What is Meditation?

Meditation has proven difficult to define as it covers a wide range of dissimilar practices in different traditions. In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate practices found across many cultures. These can include almost anything that is claimed to train the attention or to teach calm or compassion.

Three main criteria are essential to any meditation practice.

  1.  the use of a defined technique
  2. logic relaxation, which means you are not trying to explain, judge or analyse during your practice
  3. a self-induced state/mode.

Most Common types of meditation.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate, it’s important to find a practice that meets your needs and complements your personality. Not all meditation styles are right for everyone. It’s best to see what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice.

1. Mindfulness meditation – Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular meditation technique in the West.

In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. You don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them. You simply observe and take note of any patterns. This practice combines concentration with awareness. You may find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.

This type of meditation is good for people who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone.

2. Focused meditation – Focused meditation involves concentration using any of the five senses. For example, you can focus on something internal, like your breath, or you can bring in external influences to help focus your attention. Try counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame.

This practice may be simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes at first. If your mind does wander, it’s important to come back to the practice and refocus.

As the name suggests, this practice is ideal for anyone who requires additional focus in their life.

3. Movement meditation – Although most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation, this practice may include walking through the woods, gardening, qigong, and other gentle forms of motion. It’s an active form of meditation where the movement guides you.

Movement meditation is good for people who find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander.

4. Mantra meditation – Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “Om.”

It doesn’t matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly. After chanting the mantra for some time, you will be more alert and in tune with your environment. This allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness.

Some people enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. This is also a good practice for people who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.

5. Transcendental meditation – Transcendental meditation is the most popular type of meditation around the world, and it’s the most scientifically studied. This practice is more customizable than mantra meditation, using a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner.

This practice is for those who like structure and are serious about maintaining a meditation practice.

What are the most common misconceptions about meditation?

1. The goal of meditation is to completely eliminate all thoughts – One of the most common misconceptions of meditation is that when we meditate, we are trying to think of nothing. If this is your goal, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Put simply, it’s not possible to think of nothing. The very act of thinking implies that your brain is actively engaged in cognitive processes, and nothing implies no-thing is happening at all. Meditation is not about blocking out thoughts, it’s about allowing your mind to de-bug itself the way it knows best. It’s about giving your body the time and space it needs to simply repair itself. Certainly, a by-product of meditation might be a period with no thoughts, but it is definitely not the goal. Thoughts are a very normal part of the meditation process; the key is what you do (and how you do it) when you realise your awareness is on your thoughts.

2. You should always feel calm during and after meditation – Our goal with meditation is to allow our mind to debug itself and our body to repair itself in the way it knows best. The key is to never judge our meditation practice by what we experience inside the meditation itself but rather by the cumulative benefits that we experience outside of the meditation, in our everyday lives. Sometimes we feel calm during the meditation, other times we feel calm only afterwards, and other times still we don’t feel calmer afterwards at all. Like a workout, each meditation practice is different. And we need to remember that no matter what the experience is, the meditation is still working exactly as it is supposed to.

3. You have to meditate for a long time to feel benefits – Often, the thought of meditation brings to mind images of monks sitting in a lotus pose for hours on end on their path to reach enlightenment. This concept doesn’t translate into our busy modern world, and nor does it need to. Research shows that shows that the ideal amount of time to meditate is 2.5 hours a week, or around 21 minutes per day. Although you don’t have to sit for hours at a time, and even 5 minutes can make a huge difference when you are stressed, it’s important to remember why you want to meditate and make it a priority. There is no doubt that the more you meditate, the more benefits you will realise. Consistency is key to reaping long-lasting rewards.

What are the scientific benefits of Meditation?

1. Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety – In a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital Study, 93 individuals with DSM-IV-diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to an 8-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction or to a control group, stress management education. The group that went through the mindfulness program was associated with a significantly greater reduction in anxiety.

2. Reduces Stress – Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation. One study including over 3,500 adults showed that it lives up to its reputation for stress reduction. Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines.

These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. In an eight-week study, meditation reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.

3. Lengthens Attention Span – Focused-attention meditation is like weightlifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention. For example, a study looked at the effects of an eight-week mindfulness meditation course and found it improved participants’ ability to reorient and maintain their attention.

A similar study showed that human resource workers who regularly practiced mindfulness meditation stayed focused on a task for longer.

These workers also remembered details of their tasks better than their peers who did not practice meditation.

4. Improves Sleep – Nearly half the population will struggle with insomnia at some point. One study compared two mindfulness-based meditation programs by randomly assigning participants to one of two groups. One group practiced meditation, while the other didn’t.

Participants who meditated fell asleep sooner and stayed asleep longer, compared to those who didn’t meditate.