Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. But many meditation techniques exist — so how do you learn how to meditate?
“In Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing,” University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., told The New York Times. Different meditation practices require different mental skills. In general, the easiest way to begin meditating is by focusing on the breath — an example of one of the most common approaches to meditation: concentration.
Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point. This could entail following the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong, or counting beads on a mala. Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations of time.
In this form of meditation, you simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, you simply let them go. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.
Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.
Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge an experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, an inner balance develops.
In some schools of meditation, students practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.
Other meditation techniques
There are various other meditation techniques. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. There are also moving meditation techniques, such as tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.
Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Meditate Daily
By, Tasha Alexander
1. Overcome Anxiety and Depression
Scientific research studies have suggested that 30 minutes of meditation daily can improve and overcome depression and anxiety! Scientists have discovered that people who meditate have more control over how their brains process and pay attention to negative sensations (like pain) and negative thoughts (like depression and anxiety triggers).
2. Relieve Stress, Anger and Headaches
When you meditate, you are enabling a part of the brain that is responsible for releasing cortisol (a fear/stress hormone) that with copious amounts can be very damaging to the body. Simply by practicing the art of meditation daily, you can decrease your stress levels that contribute to poor health.
If you’re aware of your mind, body, and breath, you can calm yourself and step away from the initial reaction and begin to think of different ways to respond to the situation. The more inner awareness you have, the less you’re going to be triggered by other people. Research also suggests that meditation can reduce, if not eliminate anger and leads to major relief of tension headaches.
3. Be Kind
Meditation may help you kill ‘em with kindness. In one study, the practice was linked with more empathy and laughter, being more social, and having a more team-oriented mentality (the meditation practitioners in the study used the word “we” more than “I”).
4. Boost Memory and Concentration
If your desktop is wallpapered with sticky note reminders and you often find your mind jumping from thought to thought, you may want to turn to meditation. It’s been shown to not only improve memory but to help cut back on distracting thoughts.
5. Maintain and Flourish Relationships
Meditation will absolutely help you maintain healthy relationships. Not only does it let you be more present in relationships, but it also helps you approach tricky situations with a calm mind and body. In fact, it may help you avoid big blowouts when dealing with a relationship issues. In one scientific study, people who meditated and tried to problem-solve with their partner approached the issue with less hostility and a better mood.
6. Eliminate Colds and Flu’s
Scientific research links meditation with having fewer respiratory illnesses, quicker recovery times, and needing fewer sick days from work. Hello meditation!
7. Healthy Heart
Here’s a pretty great (and totally unexpected) way to boost your heart health—no burpees involved. Yep, we’re talking about meditation! In one study, patients with coronary heart disease who practiced meditation had a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death.
8. Improves Creativity
When you are in a listening state of mind (meditation), you put yourself in a position to receive new ideas and inspiration that you were not able to receive before. So new ideas, solutions, and “aha!” moments will start pouring in. And science agrees: In one study, participants who practiced a particular kind of meditation were better at coming up with many possible solutions for a problem.
9. More Restful Night’s Sleep
In a world where we are constantly on the go – early mornings, late evenings and even taking our phones and tablets to bed, shuteye has become a pretty precious thing. The problem? Quieting the mind enough to actually be able to fall asleep. That’s where meditation comes in. Not only does science suggest it may help treat insomnia, but experts believe that meditating can help keep your mind in check throughout the day and reduce stress, thus leading to a better, more restful night’s sleep.
10. Become more Youthful
According to one scientific study, middle-aged participants who practiced meditation had younger biological ages than those who didn’t. Studies suggest that meditation may actually diminish age-related brain deterioration!
How to meditate: A simple guide for beginners
This meditation exercise is an excellent introduction to meditation techniques.
- Sit or lie comfortably
- Close your eyes, roll your shoulders back and lengthen your spine.
- Take a deep breath in and hold it, then on the exhale release.
- Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
- Sit in stillness for a few minutes, as the new, relaxed energy settles in.
Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods of time.