Mind Help

Meditation

Meditation

Meditation is a practice that enables you to become aware of your thoughts, emotions, habits and surroundings. When practiced regularly, it can help to reduce stress and improve health.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation refers to a form of mental training practice that enables the practitioner to become aware of certain mental processes, improve focus and experience relaxation. The essence of this practice is to acquire a state of thoughtless, mindful awareness. Mindfulness 1 states that it is an art of being alert and calm in the present moment without struggling to change yourself. It is a process that trains our mind and body to –

  • Gain increased awareness
  • Regulate our thoughts and feelings
  • Develop concentration
  • Relieve worry and stress
  • Improve mood
  • Better sleeping habits
  • Increase pain tolerance
  • Build a positive outlook towards life

Typically, meditation is practiced, either independently or in a group setting, in a seated position, with closed eyes and deep, controlled breathing. Contrary to popular belief, it is not about controlling or turning off our thoughts and feelings. It is simply about observing them in a non-judgemental way without reacting to or getting attached to them. According to a 2019 study 2 , meditation is considered as an umbrella term including an array of diverse practices. It is “a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration,” explains the study.

It is a contemplative, multi-generational practice that empowers the practitioner to focus on a single thought, idea, sound, experience or object with the objective of gaining better psychological well-being, improved existential insight and greater spiritual awareness. According to a 2014 study 3 , “Meditative techniques are categorized as emphasizing mindfulness, concentration, and automatic self-transcendence.” The study adds that it can help to reduce psychological stress and have proved to improve anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. This spiritual and psychological practice can also improve health-related quality of life, claims the study.

Aspects Of Meditation

Studies 4 have observed that this mind and body technique is a “complex neural practice” that can alter the brain’s neurochemistry and neurophysiology leading to changed neurocognitive functions 5 & behavior. Hence, in the long run, meditation can change the way we think and behave by promoting positive emotions and mood. According to research, this practice mainly involves three primary criteria –

  • The use of a defined technique
  • Logic relaxation (not judging, analyzing or expecting)
  • A self-induced mode or state

The researchers observed that meditation may also involve the following aspects –

  • A state of psycho-physical relaxation in the process
  • The use of a self-focus skill or anchor
  • The presence of an altered state of consciousness, enlightenment or a state of suspension of logical thought processes
  • A religious, spiritual and philosophical context
  • An experience of mental silence

Apart from these, the practice and art of meditation mainly focuses the following three mental elements –

1. Awareness

It strengthens our awareness and enables us to be more mindful by keeping our attention in the present moment, without getting attached to anything or distracted by something.

2. Focus

Concentration is another crucial aspect of this practice. It helps to direct our attention towards a specific idea, experience or object, whether external or internal.

3. Observation

It allows us to observe internal and external experiences without judging or getting involved in them. It helps us observe the present moment as it unfolds without getting distracted by or attached to a specific thing.

Some additional characteristics of this mind-body technique may include the following –

  • Even when practiced in a group setting, meditation is an individual experience and practice
  • Closing your eyes while practicing is a helpful habit but it is not always necessary as there are different open eye techniques as well
  • It requires the practitioner to be physically and mentally still & calm. However, certain techniques may require body movement activities that promote mindfulness.

Understanding Meditation

It is a 2,500 year old mental practice that has been prevalent in different religions and cultures, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc. It is a consciousness-changing technique which trains the mind to become more alert and aware so that we can connect better with our inner self. Meditation is about observing your thoughts and feelings, not about blocking them out. During the practice, the practitioner simply becomes aware of the thoughts that arise, acknowledges them and allows them to pass without getting involved or attached. When someone meditates, their mind is focused inwards as it calms and relaxes. Although initially some internal chatter may be present, with practice one can learn to control their internal distractions and enjoy a deeper, more focused meditative experience.

Although it is widely seen as a religious or spiritual practice, meditation can be practiced for individual reasons, such as to promote positive moods and emotions, reduce stress and anxiety, relaxation, better sleeping habits or overall better physical, emotional and mental wellbeing 6 . In fact, it is also used as a therapy technique 7 to relieve symptoms of different mental health conditions. “Meditation may promote the diminishment of psychiatric illness, character change, and the resolution of neurosis,” adds a 2008 study 8, 5(1), 28–41. )) .

