By Jacky Miller
Meditation means different things to different people. One thing that most will agree on is that it has been around for a very long time and is a part of many religious traditions and beliefs. You may use a type of meditation to still your mind before an exam, or to stay focused on trying to keep calm. Meditation is often used to clear the mind. You may not be aware that it is also recommended as part of treatment for asthma, depression and high blood pressure. Buddhist monks incorporate meditation into their daily routines as a part of mind training. You may see people using prayer beads during meditation. It is practiced by many people of many different cultures and in most countries in the world.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the action or practice of contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, study, prayer and reverie. One good way to think about meditation is that it is not about concentration, but rather about de-concentration. Not about focusing on something, but becoming thoughtless. Learning how to meditate involves you trying to clear your mind of all superfluous thoughts to the point that adverse emotions will have little or no effect on you.
Meditation is a practice where an individual seeks to train the mind to be still and not be disturbed by surroundings, whatever they may be. While the person may be aware of things happening around them, they will not be influenced by situations, or let things have adverse effects on them.
The term to meditate refers in a broad sense to the practices and techniques which assist in promoting relaxation and focusing on the positive aspects of life such as love, patience and forgiveness. One meditation works on maintaining a single point of concentration, so that the meditator keeps focus on his sense of well-being while continuing with any other activity.
Sometimes meditation is used to identify emotions such as anger and hatred, so that they can be analyzed and left behind. It would then be used to instill different emotions such as compassion and kindness.
Meditation sometimes involves the use of a mantra, which is almost always done with eyes closed, and is repeated over, and over again. Each meditator will select his own mantra depending on what they feel comfortable with.
Meditation has been proven to help with conditions such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). During a study of over 50 adults with ADHD, it was found that when they were submitted to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, they showed that there was a reduced level of hyperactivity, reduced impulsiveness and an increase in the ‘act with awareness’ skills. Overall there was a vast improvement in all the inattention symptoms.
The desired effect of meditation is to produce a calming effect and instil an awareness inside the body and this is sometimes described as ‘ being awake inside but not being aware of anything other than awareness itself’.
Generally speaking there are many different types of meditation, and also many different meditative methods.
The reason we meditate is to ultimately bring us closer to the heart of God where we can be still and quiet in sweet communion. Meditation therefore helps to raise our consciousness far above the physical senses until we reach the higher senses. The goal is ultimately to reach the point where we are not seeking for anything. The simple act of ‘being’ requires sensitiveness which comes from a pure heart, mind and soul. First we empty ourselves of all negative feelings. Only when we are free from these, then we can be closer to the supply of light and love.
Meditation can be thought of as a tool which can be used to combat stress and help with some physical problems like asthma and anxiety. It is also beneficial in coping with depression and can help one sleep better and feel happier.
On a deeper, more spiritual level meditation may be used to calm the mind and make the person more peaceful. It is likened to a doorway into the unknown and is used to explore the depths of the brain to greater degrees that one would normally do.
If our minds are at peace, it follows that we will then be free from mental discomfort and worry. It will then be possible to experience true happiness. When our minds are not at peace, we are not in a happy place, even though our conditions may be perfect. In training our minds to be at peace with everything, through meditation, we will in due course become more peaceful, and it will be possible to experience a purer form of happiness. This will enable us to stay in this contented place for longer periods of time, and even under difficult circumstances.
When you first start to meditate, you will possibly find it hard to control your mind for any length of time. Our mind may be likened to a leaf blowing in the wind, blown about by external forces. When things go well, the mind is happy. On the other hand, when things do not go well, the mind is unhappy, discontented and subject to negative feelings like anger and frustration.
Prior to meditation the mind is easily swayed by events that happen to us. For example, when we get a new car or drone with camera, or possession that we like, then we experience all the good feelings such as happiness, joy and excitement. On the converse, when we learn that we have to work with a colleague that we really do not like, we feel anger, frustration, resentment and irritation, sometimes to the point that our work will suffer because we cannot contain those negative feelings and deal with the situation. Meditation is there to teach the mind to be thankful in any situation and to deal efficiently and kindly with situations of all types.
