Though the term “meditation” can many different things to different people, they all have one thing in common: looking inside oneself. It requires inner and outer peace, as well as an ability to focus your thoughts and to concentrate on breathing. The meditation process may or may not include repeating a mantra for added focus. For centuries, meditation has been healing users’ minds, bodies and souls, bringing peace to millions. It can even help in a pinch, to quickly alleviate anxiety when taking a test.
Meditation has been around as long as organized religion and is closely tied to the history and practice of Hinduism and Buddhism, but various forms of meditation can also found in Islam, Christianity and Judaism among many others, in both the East and the West. Meditation is closely linked to prayer and focusing the practitioner’s mind on their deity, but as the practice reached the West, it gained more of a secular focus, meant more for the benefit of the user than for the adulation of a god or prophet. The oldest references to meditation can be found in the ancient scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, and the practice spread throughout the East in ancient times via the Silk Road. Meditation in the form of yoga is also widespread and very popular in Western culture.
How to Meditate Correctly
As mentioned before, meditation requires silence, as well as focus and patience. It may sound easy to do these things at first, but they are surprisingly difficult, considering all of the distractions out there in the world. Here’s a simple breakdown for how to get started meditating.
1. Commit to it. Be excited about meditation! If this is something that has been on your to-do list for a while, attack it with vigor and commit to the process so that you can get the most from it. Beginners may want to start off slowly, with just a two or three minute session. You will also want to meditate during the same general time of day each time, like morning or afternoon. It usually helps to do it after something you normally do every day, like when you make coffee in the morning, or when you get home from work. Make it part of a ritual.
2. Get comfortable. Find a quiet, soothing environment in your house, office, park or wherever you happen to feel peaceful. If it helps, put on some music, light a candle or turn off the lights. Whatever helps rest your mind will be beneficial. You also want to wear comfortable clothing. If its cold, wear a sweater. If its hot, wear shorts. Stay away from tight, cumbersome clothing, and take off your shoes. If it helps you to relax, you can stretch out before beginning or do yoga. Finally, sit comfortably. You can cross your legs, sit on a pillow, lean your back against something, but sit up straight, with your spine erect. There’s no wrong way, but if you’re even slightly uncomfortable, this may distract the mind.
3. Decide on a time and stick with it. Early on, you may want to just do two minutes or so and increase from there as you get better, but stick with the amount of time you chose and set an alarm if necessary, because you don’t want to check you phone or watch constantly while trying to ignore distractions. Knowing you will be reminded of when to stop will aid in easing your mind.
4. Breathe. This one’s important. Not only does it keep you alive, but focusing on your breathing will calm and focus the mind. You’ll want to be mindful of your inhaling and exhaling, following the air coming in through your nostrils, down into your lungs and back up out of your mouth. To keep the mind from wandering too far whilst meditating, it may help to count your breaths or to repeat a mantra. Focusing on your breath is the central focus in meditation.
5. Stay Focused. Once you are comfortable and aware of your breathing, your mind may wander and you may start noticing sensations such as the beating of your heart, the softness of the cushion you’re sitting on, or some sound far off in the distance. This distraction is natural and part of the mediation, but always come back to the breathing.
A mantra is a short, easily remembered word or sound. “Om” is from the ancient Sanskrit language and is the most famous and sacred of all mantras, but your mantra can be anything that helps you silence your mind. A mantra is almost always spiritual in nature and can refer to a deity or prophet, or it could just be a phrase with strong meaning to the user. While important to some, the mantra is not necessary for meditation, but it helps some people achieve the focus necessary to meditate.
Benefits of Meditation
Adherents to meditation claim there are many internal and external benefits to meditating regularly.
- Stress relief and relaxation. These are obvious, but very important. There would be less road rage if everyone took just two minutes out of their day to close their eyes and breathe. It also helps you live longer.
- Insight. Taking a little bit of time everyday to stop, block out the outside world and focus on your mind and body will have enormous effects on how you view yourself and others.
- Increased focus. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have found meditation to improve students’ memory and cognitive functions.
- Pleasure. It’s enjoyable! It’s supposed to be the one time of the day when you don’t have to worry about work, school, the kids or whatever is making your eye twitch. Enjoy this time to yourself.
Meditation can happen anywhere and at any time. The basic idea behind meditation is to quiet the mind and to be aware of bodily sensations such as breathing and physical stimuli, and as a result, once you become adept at meditating, you can do it while taking a walk or while eating or driving. All it requires is focus, calm and the time to do it.