Eastern civilizations have practiced meditation for thousands of years. But in recent decades, people in other parts of the world including Europe and America have steadily embraced meditation in their quest to improve their health and wellbeing.
But what is meditation, how does it work, and what can it do for you?
This discussion seeks to answer these and other questions. So, join in and let’s do this together.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice that calms the mind and progressively develops a new state of consciousness. Contrary to what some people may think, meditation is not associated with any religion.
When you meditate, you remain conscious but concentrate your focus away from distractions. This means that during meditation, you will be less aware of what is happening around you as you focus on developing internal consciousness. Meditation is a progressive practice, with cumulative benefits occurring with regular practice over a period of time.1)
Benefits of Meditation
By shutting out distractions, and altering consciousness positively, meditation leads to many benefits which include the following:
Because meditation leads to physical and mental relaxation, it helps to reduce worrying, and the anxieties that cause stress. Worrying or anxiety trigger the increased production of hormones that prepare you to either fight or take flight. However, when your body chronically produces the stress hormones in large amounts, chronic stress can set in. This can lead to serious health problems such as depression. Regular meditation reduces stress by focusing on the present and shutting out both the past and the future.
Can Help Manage Depression
By reducing stress, meditation can help in the management of depression. A study carried out at the Johns Hopkins, found that meditation is as effective as medication in the management of depression and anxiety.2)
Lowers Blood Pressure
Worrying, anxiety and stress lead to increased heart rate, and faster, shallow breathing among other changes. When this happens temporarily, there is minimal long-term effects. However, chronically elevated heart rate can lead to high blood pressure.
Meditating regularly helps the body to relax, which normalizes body functions, including blood pressure. In effect, meditation reduces risks of other more serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.3)
Can Help You Sleep Better
Because meditation helps the body and mind calm down, it can help you sleep better. This is especially important for people who suffer from sleep problems such as insomnia. One study found that people who meditate fall asleep faster, and slept for longer than those who don’t.4)
Boosts Mental Functions
A mind consumed by worry cannot function as effectively as it should. However, by calming it through meditation, the brain is better able to think, reason, learn, plan, execute, and therefore improve performance in various spheres of life.
Promotes Self Discipline
By shutting out distractions, meditation helps to focus inwards on the self. Over time, a person who practices meditation has better control of the body and mind. In other words, meditation promotes self-discipline so that it is easier to choose, and to follow through on things that are helpful, and to quit damaging activities such as addicting to cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake.5)
Improves Overall Health
Because meditation leads to physical and mental relaxation, it can boost overall health by improving various body functions including normalizing heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and reducing stress.
There are many meditation techniques which you can use to clear your mind and positively transform your consciousness. The technique you opt for is usually dependent on your exposure, and what you find comfortable. Following are five popular meditation techniques:
This technique involves visualizing conditions or forming mental pictures of things or places that you find relaxing. Visualization is also called guided meditation because beginners are usually guided by a meditation teacher or guide.
Mantra meditation technique involves the repetition of a word, phrase or sound during practice sessions. The repetition of the mantra helps to calm the mind by concentrating only on the mantra and shutting out everything else.
In mindfulness meditation technique, the focus is on the goings on within and around you in the present moment. It involves developing awareness of what you are experiencing emotionally, and through your senses of hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch. All this, in the present moment; not the past or the future.
Activity oriented meditation technique incorporates meditation with another one or more activities that you already enjoy doing such as yoga poses, walking, gardening or painting. This combination helps you to get in the moment so that your mind is calm.
Although meditation is not a religious practice, some people practice spiritual meditation by combining meditation with prayers. Spiritual meditation may also involve listening to the voice of God in general or about a specific matter.
How to Start Meditation
Once you decide to take up meditation, it helps to try out a number of these meditation techniques so that you can see which works best for you. Note that any of these techniques can help you to advance in meditation so that you get better control of your body and mind.
As you do this, it is worth noting that meditation is a personal undertaking, and the rate of progress will not be uniform between any two people. For this reason, no one can tell you how long it will take you to move from one level of consciousness to the next.
Anybody can practice meditation, and thereby benefit from its practice. However, you should be patient and reasonable in your expectations, taking into account the fact that it may take some time before you can experience noticeable change. If you have decided to start practicing meditation, start small. This means starting with short practice sessions and building up as you go along.
Five to 10-minute sessions once or twice a day is a good starting point.
- Find a comfortable, quiet place where you will have minimal or no interruptions for the period of your meditation session.
- Sit upright on a mat on the floor or a straight-backed seat; although any seat can do.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel the air flowing through your nostrils into your lungs. Breathing slowly and deeply works best.
- As you focus on your breathing, try to move your mind from any other thoughts, and anything going on around you.
- Continue doing this for five to 10 minutes.
- Repeat once or twice a day for better results. Short, instead of extended sessions work better, especially during the early stages of meditation.