Another 2015 study 9 explains that the word meditation is used loosely in the modern era, especially since it became popular in different Western nations, such as the United States. However, it basically refers to a wide array of diverse techniques, such as –

  • Contemplation
  • Concentration
  • Listening to nature sounds such as rain or the ocean
  • Guided meditation
  • Meditative movement exercises like Yoga, tai chi & qigong
  • Breathing exercises
  • Mantra

“These techniques work at different levels such as the senses, mind, intellect, and emotions,” adds the study.

Meditation At A Glance: 

  • Meditation is a contemplative mental training practice that makes us aware of our thoughts and emotions, helps to reduce stress, improve psychological wellbeing & experience spiritual awareness.
  • The essence of this practice is to acquire a state of thoughtless, mindful awareness. It is about observing your thoughts and feelings, not about blocking them out.
  • As it is mainly regarded as a spiritual practice, several religions involve meditation as a core element.
  • There are different types and styles of meditation that a practitioner can choose from to gain increased awareness and inner peace.
  • Research shows that regular meditation offers an array of psychological, physical and emotional health benefits. It also helps to develop healthy habits, improve mood, build self-discipline etc.
  • To start meditating, one simply needs to focus their attention on their breath and be mindful of the present moment.

Meditation In Religion

Meditation In Religion
Meditation

Several religious and spiritual practices involve meditation as a core element. Although most religions 10 mainly include similar crucial meditational tenets and practices, each follow their own distinct objectives, teachings, practices, legends and symbols. Here are some of the major religions that practice different forms of this mental, physical and spiritual practice –

1. Hinduism

Vedic Hinduism is closely associated with meditative practices and it has been mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Dhyana 11 is a form of Yoga practice that leads to “a state of abiding calm.” Moreover, various Hindu beliefs like Samadhi and Moksha are associated with this practice. According to a 2018 study 12 , “Meditative concentration is sometimes referred to as ‘one-pointedness’ (Sanskrit: samādhi).”

2. Buddhism

Mediation forms one of the core aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path as laid down by Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha. “The noble eightfold path and its focus on right mindfulness and right thinking are the corollary in Buddhist thought,” states a 2013 study 13 . In Buddhism, one can reach enlightenment through this spiritual practice.

4. Judaism

This religion is also closely associated with such practices. Jewish 14 meditation is primarily focused on calming the mind, gaining emotional insight, introspection, contemplation and visualization of mystical, ethical and philosophical ideas. In Judaism, this practice is believed to help practitioners gain better understanding of the Divine.

5. Christianity

Christianity involves various practices that can lead the practitioner into a meditative state. Although salvation can be achieved by Christians only through Christ, meditation can help one to connect with God and improve their spiritual worship. However, the meaning and purpose of this practice may be different in Christianity than in other Eastern religions. “Christian meditation focuses individuals on their personal salvation through Jesus Christ and the loving works of God,” explains a 2019 study 15 .

6. Islam

For muslims, the purpose of meditational practices is to remember God or Allah. Dhikr or “remembrance” refers to certain Islamic devotional acts where a practitioner repeats certain prayers and phrases. Murāqabah 16 is a mind-body technique in Sufism, a spiritual tradition of Islam.

Apart from these, many other religions may involve meditative practices as a way to engage in spirituality and gain enlightenment –

  • Jainism
  • Sikhism
  • Taoism
  • Baha’i faith
  • Wicca
  • Neopaganism

Read More About Religion Here

Types Of Meditation

Meditation can be practiced in different forms, styles and types that enable us to gain increased awareness and inner peace. Here are some of the most common types of meditation –

1. Mindfulness meditation

This technique allows the practitioner to be fully present in the moment and observe their own thoughts without reacting to it. “Mindfulness can be defined as nonjudgmental attention to the present moment.” explains a 2019 study 17 . It helps us to shift our focus away from thinking about the past or future and brings our attention to what we are experiencing now without any judgment. Mindfulness is an essential part of this practice and is present in almost all other forms. It can help to control negative emotions and improve memory & focus. Studies 18 have found that mindfulness practices can be beneficial during times of crisis such as COVID-19.

2. Loving kindness meditation

Also known as Metta meditation, the primary objective of this technique is to develop an attitude of loving kindness towards others, including things that make us feel stressed. A 2015 study 19 explains “Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a traditional meditation practice directly oriented toward enhancing unconditional and positive emotional states of kindness towards oneself and others.” A person can cultivate acceptance, love, compassion and kindness for themselves and others by chanting phrases with positive intentions, according to research 20. It can help to promote positive emotions 21 and reduce resentment, stress, anger, frustration etc.

