As yoga has become increasingly more mainstream, there has been a corresponding growing emphasis on mindfulness and meditation. With today’s 24/7 connectedness, endless distractions and constant stimulation and activity, it’s no wonder that people are more interested in slowing down and simply being present in the moment. But really, what is meditation, and should you be doing it?
What is Meditation?
The ancient practice of meditation is basically training the mind, similar to how exercise trains the body. According to Wikipedia, “meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”
While the definition may seem somewhat nebulous, the basic concept is to consciously control the mind in order to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, or to enhance perception, peace, self-concept and well-being.
Benefits of Meditation
The effects of meditation are still being studied, but research has shown multiple benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Improved circulation
- Slower breathing rate and perspiration
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Decreased blood cortisol levels
- Enhanced feelings of well-being
- Deeper relaxation
- Greater self-awareness
Gaiam reports that, “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.” Who doesn’t need that today?
Types of Meditation
Although many are similar, several meditation techniques exist, such as:
- Concentration meditation – Focusing on a single point by breathing, listening to a repetitive gong, repeating a word or mantra and more. The idea here is to tune out other thoughts and improve concentration.
- Mindfulness meditation — Mindfulness meditation is deliberately acknowledging each thought as it arises, with a goal of increasing awareness of patterns of thoughts and feelings.
- Guided meditation – Also known as visualization, here you envision places or situations you find relaxing, engaging the five senses and following the prompts of a meditation instructor.
- Transcendental meditation – By silently repeating a personal mantra (word, sound or phrase), you encourage your body and mind to relax and rest.
- Walking meditation – Using the natural rhythm of slow walking to foster awareness and calm, this focuses on physical sensations.
- Qi gong – Part of traditional Chinese medicine, Qi gong blends meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to achieve balance.
- Tai chi – A gentle form of Chinese martial arts, Tai chi incorporates a series of slow movements and postures with deep breathing.
Tips for Meditation
For many of us, it can be challenging to maintain a singular focus. Meditation takes practice and time. Aim for:
- Quiet setting – Of course, this can be a challenge, but it will help you relax and stay focused.
- Mindful breathing – Use slow, deep breaths to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.
- Relaxed posture – Aim to be comfortable, whether standing, seated or lying down.
- No judgment – There isn’t necessarily a “wrong” way to practice meditation, so don’t be critical of yourself if your mind wanders and you struggle to fully engage. Simply acknowledge distracted thoughts without judging and then return your attention to the present.
- Varied techniques – Try different types of meditation to discover one that suits you best or yields greater benefits. Consider taking a class, reading a book or find an app to get started. Be patient as you learn.
- Consistent time – Choose a time to meditate, whether you practice daily or weekly. Like physical workouts, be sure to schedule these sessions to ensure that they happen.