Meditation is an ancient practice with a rich cultural history that originated in India thousands of years ago. However, it quickly spread to China and Japan and is currently widely popular in the West as well. In the United States, the number of people who meditate multiplied during the last few years due to the pandemic and stress levels skyrocketing.
Meditation isn’t just used to better manage stress, it can evolve your whole lifestyle and way of thinking - and even improve your sleep. Contrary to common belief, you don’t need to practice elaborate yoga poses to meditate. It is much easier than that and can be beneficial with just 5 minutes of practice. But before learning how to meditate, you need to understand what meditation is.
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What Is Meditation?
The term meditation consists of two Latin words which literally mean “to think” and “to ponder.” It is a form of mental training in which one trains the mind to turn away from thoughts that distract the brain and focus on thoughts that are specifically chosen or learned.
The main focus of meditation is to be mindful and gain awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. As a result, the most popular type of meditation is mindfulness meditation. It is a technique that targets being in the present moment and focuses on your breathing patterns. A lot of breathing exercises are used in meditation - but just deep breathing can help you stay focused. Meditation helps you release negativity from your mind and tension from your body. Some types of meditation, like body scan meditation, may even help reduce physical pain.
It can take years to master this skill, but the journey towards achieving it is well worth it. Meditation has been backed by science to have various physical and mental health benefits. It was proven to help reduce stress, create a sense of inner peace, sharpen your focus, and improve memory.
It even has an effect on long-term health conditions, such as reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression. Meditation can be done any time during the day, but meditation before bed is encouraged to boost your sleep quality.
What Are The Different Types Of Meditation?
There are many different meditation styles, so it's good to experiment with some before deciding which one might be best for you. It can also help if you have some guidance on how to begin your journey of meditation, which is also known as guided meditation. It can be more suited for beginners than others. Below we’ve listed the most popular types of meditation:
Mindfulness meditation is the most popular type of meditation, especially in the West. It is about living in the present moment and giving attention to your thoughts. You do deep breathing exercises and welcome anything that comes to mind. Don’t force your mind into clarity because it won’t work. Simply welcome random thoughts, take note of them, let them pass, then go back to focusing on your breathing.
Body Scan Meditation
Body scanning requires you to focus on your body parts and imagine releasing the tension and pain from them. This meditation isn’t going to fix chronic pain or injuries, but it will help you heal faster. This is also known as progressive muscle relaxation. Its purpose is to gain physical awareness and sense your head, hands, feet, and even toes. Methodically go through each body part separately and focus on how it feels. Do this process from head to toe, and purposely release tension from each part.
Loving-Kindness meditation is also known as metta meditation. It targets your emotions and works on strengthening the connection you have with yourself as well as other people. With this practice, you’ll learn to have compassion and kindness with others and also get love back. All you need to do is imagine a person in your head (it is easier to start with people you love, like family or friends) and focus on the things you like about them. Then wish them happiness and good things like prosperity and health.
Then you can imagine them wishing you happiness and telling you encouraging and loving things back. It can be helpful if you say these things out loud to put positive vibes out there. This is a great way to build your self-esteem or to start mending broken bridges with important people in your life.
Walking meditation is sometimes referred to as movement meditation. This is a type of meditation that includes yoga, tai chi, or other gentle movements. It is an ideal strategy to clear your mind and get in some exercise - targeting your overall well-being. With walking meditation, you focus on your body’s movements. Focus on things like the way your arms move by your side and your foot hitting the ground. If you find yourself getting distracted, try to use a mantra in your head with every step taken, or you can focus on the sound of your footsteps. This is a good practice for those who find it hard to stay still and like to move around.
Sometimes focusing on an image in your head, which is visual meditation, or focusing on your breathing patterns, like in mindfulness meditation, can be hard. This is where a mantra comes into play. The most common mantra used is “om” but it doesn’t need to be a sound, it can be a word, a phrase, or even an inspiring quote. This will give you a deeper sense of awareness and help you center yourself. Mantra meditation is often referred to as transcendental meditation.
Benefits Of Meditation
There have been numerous studies on the physical and mental health benefits of meditation. With long-term practice, you’ll get a better hold of meditation and will be able to reap these benefits.
- Reduces stress and anxiety. Meditation is a well-known technique to reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone. It can also fight off symptoms of anxiety disorders, depression, and sleep disorders like insomnia.