3. Progressive relaxation

Also known as the body scan technique, this form requires that the practitioner to gradually mentally scan their body from their toes to the top of their head, especially in areas where they hold stress. The objective is to identify the stress in the body and release it to experience relaxation. The practitioner may be required to tense their muscles and then relax them to experience progressive relaxation. The goal of progressive relaxation is “to increase sensations of physical relaxation,” explains a 2010 study 22 .

4. Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana is an ancient 23 meditative practice. It is a gentle, observation-based silent technique that focuses on self-exploration and understanding the connection between our mind and body. Vipassana means to observe things as they are. It is one of the most controlled forms of meditation as the practice is transferred from teacher to student, according to Buddhist principles. According to a 2001 study 24 , it helps to control our tendency to dwell on the past, worry about the future, and lowers expectations, regrets & anxiety. It also helps the “participant to remain in the ‘here and now’ and achieve relative mental tranquillity.”

5. Zen Meditation

Also known as Zazen, this practice is mainly a Japanese Sōtō Zen Buddhist practice that is learned from a teacher as it includes multiple postures & steps. It is considered to be a form of open monitoring 25 meditation. It is typically practiced by sitting in a comfortable position, bringing your attention to your breath and being mindful about your thoughts. The word Zen 26 is derived from the Sanskrit term “dhyan” which means being in a meditative state. Studies 27 show that “Zen meditators showed larger openness to experience and less need for achievement and performance.”

6. Transcendental meditation

It is a spiritual technique that enables the practitioner to rise above or transcend their present state of being. This can result in increased mindfulness and spiritual experiences. The practice involves repeating certain phrases or mantras that are determined by the teacher based on different factors. It is similar to Vedic meditation. According to a 2008 study 28 , this technique helps the practitioner to experience relaxation and “may improve mental health of young adult population especially in the areas of somatisation and anxiety 29 , and this effect seems to be independent of age, sex and marital status.”

9. Yoga

Yoga involves several meditative techniques that can improve both our mental and physical wellbeing. It is an ancient Indian practice that involves mental, physical and spiritual disciplines and is aimed at calming and controlling the mind. Kundalini yoga 30 is a popular form of meditation that includes various techniques like deep breathing, body movements & postures, singing and chanting mantras repeatedly. It can help to reduce stress 31 , anxiety 32 , depression, cognitive decline 33 , chronic pain and improve mental health. “The ancient system of Kundalini yoga includes a vast array of meditation techniques and many were discovered to be specific for treating the psychiatric disorders as we know them today,” explains a 2004 study 34 .

9. Mantra meditation

Also referred to as Om meditation, this type of technique 35 requires the practitioner to chant a word or syllable in a repeated manner with the intention of focusing their mind. However, it is not similar to reciting an affirmation to persuade oneself. Mantra is a Sanskrit term meaning a word that is chanted for spiritual purposes. It helps to focus the mind, boost concentration and improve mindfulness. The chosen mantra may not have any meaning or relevance. One 2018 study 36 found that this form of meditative practice can be considered as “a viable tool” for improving awareness, attention, emotion regulation, ability to cope with stress and better mental wellbeing 37

.Apart from these, there are many other forms of meditative practices such as –

  • Vedic Meditation
  • Chakra Meditation
  • Tantric Meditation
  • Self-Enquiry Meditation
  • Taoist Meditation
  • Qigong Meditation
  • Chakra Meditation
  • Open monitoring meditation
  • Focused attention meditation
  • Spiritual Meditation
  • Focused Meditation
  • Movement Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Chanting Meditation
  • Guided Meditation

How Meditation Affects Health

Regular meditation offers an array of psychological, physical and emotional health benefits. This habitual process not only helps to train our mind, heighten our awareness and help us relax, it can also enable us to better cope with daily stressors and different mental and physical illnesses. Some of the most prominent and proven health benefits of this mind & body practice and mentioned below –

1. Changes brain structure

Research 38 has observed that meditation can help to change the structure of the brain in the long run. “Neuroimaging studies have shown that the brain connectivity changes in meditators,” add the researchers. This can help to improve cognitive functions and reduce age-related brain degeneration. Mindfulness practices also help to increase regional gray matter density 39 in the brain, which improves emotion regulation, perspective taking, self-referential processing, memory and learning. Another 2014 study 40 revealed that meditative practices changes brain regions that are associated with stress-related reactions & improves overall psychological well-being.