Mood swings like this are only natural because we are human and external situations are a close part of our days. When we add meditation into the picture, we find that we can remove ourselves from external circumstances and not be influenced by them. Over time, we will find that we develop a balance of the mind where it is like a gentle wave on the ocean, rather than a crazy combination of highs and lows, which oscillates between extreme happiness and depression.
If meditation is practiced regularly, you will find that your mind is trained systematically and over a period of time you will be able to eradicate the feelings that cause problems and suffering. This then is the way to find an inner peace which is also known as ‘nirvana’. In this way, you will experience peace and happiness in every walk of your life.
How to meditate
By training in meditation, we create an inner space and clarity that enables us to control our mind.
It is very easy to meditate, but it is important that you find the best surroundings that you can. A place where you are not going to be disturbed is essential. Try to avoid noisy, smoky areas, in fact, you should try to stay away from anywhere with distractions. Find your own place to meditate, at first this may be in a room with the door closed. As you become more comfortable meditating, you may choose to go outside to the country or even onto a secluded beach. Wherever you choose to meditate, be sure that you are completely comfortable, and that you feel safe in your choice of spot. If you are out of doors, you must be sure that you will not be harmed while you are on your own.
- Sit or lie comfortably. Meditation chairs are very useful, but not essential. What matters is that you are in a good position, which is comfortable for you
- Shut your eyes. You may feel better if you do not shut your eyes completely, have them in a resting position, half open but not actually focussed on any particular subject
- Breathe naturally, do not try to control your breath, let it happen as it is comfortable for you. Do not try to emulate anyone else who is in the room with you, rather focus on what is going on in your own body, at your own pace, inhaling and exhaling
- Now start to focus your mind on your breath. Listen and feel how every breath feels. Take note of how your body feels when you inhale and exhale. Become aware of how your chest, shoulders and ribs feel. Try not to control or force your breath, focus your attention on just breathing in and out at your own pace
If your mind wanders, bring it back to focusing on your breath. Listen to yourself inhale, hold for a second or to, and then gently exhale. This technique will help you at times when your thoughts take over and you find your mind unable to stop. Come back to listening to your own breath.
In the beginning, you should only try this for three or four minutes at a time, and work up to longer periods. You will find that it is very tiring for you to meditate when you first start, so small, short periods will be better. You may then progress to longer periods.
While you may think that you will never have time in a busy day to try to meditate, you will find that if you start with a few minutes every day, you will not feel that meditation has robbed you of your time. Instead you will begin to feel that you are being rewarded for this time. You will begin to feel that meditation gives you more time in the day as you will become more focused and calmer. You will be able to complete tasks in a more efficient manner and in less time. Your stress will be reduced and you will be filled with an inner peace and contentment. Life will be more balanced for you. Ten minutes a day will make an enormous difference in the way you view life and problems.
There is no set time of the day or night for you to meditate, you can do this at any time that you feel you would like to. There is no right time or wrong time, it will be different with every person. You should set aside some time when you will not have to be rushed, do not need to get the supper started or answer the telephone. This may be early in the morning, or even late in the evening. Whenever you can be undisturbed is the right time for you.
Meditation is the means to help us to understand our own minds. By doing this we learn how to move from negative feelings to positive emotions. Unhappy becomes happy, while discontented changes to contentment. Your thoughts will become more constructive and you will find that it becomes easier to focus on the good things instead of the bad side of life. Meditation is a profound spiritual practice which you can enjoy at any time of day.
What to wear
There are absolutely no hard and fast rules about what to wear when you meditate. You may wear whatever you like. Some points to keep in mind are:
- Wear something comfortable: a top that is not too tight, but also not baggy will work. Sleeves are entirely up to you. Something that you can tuck into your bottoms is a good idea just to keep from slipping up
- Bottoms: harem pants are very comfortable, try not to have them too tight around your waist of ankles
- Hair: long hair may be better tied back just to keep it out of your eyes and nose. There is one less thing then for you to be distracted with.
- Feet: mostly you will be barefoot or perhaps wear a pair of socks if it is cold. Again, be sure that they are not too tight
- Mat: there are many good, padded mats on the market. These may be more comfortable than lying or sitting on a carpet. They are also cleaner and will have less allergens than a carpet.
