Meditation is a means of relaxing and transforming the mind. Buddhist meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity and a calm state of being. By engaging in meditation, you learn how to generate more positive patterns that can deepen a peaceful and energized state of mind.
Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.
Meditation is also helpful in reducing the production of cortisol, which is a stress-related hormone. At the same time, it increases the production of serotonin, which are the “good chemicals.” This increase can boost mood, provide balance, and improve clarity in thought.
What is Meditation?
According to WebMD, meditation is a process of training one’s mind to improve focus and obtain clarity. In other words, it is a mental exercise, which involves awareness, concentration, and relaxation.
Meditation can be done alone or in a group. The primary focus is to empty your mind of noise and clutter that distracts your concentration. When you focus your attention on a single object, whether it be internal or external, this type of meditation is called Focused-Based or Attention Meditation.
Another type of meditation is known as Open-Monitoring Meditation or Observation-Based Meditation. This method allows you to focus on the awareness of feelings, thoughts, or sensations that are currently present in one’s body.
History of Meditation
Meditation comes from the Latin word “Meditatum,” which means “pondering” or “to ponder.” The exact origin of meditation is not known. However, many historians and experts agree that it began thousands of years ago, before the birth of modern civilization.
The study of meditation by historians, scholars, and scientists is based on deciphering ancient texts, manuscripts, and recorded pictographs to find references to this ancient discipline.
Several archaeological findings suggest that early shamans and hunter-gatherers practiced some form of meditation. For centuries, the teachings of meditation were orally passed down from generation to generation, thereby creating the foundation for what we know today.
Today, scholars find many forms of meditation in ancient religious traditions – they associate this discipline with Buddhism. Buddha was the founder of Buddhism – a religion or ancient philosophy that focuses on spirituality and the end of human suffering.
Around 2600 years ago, Buddha lived and taught Buddhism in Southeast Asia. The teaching of Buddha focused on peace, harmony, and tranquility within one’s life. The rhythmic effect of controlled breathing allows the mind and body to function together in harmony.
According to the teachings of Buddha, meditative concentration is essential training, which results in enlightenment and awakening. When this practice is combined, one can achieve the wisdom of observing things truly.
Over time, more and more people started embracing the teaching of Buddha. Those who gained knowledge and wisdom traveled across the world to teach others. In Southeast Asia and India, people would travel thousands of miles to learn from these masters. Often, they would spend years of practice studying the practice of discipline, then return to their native towns or villages and teach their gift to others.
Many modifications to the original teachings were introduced, which led to new practices and approaches. There are over 1500 types of meditation that have been developed over time.
Despite various adaptions, these techniques and methods still maintained the same principles taught by Buddha. People started practicing meditation and its forms from the territories of Mongolia, modern-day Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Japan.
In modern times, meditation is associated with Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, and Theravada, which are all Asian spiritual traditions. Western interest in eastern philosophies and religion started in earnest in the 19th century – with the start of western colonialism.
Meditation reached the western hemisphere due to improved means of communication and transportation in the 20th century. Until the mid-twentieth century, meditation was practiced widely in missionaries.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
Meditation is a widely practiced discipline across the world. People use this practice to heal their bodies and minds. Some of the benefits of Meditation are:
Stress Reduction: Meditation can be used to reduce stress and promote relaxation. When you meditate, you focus your attention on the here and now, which helps you to eliminate the jumbled thoughts. Reduction in stress means enhanced emotional and physical health.
Relieves Anxiety: Meditation can help you to reduce fearful thoughts, bring your breathing back to a controlled state, and reduce your feeling of panic. It also helps to create a sense of balance and focus.
Emotional Wellbeing: A research article published on the Harvard website confirms that meditation can help people sleep better, cope with symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, reduce emotional difficulties associated with pain, as well as improve behavioral and cognitive functions – leading to better emotional health.
Self-awareness: If you practice meditation regularly, it can help boost your self-awareness by providing clarity to your thought process. Many research studies have found that meditation can improve your self-awareness and confidence, increasing your overall health and wellbeing. It allows you to connect to your inner self and creates a sense of peace, gentleness, and tranquility in your mind and your surrounding.
Reverse Early Memory Loss: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), meditation can help reverse early memory loss in people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disorder. Researchers have found that when people practice a simple mediation, it can have several benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.
Fight Addiction: Through regular meditation, those who struggle with addiction will learn how to detach from destructive behavior and provide a more peaceful and calming effect on the mind. Meditation teaches people to put distance and time between themselves and their impulses. A research study has confirmed that the pause between urge and action motivated the brain to establish new behaviors.
Moreover, the benefits of mindfulness or meditation are not only limited to your mind. It can strengthen your immune system, reduce hypertension, lower risks of stroke, enhance cognitive functions, and minimize sensitivity.
How Is Meditation Different From Relaxation or Self-hypnosis?
The primary difference between meditation and self-hypnosis is that meditation is self-induced that leads to self-awareness. In contrast, self-hypnosis involves you to be in a state of unconsciousness, amnesia, or trance. Self-hypnosis has always had an objective. For instance, you can practice self-hypnosis to attain confidence to cope with stress, overcome anxiety or fear, rediscover your mind and wisdom, as well as develop better behavioral, dietary, and sleep patterns. Simply put, you practice self-hypnosis with a goal in mind.
On the other hand, meditation has a specific goal. However, in its purest form, we can call meditation a technique that helps you empty your mind, with the primary objective to de-rid the thought process of noise and chatter.
