What is meditation?
Meditation is about effortlessness and becoming mindful, or thoughtless. It is about surrendering control or worry. It is about just be-ing in the moment.
Meditation was first brought to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the mid 1950's. There are various schools of spiritual thought or arts in the East that teach meditation, such as the Yogic, Zen or Tibetan traditions, Tai Chi and the Martial Arts.
However, meditation is not a religious act, as many believe, but rather a simple routine anybody can practice and experience the many benefits from.
Starting a meditation practice can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Anything from ten or twenty minutes of meditation practice every day is beneficial for overall well-being and helps to calm and relax the body and mind.
The benefits of meditation
Regular meditation has something to offer everyone. Numerous scientific studies have proven the many remarkable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
- Improved health and overall well-being.
- Relief from stress and related problems, such as chronic illnesses and premature aging. (See: How to Identify and Manage Stress)
- Decreased tension related disorders, such as tension headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems.
- Reduced chronic inflammation leading to illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, IBS and Alzheimers, heart disease, stroke, etc.
- Lowered high blood pressure.
- Reduced anxiety attacks by lowered levels of blood lactate.
- Increased serotonin production improving mood and behavior.
- An improved immune system, preventing Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) caused by viruses and influenza, as well as other immune deficiency disorders.
- Increased energy levels.
- Relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- Increased pain tolerance.
- Improved sexual health.
- Reduced cravings and emotional eating, increasing weight loss.
- It helps to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) caused by inflammation of the nervous system or the human herpes virus.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
Meditation brings the brainwave patterns into the alpha and even theta states, promoting healing. It calms the mind whenever you feel negative emotions or shut down.
With regular meditation practice:
- stress is relieved,
- anxiety decreases,
- depression decreases,
- emotional stability improves,
- creativity increases,
- happiness increases,
- your self-confidence improves,
- problems seem to become smaller,
- greater focus, clarity and peace of mind is achieved,
- you have improved memory and cognitive function,
- you gain mental strength and energy.
Some meditate as a part of their cultural or spiritual traditions. However, meditation is not a religious act and can be practiced by anybody regardless of the faith they follow.
With regular meditation you will find that:
- you become more self-aware,
- your intuition develops,
- you experience expanded consciousness, as the unconscious becomes more conscious and negative ego is released,
- you can achieve states of greater detachment, joy and bliss,
- meditation brings about personal transformation, as you gradually uncover your true, authentic self.
How to Meditate
To experience the benefits of meditation, regular practice is necessary. It takes only a few minutes every day. Once it becomes a part of your daily routine, meditation will be something you look forward to every day!
When and where
For effective meditation, find a quiet time and space (indoors or outdoors) in which to practise. Background noise, such as the television and radio, will cause distraction.
Any time of day is good to practise, but early morning or at night before you go to bed (when you are not in the fully awake beta state) are the ideal times to practice.
It’s also preferable to choose a space with a moderate temperature to meditate in. Feeling too cold or too hot can distract you. Also make sure that your are dressed in comfortable clothing that does not restrict you.
To meditate, you’ll need to find a comfortable position in which to sit for ten to twenty minutes, or more! It is not recommended to lie down as you may fall asleep.
You don’t need to adopt any specific position if you find it uncomfortable. Generally, the regular position for meditation is with crossed legs and hands on your lap (lotus position). However, if you struggle with this, find a position you are comfortable with, or sit in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs, facing upwards. Just ensure that you are not slouching.
In order to become centered in your body, it is important to take deep, slow breaths at first. Focusing on the heart area while breathing will generate increased heart rhythm coherence. See more about the benefits of heart coherence HERE.
Mindfulness is about purposely bringing one's attention away from the thinking mind –which is always focused on the past or the future – to experiences and sensations occurring in the body at the present moment.
When you become aware of your breathing, or experience sensations in your body, you will feel more 'alive'. It is impossible to be aware of your body AND your thoughts at the same time.
Different types of meditations use different techniques to be mindful about while meditating. For example, you can focus on a mantra (e.g. 'Ohm'), on a candle flame in your mind's eye, on sensations in your body, on your breathing, etc. Personally, I find that focusing on my breath to be the most effective.
Initially, if you find it helps to focus, you can count while breathing. So, for instance, count 4 to inhale and two to exhale, and repeat this as you breathe in and out. This can be an effective way to get into the mindset of learning to meditate.
In the beginning you may find it difficult to be mindful, or thought-less. Even experienced meditators have days they find it difficult to relax. However, with practice, your attention will gradually improve until you can spend increasingly longer periods on mindful meditation.
Distracting thoughts may keep coming while practicing meditation. Just observe the thoughts and gently bring back your attention to whatever you were focusing on, such as your breathing. It must be gentle and effortless, without self-judgement.
This may take some time to master, but just keep at it. With regular practice you will gradually become less affected by distracting thoughts and impulses.
As you improve on your ability to be still and relaxed, you can increase the time you spend meditating.
Also, you may want to explore different meditation techniques until you find the one that you are most comfortable with.
Here’s a simple and effective way to start meditating:
- Find a comfortable and quiet place and sit in a comfortable position, keeping your back straight.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention into your body, relaxing all the muscles from the top of your head, relaxing your jaw, your shoulders, arms, fingers, torso and legs down to your feet. Notice the sensations in your body.
- Now, notice the air entering via your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
- Start centering yourself by taking in 3 slow, deep breaths while focusing on the heart – in for about 6 seconds and out for 6 seconds.
- Placing your hand over your heart will help you maintain your focus there. Now, imagine breathing through your heart. Picture yourself slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out through your heart area.
- Then just let go and breathe gently. During this cycle, if a thought comes into the mind, gently and non-judgmentally acknowledge it, let it go –like watching a cloud go by. Then return to the breath.
- When you are ready to end your meditation, open your eyes and gently stretch your body. You should be in a calm and serene state!
Practice this simple exercise for ten minutes each day. Remember to be gentle on yourself and don’t judge. Once you get the hang of it, you can increase the time you meditate for as long as you wish.
Eventually you will become hooked as you start experiencing the many benefits and improvements in your life!