- Improves memory and focus. Multiple studies have shown that meditation can enhance the cerebral cortex in the brain, which is responsible for learning and memory. It also strengthens your attention span. This makes meditation helpful for elders who suffer from memory loss, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease.
- Boosts self-esteem and awareness. Meditation helps you get a better understanding of yourself. It offers you more control over your thoughts and feelings, which can be useful in decision-making.
- Improves your sleep quality. Meditating before bed will put your mind at ease and release tension from your body, making it easier to fall asleep. It can also improve the quality and duration of your sleep.
- Promotes patience and compassion. Practicing meditation will give you a sense of calmness and overall boost your patience for tough situations. Additionally, it’ll help you understand your surroundings and be more compassionate with others.
How To Meditate
Learning how to meditate is easier than you think. Starting off, you need to find a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to mediate in - even if you’re at work, look for an empty corner or go to the break room. In the beginning, try setting 5 to 10 minutes aside for meditation practice. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to meditate.
- Get in a comfortable sitting posture. The most common way of sitting when meditating is the lotus position, but you can also meditate cross-legged or lying down. It is preferred to sit in an upright position with a straight back. This is because it’s important that your posture is comfortable, but not too comfortable where you’d fall asleep or lose focus. You can open or close your eyes, but experts recommend keeping your eyes slightly open and your gaze about six feet away from you.
- Set a timer with how long you’ll be meditating. This strategy will ensure you carry out your session efficiently and won’t stop before it has helped. You can start meditating for 5 to 10 minutes and make it longer when you’re more used to it.
- Start by focusing on your breathing patterns, how you inhale and exhale. Practice a deep breathing exercise to get you started, like the 4-7-8 technique or box breathing. This will help you stay focused in meditation.
- While meditating, your mind may wander to random thoughts and feelings. But when it does, don’t get frustrated! Welcome these thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them pass. Then bring your mind back to the present and bring your focus back to your breathing.
- When you’re done, take note of how you feel, how your body feels, and your surroundings. With each session, you can extend your meditation a bit longer. Track your progress and note if you’ve noticed a change.
Tips for Meditation Beginners
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to meditate, here are a few tips to help you turn meditation into an everyday habit!
- Meditators find it challenging to maintain this practice every day - especially with hectic work schedules. But to turn this into a habit, you need to remind yourself to meditate. You can set a reminder on your phone, whether it is before you sleep or during your break at work.
- Enforce the habit by doing the same thing every day. Create a dedicated meditation spot that is optimized to your liking to make meditation fun! You can try things like using a meditation cushion, lighting your favorite candle, or getting inspired by artwork, to encourage you to meditate. Additionally, meditating at the same time every day and the same place will help you create a routine.
- You may not achieve ultimate mindfulness from the first session but keep at it. Many people expect to find inner peace after meditating one time. Meditation is all about changing your mindset and being mindful when it’s needed, which takes time. Remember to not be too hard on yourself and don’t rush the process!
- There isn’t one type of meditation for all. If you’re trying mindfulness meditation and don’t think it’s working for you, try a body scan or walking instead. One type can work better for you than others. Maybe you don’t like sitting still or prefer to focus on a visual instead of your breathing. Experiment with a few methods until you find one that works for you.
How to stop thinking during meditation?
It may be difficult to stop thinking about your problems during the day when you’re meditating. The key to stop thinking is to not force yourself to stop but instead observe these thoughts from an outside perspective. If a thought crosses your mind, acknowledge it, and let it pass. Then you can gently bring your focus back to your breathing. It may be hard to do at first, but with practice, you can achieve a clear mind.
How long should I meditate?
For beginners, it is recommended to meditate for at least 5 to 10 minutes per day. You can meditate for longer if possible to get better results, but it may be hard to stick to this duration every day. More importantly than how long you meditate is that you keep doing it at the same time every day to create a routine.
Can you meditate in bed?
You can meditate anywhere that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable. Some people meditate lying down, while others prefer to sit cross-legged and upright. Experiment with different postures until you find one that works best for you.
Conclusion: Practice Makes Perfect!
Meditation is all about giving yourself the time and space to gain mindfulness. The more you practice meditation, the easier it becomes to do so and the better the results! With this guide, you’re ready to start your journey of meditation.
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