Meditation is a practice which is known to be quite old in the history of mankind. It has been practiced for thousands of years, and even today, there is a great amount of people who practice it in their daily routines. If we look at its roots, meditation was originally meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. Nowadays, it is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.
Popular for its power of producing a deep state of relaxation of mind, the power of meditation is considered to be a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Usually during meditation, you focus on a single object and try to eliminate all kinds of jumbled thoughts which may be causing stress in your mind. This process may result in better physical and emotional well-being.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
On a macro level, our whole body is governed by the nervous system which is run by our brains. Through the power of meditation, you can improve your nervous system to help you get rid of physical illnesses. Let’s take a look at some of them:
1. Controls Pain
It’s an interesting fact that the degree of physical pain that you feel is highly connected to the state of mind that you are in; a person may feel more pain when in stressful conditions. For example, one study observed brain activity by using functional MRI techniques as participants experienced a painful stimulus.
Some of the participants had gone through four days of mindfulness meditation training, while others had not. Surprisingly, the patients who practiced meditation reported less sensitivity to pain. Additionally, they also showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain.
2. Decreases Blood Pressure
High blood pressure narrows blood arteries, which can result in a person getting a heart attack or a stroke. Meditation reduces the strain on the heart which improves the process of pumping blood. A study was conducted on 996 volunteers who were asked to meditate by concentrating on a “silent mantra” - a repeated & non-vocalized word.
It reduced their blood pressure by five points, on an average. This was more effective among people who had higher blood pressure before the study was conducted, and also among older volunteers.
3. Improves the Immune System
The immune system fights diseases and protects the body from foreign organisms. Frequent mindfulness sessions seemed to improve meditators’ immune system functions, according to a study carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003.
4. Enhances the Quality of Sleep
85% of workers in the US report having lost sleep because of job-related stress. A Dutch study found that people who practiced guided meditation for ten minutes a day for just two weeks, led to an enhanced quality of sleep. It is almost funny that some meditators even report sleepiness being a problem instead of sleeplessness because of the relaxing sessions of meditation.
Mental Benefits of Meditation
1. Reduces Stress
This is one of the most common reasons why people meditate in this era. When you train your mind to focus on one object and to let go of all unnecessary thoughts, you experience lower stress levels. A study which was conducted on nearly 1,300 adults, demonstrated that meditation may decrease stress. Interestingly, this effect was most effective in individuals with the highest levels of stress
2. Controls Anxiety
Reduced level of stress can directly result in higher control over anxiety. For example, a study of mindful meditation was conducted on participants for eight weeks. Not only did the participants show reduced levels of anxiety, but they also showed reduced symptoms of anxiety disorders such as phobias, paranoid thoughts, social anxiety and panic attacks.
3. Promotes Emotional Health
Some forms of meditation have led people to obtain a positive outlook on life as well as a better self-image. Meditation helps you to observe your own emotions and the reasons behind those emotions as well.
It may also better equip you to take mindful decisions with a calm and peaceful mindset. A study was conducted on 18 participants who were observed for over three years as they practiced meditation. The study found that participants experienced long-term decreases in depression.
4. Enhances Self Awareness
When you meditate, you get a lot of time to reflect back on yourself which helps you to possess a deeper understanding of your own self - your emotions, your desires, your anxieties, etc. It helps you to get a better hold of yourself, of how you respond to people around you, and the decisions that you take every day. A person who is self-aware is less prone to feelings of loneliness, alienation, and existential crises.
5. Lengthens Attention Span
One can argue that meditation is like weight lifting for our attention span. That is because during meditation one is expected to focus on a single object and to ignore all other random thoughts. A study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation had a better attention span as compared to their co-workers. These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation.
6. Reduces Age-Related Memory Loss
A review of 12 studies found that multiple meditation styles increased attention, memory and mental quickness in older volunteers.
Types of Meditations
1. Mindfulness Meditation
This technique originates from Buddhist teachings and is one of the most famous in the West. In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to your thoughts without judging them or getting involved with them. You take note of any patterns that you observe. It is very important to observe your thoughts, feelings or any bodily sensations through a neutral standpoint, without any bias.
2. Spiritual Meditation
This technique is majorly used in Eastern Religions and in Christian faith as well. In Spiritual Meditation, you need to be in a silent place. You focus on the silence around you and seek a deeper relation with your God or the Universe. People usually use essential oils to enhance the experience. This practice is beneficial for those who seek spiritual growth.
3. Focused Meditation
As the name suggests, this technique is used by people who want to enhance their attention span. In this technique, you need to concentrate on content with any of your five senses. You can focus on your breath, some sort of music, a candle flame, a painting, etc. The idea is to focus on a single thing only without being distracted.
As easy as it sounds theoretically, it may take years of practice to master it. For beginners, it may be difficult to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes, at first. But it is important to refocus when your mind wanders someplace else.
4. Movement Meditation
In this technique, you literally move in order to meditate. The idea is to focus on where your movement is taking you. You may go out on a walk in the park or in the woods, do gardening, or do slight movements of yoga.
You need to focus on the movements that you make, the emotions that you feel while you make them, and the thoughts that come to your mind. This technique is suitable for people who find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander instead of restricting them.
5. Mantra Meditation
Popular in Hindu & Buddhist Traditions, this technique uses repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase or a sound. One of the popular sounds used in Eastern Traditions is “Om.” Whether you speak your mantra loudly or quietly, it doesn’t matter. The idea is for you to be more alert and in tune with your environment after chanting the mantra for some time, which may allow you to experience deeper levels of awareness.
6. Transcendental Meditation
This technique is known to be the most studied one by scientists. Transcendental Meditation uses a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner. As compared to Mantra Meditation, this technique is slightly more organized and structured, with each student receiving a specific mantra based on a number of different factors such as birth year and sometimes gender.
Start Meditating Today
At this point you might be wondering that you have learned a lot of content related to the benefits of meditation and different types of meditations, but you may still be confused as to how you can start meditating in real time. Well, no need to worry as I am going to describe a simple process of how to meditate for beginners, without getting into the details of what type of meditation you should start with.
1. First and foremost, find yourself a quiet place to meditate. As a beginner, a quiet place may help you to focus easily without being distracted by televisions, computers or cellphones, etc.
2. Once you’ve found yourself a quiet place, choose a comfortable position to meditate in. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting or lying as long as you feel completely comfortable in that position. This is important for you to get the most out of your meditation and to relax your body to obtain an open attitude.
3. Once you’re in a comfortable position, start breathing slowly. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.
4. Try to focus solely on how you breathe. Consciously feel the air entering into your lungs and how you exhale it from your nose. Focusing your attention is what will help you in eradicating any distractions like stress and anxieties.
5. While you are focusing on the way you breathe slowly, let the thoughts pass by swiftly through your mind without any judgments. Do not try to control your thoughts. Do not try to assess or judge them either. Just let them come and go naturally.
I hope that if you start meditating like this for about 15-20 minutes a day, you will gradually start to feel the power of meditation - Living a stress free life!