Further studies reveal that this practice is also related to differences in default mode network activity & functional connectivity, which are associated with mind-wandering and unhappiness.

2. Improves mental & emotional health

A growing body of evidence shows that this practice is closely associated with improved mental health. Studies 41 have shown that people who meditate regularly experience lower levels of stress & stress-related health issues. Moreover, they are also better able to respond and react to stressful situations. However, it can also be used as a therapeutic tool to overcome psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety 42 and depression 43 . One 2010 study 44 has found that mindfulness-based therapy can significantly help in treating anxiety and mood problems, like depression. It has also been observed that even a single session can reduce anger 45 and fear in novice & experienced meditators. One 2016 study explains that brief mindfulness meditation “produces demonstrable changes in emotional processing indicative of reduced emotional reactivity.”

3. Helps in psychiatric therapy

According to a 2008 study 8, 5(1), 28–41. )) , meditation can be an effective psychotherapy tool 46 for coping with different mental conditions and adding value to the practice of psychiatry. Substantial literature suggests that meditation is beneficial for “a variety of psychiatric and medical conditions and for enhancing wellbeing and functioning,” adds the study. Hence, it can also prove to be “a helpful tool for promoting the healing of individuals who are mentally ill.” Researchers believe that by demystifying the practice, therapists can use it as a formal practice of actions in psychotherapy. One 2016 study 47 states that mindfulness practices can be considered as an alternative treatment approach. It can not only complement other strategies but can also prove to be an effective treatment in its own right. “Mindfulness may increase the range of treatment choices for patients,” adds the study.

Researchers 48 further point out that this practice is an effective self-awareness technique that leads to positive cognitive and emotional changes which are regarded as therapeutic. “The relaxation and reduction of stress that are claimed to result from meditation may have prophylactic and therapeutic health benefits, and a plethora of research papers purport to show this,” explains a 2003 study 49 . As a therapeutic practice it can help cope with anxiety, depression, PTSD 50 (post-traumatic stress disorder), schizophrenia 51 , OCD 52 (obsessive compulsive disorder), substance use disorders 53 and ADHD 54 (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

4. Improves physical health

Health professionals have observed regular meditation practice can help in managing physical health problems and diseases. Studies 55 show that mindfulness practice can help to reduce chronic pain and improve quality of life. It helps to increase our pain tolerance, transform the state of our mind and improves our ability to cope with the sensation of pain. Regular practice can reduce the impact and frequency of headaches, migraine, hypertensive conditions, psoriasis, osteoarthritis & other chronic pains. This practice can also help with sleep difficulties 56 , inflammatory bowel disease (IBD 57 ), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) etc.

Further studies 58 reveal that it helps to manage and reduce high blood pressure and coronary heart disease 59 , especially in older individuals. According to a 2013 study 60 , evidence suggests that meditation may decrease blood pressure acutely in the long run. The study adds that it can “positively influence the cardiovascular system,” and have “beneficial effects on patients with established cardiovascular disease.” Research 61 also indicates that meditation is beneficial against cancer as it tends to alter cellular activity in cancer patients. Studies 62 further show that this practice can even help cancer survivors overcome stress and behavioral symptoms associated with the disease.

Benefits Of Meditation

Benefits Of Meditation
Meditation


Regular meditation offers an array of benefits, apart from improving our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It is an excellent way to develop various positive and healthy habits, improve mood, strengthen relationships, build self-discipline, improve sleep and reduce pain. Here are some of the most commonly observed benefits of regular practice

  • Improves attention and self-awareness
  • Increases stress management abilities
  • Enables one to live in the moment
  • Improves creativity and imagination
  • Enhances tolerance and patience
  • Promotes positive emotions & mood
  • Increases a sense of inner peace, calm, relaxation & balance
  • Better emotional well-being
  • Increases gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, empathy and compassion
  • Improves intelligence and memory
  • Develops immune system
  • Improves focus & concentration
  • Improves blood circulation & lowers respiratory rate
  • Lower levels of blood cortisol
  • Develops emotional regulation and stability
  • Enhanced feelings of happiness and joy
  • Develops intuition and clarity
  • Supports personal transformation
  • Greater self-confidence, self-esteem, mental strength and resilience
  • Results in better skin
  • Better eating habits and reduces food cravings & binge eating
  • Promotes healthy formation of habits
  • Improves romantic and interpersonal relationships
  • Helps overcome addiction
  • Reduces negative thoughts & emotions
  • Prevents burnout
  • Improves sex life
  • Promotes spiritual awakening
  • Helps cope with trauma, loneliness and depression
  • Helps build a sense of purpose

However, to experience such benefits one needs to practice regularly and learn to reach a meditative state. One can start experiencing the beneficial outcomes by simply meditating for around 10 minutes daily. It allows us to pause from our daily life and take a deeper look into ourselves.

