involve an easy-to-do exercise that anyone can do and that’s why more and more people these days are meditating regularly.
What is it not?
Over the years meditation has been given a large number of definitions and explanations, ranging from being a mysterious technique to consist of conventional exercises to improve the concentration.
There is an enormous amount of information out there about what meditation actually is and while most of it follows one particular school of thought or doctrine. But very little consideration has been given to other approaches and opposite discourses so before we get into that, let’s have a look at the most common misbeliefs about what meditation is. You can probably find and read the following statements in many sites but in fact they are just misunderstandings and false clichés about meditation.
The Mode of Relaxation
All Meditation techniques are about training the mind to focus on one single thing or thought. As a result you feel less anxious, you relieve stress and therefore you relax but relaxing is not the sole outcome of meditation. In fact relaxation is more like a positive side effect if you’d like.
A Religious Doctrine
Originally meditation was linked to religion and used as a tool to get into the spiritual world. Since then meditation has evolved to what it is today: a versatile technique that you can use to train your mind and achieve amazing benefits. Meditation is not limited to one particular school of thought or religious doctrine; Meditation is a journey to achieve a better YOU regardless of your beliefs.
An Act of Concentration
Concentration happens when you focus on one single thought or thing for a long period of time. You may need to make exercises to practice your concentration in order to learn the art of mediation, above all at the beginning, but concentration is not meditation itself.
The Way to avoid Reality
There is a common misunderstanding that meditation helps you to run away from your reality: your fears, your bad feelings and worries. Absolutely wrong! Meditation brings you to a level of consciousness where you can actually access your subconscious and what lives there: good and bad. Your emotions, your feelings, you experience them in full so there is absolutely no avoiding. If you don’t like a part of your reality, a feeling, a habit, Meditation will help you change it, not running away.
The benefits of meditation
Mediation has been practiced for thousands of years and over time people have meditated to achieve different things: reduce stress, be happier, reach a superior state of awareness … You can try the different exercises and techniques but they all have one end destination, one main goal: to help you refine your mind and improve your emotional regulation.
Each one of us is different. You are different; your cognitive, spiritual and emotional level is different. You use meditation for your own purpose but in the end what is common to each of us is that meditation significantly transforms your body and mind, in a different way for each of us, but it does. So let’s have a look at the main benefits of meditation:
1. Stress Reduction
Meditation helps you release accumulated stress and it actually prevents its bad and negative effects, even at the beginning. Meditation is also used to control the initial symptoms and control depression right at the beginning.
2. Physical Improvement
On a physical level meditation makes you healthier, it can reduce high blood pressure; decrease any stress-related pain, such as tension, headaches and ulcers; improve the immune system and boost your energy level.
3. Improves Concentration
Concentration is a positive side effect of Meditation. Meditating helps focus your attention on positive thoughts and channel these into productive affirmations.
4. Anti-aging Method
Studies on the effects of mediation have shown that it can actually slow down the aging process of the cells. Meditation increases the production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA and therefore can change the biological age of the meditators, explaining why they usually live longer than someone that has never meditated.
5. Enhances Creativity
Meditation affects your brain activity, fosters your creative thinking, improves your learning performance and can strengthen your memory.
6. Social Awareness
Meditating helps you create positive relationships with others and improve your social relations at home and in the office. You see the big picture, what really matters and you are able to solve complex problems that you may encounter in your social life.
By practicing Meditation you are able to keep things in perspective, reach a peaceful mindstate and enjoy a happy life. You discover your purpose in life; your potential and you become all that you can be.
8. Attain Enlightenment
Through Meditation your achieve harmony in your soul, mind and body. You reach a spiritual enlightenment where you find self-acceptance, you stop trying to change yourself and become who you really are.
Mediation is the journey of training the mind and it promotes significant changes in the brain such us making both brain hemispheres work better together; increasing brain size and developing a strong will power.
10. Restful Sleep & Cure of Insomnia
Studies have proven that Meditation can help with sleep problems: it improves sleep quality and can cure insomnia, which has also a positive impact on your wellbeing because it reduces your need to take sleeping pills and other pharmaceuticals.
The science behind meditation
Researches have invested an enormous amount of time studying the relationship between science and meditation. You may think it’s difficult to find a real link between the spiritual world and the tangible reality but studies have shown that some effects in your mind, produced by meditating, are responsible for certain changes in your body and brain.
When you meditate you get rid of the negative and non-productive thoughts and focus on those that let you reach a calm and peaceful mind state. Recent research offers evidence that Meditation strengthens your mind and fosters faster connections between your brain cells. Moreover long-term meditators can actually process information faster than non-meditators. But how? There is a correlation between the number of years you meditate and a process called “gyrification”, which is basically the folding of the outer layer of your brain called cortex. This folding allows you to better form memories; make decisions and process information in general.
