When we think of meditation, we often visualize a wise man in white robes sitting on top of a mountain, legs crossed, filled with peace. We also often think that meditation is for monks or gurus, or that we’ll never have the mental or physical stamina to sit still for that long and concentrate. In reality, meditation is much less complex than we think, and this practice can easily enhance our sense of emotional well-being when done on a regular basis.
What IS Meditation?
Meditation is the act of prolonged continuous contemplation of a profound thought or subject. For some, the goal of meditation is to reach a higher state of consciousness. Many use it simply as a way to relax and clear the mind of anxious thoughts or feelings or come to a resolution about a particular problem. Essentially, meditation is aimed at connecting the mind, body, and spirit to create a state mental, physical, and emotional balance for overall well-being.
Types of Meditation
There are several different types of meditation to choose from, and the type that an individual ultimately chooses at any given time will be determined by the specific goal of the meditation session.
Find a quiet, comfortable place and get rid of distractions such as telephones, televisions, and radios. If necessary, let your roommates or family members know not to disturb you, and have your spouse take care of the children or do it before they rise. Determine a length of time for your meditation; it may be helpful to set an alarm clock to keep you from having to watch the time as you meditate. Strike a comfortable sitting position that you can hold for the length of time you’ve chosen for your meditation, and select a focus word to use during the process. Examples of focus words include “love,” “peace,” “Om,” or “God.” It can be anything you want to concentrate on, such as a spiritual or emotional concept. Relax your body as you breathe in and out slowly, letting go of any pent-up tension in the face, head, neck, limbs, or back. Continue to breathe deeply in and out as you repeat your chosen focus word with each exhale. Don’t be too hard on yourself; if other thoughts enter your mind, simply return your attention to your focus word. After about 10 or 20 minutes, finish by sitting quietly for a moment to reflect on how you feel.
Walking meditation is a great way to cultivate awareness of sensation and experience. As you walk, concentrate on the sensations of walking as they are happening. Think about what it feels like as the foot strikes the ground, the weight shifts to the forward leg, and the thigh muscles pull the other leg forward for another step. Look at the ground ahead of you as you travel forward, focusing on every single movement as it’s being made. If you get distracted by something else in the environment, simply refocus your attention on the feeling of walking.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is to cultivate a keen awareness of what is happening in the present moment without placing subjective judgments on the events as they are unfolding. Mindfulness meditation seeks to turn off the emotions we feel in relation to any given situation and simply be in the moment. It can be practiced at any point during the day simply by turning one’s attention to every sensation happening at the present moment and trying to become deeply aware of every aspect of the event. An example would be eating a banana and focusing first on what the banana looks like, smells like, feels like in the hand, and then moving on to experience each phase of eating the banana such as what it feels like on the lips, the tongue, to chew, and to swallow.
Imagery meditation is a simple form of meditation that works well for those who do not want to choose a focus word as in basic meditation. Instead, the person who is meditating thinks of a physical destination where they feel at peace. Examples include the woods, a beach, or the top of a mountain. After striking the comfortable sitting position in a quiet place, breathe deeply and slowly with the eyes closed while recreating the chosen destination in your mind. Imagine all the details around you, focusing on feeling as if you’re actually there. Stay there for 5 to fifteen minutes, open your eyes, and think about how you feel at the end of your journey.
This form of mediation is often good for people coping with depression. After striking a comfortable sitting position in a quiet place without distraction, become aware of your body through breath and relaxation. Continue to breathe deeply and steadily as you come into awareness about your present emotional state. Your emotional state will be the focus for the rest of the meditation practice. Once you’re aware of how you’re feeling, choose a meditation phrase in response to that feeling. If you’re feeling down on yourself, repeat, “May I feel confidence,” as you breathe, or, if you’re agitated, repeat, “May I feel peace.” Once you’ve cultivated the feeling involved in the phrase, think of a person you love and send the thought out to them. Then think of a neutral person about whom you really have no feelings and send the feeling of the phrase out to them. Lastly, think of someone with whom you are having a problem and send the feeling out to them. You can expand the practice until you’re sending out the feeling of peace, love, and joy to anyone and everyone. Bring your awareness back to your surroundings and feel the sense of calm created by this meditation.
What Mediation Can Help With
Meditation is one of the best overall ways to support emotional balance to reduce stress, anxiety, panic, sleep difficulty, and even depression. Scientific research shows that meditation has effects in the brain and body that might explain why this ancient practice could play a vital role in a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Meditation for Stress
Stress causes muscle tension, worry, inability to concentrate, and agitation. Meditation can help counteract these physical and emotional stress responses by inducing the body’s natural relaxation response. Studies show that meditation can improve circulation, slow the heart rate, decrease respiration, and lower levels of stress hormones in the blood, all of which can increase the feeling of calm and reduce stress.
Meditation for Anxiety
Anxiety involves constant worry, often about unimportant situations or problems that have been blown out of proportion. Meditation can help put things in perspective. By clearing the mind of thought and calming the breathing, meditation helps get the practitioner in touch with his or her inner self and bring problems into focus so that it is easier to distinguish between what is really important and what is, in reality, just small stuff.
Meditation for Depression
Meditation can be used in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and help those undergoing CBT focus on understanding irrational thoughts and cognitive distortions. Through meditation, the practitioner can observe thoughts as they arise, making them more aware of what they are really thinking. One study concluded that mindfulness meditation reduced the likelihood of a relapse in recently depressed patients when compared with those who did not practice meditation.
Meditation for Sleep Difficulty
Stress and anxiety are the main cause of sleep difficulty. When the mind is filled with worry or wound up after a long day, sleep problems can occur. Meditation helps practitioners to “shut their brains off” and induces the relaxation response, making it easier to fall asleep and improving sleep quality.
Meditation for ADD/ADHD
Studies show that regular meditation heightens alertness. Research illustrates that meditation affects the brain wave patterns, increasing production of Alpha, Theta, and high Beta waves. Alpha waves are associated with a sense of calm, focused alertness. This may be helpful for individuals with ADD/ADHD.