How To Meditate

How To Meditate
Meditation


Starting to meditate may seem like a complicated and daunting task for a beginner, but once you understand that the core essence of the practice is awareness, you can start practicing easily anywhere, anytime. As there are different forms of meditation, you can explore the types and choose the one that is most appropriate for you. However, mindfulness meditation is perhaps the most simplest, effective and most recommended form for beginners. But before we delve into how one can start their practice, here are a few elements a new practitioner should know about –

  • Focused attention is the primary aspect of this practice
  • Deep, evenly paced, diaphragmatic breathing is a basic technique
  • Must be practiced in a quiet setting with minimal or no distractions
  • Must be in a comfortable position, whether sitting, walking or lying down
  • Having an open mind is crucial to let thoughts pass without reacting

In order to practice, one does not need to be religious or spiritual or prevent any thoughts from appearing. All you need to do is focus your attention on your breath and be mindful of the present moment. Here are the steps to start meditating –

1. Choose a quiet place

Select a space which is calm, quiet and distraction free. It can be your bedroom, your garden, or somewhere out in nature as long as no one will disturb your practice. However, make sure that the place is safe for you to meditate.

2. Be comfortable

You can choose to sit or lie in a comfortable position while you meditate. You can sit on a chair, on the bed, a cushion, a mat or on the floor as long as you feel comfortable. Relax your body and sit up straight without tensing up any specific body part.

3. Close your eyes

Gently close your eyes without forcing them to close or exerting any pressure to keep them closed. Be relaxed and let it happen naturally.

4. Breathe deeply, yet gently

Take a few deep breaths and slowly let your breath follow its natural pace. Do not attempt to control your breathing. Breathe in a natural way and focus your attention on the middle point between inhaling and exhaling. Make sure to breathe from your stomach for deeper breaths.

5. Body scan

An alternative to deep breathing is the body scan method. Simply focus on a specific body part and observe the sensations carefully. You can start from your toes and gradually move towards your head.

6. Don’t get attached to internal chatter

As you meditate, your mind will wander and several different thoughts, memories and emotions will surface. Instead of being distracted by them or trying to avoid them, simply acknowledge them in a non-judgmental way and let them pass. Keep your focus on your breath and avoid dwelling on the distractions. Remember our internal chatter is a natural phenomenon and learning to manage them is an important part of being mindful.

7. Carry the positive emotions

Once you are done with your meditation practice, bring your awareness back to your reality while feeling the peace of mind, clarity, calmness and positive emotions. Carry these feelings with you as you continue your day and go through your daily life.

8. Have an open mind

You should also remember that every session may feel different from the previous one and it is natural for you to feel like that. Do not be overwhelmed by different emotions. There is no right or wrong way to meditate as long you keep your attention and awareness on your breath. Just keep practicing on a regular basis.

How Long Should You Meditate

You can start your practice by meditating for 2 minutes every day and eventually increase the duration to 5 to 10 minutes each day. As you get better with your practice, you can choose to meditate for as long as 30-45 minutes. However, you can enjoy the benefits with a regular, brief 63 mindfulness practice as well. It is important that you try to meditate at the same time every day in order to make it a habitual practice. In case you miss out on a session, don’t feel too overwhelmed as you can continue your routine from the next day.

If you find meditating by yourself to be a challenging process, then you may try out group meditation or seek help from a certified professional or instructor in your community. You can also try out guided meditation by referring to guided audio or video sessions online or try a reliable app to start meditating. You may also read some books on the topic or do some research online to gain additional information about the process.

Takeaway

Meditation is a simple mind-body practice that everyone and anyone can practice to experience better mental & physical health and spiritual enlightenment. Although it may take some time for you to perfect the practice, you will start experiencing the benefits almost instantaneously. According to a 2018 study 64 , “individuals who are merely initiating a meditation practice may reap benefits after a single brief session.” Simply find out what type is best suited for your needs and keep practicing regularly and habitually. You can do it without having any specific equipment and practice anywhere to build a better life for yourself.

Meditation Reviewed By :


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