What is meditation?
What comes to mind when you hear words like “meditation” and “mindfulness?” Even though there has been a surge in the popularity of meditation over the last few years, many people still hold on to a belief that it’s something that’s only practiced by Buddhist monks and members of new age communities.
Nothing can be further from the truth. If you’re curious about meditation but have trouble letting go of these connotations, then you’ll want to keep reading. You’re about to discover that meditation is a wonderful tool, accessible to all and helping people from all walks of life.
Why use meditation?
While there are countless benefits, meditation is like any other skill in life. It takes practice and dedication to understand and master it. If you try to meditate for the first time, you’ll notice that your mind is active with thoughts. A single thought tends to lead to another thought which leads to another, and a whole trail of thinking ensues that can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress. Whether you’re conscious of this or not, your thoughts are constantly active throughout the day.
Nonetheless, the goal of meditation is not to simply “switch off” thoughts. It’s about reaching an understanding that we are observers of our mind and the silence behind each repetitive thought and emotional pattern.
We go through our lives with a thought pattern that continues on auto-repeat. While some thought patterns are essential for our survival and help us to function as human beings, many are not beneficial to us, only serving to harm our well-being and quality of life. Practicing meditation will help you learn about the patterns and habits of your mind. The more you practice, the greater your ability to cultivate a more positive way of thinking and being. With consistent practice, you can deepen your ability to achieve a profoundly clear and peaceful state of mind.
While meditation may sound great, knowing where to begin can be confusing. There are literally thousands of different thought-schools and meditation methods out there. Yet, at the core of every meditation is silencing of the active mind and a return to the “here and now.” Your true self, loving awareness. You can do this by sitting in an upright position, lying down on the ground, running, creating art, walking in nature, having mindful conversations, or merely doing the dishes. Whatever it is you’re doing, meditation is about being present in the moment. Anyone can do this, at any time. Meditation is to step out of our thoughts and into an awareness of our body. Meditation is to go within and consciously observe of your own inner life.
What physical and mental benefits will come from meditation?
People use meditation for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the common benefits of meditating include:
- Development of concentration, memory, and fluid intelligence.
- Better stress management and emotional wellbeing.
- Improved control over anxiety, depression, sleep issues, pain, and blood pressure.
- Enhanced empathy, clarity, and a sense of positivity.
- A strengthened ability to see the true nature of things.
- An ability to gain a deeper understanding of the self.
- A heightened state of awareness and focus.
- Improved arousal levels.
While it’s not always easy to appreciate the benefits of meditation until you start practicing it, more and more benefits are being discovered and validated by the scientific community. Some of these include:
- The amygdala shrinks. This part of the brain plays an integral role in the body’s stress response. With continued meditation, you can expect a decrease in the activation of the amygdala. The gray matter (brain cells) in a meditator’s brain has been shown to be greater than that in non-meditators. This leaves you more prone to feeling greater levels of empathy and compassion, while your stress levels decrease.
- Reduction in clinical health symptoms, including depression, anxiety disorders, pain, and insomnia.
- Increased dopamine levels. Dopamine is an important hormone that enhances feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation.
- Positive effects on norepinephrine levels, leading to greater attention span and improved brain health.
Why is it important to train the mind?
To understand the answer to this question, you have to understand that the brain and mind aren’t the same thing. For simplicity, it helps to think of the brain as an organ, and the mind as a representation of all your thoughts and emotions.
During your life, you accumulate many unhealthy beliefs about yourself, and life in general. When you repeat these beliefs over and over again, they start to become your truth.
Training your mind with meditation can help to liberate you from your unhealthy beliefs.
Meditation and religion
Meditation continues to play a big role in various cultures all over the world as it has done for thousands of years. Just about all religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam utilize meditation as a tool in one form or another.
While meditation can take on many forms, there is one universal principle that can be found at the heart of all systems…
The whole being is actively applied to develop awareness, insight, and transformation.
You do not have to belong to a specific religion (or even be religious at all) to practice and experience the benefits of meditation. Many people view meditation as a tool to enhance the mind and practice it without any religious or spiritual associations.
How to meditate?
Even though it takes a lot of dedication to become a true master of meditation, getting started is quite straight forward.
And, while you can meditate anytime and anywhere by focusing on being present in the moment, a very simple meditation practice involves placing your attention on the breath.
A simple way to start meditating:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes.
- Allow yourself to breathe naturally and start to focus on the sensation of the breath.
- As you continue to keep your attention on your breathing, thoughts will inevitably creep into your mind. When this happens, simply acknowledge the thought, and allow it to pass. Then, bring your attention back to your breathing.
Meditating in this way is about observing when a thought comes into your head and allowing it to pass as you bring your attention back to the “present moment” of your breathing.
You don’t have to meditate for long periods. It is, however, important to be consistent. A few minutes each day will ensure you experience the benefits over time.