Other studies have shown that meditation is linked to cortical thickness, which can result in a decreased sensitivity to pain.
Research has also proved that long-term meditators experience higher levels of tolerance to negative emotions and thoughts and feel a decrease in stress problems related to depression and anxiety disorders. Professor Emma Seppala believes that regular meditation may lead to a significant increase in the grey matter of the brain. The grey matter influences your immunity to fight external and foreign contaminations, which often can lead to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. You can read her scientific summary explaining all the benefits of meditation in this article.
Meditation causes physical changes in your brain. For example, neuroscientists observing MRI scans have learned that meditation strengthens the brain by reinforcing the connections between brain cells, thus increasing coherence between the different parts of the brain.
Furthermore, a recent study about the effects on rational thinking caused by intensive periods of mindfulness meditation suggests that it may significantly improve your working memory capacity and help you sustain a longer attention span.
How do I meditate?
Mediation helps you better meditate when you practice it regularly and becomes part of your lifestyle when you do it regularly. Mediation can reduce your stress levels and improve your general wellbeing. It can help you with chronic pain; make you sleep better, feel happier, be more peaceful, as well as enjoy every moment of your life.
Although many people try meditation at some point in their lives, only a small percentage actually stick with it for the long-term. This is unfortunate and a possible reason is that beginners do not know what mindset is needed to make the practice sustainable.
There are a number of Meditation techniques: concentration Meditation, mindfulness Meditation, mantra Meditation, guided Meditation, visualization Meditation and so on. But despite the differences, the basics on how to meditate in each of them remain the same.
Here are a few tips on how to meditate:
- Find a quiet spot – Choosing a quiet place for meditation is a must. Maybe you have a spare room in your house, or you know of a quiet corner in the park, or at the beach, or in any other peaceful location you can think of. The important thing is that is quiet and there are not distractions.
- How long? – Before you begin, you should decide how long you are going to meditate. For beginners, it is highly recommended that you start with small sessions of 10-15 minutes everyday. Later on, when you are used to the exercises and meditation itself you can then increase the time.
- Body Posture – Sit straight, on the floor, on a sofa or on a pillow, so you keep your spine upright. It doesn’t matter where as far as you are in such a position your body remains relaxed for the whole session.
- Close your Eyes – Close your eyes.
- Count your Breath – The best way to help beginners to meditate is by counting the breath. By counting, the count itself and the noise of the breathing become a mantra, a rhythm that helps you avoid other feelings and thoughts and just focus. When you inhale and exhale you feel each and every movement of your body: shoulders, chest, rib cage, belly. Nothing else but your breath.
- Let Frustration go – At the beginning you may find difficult to focus, to concentrate in your breath and to listen to your body. You have so much going on in your life and boom! that’s when frustration kicks in and you feel tempted to give up…. don’t! That’s exactly when you need to push those feelings away, say no to frustration and concentrate more on your breath.
- Thoughts and Emotions – Thoughts and emotions are hard to control. So don’t! A productive meditation routine requires that you let them run free so you can relieve your mind and body from the fight of restraining, the internal war in over and finally you gain the energy to focus on each thought and emotion separately and act about it.
- Remind yourself of the Purpose – It is very important that you keep reminding yourself why you started meditating so when it gets difficult you remember the reason, the purpose, the motivation you need to keep going.
Which meditation technique is the right one for me?
Every Meditation technique aims at bringing you to a peaceful state of mind and physical awareness but how they do it is very different. Mediation is a journey; and when you decide to meditate it becomes your journey. How you practice it and your goals are unique to you.
Your reason to start meditating may be different than why your best friend or partner started: reduce your stress levels; be happier; correct a bad habit or simply fine-tune your intuition. The reason matters as the technique matters, but in the end it’s all about the technique. So let’s have a look:
Mindfulness mediation is about achieving your awareness. While practicing mindfulness meditation you allow your mind to work spontaneously and see the things clearly without any restriction. The best way to start using this technique is by observing the breathing patterns and motions of your body.
During guided meditation, you are asked to visualize something pleasant, for example a quiet sandy beach. The purpose of this practice is to help you make use of all your senses, so you don’t only visualize the beach but you can actually feel the warm sea breeze on your cheeks and the water splashing your feet. At the beginning visualization is about repeating a mantra or concentrating on one positive image. It takes time and perseverance but if you do well you can get more creative with practice.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi developed this meditation technique in the 1950’s and with it he became a worldwide reference and leader in this new art of meditation. In Transcendental Meditation (TM) you use a mantra, specific Sanskrit words, a list of names or words that you repeat in a rhythmic matter. The repetition, the rhythm affects your mind, makes a change in your brain activity moving you from your routine thinking mind to a higher state, where you are more aware and conscious about you, your feeling, your thoughts; where you are relaxed and powerful.
