If you’ve been wondering what meditation is and whether this is a good time for you to start practicing this ancient method of connecting to your soul and healing your mind, you’re on the right track. Modern healthcare has recognized and started emphasizing that meditation has huge health benefits, and people ranging from successful businessmen to celebrtities to health care professionals are all seen to endorse meditation as a daily routine. Meditation is for the mind what exercise is for the body. Since your mind plays a huge role in how you perceive your reality, meditating is the best tool in your hands to shape your own reality.
What is Meditation?
To meditate means to focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation. Wikipedia states meditation as a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Why do I need to meditate?
I started meditating five years ago, and as anyone who actively meditates will tell you, its a game-changer and a lifesaver. You are able to make better decisions as it cuts down the negative mind chatter, also known as the monkey mind. Brain studies have found, among other things, that meditation can deactivate the area of the brain that’s thought to be responsible for mind chatter—the default mode network (DMN). This comes from the fact that meditation plays a huge role in altering brain waves and in quieting down the negative mind chatter and help you see clearer on what needs to be done, leading you to make better choices in life.
It also helps you cope with stress and reduces your anxiety to a large extent. There is a huge difference in the way you respond to any intense situation, which may or may or not be negative, before and after you’ve been actively practicing meditation. For example, a person who gets overwhelmed at an unexpected event that would normally cause huge stress or anxiety, would find that he or she copes and responds better to the same situation if they have incorporated meditation into their routine lifestyle.
Other benefits of meditation include promoting emotional health, reducing depression, lowering BP and heart rate, enhancing self-awareness, reducing age-related memory loss, generating kindness, improving skin health and it helps in fighting addictions. It also improves attention and concentration. A study from Harvard found that when people went through 8 weeks of meditation, critical areas of the brain that associate with awareness, stress, and empathy change.
Types of meditation
Scientifically speaking, meditation is of two types – Focused Attention (FA) and Open Monitoring (OM). In FA, one focuses on a thing, usually your breath. You could also focus on a single word, mantra or an object like a candle flame. You sit comfortably, focus on your breath and on your body sensations while breathing. When you find your mind wandering, you bring it back to the breath, again and again. So the practice isn’t about sitting there with a blank mind but it is about bringing your focus back to its object repeatedly.
In the other, more advanced form, OM (also called mindfulness meditation), you watch your thoughts non-judgmentally, acknowledge them, and then (theoretically) let them go. Rather than reacting to a thought, you just observe it curiously and then watch it subside. Both these methods have proven highly efficacious in helping psychological problems in many patients.
How to meditate?
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a while. Get yourself comfortable. Sit in an upright position with legs crossed, either on the ground or your bed, or on a chair with your feet on the ground, whichever you find comfortable. You may also lie down. Close your eyes. Beginners may find sitting with their eyes closed, without doing anything disturbing, but don’t give up. You can start doing this for 2-5 minutes a day for a week and then increase the time. It gets better and easier over time. I initially started with a guided meditation on youtube and used it for a week. Once I got the hang of it, I started practicing by myself.
As you first settle into your meditation session try to be aware of your surroundings. Is the fan whirring, are there cars honking outside, birds chirping? All these are a part of your surroundings and just embrace them as it is. Next, try to be aware of the state of your body and how you are feeling in general. Is your mind busy, sad or anxious? Is your body tired or lethargic or energised? Do you have any pain or discomfort anywhere? How fast is your heart beating? Accept whatever you are feeling just as it is. It is completely ok to be feeling whatever you are feeling.
Now that you’re settled in, turn your focus on to your breath. Breathe naturally. Observe your breath as it is. Feel your breath as it comes in, and flows through your nose down into your lungs. And observe it flowing out. Don’t force your body to breathe in any particular way. Just merely observe and focus.
Whenever you find your mind wandering, which is bound to happen, bring your focus back to your breath. You might find yourself getting a little frustrated when you find your mind wandering but know that this is completely normal and happens to all of us. Keep practising as practice makes perfect.
The next thing you can do is notice the thoughts and feelings that arise during meditation. Don’t judge these and learn to observe them with love and kindness. Return to your breath, but after a week or two, or even a month of practicing focused attention meditation, you can gradually move on to opened monitoring meditation where you bring your focus to your thoughts rather than your breath.
Many people wrongly believe that meditation is about clearing your mind and keeping it blank, an almost impossible task, but rather, it’s more about learning to be a gentle observer of what is going on inside your head. So stay with whatever feelings or thoughts arise arises. Don’t push away any feeling that you think or judge as negative like anger, anxiety, frustration or sadness. Stay with these feelings and see if you can get yourself into a different mindset of being curious about this feeling. This will help you not judge the thoughts, but rather simply observe. Do not be critical of yourself, instead, have a friendly attitude towards yourself and yourself. This is also pivotal in learning to love yourself.
All this gives you a chance to learn more about yourself and be aware of how your mind works. You understand yourself better and that is actually one of the main goals of meditation. Relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is the result of meditation.
Another main thing to remember is to make this a daily habit. Commit yourself to meditation. It doesn’t matter where you are, this is something you can practice every day. If you have a busy schedule with work or with family and kids, make sure to at least put in five minutes to meditate, as meditation is something that gives you rewards in the long run.
There’s an old zen saying –
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
All in all, meditation is going to largely improve the quality of your life and make you see yourself, your life and everything around you a whole lot differently.