What is meditation?
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as part of ancient traditions, cultures, and customs worldwide.
Often meditation is linked to either spirituality, religion, or both. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and most other religions have elements of meditation as part of their religious practices. This however does not mean meditation is only used alongside religion. Many people practice meditation independently, outside of religion, as part of their own beliefs. A meditative practice pertains to anything that ‘trains the attention of the mind’ which results in a state of mindfulness, calm, and compassion.
Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.
What Is The Purpose Of Meditating?
The main purpose is to find presence and this is mostly done by focusing on the breath. You are not thinking about the past or the future but rather just this present moment.
Many people, specifically artists or performers, also refer to this as being in ‘the zone’ or amongst actors it would be referred to as the ‘second circle’. Therefore being creative, in nature, or deep in conversation can be experienced as meditative as you are totally present in the action. It is not about clearing your mind to no thoughts but rather, to become aware of your thoughts, from an outside perspective instead of living within your thoughts.
What Is Buddhist Meditation?
Meditation involves the body and the mind. For Buddhists this is particularly important as they want to avoid what they call ‘duality’ and so their way of meditating must involve the body and the mind as a single entity.
It is often directly associated with a state of contacting a supernatural realm, reaching a hypnotic state is not necessarily the goal.
The main goal of meditation is by taking control of the mind so that it reaches a more peaceful and focused state, and the meditator reaches a point of heightened awareness.
The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim of meditation is to still the mind. (bbc.co.uk)(bbc.co.uk)
What Are The Health Benefits Of Meditation Or Mindfulness Practices?
What is meditation and what are the benefits?
Introducing meditation practices into your daily life can have many mental, physical, and emotional benefits which include:
- Calm, compassion, gratitude and happy hormones (serotonin and endorphin increase)!
- Managing anxiety and stress as it makes you feel secure and grounded (mindfulness-based stress reduction)
- Helps with insomnia as it increases melatonin, the sleep hormone
- Can act as a form of therapy, or complimentary to other therapeutic practices, by aiding in the management of many mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, eating disorders or any other similar psychological conditions
- Releasing intrusive or obsessive thoughts by practicing non-attachment and the idea of letting go of things that are out of our control
- Allows you to live mindfully and consciously through the practice of ‘intention setting’ which leads you to approach the way you treat yourself and others with consideration and compassion
- Brings about an introspective state which can lead you to ask yourself important questions on who you are and what purpose you would like to serve and change your decisions and actions accordingly – again this allows you to be intentional with whatever you say or do
What happens to your body when you meditate?
- Activates your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system), disengages the flight or flight response caused by stress and slows down the heart rate and breath, which brings about a sense of ease and calm
- Physical relaxation while tapping into the relaxation response
- Can control neurogenic inflammation which can help in reducing pain, inflammation and muscular tension
- Reduce blood pressure
- Increased cognition and concentration (diminishes age-related decrease in cognition)
- Better memory
- Increase in creativity and focused energy
- Some studies suggest that it has helped in reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis flare ups
What The Science Says About The Effectiveness Of Meditation: What Happens In Your Brain When You Meditate?
What is meditation and how it affects our brains?
Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate, kind of similar to how scientists have previously looked at measuring creativity in our brains The overall difference is that our brains stop processing the information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicates that our brains are processing information, even after a single 20-minute meditation session if we’ve never tried it before.
In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (on the right).
Meditation also increases the grey matter in the brain, which is great for emotional stability, an increase in positive emotions and feelings, and heightened focus.
Types Of Meditation:
What are the types of meditation?
Some of the main forms of meditation and methods of meditation:
1. Basic-Mindfulness Meditation: The focus here is on the mind itself. Allows us to notice our thoughts without attaching meaning to them. Teaches us that we are not our thoughts, feelings, or emotions we simply just experience them and let them pass through us. A great way to combat overthinking.
2. Movement Meditation: Directing all your attention and focus by a singular action you are doing to cultivate stillness in the mind. (eg. knitting, painting, walking in nature, practicing yoga or qi gong).
3. Sensory Meditation: Focuses the mind on the senses; smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing by making you aware of your environment. This can also be achieved by ‘body scans’ meditation practices as it makes you aware of your body within your surroundings.
4. Guided Meditation: Verbal instruction and guidance are given by a teacher. These can also often include visualization practices.
5. Transcendental Meditation: a practice of meditation where you sit in silence and use a singular idea, thought, theme, or mantra that you repeat in your mind. Focusing all your attention on your breath is both a form of transcendental and silent meditation
6. Chanting and Mantra Meditation: Usually done in a group but can also be done alone where a specific and singular mantra would be verbally and repeatedly chanted (traditionally most mantras are in Sanskrit). This usually goes hand in hand with specific meditation postures or mudras.
Which Type Of Meditation Is Right For Me?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to meditating. It will take some trial and error to find what brings you into a meditative state or the present moment. For some it might be dancing on your own to your favorite song, taking a walk through nature, or sitting in stillness and for others, it might be as simple as washing the dishes! These can all be a form of meditation and therefore it is very unique to the individual to what brings them to this state of mindfulness and serenity.
Go to different types of meditation to learn more.
How Can I Start Practicing Meditation?
How To Make Mindfulness A Habit?
Making mindfulness a daily habit:
It only takes a few minutes a day. It is important to note that both meditation and mindfulness practices are exactly that… practices. It is not something that can be achieved with a result but rather it is a constant journey of learning and unlearning aspects about yourself and how you show up in this world for personal growth.
How Much Should I Meditate?
Start with 2 minutes when you wake up or before going to bed and build it from there (although meditation can be done any hour of the day). Setting a specific time aside every day helps you stick to a consistent routine. Consistency is key. Don’t expect yourself to sit still for an hour and find ‘enlightenment’ – quieting the mind is really simple but not an easy task at all and something that has to be consistently worked at.
Remember mediation does not have a ‘look’. You don’t have to be a certain person to adopt a meditation practice – IT IS FOR ANYONE AND EVERY BODY.
How To Meditate: Simple Meditation For Beginners?
There are many mindfulness meditation programs and courses that can also help and guide you to get your personal journey started.
Download and try one an app for meditation:
- Insight Timer
- Headspace: Meditation & Sleep
- Ten Percent Happier Meditation
- Simple Habit
Click here to learn how to meditate in 7 simple steps
Can Meditation Change Your Life?
In short yes, meditation practices that are incorporated into your daily life allow you to be more present, intentional, and mindful in whatever you do. Mindfulness, therefore, becomes a way of living that filters into your everyday actions. This leads to more compassion for yourself and others and teaches you how to let go of stressors and worries that do not serve you.