There is a lot of talk these days about practicing meditation- what it is, how to do it, and whether or not it’s worth our time.
In this blog post, we’ll explore all of that and more.
What is meditation?
How does it work?
And most importantly, what are the benefits?
We’ll look at both scientific research and anecdotal evidence to get a well-rounded picture of this ancient practice.
- What is meditation and what are its benefits?
- Is practicing meditation the same as mindfulness?
- How do you meditate?
- Do I need to sit in a special position to meditate?
- Can anyone meditate or do you need to be a certain type of person?
- If I don’t practice meditation correctly is it a waste of time?
- How much time should you dedicate to meditation each day?
- What if I can’t focus or my mind won’t stop racing?
What is meditation and what are its benefits?
So, what is meditation?
In short, it’s a form of mental training that enables us to focus and become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.
By having a meditation practice, we can learn to better control our thoughts and emotions, stay present in the moment, and boost our physical and mental well-being. Some of the many benefits of meditation include reduced stress and anxiety, improved sleep quality, increased focus, and attention span, enhanced self-awareness, and even relief from pain.
Meditation is both a set of skills and an experience that can be cultivated through practice. We’re training our minds to be more open and at ease by sitting with them, and we subsequently develop greater peace, clarity, contentment, and compassion. As a result, we become better able to have a direct experience of the present moment.
Being present allows us to let go of potential worries of the future or bad experiences of the past.
The more we may stay in the present — not weighed down by thoughts or reactivity — the better able we are to take life in stride. Meditation, whether we’re dealing with problems or being irritated by technology, can help us reset our minds through a gradual process of learning that includes both attention and compassion.
Even basic meditation has been shown to make people happier, more patient, accepting, and compassionate. They report lower levels of stress, irritation, sadness, and discomfort. People who have trouble sleeping claim that they sleep better. People with anxiety describe feeling less anxious.
Is practicing meditation the same as mindfulness?
Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to make a distinction between mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness is a state of being – being open and aware in the present moment without reflexive judgment, automatic criticism, or mind wandering.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being present in the moment, which trains us to be more aware of ourselves while going about our day.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is to bring our attention back to the present moment whenever we notice that our minds have wandered off. This can be a difficult task at first, but with practice, it gets easier and eventually becomes second nature.
While practicing mindfulness we may find our mind wanders off due to emotional patterns that are uncomfortable. When we become more mindful that we are checking out due to a particular event, situation or trauma, etc, we’re more likely to process or deal with that situation so we can move forward.
When we’re mindful, we’re not trying to control or change our thoughts or emotions – we’re simply observing them with curiosity and non-judgment. We allow ourselves to feel the feelings we may have been pushing away.
This can be a difficult task at first, but with practice, it gets easier and eventually becomes second nature. Mindfulness in short, is about becoming a more mature and well rounded individual.
How do you meditate?
There are countless different objectives to be had when meditating and the question of how you meditate depends on the desired outcome. The stereotypical one that everyone has heard of is to make your mind blank and focus on nothing, while people do this as a practice, meditation on what’s known as “the void”, for a beginner its best to keep your attention on something and that best something is your breath.
Focusing on your breath gives you something familiar to focus on and what this is doing is training your attention to stay focused on one thing.
When you practice this way you are exercising your mind like a muscle. With continued practice, you will be able to hold yourself to tasks easier or hold conversations with people better.
Suggested practice time: 10 mins daily in the same spot preferably. Don’t pressure yourself too much to increase, just setting a daily task of 10 mins and sticking to that for a few weeks would be a great achievement.
In the beginning it’s unavoidable that your thoughts will wander during meditation. You may notice other sensations in your body, events going on around you, or get lost in thought thinking about the past or present, perhaps evaluating yourself or others. This is perfectly normal. If this happens don’t judge yourself, make sure to let go of what you were thinking about and just gently bring yourself back to your breath.
Meditation for beginners should always start with just turning up no matter the practice length. Start with 5 mins if you need to. Do two weeks and see how you feel. In no time you’ll work your way up to becoming a seasoned meditator.
Do I need to sit in a special position to meditate?
Physically, there are 4 different ways we can meditate:
- Sitting Meditation
- Standing Meditation
- Lying Meditation
- Walking Meditation
For obvious reasons, sitting meditation is going to be the best option for a lot of people. The differences here normally come with different goals and circumstances. Sitting meditation is the one that covers the most bases so for purposes of moving forward we will be talking about sitting meditation.
