Millions of people all over the world meditate daily and they do so for various reasons. Stress reduction, relaxation, improving focus and productivity, pain reduction, and developing an improved sense of well being are all typical benefits of this simple and ancient practice.
Benefits of Meditation
The Mayo Clinic recognizes that “meditation may offer many benefits, such as helping with concentration, relaxation, inner peace, stress reduction and fatigue.”
“Research has found that meditation may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. When combined with conventional medicine, meditation may improve physical health. For example, some research suggests meditation can help manage symptoms of conditions such as insomnia, heart disease, pain, cancer and digestive problems.”1
There are 2 commonly-believed myths about meditation:
Myth #1 – Meditation is clearing the mind of all thought. To not think at all is impossible for most humans. The way to avoid letting thoughts sidetrack you is to let them pass through your mind without latching onto them (or letting them latch onto you). More about that below.
Myth #2 – Meditation is unfocused. This doesn’t have to be true and, for many of us, it shouldn’t be. A peaceful, loving, compassionate and – above all – grateful attitude and state of mind cannot only relieve stress, it can help one to heal. Read on to learn more.
Brief History of Meditation
Meditation as an ancient religious practice dates as far back as 1500 BC in the Hindu writings. It is included in many religions including Taoists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Christians to name a few. The way that each religion approaches meditation varies, but each approach used in the various religions is to help one’s search for God and to improve themselves as adherents of their respective religions.
In the 1960s and 70s, secular meditation was introduced in the United States and Europe, and Transcendental Mediation was presented as way to relax and become more mentally focused.
Basic Meditation Elements
First one should determine where they are going to meditate. They should choose a quiet room or peaceful place outdoors, free distractions insofar as possible.
The next step is to determine how you are going to sit comfortably. Most Westerners are used to sitting a chair, as opposed to people from other cultures who are used to sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. If you are a beginner it may be best for you to be totally comfortable when you sit to meditate instead of trying to assume the traditional yoga posture. It’s easier to stay upright and alert on a chair if you sit closer to the front edge and hold your own spine up instead of leaning against the chair back; however, you may use pillows, cushions, soft throws, or any other “prop” that your body may need to be able to sit comfortably. The hips should be slightly higher than the knees to help keep you from slouching. Keep your feet flat on the floor.The hands can be kept on the thighs, or folded on the lap, or on top of a cushion on the lap.
For some people, lying down is the only way that they can be comfortable enough to meditate. Most meditators prefer sitting to lying down because they are less likely to fall asleep.
Be sure that you are wearing comfortable clothing that is loose, so that you are not bothered by any physical sensations that tight fitting clothing can create. The whole purpose of meditation is to forget about one’s body and to focus with the mind. Any type of physical discomfort will only distract you when you meditate.
Set your timer for the amount of time that you want to spend meditating. Some have said that 20 minutes is the minimum time to achieve a deep meditative state. That may be true for beginners, but experienced meditators report being mentally refreshed in as little as 5 minutes.
Breath deeply through your nose. Bring your attention to where you feel your breath -perhaps at the nostrils, or in the rising and falling your abdomen. Let your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. Don’t try to control your breath. Just let the air come in and go out naturally. Thoughts will come into your consciousness. Just let them pass through your mind as if they were boats passing down the river as you sit watching on the river bank. Also, don’t judge or reject any thoughts that enter your mind. You are a passive observer of the river of your mind. Jumping into the river to get a closer look at the boats will abruptly end your meditation session.
Alternatively, instead of merely thoughts to enter and pass through your mind, create a positive set of thoughts. Popular psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen presents, as his #1 recommended daily habit to help strengthen one’s mind and body: “Start each day with intention, gratitude and appreciation”2. In other words, focus your meditation by reflecting on the blessings life has to offer. For some, this can take the form of prayer. Personally, I express my gratitude to God, because to be grateful there must be someone to be grateful to. For me, it first has to be God, the creator and giver of all that is good. And, of course, there are many people in our lives for and to whom we can be grateful.
Before beginning to meditate, you may want to relax a bit if you are feeling tension in your muscles. If you don’t have time to walk, jog or do a few upper body exercises, here is an idea for relaxing prior to meditation. Tense your entire body consciously. Then consciously relax your entire body. If any body part “speaks to you” as you do that, you may be holding tension in that part of your body. Try to tense that body part or group of muscles specifically…and then consciously relax that body part or muscle group.
Hold your arm out in front of the center of your face and hold your hand in a “thumbs up” position. Focus your eyes on your thumb. Now put your arm down and close your eyes. Keep focusing on the spot where your thumb was. If your eyes hurt, you are focusing them too close to your face. Focus them further out – both eyes focusing on where the thumb was.
It has been said that it is easier to stop a herd of stampeding elephants than it is for one to quiet their mind so go easy on yourself. It is difficult for most of us in the beginning to shift gears into a meditative state of mind, especially in our fast-paced, multi-tasking society. Be patient, but persistent.
The health benefits go beyond relief from stress and anxiety. There are a number of them listed and documented in the article entitled Health Benefits of Meditation and Prayer, which you can find here.
A more detailed discussion of the specific possible benefits of meditation can be found in our article, Health Benefits of Meditation, which can be found here.
1 Meditation, http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/home/ovc-20325760
2 The Brain Warrior’s Way, Daniel G. Amen, M.D. and Tana Amen, BSN, RN, p. 180