Throughout human history, nearly every culture and civilization has described the mental and physical benefits of meditation. Many people imagine meditation as a deep and complicated spiritual practice involving incomprehensible mantras and unobtainable seating postures. But the popularity of this ancient practice extends beyond yoga studios and places of worship. The reality is that anyone can practice meditation, nearly immediately, and it can be done in a variety of ways.
Meditation relaxes the mind and switches the body into the parasympathetic state. This state is essential for repairing the body, managing stress and anxiety, activating the immune system, and even improving digestion. Research shows that meditation may also support normal blood sugar and even reduce the risk of respiratory infections. The benefits of meditation extend beyond health; in fact, many people use meditation in order to clear their minds and tackle projects that require conscious awareness and lucid thinking. There are executives who meditate to help them maintain professional objectivity, and professional athletes who practice concentration and visualization to maximize their performance.
One of the simplest forms of meditation involves being aware of your thoughts, body sensations, and surroundings without projecting any judgement or resistance. During this practice, you focus on your breathing and relax each muscle in your body. You can be in any position that is comfortable to you. If thoughts, sensations, or noises arise, let them. They will pass and dissolve.
Transcendental or Mantra Meditation explores the power of sounds and vibrations to engage and enlighten. This technique focuses on the repetition of a particular sound or affirmation throughout the meditation session. Traditionally, these repeated words were considered sacred in nature and were only bestowed by a seasoned teacher. Today, mantra instructors and guides are commonplace and help guide personal or group sessions. For beginners, the repetition of words and sounds helps to focus the mind.
Concentration, also known as Focused Attention Meditation, requires prolonged silent focus—think Buddhist monk sitting on top of a mountain. This technique calls for an absolute focus on a physical sensation, such as air entering and leaving the lungs or hand temperature. Any time the mind wanders, attention is refocused on the particular internal or external sensation. For many, this allows the mind to let go of scattered thoughts and provides relief from sensory overload.
The practice of mindfulness has been trending for quite some time. Everyone from celebrities to sports stars is extolling the benefits of mindfulness, but what exactly is it? In essence, mindfulness is being in the moment—-focusing on the internal and external experiences that occur from moment to moment to gain an appreciation and calmness for life as it happens. If you are constantly bombarded by worrisome thoughts about the future or the past, you might appreciate mindfulness techniques.
Not every form of meditation is done while sitting or standing in silence. Walking meditation allows you to get up and move around. While walking is not the only form of moving meditation, it is one of the most popular. It uses aspects of the concentration meditation technique, and proponents say it is easier for people to focus on sensations while they walk. The distance and destination are motiveless, the focus on steps and breathing is what’s important.
Guided imagery meditation is ideal for beginners and feels like an exercise for your mind. Often you can perform this type of meditation in a group class or with the aid of a website or phone app. The teacher or instructor walks participants through mind sensory visualizations of sights, sounds, smells, textures, movements, and more. If your mind wanders from the guided images, just return your focus and concentration. Classes, books, and videos are available to help you discover the benefits of meditation. Even if your budget is zero, you can still find online resources or free phone apps to start. Don’t be afraid to try new meditation techniques to see what works for you. Search for a style or instructor that aligns with your beliefs and goals. Whatever you choose, just stay consistent and give it time; the more you put in, the more you will get back.