What is meditation? If you were to browse the INTERNET for an answer, you would find a variety of definitions depending on the specific school of meditation you were investigating.
A general definition might go something like this:
Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind by focusing the mind’s attention on an object (the breath, a mantra, a sound, a visual object, isochronic tones, a feeling, etc.).
I will explore how to meditate, the different types or schools of meditation, and the benefits associated with meditation.
How to Meditate
Here are some basic, flexible instructions on how to meditate. Keep in mind that how you meditate will change depending on the school of meditation that you choose to practice.
1.) Find a quiet, peaceful place to meditate where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted. Make sure to turn off your phone, television, or any other device that might make noise or disturb you. Best if you use the same place and time for your daily meditations. That way your meditation will develop as a habit.
2.) If you like, you can choose some calm, meditative music to listen to. Or you can just choose silence. Whatever works best for you.
3.) Make sure to wear comfortable clothes when you meditate, nothing that will constrict you in any way or make you uncomfortable.
4.) Find a comfortable position in which to sit. You can sit on a cushion and use a full lotus or half lotus position to meditate in, or you can simply sit in a comfortable chair. Your meditation posture will likely be determined by which school of meditation you take up. Since I have some lower back issues, I lay down on the couch to meditate (works for me). It’s important to be comfortable and relaxed and keep your spine straight and supported by the posture you choose to sit in.
5.) Close your eyes if you haven’t already.
6.) Relax. You can use a fraction relaxation technique, relaxing different parts of the body one area at a time. This technique is often used in hypnosis as well as meditation. You can breathe deeply in a slow, relaxed rhythm. You can focus on an object (breath, mantra, visual object). This is the beginning of your meditation.
7.) Meditate. Your meditation is the focusing of your mind on a specific object. The object can be something as simple as your breath. Following the flow of your breath is a common meditative technique. Or you can silently repeat a mantra which is used in Transcendental Meditation (TM). You can focus your visual attention on an object with your eyes open or even shut. Focusing your attention on an object to the exclusion of all else will not only help you to relax you but will help to quiet your mind.
Types of Meditation
Zen Meditation or Zazen. Zen Meditation dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th century China. It is a school of meditation that is generally part of a Buddhist practice. Zen involves steps and postures and there is a focus on breathing and the practice of observing thoughts without judgment Zen Meditation is a path of self-vigilance and self-discovery. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this site on Zen Buddhism.
Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced the TM method in India back in the 1950s. It is a form of meditation that uses a silent mantra for 15-20 minutes twice a day. It is often described as simple and effortless. The TM method requires a teacher, or so they say. Once learned, it’s supposed to be quite simple to practice.
Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness Meditation is all about being present and aware in the moment. It generally follows these steps: Get settled in your meditation posture, follow your breath, and when your mind wanders, come back to following your breath.
Casual Meditation. Well, that’s what I refer to a meditation technique that is informal and doesn’t rely on a specific school of meditation. I use a couple different techniques in my meditation. I use the following the flow of my breath technique but also add in visualizing a spot in front of my mind’s eye technique (my eyes are closed). This combination helps me get focused and when my mind becomes still, I then focus my awareness on my quiet mind and keep my focus and attention there. If my mind wanders, I go back to focusing on having a quiet mind. That’s what works for me. And, as I mentioned earlier, because of my lower back issues, I lay on a couch for my meditations. I usually practice meditating twice a day.
And now, on to the benefits associated with meditation.
The benefits of meditation are well-researched and plentiful. They include cognitive benefits (focus and concentration, memory retention, creativity, etc.), emotional benefits (stress, anxiety, etc.), and even physiological benefits. Below is a list of some those benefits.
Focus and Concentration. A study led by Katherine MacLean of the University of California found that during and after meditation training, practitioners were more adept at keeping focus, especially on repetitive and boring tasks. Other studies reflected similar results.
Enhances the Brain. The following info on the influence of cognitive brain functioning from meditation comes from Frontiers in Psychology:
… there is ample evidence for its beneficial effects for a number of cognitive domains, including attention, memory, verbal fluency, executive function, processing speed, overall cognitive flexibility as well as conflict monitoring and even creativity.
Another benefit includes the maintaining of gray matter as people age. Keep in mind a person’s brain begins to lose size and weight beginning in their twenties. Long-term meditators (20 years or more) maintain more brain matter than non-meditators.
Can Reduce Stress. Here are the results of a study on meditation as it relates to cortisol (often referred to as the “stress hormone”) levels in the blood.
Mindfulness meditation lowers the cortisol levels in the blood suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress such as psychiatric disorder, peptic ulcer and migraine. Then, mindfulness meditation should be used in combination with standard treatment.
Reduces Worry, Anxiety, and Depression. Numerous studies have shown that the practice of meditation can help to regulate mood and anxiety disorders, and it also helps reduce blood pressure.
Insomnia Relief. That’s right. Insomnia. As a side note, insomnia is the reason I started meditating. I read an article about meditation increasing melatonin production (about 100% on average) and decided to give it a try.
For many years, I suffered from MOTN (middle of the night insomnia). I would sleep for 3-5 hours, then wake up and stay awake for another 2-3 hours before getting back to sleep again. I needed a nap virtually every day. I was going crazy and tried everything. Nothing worked till I began meditating. The natural increase in melatonin did the trick. I sleep so much better now, never need a nap, and in addition, get all the other great benefits associated with meditation. Easily, one of the best things I ever did for myself.