- Jewelry: easy to remove if it gets in the way. Remember, the idea is not to be distracted. You can always wear it afterwards
It is essential when we meditate that we have good posture and either a good seat or comfortable place of the floor to start. A straight back is the first point to consider. If sitting on the floor, then use a cushion to sit on as this will ensure that you are slightly higher than your feet. Most beginners cannot sit comfortably all at the same level. This takes time to achieve. Sitting cross-legged may also be difficult at first, so you may sit in any position that is comfortable. It is a good idea to work up to the posture of Buddha Vairochana. If you cannot hold it for long, then sit in one which resembles it as closely as you can.
Features of Buddha Vairochana Posture:
- Legs are crossed in front of you. When you first begin to meditate, you may find it difficult to sit on the floor with your legs crossed in front of you. This is because your hips are not used to the position.
It may help it you sit on a small body pillow or bolster to lift you up of the floor slightly so that your body is a little higher than your feet. This will take some of the pressure off your hips and make sitting more comfortable for you. As you become used to this position you may remove the pillow, although some people use them every time they meditate
- Right hand is lightly placed in the left hand, palms face upwards with the tips of the thumbs slightly raised and gently touching. The hands should be slightly below the navel. The right hand is always above the left hand and symbolizes method and wisdom. The thumbs at navel level symbolize the inner fire
- The back should be straight but relaxed. Try not to become tense. A straight back will help to maintain a clear mind as it allows energy to flow freely. Try not to slouch as this prohibits the free flow of energy. You will find that you slouch more when you get tired and that is why short times are best when you first begin to meditate
- Keep your lips and teeth as you would have them with your mouth closed but have your tongue up against the back of your upper teeth. You will find that this action prevents your mouth becoming too dry. Keeping your mouth half closed may also feel better for you, again, this is something that you should experiment with and find the way that feels easiest for you
- Have your head tipped slightly forwards with your chin tucked in a little and your eyes downcast. You will find that this keeps you mentally calm. This also helps to ensure that your spine is straight. Your chin does not need to touch your chest, just be tucked in a little so that your eyes automatically look downwards instead of straight ahead
- Your eyes should be neither open nor completely closed. Have them half open and keep your gaze down the line of your nose. If you keep your eyes open completely you will be distracted, while if they are completely closed you will find your thoughts wandering to other things. Try to not focus on any one particular object but rather let your eyes feel as if they are glazing over and see everything and nothing at the same time
- Keep your shoulders level and have both your elbows a little away from your sides. Try not to lift your shoulders up towards your ears, but rather keep them lower. You will find this a more natural position and then you will be able to focus on keeping a clear mind. Try not to let your shoulders hunch forward as this will influence the spine and cause you to slouch. Also, it is not necessary that you have them back in a firm pose, rather be relaxed in your position with no feelings of discomfort anywhere in your body
Types of meditation
You may not be aware that there are different techniques of meditation, and they are also used for different purposes. In the Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is a group of activities, and not a single event. Different practices require different mental skills. It is not a good idea to try techniques which are advanced. Better to start at a place where you can learn, grow and then move on, rather than feel that you cannot achieve anything and give up. Start slowly, perfect your meditation pose, find the inner place where you are calm. After this you may move on to different techniques.
For a beginner, to focus and concentrate on an empty mind for long periods of time, is a really difficult thing, and may even discourage them, so possibly the easiest practice to start with is the technique of Concentration Meditation.
This type of meditation involves one single point being the focus. Often a beginner will only manage this for short periods of time as it is extremely tiring. It might also be repeating a mantra of one single word, focusing on a candle, counting the beads on a string, or listening to a gong striking over and over. The very act of focusing the mind is tiring so be sure not to overexert yourself in the beginning. Take this exercise slowly and progress at your own pace. You will soon be able to work up to longer periods and still maintain your focus. In this type of meditation, you choose the object to focus on. Each time your thoughts wander, you bring them back to the object. You should let these random thoughts go and keep focussed on the object. You will find that this helps to increase your concentration on other aspects in your life.
In this technique, the meditator will be encouraged to observe the thoughts as they wander and drift through the mind. In this style, you would not get involved with the thought process and follow them, rather you remain aware of the thoughts, making a mental note of them and moving on.
With this technique, you will see how your thoughts and feelings move in various directions. Over a period of time, you will become aware of the direction of your thoughts, and may develop responses to them such as good or bad thoughts, pleasant or unpleasant associations. However, with time and practice you will find that a balance develops.