Also referred to as Zazen, meaning “seated meditation” and is a Buddhist meditation technique that mainly pay attention to the position of the body, the posture. Your posture has a lot to do with how you communicate with the world and with yourself and Zen Meditation is the practice of sitting in a specific way so you can relax your body, open your mind and discover the nature of your true being.
This technique is about choosing one single point of attention: the sofa, a light, a candle flame, your breath, a beat or a song. You train your mind to stop thinking and just focus on one point, that sofa, the light/flame or the beat. Your mind relaxes, you feel calm, stable, settled.
Primordial Sound Meditation
You have your own personal mantra that you repeat silently until you enter into the meditation mode and afterwards into a deep level of awareness. The mantra is different for every member because it is the “vibrational sound the universe was creating at the time and place of your birth. It’s calculated following Vedic mathematic formulas and is very personal and specific to you”.
Reflective meditation is also known as analytical meditation and it involves training the mind to identify and control how you think. To practice Reflective Meditation you need to choose a question, theme or a topic and focus on your analysis and reflection on it.
Taoist meditation aims at generating, transforming and circulating your inner energy so you can channel it to make the best of what you know, increasing your cognitive abilities and enhancing your physical well-being.
The Kundalini Yoga tradition is a type of meditation where you use specialized tools and exercises to support your mind and guide your body to practice breath, mantra, mudra (hand position) and focus.
Yoga Nidra Meditation
The Yoga Nidra practice was developed thousands years ago to achieve a deepest state of inner peace and relaxation. Yoga Nidra helps you get into a sleep-like state so you are totally relaxed but conscious and aware at the same time. Similar to the moments when you are just about to fall asleep. In this state you can positively impact and reprogram your subconscious for good.
In nondirective meditation you start by focusing on your breathing or on a sound to help you get into the right state but afterwards there are no rules, your mind runs free, wherever you want to go you go, you go.
Walking meditation is probably the only technique that requires you to be active physically in order to meditate. Basically you walk and the act of walking is used as the main point to focus. One step and you concentrate on that step, another one and focus again on that step… While walking and focusing on your steps, you become more attentive to what’s on your mind, what you feel, opening the door to the connection between your mind and your body.
What do I need for my mediation practice?
Let’s start by finding you the right place for your regular meditation. It can be your favorite corner in the bedroom or that cozy spot at the park, it doesn’t matter as far as you feel conformable in it, it is quiet and you are sure that you won’t get any major distractions.
Make yourself comfortable by sitting on the ground, on a cushion or a chair. Find a posture so you are comfortable and relaxed for the whole session. If you are at home you can create a calm and relaxing atmosphere by lighting a candle or burning a relaxing scent stick.
You also need to think about when it’s the best time for your meditation. This needs to be a time that will work regularly so outside the office/school hours. Maybe you prefer an early morning sessions or the opposite, you love the evenings.
Begin with sessions of 10-15 minutes and as you become more confortable with the technique and its effects, you can later increase you sessions. Day-to-day meditation is like bathing; you clean your mind and you prepare it for the new day.
In the end it’s about you finding that spot and enjoying the time you meditate on it. You create a space for yourself, you make the exercises consistently, you are persistent and regular, you follow the technique and boom! It happens, your mind changes, you get use to the relaxing, the focusing and you start feeling it!
You are meditating.
How do I create a regular meditation practice?
Many people try, many people start but only a few become regular meditators.
A lack in commitment or in will power, as well as unreal expectations are the main reasons why people give up. Meditation takes time and it needs to become a habit, a part of your lifestyle if you want to feel its benefits.
So start by your main reason, the purpose why you are meditating in the first place and once you say it out loud, then make a commitment and start the meditation. Your strong intention will support your mind to avoid excuses.
Just start. Stop thinking about the obstacles, why you can’t and just do it. Your mind is powerful in both ways, it can stop you by giving you all type of excuses… but it can also push you!
Be consistent – start with a session or two for a few minutes each day. Continue to do so for a week. Then keep going, it takes time, but don’t get frustrated, you will soon start feeling the benefits… just keep going… The only way is to keep trying, to go forward.
Show discipline – discipline will help you make a habit out of meditation. Moreover discipline will help with your lifestyle, you can stop doing something, stop using something as an excuse. Instead you go and do the right thing, you do it today, tomorrow and the rest of the year, that shows resilience and discipline.