Meditation is designed to quiet the mind and practice the art of self-control. By shutting off the outside world and merely observing your thoughts and reactions, a person can gradually gain more and more self-mastery.
Overall well-being includes attending to our mental health. Meditation, though it might feel strange for some people at first, is a perfect way to find peace, quiet the mind and develop an enduring happiness even in the midst of life’s pressures.
Mention the practice of meditation and certain segments of the population will imagine new-age hippy-types sitting in a circle on the beach and chanting as the sun rises.
With roots in eastern medicine, meditation made its way into western culture Before long mainstream medicine took notice of the benefits and began applying meditative therapies to a whole range of conditions, such as depression, anxiety, pain relief and addiction recovery.
Where people sometimes get confused are the many variations and forms of meditation. Setting aside all these different types, a very common and simple form is mindful meditation.
Benefits Of Meditation
There are all sorts of benefits to regular mindful meditation. Researchers at John Hopkins University reported that regular sessions seem to deliver as much relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression as other research has noted from the use of antidepressant medications.
Here is a list of some of the benefits of meditation;
- Quiet the Mind
The mind is constantly generating thoughts, feelings & emotions. By “ignoring” and simply observing and letting all mind activity come and go meditation quiets it down. Attention empowers whatever it is focused. The less attention someone pays to their mind the quieter it will become.
- Mood Management
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, it was discovered mindfulness meditation was a viable alternative to taking prescribed medication.
- Heighten Awareness
Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice. The more a person learns to focus while meditating, the more they’re able to control their focus in day-to-day activities, such as work.
- Reduce Stress
Stress is the body’s alarm system. When activated, stress releases adrenaline into the system and can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. According to the American Heart Association, meditating for a few minutes each day could help decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Control Impulsivity
Practicing mindfulness for as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day flexes the mind’s ability to control negative impulses. For those recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, this skill-set might just help prevent relapses.
- Reduce Body Discomfort
A study conducted at Wake Forest University found that meditation activates and reinforces areas of the brain that process pain and that the practice has the overall effect of reducing physical discomfort.
- Improve Brain Health
A recent study indicated that regular practice of meditation actually increases the thickness of certain cortical regions correlating to visual, auditory and somatosensory processing. In addition, regularly meditating may slow frontal cortex thinning due to aging processes. It has also been suggested that meditation-induced relaxation states facilitate learning processes supported by improved cortical plasticity.
- Enhance Spiritual Growth
Meditation is utilized by virtually all the great spiritual disciplines. By shutting off the outside world and focusing on the interior landscape, a connection is made to a higher level of consciousness. Although it is very difficult to measure accurately, this practice gradually develops a person’s spiritual nature.
How to Meditate Properly
With interest in the mind-body connection increasing due to imaging advances that allow neuroscientists to view the brain’s activity in real-time, clinical research studies investigating the efficacy of meditation is providing positive results. A meta-analysis of meditation studies applying cutting-edge technology indicated that regularly practicing meditation and cultivating mindfulness is correlated to more “positive states of mind”, improved life quality and experiencing reduced emotional distress. This same meta-analysis also found that meditation can positively impact stress hormones, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system.
Step by Step Instructions
Here are some pointers on how to meditate;
- Find a Quiet Space – Although meditation can be done almost anywhere, it is best to find a place where there are no distractions.
- Sit in a Comfortable Position – It’s often called “sitting” for a reason. It is not necessary to cross you legs in any particular fashion, whatever is most comfortable is perfectly fine. You hands can be folded in front of you or flat. Touching the thumb and the index finger (on the same hand) is said to “close the circuits”, but not required.
- Close your Eyes & Take a Deep Breath – Keeping the eyes closed helps block out the exterior world and allows you to pay attention to what is going on inside. Taking a deep breath can help relax the body.
- Become “The Observer” of Your Breathing – Becoming “The Observer” means taking a step back from your thoughts and feelings and simply be a passive, detached, watcher. Use your breathing as an “anchor” to bring you back to the present and stop your thinking mind.
- Let Thoughts Come & Go – Your mind may try to convince you this is waste of time and tell you to go do something else. This is where the practice of self-discipline, self-control and self-mastery takes place. Try to b not pay attention to thoughts. Let them come and let them go, without any concern whatsoever.
- Relax & Breathe Naturally – Breathing normally, perhaps a little deeper than usual, lets your body to relax into the practice. Stay with it for however long you allow, and it feels good. Sometimes setting an alarm is a good idea. It allows the person to not be concerned about the element of time. It is not suggested to “force” yourself to keep sitting once you reach a point it’s not comfortable, just open eyes.
- End the Session With a Deep Breath – Once you’re done meditating, open your eyes and take a deep breath. You can say a closing expression of some kind or a mantra if you wish.
Breathing meditation is a great way to use breath as a focal point for your busy mind. Breathing is always present, in the here and now. Breathing meditation is a good way for beginners to practice mindfulness, self-control, and self-discipline.
The best way to meditate is to start your session by finding a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can either sit on the floor, in a chair or wherever you feel comfortable. Once you are sitting, just rest your hands on your lap and become aware of your posture. If you are slouching, straighten your back enough to maintain its natural curve.
Now close your eyes and pat attention to the breath. Slow down your breathing slightly by inhaling more deeply than you usually inhale. Remember to inhale through your nose and exhale from your mouth. As you practice this deep breathing exercise, you’ll notice your lungs filling up with more air each time. This is not only great for your physical health but contributes to calming your central nervous system.
In the beginning, you’ll find your attention straying from your breathing to something else. Deliberately return your attention to your breathing each time you realize you’ve wandered away. Learning to focus is often difficult for beginners but with practice, you’ll eventually discover that concentrating on only breathing slowly and deeply is second nature to you.
- “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true, meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness…”
Some people prefer listening to meditation music or nature sounds while meditating. The gentle sounds of ocean waves, raindrops and birdsong help create images in the mind on which to focus that are relaxing, soothing and nurturing. Also, meditating after you’ve eaten a large meal or while hungry may distract you from achieving the calm, serene state you wish to reach before ending your meditation session.
Types of Meditation
Theses meditation techniques for beginners represent only a basic introduction to meditation. Transcendental meditation is a technique for focusing, repeating a mantra and letting stress and worry go.
Several different kinds of meditation practices exist, including;
- reflective meditation
- creative meditation
- mindfulness meditation
You can learn more about these meditation techniques by visiting the Institute of Noetic Awareness.
An added plus to meditation is that if mindfulness doesn’t feel appropriate for a person, there are forms that might be more suitable. Tai Chi, for instance is a type of moving meditation that applies deep concentration and balance to gentle movement. The slow breathing and stretching involved in Yoga is also used as form of physical meditation.
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