When sitting down to meditate you can sit in many different ways, there are different postures and these are commonly known as Asanas. To quote Wikipedia –
“An asana is a body posture, originally and still a general term for a sitting meditation pose.”
For a beginner, it’s important not to overthink the exercise or put too much pressure on yourself so I would recommend going with what you know and that’s just sitting down with your legs crossed.
Basically what you want to do is create an upright posture and keep the spine straight to facilitate easy breathing. You can either sit on the ground or sit on a cushion or seat. A benefit of sitting on a cushion or chair is not only making it more comfortable due to pressure taken off the ankles but it serves the purpose of keeping our hips aligned with our spine. When moving into more intermediate meditation techniques it’s beneficial to keep a straight line from our coccyx to the top of our head and sitting on a cushion or meditation stool helps with that.
Can anyone meditate or do you need to be a certain type of person?
I think it’s important to know that we’re all the same and were interacting in the same environment. Certain laws govern this physical reality we live in and part of living in this world is learning to direct our consciousness.
The direction of consciousness is what propels our lives forward into the future. We are all continuously manifesting our future and the practice of meditation is really about becoming more aware and more responsible for ourselves.
Certain types of people are drawn to meditation for different reasons but it’s not a practice that belongs to any particular religion or group of people.
If I don’t practice meditation correctly is it a waste of time?
Perfectionism is something that has stifled a lot of people. If we cant do the practice perfectly, we think, why waste our time doing it at all? This line of thought is far more common than we think.
Though if we were to break up the practice into small pieces, we’ll find that we’re able to get a lot of small wins along the way.
Just sitting down for 10 mins to try something new and pursuing that is an achievement in itself. This act of willpower is greatly beneficial and if you succeed in even sitting down to perform the practice, you will have greater success with performing other day-to-day tasks.
I would recommend starting with a very small goal, like sitting for just one minute and then increasing that time by one minute each day.
It is also important to not get discouraged if you find it hard to sit still or if your mind is constantly racing. This is normal! Meditation is about training the mind and it takes time, just like going to the gym takes time to see results.
If you find yourself struggling, there are many meditations available online or for download that can help you get started. I would recommend trying a few different ones until you find one that works best for you.
Guided meditation is great for beginners as it can help you to focus your attention and be in the present moment. Once you get more comfortable with the practice, you can start to explore other techniques.
How much time should you dedicate to meditation each day?
Dedicating a specific amount of time to meditation each day can help establish a regular practice. However, it is also important to be flexible and to listen to your body.
If you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, for example, you may want to extend your meditation session. Conversely, if you are short on time, you may need to adjust your expectations.
Remember that even a few minutes of meditation can be beneficial. Ultimately, the key is to find what works for you and to be consistent in your practice.
If you are just getting started, it is recommended that you meditate for at least ten minutes each day. However, it is important to find a time that works for you.
Some people prefer to meditate first thing in the morning, while others find it more helpful to meditate in the evening. Experiment until you find a time that feels right for you. Once you have established a regular practice, you can gradually increase the length of your meditation sessions.
What if I can’t focus or my mind won’t stop racing?
Are you considering the idea of meditation due to stress, anxiety or depression? You may want to look at breathwork first.
The focus on mental health over the past 10 years has been extremely beneficial, but what if it’s not what we need right now? What if it’s actually increasing anxiety instead of relieving it?
In my experience, the breath comes first and it took me damn near 20 years to figure this out. When I started looking at breath work, back then it was taught more in a yogic way and for me at that stage of my life, it didn’t interest me.
Do not sleep on breathwork, in my humble opinion it’s going to be the next mental health movement but will actually deliver results. For the problems society faces now, breathwork is close to being the answer to many problems.
Here’s a link to a great TED Talk from speaker Max Strom. He talks about trapped emotions that are stored in the chest and how to remove them via deep chest breathing. Well worth the time to check it out.
And another one from Belisa Vranich talks about how 90% of people are not breathing correctly, the difference between vertical and horizontal breathers, and how to fix the problem.
If you feel like it’s more of a mental challenge you’re facing and not emotional like anxiety, it may help to try a guided meditation. Meditation apps are often available free of charge and can be very helpful in getting you into a meditation habit. They can also offer meditation tips and keep you on track while you’re learning. Once you get more comfortable with the practice, you may find that you don’t need a guide and you can meditate on your own.
So far, the research seems to suggest that meditation has tremendous potential for improving our mental and physical health! If you’re interested in giving it a try, we encourage you to do some of your own research and find a method that works best for you.
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