Some schools adopt a combination of both concentration and mindfulness techniques, while others work on inner stillness.
Another technique which is used by Buddhists is the one which focuses directly on compassion. This is normally a daily practice by monks which cultivates the mindset of compassion and kindness. It involves facing the negative effects and then letting them go – or releasing them – and replacing them with positive thoughts and feelings. These meditation techniques are used in disciplines such as tai chi and qigong.
Do not be discouraged because you are not progressing as fast as someone else. You should remember that meditation is not a competition against any other person, and there are no set rules or time frames that you must work towards. The only goal is that you achieve inner peace and calm in your own time, at your own pace and in a place where you can be still and quiet.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation will make you aware that it is your own inner attitude which determines your happiness.
While relaxation may not be the primary goal of meditation, you will find that it is often the result.
The term ‘relaxation response’ was the opinion of researcher Herbert Benson at Harvard University where he conducted a study of people who practiced meditation.
In Benson’s words, the ‘relaxation response’ is an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the nervous system.
Since this statement, studies have shown numerous benefits of meditation. Researchers are now focussing on whether a regular meditation routine brings long-term benefits. They are also studying the effects on brain and immune function in people who regularly meditate.
However, it is worth noting that the goal of meditation is not to achieve benefits. The goal of meditation is simply to be present, and in the perfect state of mind.
A Buddhist believes that the benefit of meditation is the total liberation of the mind, from things it cannot control.
When we meditate every cell in the body undergoes a change because they are filled with more energy (known as prana). The entire physiology of our system changes and this results in an increase in joy, peace and contentment.
In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.
Meditation can improve health with just 20 minutes a day.
Health benefits of meditation:
Lowering of blood pressure
Improved blood circulation
Lower heart rate
Slower respiratory rate
Lower cortisol levels
Better feelings of well-being
Decreases tension related pain such as headaches, muscle and joint problems
Improves the immune system
Increases the energy levels
Emotional benefits of meditation:
Less worry and anxiety
Less loneliness and depression
Improved self esteem
Prevents emotional eating and smoking
Improves resilience against illness and pain
Mental benefits of Meditation
During Meditation, the brainwave pattern is brought into a state that promotes the healing process. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, it will nourish you from within to restore the peace and calm to deal with circumstances.
Mental benefits include:
A calm mind
Clarity of thoughts
Relaxation of the mind and body
Decrease in anxiety levels
Improvement of emotional stability
Increase in happiness
Increase in creativity
Problems appear smaller and less significant
A sharp mind less prone to anger, frustration and tension
A clearer mind
Spiritual Benefits of Meditation
Contrary to what you may expect, you do not have to follow any religion to be able to meditate. This may be practiced by anyone, regardless of the faith or beliefs that they follow.
Spiritual benefits include:
A true personal transformation. You will find that when you learn more about yourself, you will discover who you really are.
You will recognize that you are in fact an inseparable part of the whole universe, not an individual aspect.
In your meditative state, you will find that as you are in a place of great calmness and joy, this is what you contribute to creation.
To experience these benefits of meditation you should practice regularly, daily if possible. It need only take a few minutes from your day to reap the many benefits. Those who start meditating usually find that it soon becomes a part of their daily routines.
You may think of meditation as a small seed. You must cultivate the seed and then nurture it so that it grows and bears fruit. The more you cultivate this, the better your benefits will be.
No matter what your background or belief, meditation is something you can do at any convenient time and place.
Some tips on Meditation
When you start meditating, do not be put off by not being able to focus very long. You will find your thoughts wander all over the place at first! This is normal, do not beat yourself up at this. In time, you will learn how to bring your mind back to a clear place where you can find peace and calm. This does take practice and you should not be discouraged.
