Meditation is fairly loosely applied to a number of practices and is often taken to imply concerted thought upon a subject, often philosophical in nature. However, it is most commonly applied to the practice of clearing one’s mind and by focusing on breathing, mantras or spiritual questions, incidences and figures (such as the nature of God, the lives of the Saints and the image of the Buddha).
Meditation is a practice that helps people achieve balance both mentally and physically, as well as emotionally. It is even used to treat depression, stress and anxiety. The deep rest that a person achieves through meditation can rid him or her of stress and enables that person to make better choices by allowing them to think more clearly. There have been reports of higher self-esteem in people who meditate.
People have even used this practice to help them quit smoking and to put a stop to alcohol and drug addictions. A person can even reduce blood pressure and greatly lower the symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome. Meditation also helps to lower the heart rate and blood pressure by slowing down one’s breathing, which lowers the amount of oxygen needed for the body. The thought process allows the mind and muscles to gently relax.
Deriving its roots from the Latin word meditatio, which means “all types mental or physical exercise,” the meaning of meditation has also evolved through the years. Today, the practice is commonly known as inward reflection or contemplation. As years went by, people who practice meditation were able to come up with various disciplines. These involve a very wide range of psychophysical and spiritual aspects, or a combination of both that can lead to total enhancement of a person’s higher level of mental concentration, as well as spirituality.
Forms of meditation which are devoid of religious content have been developed in the West as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being:
- Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, one can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax the muscular tension.
- Autogenic training was developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in 1932. Schultz emphasized parallels to techniques in yoga and meditation.
- Australian psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares published a groundbreaking work in the 1960s entitled Relief Without Drugs, in which he recommended some simple, secular relaxation techniques based on Hindu practices as a means of combating anxiety, stress and chronic physical pain.
- Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines including Transcendental Meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1975 Benson published a book, The Relaxation Response, in which he outlined his own version of meditation for relaxation.
- Acem Meditation has been developed in the Scandinavian countries since 1966. It is non-religious technique with no requirement for change of lifestyle or adaption to any system of belief.
The Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique is a simple, natural, effortless procedure practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s not a religion, philosophy or lifestyle. It’s perhaps the most widely practiced, most researched and most effective method of self-development. More than five million people worldwide have learned this simple, natural technique — people of all ages, cultures, and religions.
A quiet mind
Other types of meditation that are recognized include prayer, Zen meditation, Taoist meditation, mindfulness meditation and Buddhist meditation. Some methods of meditation may require the body being absolutely still or to be moved with controlled deliberation, while other types allow for free movement of the body. While the methods are different, the end goal of all types of meditation leads to a mind that is quieted and free from stress by the use of quiet contemplation and reflection.
Two main categories comprise all forms. These are concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation.
- Concentrative Meditation — This form of meditation focuses the attention on the breath, an image or a sound, in order to still the mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity to emerge. Sitting and silently focusing on dynamics of breathing is concentrative meditation in its most basic form. Breathing is a natural and readily available object of meditation. When a person is anxious or alarmed, his breathing becomes shallow, rigid and uneven. But when the mind is tranquil and balanced in concentration, breathing becomes slow, deep and even. Absorbing yourself in the repetition of your breathing will allow you to reach a point of simultaneous stillness and awareness.
- Mindulness Meditation — The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to increase awareness of the inundation of sensations and feelings around oneself, but at a distance. In mindfulness meditation, you experience every aspect of your environment without consciously thinking about it. The person sits quietly and simply witnesses whatever goes through the mind, not reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories worries or images. Through this practice, meditators are said to gain an intense calmness and clarity.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps break down habitual automatic mental categories, “thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome.” In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qigong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi or chi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed.
Benefits of meditation
If you practice regularly, the benefits of meditation will promote a sense of calm and control, you’ll feel far more relaxed and happy. Your ability to concentrate will be greater. You won’t become stressed about things and you’ll feel more peaceful and relaxed about everything. One of the greatest benefits of meditation is learning to go with the flow and things that used to irritate you before simply become insignificant. Meditation shouldn’t be used as a replacement to traditional Western medicine, but as a supplement to treatments your doctor has recommended for you.
More than 600 research studies have been conducted at more than 200 universities and research centers (including Harvard, UCLA and Stanford). These studies have been published in more than 100 journals.
Psychological benefits of meditating include: reduced stress and anxiety; increased creativity and intelligence; reduced depression; increased learning ability, moral reasoning and memory; reduced irritability and moodiness; feelings of vitality and rejuvenation; increased emotional control; increased self-esteem; increased alertness; improved relationships and improved concentration.
Physiological benefits include: possible lower blood pressure; prevented, slowed or controlled pain of chronic diseases; boosted immune system; lowered cholesterol levels; improved airflow, especially in those with asthma; and a younger biological age.
Transcendental Meditation studies report improved brain functioning, health, focus, creativity, equanimity, happiness, relationships and peace.
“Transcendental Meditation promotes stillness — and when you are still is the only time you can think, the only time you can focus,” says Russell Simmons, co-founder of the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam and creator of the clothing fashion line Phat Farm. “When you have distractions and noise in your mind, you can’t comprehend properly and you can’t do your job. Comprehension comes from stillness, focus comes from stillness, and TM is the practice of touching that stillness for a few minutes twice a day.”
The benefits of meditation are endless and certainly deserve your contemplation and consideration. Many successful business people, celebrities and sports professionals practice and enjoy the benefits of meditation. Numerous businesses promote and provide help and assistance to their staff with the benefits of meditation courses. And, a thriving community of meditation centers and practitioners are available to help you learn to meditation and realize the benefits of the practice.
SOURCE: University of Florida Interactive Media Lab, www.tm.org, www.project-meditation.org, www.healtalk.com, meditationexpert.co.uk, wikipedia, 1stholistic.com, www.mindfulnessmeditationcentre.org