Meditation: What is it? How do you do it? What are its benefits?
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a way of thinking and relaxing. Many years ago, meditation took on a different meaning, but today it is usually used to decompress, relax, decrease anxiety, decrease depression, and eliminate stress. Meditation involves focusing your attention and getting rid of the jumbled thoughts that are taking up space in your mind. Meditation can be done anywhere (you don't have to be sitting with your legs crossed), and it's important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Meditation can be difficult, but it gets much easier with practice. After a while, you will notice that it is actually an easy process and you will be able to meditate anywhere (the car, on the bus, in a line at the store, etc.) in shorter time-frames.
Different Types of Meditation
(below are descriptions of 4 different types of meditation)
To do guided meditation, you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing. Try to use as many senses as possible. For example, choose a place you love or a happy situation. For this chosen place/situation, imagine exactly how it looks or how you remember it. Think about the smells that you would probably experience. What sounds do you hear? Do you feel anything against your skin? Can you taste anything? If the place that you chose was the beach you could probably envision the sounds of the waves, the taste of salt water in your mouth, the feel of the sand between your toes, etc . This exercise can greatly improve your mood and is very relaxing. It also helps you clear your mind. When I practice guided meditation, I do sometimes use the beach, or I will think about a specific memory from a past vacation.
Mantra meditation involves repeating a word, thought or phrase in your mind. This can help you to get rid of distracting thoughts by forcing you to stay focused on one thing. Your mantra can be anything that you choose.......a word you like, a positive thought about yourself, a quote, a song lyric, etc. "Shop around" until something feels right, and use your special mantra when your mind is racing. I like to repeat to myself the following phrase: "This is small and insignificant in the grand scheme of everything". Saying this over and over calms me down and reminds me that whatever was bothering me is really tiny and stupid and shouldn't cause me so much discomfort.
This type of meditation is based on being "mindful". To be mindful is to be aware of the present moment, and also to accept the present moment as it is. To perform mindfulness meditation, you focus on what you are physically experiencing in the moment. This type of meditation is probably the most difficult to do because most of us tend to often "live" in either the past or the future. We are always thinking about things that happened to us when we were children, things we should have done, and things we shouldn't have done. We are always thinking about our goals, how we are going to get there, all the things we need to do tomorrow.
In mindfulness meditation, you wouldn't be using your brain or mind (like in the other meditations described above); you would just be aware of exactly what's going on in the present moment without using any thoughts or opinions. For example, if you were sitting in a chair during meditation, you would only be thinking about the feeling of the seat against your thighs, the feeling of the ground on your feet, the sounds of the cars outside your window, your breathing, etc. If thoughts and emotions arise, it's okay to be aware of them and observe them (but don't ever judge them). But then you should try to let them pass and continue on with the exercise.
Yoga is a type of meditation which uses body movements and breathing in a controlled manner. The postures and breathing exercises aim to calm you and help your body become more flexible. Many yoga poses require so much balance and concentration that it becomes hard for you to think about anything else anyways.
Important Key Factors of Meditation
Attention: When meditating, try to ensure that you are using all of your attention on the task at hand. It's very important that you focus as much as possible. You will not get anything out of the experience if you can't focus. If you find yourself repeatedly thinking about other things, and you can't focus at all, stop meditating and promise yourself that you will try at another time. It's not worth it to try to force yourself to meditate. If it's not working, stop and resume later.
Breathing: Breathing correctly is an important part of meditation. Breathing in and out slowly, using the diaphragm, gives you more oxygen and calms you down. If you find yourself breathing quickly, and practically hyper-ventilating, take a few slow, deep breaths.
Location: When meditating as a beginner, make sure the environment is calm, quiet, and soothing. Maybe light a few candles, or dim the lights. Pick a specific spot in your house where you can practice your meditating without distractions or loud noises. As you become more skilled at meditating, you may find that you are now able to meditate where ever, whenever.
Position: When meditating, try to be as comfortable as possible. For some people, comfort is sitting down or lying down on a couch or bed. For other people, comfort could be standing up (though I don't know how long you would be able to do that for). Sometimes standing up while meditating can be risky because there is always the chance that you could fall asleep when meditating.
The Benefits of Meditation
- A more positive perspective on situations that can stress
- Learning new skills to manage your stress
- Increasing awareness of self
- Helping you to focus on the present situation and stay in the moment
- Eliminating/reducing anxiety and negative emotions/feelings
- Some medical benefits for conditions that are often made worse by stress