Meditation is a word we are all familiar with. Chances are, as you are reading this, you have an exact image in mind of what meditation is – most likely someone sitting cross-legged in a serene environment, with their hands on their knees and their eyes closed.
This would be quite an accurate depiction of what meditation looks like, but the practice itself runs much deeper, and is far more complex than simply closing your eyes and breathing deeply.
This, of course, does not mean that meditation is difficult. It is one of the simplest things in the world. While it might take some practice and patience to reap the full rewards of it, getting started is very easy, and vital to our lives…particularly in the age we live in, surrounded by ceaseless noise and busyness.
We must all take some time to ourselves, to calm our spirits and revitalize our minds, but before we can do that, we must understand what exactly meditation is.
So, what is meditation?
While most people believe meditation to be the art of shutting down and blocking out the world, it is…perhaps to the surprise of many…the exact opposite. Yes, meditation is relaxing. It calms us and helps us achieve inner peace, but its purpose is not to forget, or surpress, but to acknowledge and feel good vibrations.
There are many forms of meditation, but at its core it all comes down to focusing on and prioritizing good thoughts, energies, and ideas. It is this action of placing importance on the good in the universe that makes us feel calmer, happier and relaxed.
In this sense, meditation is a means of taking control of your own energies. This transcends our mental and spiritual well-being, and manifests in our bodies, making us healthier as well.
Health benefits of meditating
While relaxation is not the sole purpose of meditation it is, in most cases, an inevitable result of it. Mediation – no matter the method – has yielded excellent results in health studies proving to do many a great thing for our physical well-being including:
– Lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and improving circulation
– Deepening and slowing our breaths, making for healthier breathing
– Alleviating stress and anxiety
– Combating depression and other mood disorders
– Increasing happiness and vitality
– Lowering blood cortisol levels
– Encouraging relaxation, which works wonders on our nerves
– Improving sleep
Types of meditation
As mentioned above, there are many methods of meditation. The two most prominent (and the simplest when getting started) are Concentration meditation (the most popular method) and Mindfulness. They are both effective, and both simple.
Concentration meditation involves, as the name implies, focusing on a single thought, idea, feeling or object. In most cases this coincides with the use of tools (such as a candle, or flame), mantras, poses, sounds or deep breathing exercises. This method is great for beginners, as you can concentrate on whatever you like, however you like.
As soon as your thoughts begin to wander (which is inevitable) you simply refocus them – letting go of intrusive or distracting thoughts. This practice has proven to improve concentration in the long run.
Mindfulness is the practice of observing thoughts as they travel through the mind, without controlling or changing them.
It is an endeavour in awareness.
With time, you will become more aware of your thoughts and therefore your actions. Making you less quick to judge, to anger, or to welcome other negative energies into your space. It is entirely possible for you to practice both Concentration meditation and Mindfulness.
How to meditate
Meditation really is simple. Follow these guidelines and you can begin as soon as possible, without spending a cent.
Before You Begin:
Set Your Goals
Why are you looking to meditate? Perhaps you want to improve your creativity, lessen your stress, or break a bad habit with good old willpower?
Or maybe it’s to become more spiritual; that you would like to be present in your body and experience the universe properly amidst all the noise of the modern world. The reason does not matter, so long as you have one in mind.
Find a Quiet Place
This is very important for beginners. Make sure there are no distractions that will prevent you from meditating properly. Close your windows and doors, pick a quiet time, or ask not to be disturbed, and switch off your interfering electronic devices.
Make yourself comfortable
If you are uncomfortable you won’t be able to focus. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, and make sure you won’t be too hot or too cold wearing them. If need be, use a pillow to sit on (for best results, invest in a meditation pillow, better known as a zafu).
It would also serve you well to ensure that other needs of yours are taken care of before you begin. You wouldn’t want your session to be interrupted by a grumbling stomach, a thirsty throat, or a swollen bladder!
Meditation Techniques Made Easy
Breathing: The simplest meditation
Sit comfortably, either by crossing your legs or planting your feet firmly on the floor. Rest your palms on your legs in whichever position is the most comfortable for you. Relax- don’t let your body stiffen. You don’t have to close your eyes, but it is recommended for beginners. Feel your breath. Focus on the sensation of breathing. With every breath, thoughts will enter your mind. Acknowledge them until they fade. Or you can focus on a single thought. Whichever works best for you.
Doing this for just two minutes a day will work wonders on your spirit. Why not try doing this first thing in the morning, to set the tone for your day?
Once you are comfortable with this, you can begin incorporating Mantras and Mudras into your routine.
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A quick guide to mantras
Think of mantras as power phrases that, when repeated, assist in meditation, concentration and life improvement. There are many different mantras that you can try, all spoken with a different purpose. You can chant whatever you like, perhaps a bible verse or a motivational phrase. If you are fresh out of ideas, here are some simple ones for you to try.
Think of Aum as having the same meaning as “Amen.” It is an affirmation and acknowledgement of the Universe. It is the simplest Mantra to begin with.
– Gayatri Mantra
Om bhur bhuvas svaha
Thath savithur varaynyam
Bhargo dheyvasya dhimahih
This mantra is actually an exultation of the Sun God, and is said to bring blessings, happiness and health.
– Om Namah Shivaaya
The Shiva Mantra is said to be the most powerful of them all. This mantra destroys negative energies, and causes a rebirth of sorts of the soul.
Mantras are best chanted twice a day, for 15- 20 minutes.
A quick guide to mudras
Almost like mantras, mudras are specific poses of the hands that better channel our energy and aid us in our meditations. They are very simple, and are powerful in conjunction with both Concentration meditation and Mantras.
– Gyan Mudra
Let the tips of your index finger and thumb gently touch.
This Mudra promotes creativity, innovation and initiative; improves memory and increases energy.
– Vaayu Mudra
Place the tip of index finger at the base of the thumb, and the thumb on the first knuckle of the index finger
This mudra calms restlessness, relives anxiety and stress and rejuvenates the nervous system.
– Prithvi Mudra
Let the tips of the ring finger and thumb gently touch.
This is the mudra of strength. It is also used for healing.
Quick and easy mindfulness techniques
As explained, mindfulness is being fully aware of where we are and what we are doing.
Although this comes naturally to us, we do not exercise this to its full extent. Once you experience true mindfulness for yourself it will be difficult to avoid it. You can begin with these simple exercises.
– The Raisin Exercise
You can use anything in place of a raisin, but raisins are great for this (and tasty too!) Pay attention to the look, texture, smell and taste of the raisin- but really focus on it- experience the raisin with your whole soul.
– The Body Scan
Lie on your back, with your palms facing up. Try to stay as still as possible. Don’t make any mindless movements. Become aware of your entire body- Your breathing, your skin, your clothing, hair, temperature, shape- everything. It is recommended that you focus on your body from your toes upwards to your head.
– The Five Senses Exercise
This might be the simplest technique. All you have to do is pay attention to something you are experiencing using all five of your senses. Note five things that you can see, four things that you can feel, three things that you can hear, two things that you can smell and one single thing that you can touch. Cooking is a great activity to practice this with!
Now that you have an idea of how simple, easy and important meditation is, consider making a strict habit out of it. This is the best way to maximize its benefits.
Always remember, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many places where you can learn from the professionals, and if all else fails, involve your friends and loved ones. Practises such as Yoga and Tai Chi are excellent combinations of meditation and exercise, so if meditation is for you, consider taking a class.
You never know where the path of meditation will take you!