There are lots of reasons why learning to meditate is a great idea. With many general health benefits, meditation is an excellent way to:
- relieve stress
- clear and calm the mind
- deal with anxiety
- help us become less reactive and more tolerant
- create a balanced lifestyle;
- gain inner wisdom or ‘insight’;
- be a better person
….and so the list goes on.
What is meditation?
Although the practice originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu, and Chinese traditions, when it comes to current psychology, meditation is less about spirituality and more about mindfulness.
Through meditation we develop the ability to quiet the mind, focus the attention, and learn how to be ‘mindful’. That is, to be more observant of our reactions and responses. This helps us to take charge of our lives and respond more thoughtfully.
While meditation is an integral part of many faiths and derives from philosophies and practices associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, in particular, those faiths are not an integral part of meditation and the meditation practice most people know isn’t indelibly tied to religion.
There are many meditation techniques but the key ‘tool’ is concentration of the mind on one particular thing – whether it be the breath or an image, a sound or a word, or a series of words known as ‘mantra’. It can include faith or prayer, but it doesn’t have to. Having some faith that the practice of meditation is actually doing you some good is definitely helpful!
Think of meditation as your “personal retreat”. It allows you to withdraw from the external world into your own internal world, so we can decompress from life.
Willing to give it a try? Here are four popular meditation techniques to get you started . . .
1. Follow your breath
This is the most universal of all meditation techniques. First, take a few deep, long breaths to clear the base of the lungs of carbon dioxide, or do some simple yoga postures to bring body and breath together and unlock some tension from the body before sitting. Then settle and focus on the breath coming in and out of the body. Follow the breath – from nostrils to navel – navel to nostrils. When thoughts arise or the mind is distracted you simply come back to focusing on the breath – in and out – as though it is all that exists in this moment.
2. Focus on an object
Allow your mind to rest lightly on an image. It could be the image of a candle flame, a flower, or a symbol. You don’t need to just imagine the candle flame either – this can be an open-eyed meditation too. Sit down, place the candle one arm’s distance away from your eyebrow centre. Focus on the flame until your eyes need to close and rest, then you will see an after image of the flame beyond your closed eyes. Focus on the after image until the eyes feel rested and then start again gazing at the candle flame. This is known as “Trataka”.
3. Recite a mantra
Chanting a mantra provides a source of concentration. It allows the mind to becomes steady and focused. A useful mantra for beginners is the sankskrit mantra “SO HUM” which is said to be the mantra for the breath and to have healing qualities. Tibetan Buddhists use mantras for peace, healing and transformation and suggest meditators “Recite the mantra quietly, with deep attention, and let your breath, the mantra and your awareness become one.”
4. Do a guided meditation.
Guided meditation is when you are guided, by a narrator, to elicit a specific change in your life. You are first guided to relax your body and mind, to help you reach a deep meditative state before going on a journey, in your mind, to reach a specific goal. Guided meditation is akin to guided imagery, a powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination toward a conscious goal. (Think of a diver imagining a “perfect dive” before he leaves the platform).
Meditation is simple, free and requires almost no energy. It provides a huge range of benefits for body, mind and soul. Give it a try – you’ve got nothing to lose and lots to gain!