Meditate Your Way To A Better Life
What is meditation?
We recently wrote a blog about the benefits of mindfulness, which included meditation. Today, we want to focus exclusively on meditation because it deserves the attention it gets due to the numerous documented benefits by practitioners and scientists worldwide.
Meditation is the practice of silencing your mind and focusing as much of your awareness on your immediate experience. Be it your breathing, bodily sensations, or the light that touches your eyelids as you detach from your external surroundings.
Meditation is usually done with your eyes closed because it helps to narrow your focus toward your inner world, where you can find a deep sense of harmony. Many people report feeling that they are able to connect to their ‘true-self’ when they meditate and it provides a process that feels like a ‘re-set’ switch that unifies your mind and body. This is why meditation has been considered a spiritual practice for thousands of years and is promoted as a stress tool in modern society.
No matter what you believe about the spiritual claims of meditation, no one denies the validity of the physical and mental health benefits reported. With as little as 10 minutes each day, you can make a significant improvement to your mental health. Of course, if you meditate a little longer the benefits increase - 40 minutes is considered the optimum amount of time, but any amount is beneficial.
The origins of meditation
The earliest records of meditation can be found in Hindu texts. Buddhism also promoted meditation as the path to ‘enlightenment’ because of its ability to harmonize the mind and body and because of its ability to increase compassion toward others.
There is no strict definition of meditation, but it is commonly understood to relate to focusing one’s attention very acutely, often internally. Mindfulness, however, incorporates applying your awareness to your wider experience of doing things. While meditation has been traditionally practiced in Asia, it is now widely adopted in Western popular culture. Meditation has attracted interest from science and healthcare professionals because of its noted benefits with regard to stress and anxiety.
There are lots of ways to practice meditation, both from a spiritual perspective and from a general well-being point of view.
There are lots of ways to meditate, but they all surround the same points - awareness and directing your attention toward something specific. The different methods are more about ‘what’ you focus your attention or awareness on, rather than how.
This involves chanting particular phrases over and over, often in a circle, with the belief that it brings groups of people together. The aim is to unify members of the group through singing and chanting, keeping your attention exclusively on the phrases being chanted and their meaning. You do this until you lose touch with your sense of self and feel at one with the world and those participating in the chants.
Mantra meditations are a great practice to help you strengthen your ability to ‘let go’ because it requires you to abandon any resistance to its participation. Chanting can feel uncomfortable to the novice. Chanting helps you to adopt new beliefs and create mental programs as part of a collective because you are literally singing from the same hymn sheet.
This kind of meditation isn’t for everyone, but the good news is that there is an alternative. Instead, you can use affirmations over mantras. To do this, simply choose a belief system that you want to program your mind to adopt, i.e. “I am beautiful”, or “I am worthy”, etc, and repeat it over and over during your meditation practice.
You can do this out loud, or you can practice your mantras or affirmations inside your head too.
The more active kinds of meditations are closely related to mindfulness. They involve doing something physical like yoga, Qi Gong, or Tai Chi while practicing deep meditation. As you perform each movement, often very slowly, you focus your awareness on your form and your breath. The moves are normally transitioned between breaths to make the process more harmonious.
There are also walking meditations that involve focusing your awareness on bodily sensations as you take each step. Although you can practice mindfulness with almost anything that you do, certain physical activities, particularly those with consistent and repetitive movements, offer the opportunity to connect to the experience through movement and breathing in a way that is much deeper than a regular routine task.
Take swimming for example. Swimming regulates your breathing and relies on the same physical movements with each stride in the water. It is the perfect opportunity to focus on nothing but the activity and your breath. This is more mindfulness than meditation.
This is the most commonly practiced meditation. You find a comfortable place to sit, get your posture right, close your eyes and begin focusing your awareness internally. For those that find it difficult to keep their focus in check, there is an abundance of guided meditations available to help you.
The great thing about this kind of meditation is that it can be practiced almost anywhere: in the park, at home, in the office, or even on a plane.
What you need:
- A quiet place to sit
- Earplugs (optional)
- An eye mask (optional)
- A relatively calm state of mind
How to do it:
- Find a comfortable spot to sit, preferably crossed-legged and with a straight back.
- Close your eyes or pull your eye mask down. If you have ear plugs, use them.
- Take a deep, slow breath in, focusing on the sensation of the breath in or on your body (lungs filling, stomach expanding, or the feeling of the air passing your nostrils).
- Once you have inhaled to your maximum point of comfort, hold for a few seconds, then slowly release your breath, and repeat.
- Sometimes it helps to count after each out-breath, but this is down to personal choice.
- As thoughts enter your mind, and they will; observe the thought without judgment of it, or yourself for having it, and guide your awareness back toward your breathing.
- Repeat this process, also focusing on bodily sensations as they arise, but again, without feeling or judgment toward them; only to acknowledge that they indicate your connection to the present moment.
- If you wish to include mantras or affirmations of any kind, try doing them as you breathe in, and release your breath with an empty mind.
These are just guidelines. It is important to find what works for you. Here at JUVIA we’re all about feeling free, both in mind, body, and spirit. Your meditation should make you feel free too, so don’t be too rigid about it. It’s a great way to start or end your day.