- Posture: When sitting cross legged, try to keep your spine upright and straight. A slumping position will affect your mind and it will wander. Because the mind and the body are a united force, the one is easily influenced by the other. If your body is in balance, so will your mind be. To lengthen your spine, feel as if you are trying to touch the sky with the top of your head
- Focus: Most people have driven off in the car, arrived at a destination, and wondered how they got there! Thoughts were elsewhere and we were literally on ‘autopilot’. In effect, we missed everything along the way by not focusing but letting our minds drift away. The same is true for meditation. To focus during meditation means that you must bring your mind back to the place you want to concentrate on. You may have to keep reminding yourself to do this. It may be an idea to start with focusing on each breath, as you feel yourself inhale and then slowly exhale
- Eyes: Lower your eyes and let your gaze relax and feel soft. Try not to stare, as you would at an object. Some people find that closing their eyes means that the mind wanders a little, so this is something you should try and decide for yourself. Should you keep them open, they do not need to be wide open to be effective. Experiment yourself and choose the most comfortable feeling for yourself
- Thoughts: You may notice that you are thinking about things. You should then bring your thoughts back to your breath and focus there. There is no need for you to try to stop your thoughts, this will just serve to agitate you. Try to think of your thoughts as an unwanted guest who has knocked on your door. Politely ask them to go away, close the door and focus of your breath again.
- Breath: focusing on your breath is a very good way to keep yourself in the present moment. Pay attention to inhaling and exhaling. Try not to force your breath in any way, just let it happen in the way that is most comfortable for you
- Counting: If you have a difficult time to breath steadily, perhaps with asthma, then try to count your breath. Do this silently and to yourself, counting up to four and then exhaling. This is also useful when you notice your thoughts wandering. If you count backwards from four then it will feel like when you reach the number one, you are back in the resent moment
- Time length: you should start with no longer than 10 minutes, only progressing when you feel that you can focus for longer. Do not force yourself to stay in this position longer, this will come when your body and mind are ready to meditate for longer. Some people will manage longer lengths of time sooner, and you should not compare yourself to anyone else. This is your personal time and you should only do what is comfortable for you
- Inner emotions: everyone has feelings of anger, aggression and frustration, and these emotions prohibit you from reaching a calm place inside yourself. Let go of these things, try not to work through a problem while you meditate, this is not the time for that. Try to keep your mind off any problems that are in your life. Focus of the ‘right now’. You may deal with these emotions and events at another time. When you meditate, leave them at the door and focus on positive feelings
- Quiet: silence is healing. You may try to meditate with some music in the background, but in the end, you will more than likely come back to silence to still your mind. Once you sit in the silence, you get to be more aware of what your mind is doing. Calmness comes from silence, as does inner peace. Once you have mastered the ability to sit in silence, you will find that inner peace will be your bonus
- Your place: try to create your own place to meditate. It does not need to be a very big area, but it should be a place that you are at home in and comfortable with. You may put a small candle in your special area, perhaps you have some special stones that you would like, or some flowers. Do whatever you want to make your special place a welcoming rest area
- Be Happy: possibly the most important aspect of meditation is that you should enjoy it. It should not be a chore or a duty. Be kind to yourself and let yourself enjoy this very special time of meditation
Things you might like
This is the perfect meditation bolster pillow and will be a great help if you are new to meditation.
A pair of soft yoga harem pants will ensure that you feel comfortable when you meditate.
This is a very useful meditation in session sign which will ensure that you are not disturbed.
This extra thick yoga mat is just right for your comfort as you sit or lie to meditate.
This very attractive canvas print wall art will be a great piece of decor for any meditation area.
Eventually, we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
The word meditation means different things to every person.
Your choice of meditation technique, your length of time, what you wear and where you choose to meditate are all your very own decisions. No one is wrong in choosing one particular type of meditation, instead of another.
This is an extremely personal thing, which you should work out for yourself. You need not be influenced by anyone else’s opinions of how you meditate. Neither should you feel that you need to be part of any particular religion to meditate.
True meditation will mean that you can rise above petty discrepancies about what you do, and focus on finding that inner peace and calm which you desire.
Jacky Miller is a Registered Dietician based in New Zealand. She is deeply passionate about holistic health, yoga, meditation, nutrition and exercise. She specializes in chronic conditions and through diet and lifestyle changes helps her patients improve their health, and lead richer, more fulfilling lives. Through gentle and non-invasive treatments, she addresses the cause of illness and encourages the body to heal itself naturally. She also has extensive teaching experience having taught yoga, breathwork and meditation for many years in New Zealand and in the United States. She writes regularly on health related topics for blogs including MindBodyGreen, Jen Reviews, and The Huffington Post.Share