Both meditation and self-hypnosis bring positive and pleasant experiences, and both of these techniques have helped many people to lead more fulfilled and happier lives. There are numerous points in which both meditation and self-hypnosis meet and overlap.
How to Meditate?
There are various ways to practice meditation; many of them can be found in books, videos, and articles online. In general, the main focus is to get comfortable. This can be done by sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the ground or sitting cross-legged on a soft mat or cushion on the floor. The next step is to close your eyes and breathe naturally.
Next, you need to concentrate on your breathing and observe the position of your body with each inhalation and exhalation. Moreover, focus on your body, such as shoulders, chest, rib cage, and belly. Don’t control the intensity or pace of breathing. If your mind wanders, you can return your focus to each breath.
How Does Meditation Feel?
With time, we will attain subtle experiences confirming that our meditation practice is working. We notice that our thoughts and sensations (internal noise) are less likely to disturb feelings of completeness and peace that meditation produces. It may take time to master the methods of meditation, but that’s okay. One shouldn’t get frustrated by other people’s experiences, because sooner or later, you are going to experience your personal self-journey.
In addition, each person feels a unique experience, truly understanding their own meaning of life. You may feel like all the burden or stress on your mind is falling away – as you remain still, you may begin to feel a sense of tranquility and peace. Similarly, you may also feel deep silence and calmness, satisfaction, bodily pleasure, well being, regeneration of mind, as well as improved focus and attention.
Why Can’t I Meditate?
Meditation requires patience and lots of it. It’s that simple.
Many people feel frustrated when they first start to meditate. If you feel that way, you are not alone. Many people think that they cannot meditate, and that is simply not the case. Focusing on why you can’t, or not achieving the results others claim they feel, is redundant and not a good exercise to pursue. Meditation is a personal experience for you alone. Everyone can attest to different experiences and outcomes – don’t be so hard on yourself!
Distractedness is an inevitable part of the process of meditating and not a sign of failure. Every time we notice that our mind begins to wanter, it is an opportunity for us to re-direct our thought process and come back to our center point. Therefore, you need to remove your doubts and focus on your breathing. This way, you will actively be clearing your thoughts, which will allow you to return your attention back to your breath and rhythm of breathing. We think that one of the most significant aspects of mediation is being judgment-free and mindful. Avoid self-questioning and use it as a learning opportunity.
If possible, you should always try to meditate early in the morning when you feel calm and refreshed. After a long day, and when you are tired, the body expects it is time for sleep and can be counterproductive in trying to achieve the benefits of meditation.
How Do I Get Started Meditating?
So, how do you start meditating? To begin, it’s recommended that you find a comfortable chair or cushion to sit on.
The second important thing you need is a way to measure time. Using your smartphone is convenient, though it may be a distraction during your meditation time if you receive incoming messages. A basic minute timer would work best.
While you sit, keep your back straight, close your eyes, and drop your hands to your sides or place them on your lap. If you are seated in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If you are sitting on a cushion, you can sit cross-legged or extend your legs out straight – either way, ensure that you are sitting nice and straight without rounding your shoulders. Next, get comfortable, start your timer, and bring your focus and attention to your breath. Try and clear your mind. If you find that your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.
Follow these 6 simple rules:
1. Start small (not more than 10 minutes)
2. If your smartphone is going to be a distraction, choose an alarm that will only focus on time, i.e., a hand twist egg timer.
3. Meditate in a quiet place
4. Make sure to concentrate solely on inhaling and exhaling. Remember, practice is vital – don’t worry if your thoughts flee to that comfortable zone of noise and confusion, be aware of this, and gently bring yourself back to exactly where you are at this moment.
5. Be easy on yourself. Meditation takes practice. Don’t get discouraged even if, after the first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth time, you don’t feel that you have achieved the benefits of deep meditation. I promise, with practice, you will! Remember, everyone is different, and you cannot measure your success on someone else’s experience who may have been able to achieve the benefits of mediation sooner. You, too, will get there – keep practicing.
6. Start counting if you feel you can’t focus (count your breaths).
What Are the Most Important Things To Do During Meditation?
Practice and focus – focus, and practice! When you are ready, relax your mind and body and don’t allow yourself to become frustrated. Keep in mind, everything in life worth mastering requires practice, patience, and dedication. Some of the key points to remember are:
Focus on your breath: This is an essential part of mindfulness or meditation. You need to focus your attention on breathing. If you find it difficult to clear your mind, keep focusing on your breath. Make sure that you are in a quiet place to avoid any distractions around you. Breathing is key – it will help help you stay on track and will bring you back to center.
Concentrate on your body: While starting your meditation routine, it is vital to concentrate on your body. You should focus on how your body feels. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders raised? Is your breathing shallow? Are you feeling tense? As you start to pay attention to your body, you will begin to recognize these signs of stress and learn to correct them immediately. Remember, one of the secrets to meditation is learning to relax. Being in a quiet and comfortable room will help you to relax.
Mediation is an ancient method, which helps people to control their thoughts, quiet their minds, and rediscover themselves. Unlike other therapies, it is a practice that focuses on the breath. It is a great way to turn off your mind to life’s daily stresses and gently recharge your batteries.
There are numerous documented health benefits of meditation, such as relieving stress and anxiety, lowering high blood pressure, balancing your mind and body, strengthening the immune system, and so much more. Meditation can also control the alpha rhythms in your brain, causing an enhanced ability to focus. When you are more focused, you are more productive – and when you are more productive, life’s stresses are more manageable.
Begin your meditation journey slowly. Practice each day, and before you know it, your new life-skill will be a powerful tool that you will welcome each day and will enhance your life completely. Good Luck!