Meditation is a practice that survived thousands of years. It’s free, simple and practiced by all walks of life at any time. Today, meditation is less about faith and more about finding peace with your inner self to handle the daily stresses.
One of the reasons behind the current popularity of meditation is the frantic world we live in. Stress is everywhere around us. More and more people suffer from stress-related diseases including headaches, depression, anxiety, heart diseases, as well as a general drop in the immune system.
A regular meditation practice can help you control the stress and the conditions associated with it. In other words, you can use meditation to heal your mind, which will lead to healing your body.
Types of meditation
There are different types of meditation, some of which might not be suitable for everyone. They all require a different mindset and some even require skills.
The type that is right for you should be the one you feel most comfortable with. So let’s take a look into the most popular meditation methods.
One of the most popular methods of meditation, especially in the West, is mindfulness meditation. It originates from the Buddhist teachings and is a suitable form if you prefer to meditate alone.
The mindfulness meditation requires you to pay attention to the thoughts that come to your mind while you observe them and look for patterns. In the meantime, you should not judge or involve with the thoughts.
This type of practice combines awareness with concentration. Aside from your thoughts, you can also focus on any feelings or bodily sensations.
Transcendental meditation is the most popular of all methods, partially because of its many celebrity followers. It is also the most researched by scientists looking to prove the benefits assigned to meditation.
The practice uses a mantra or a series of Sanskrit words that aim to guide the person through the meditation. The mantra could also be specifically prepared for a person based on their personality and needs.
Transcendental meditation is a good option for those who prefer a more structured approach and at the same time feel serious about their meditation practice.
This form of practice is ideal for anyone who needs to strengthen their focus and concentration. The meditation involves focusing on something by using any of your five scenes. The target of your focus can range significantly. Here are just a few of the popular options.
- Focus on your breathing
- Listening to a regular sound
- Stare at a candle flame
- Count mala beads
It is important to note that, although focused meditation seems easy, it could be extremely hard for beginners to focus their attention on a single target for more than a few minutes. Still, if you are willing to give it a try, do not give up when your mind starts to wander. Instead, try to regain your focus and continue the meditation.
Movement meditation is a good option for those who don’t like to sit still but instead find peace when their body is active, and their mind is free to wander. The practice involves moving at a slow pace while focusing on the movement of the body instead of the goal for the movement.
Speaking of movement meditation, many people instantly think of yoga. To practice this method, however, you could choose any activity that involves a gentler form of moving.
To get a better idea, here are several activities suitable for movement meditation:
- Tai Chi
If you are not too familiar with the practice or you’re just starting, probably the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation” is a person sitting with crossed legs and chanting “Om”.
This common practice is called mantra meditation and it’s an important part of Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The use of a repetitive sound like “Om” helps to clear the mind. You could also use any word, phrase, or sound that makes you feel comfortable.
This form of meditation is very suitable for beginners because they find it easier to focus on the sound instead of their breathing.
Spiritual meditation is a form that is still revolving mainly around faith. It is popular with Hindus, Taoists, and Christians. People practicing spiritual meditation look for spiritual growth, and even for establishing a deeper connection with God or the universe.
This practice is usually performed at home or in a place of worship. To enhance the spiritual experience, people often use essential oils during meditation.
The most common essential oils for meditation include:
- palo santo
Numerous benefits are rumored to come from regular meditation practices. In recent years, however, multiple studies were conducted by researchers all over the world to confirm or deny these benefits based on scientific proof.
Here are some of the most common meditation benefits that have been or are currently being subject to scientific research.
Excessive levels of stress are the main reason why people decide to give meditation a chance in the first place.
Meditation is well known for being able to reduce stress levels, and while until recently this main benefit was rumored by word of mouth, the latest studies show that there is a scientific explanation behind it.
When experiencing physical or mental stress, the body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. It is responsible for the negative effect of stress but in high doses it also releases inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines.
A recent study on mindfulness meditation shows that it reduces the inflammatory response induced by stress, which can improve the symptoms of multiple stress-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia.
Reduces depression and anxiety
Naturally, less stress also means reduced levels of depression and anxiety. People with regular meditation practice are less prone to be affected by such conditions.
It is believed that the reason behind this is the reduced activity in the default mode network (DMN) in the brain. The area, also known as the “me center” is most active when a person does nothing and simply drifts from one thought to another. It is also active when you’re doing a self-assessment, hence the name.
Too much activity in the DMN is one of the factors known to cause depression. According to psychologists, however, meditation calms the activities in the DMN and so reduces the level of depression.
Improves attention and concentration
Focused meditation is known to increase both endurance and strength of your concentration. According to studies, other meditation types improve the attention span as well. According to one theory, alleviated stress allows the mind to think clearly without so much wandering around.
Improved attention and concentration have a stronger effect on young people compared to adults. According to one research, school-aged children who were asked to take two meditation breaks during the day performed better in class, got higher grades, and had fewer absences recorded.
Another study on adult workers has shown that they were able to stay focused on a single task for longer, as well as being able to remember more details about it after they have completed the task.
About half of the population suffers or has suffered from insomnia at some point. One of the common reasons causing this popular sleep disorder is the impossibility to control thoughts racing in your mind.
Becoming more skilled in meditation could teach you the control you need to redirect your thoughts and calm your mind. In the meantime, meditation also releases the tension from the body and transitions the mind into a peaceful state that you are more likely to fall asleep from.
Aids addiction recovery
Regular meditation practices are related to increased self-control. Strengthening your self-control, on the other hand, can help you fight the cravings and thus aid you in recovering from addictions.
Studies performed on smokers and alcoholics show that those who meditate frequently can redirect their attention better, have better control over their emotions, and gain a better understanding of the causes of their condition.
Overall, they get better at controlling cravings and stress coming from the abstinence.
Meditation can also help fight food cravings and redirect different unwanted habits. Studies are now performed on the effect of meditation on more serious conditions like heroin addiction.
Helps in controlling pain
It is a well-known fact that different people have different pain thresholds. The threshold is usually lowered in stressful situations. This is because the amount of pain a person can endure calmly is largely dependent on the state of mind, they are in.
One study was conducted on brain activity in patients experiencing the same pain stimulus. Some of the patients had been practicing mindfulness meditation regularly for several days, while the others had not. The study showed that the patients who had meditated showed lower sensitivity to the pain and increased activity in the brain responsible for pain control.
In another study over a large group of participants was concluded that meditation can be associated with reduced complaints of intermittent or chronic pain.
Keeps the brain young
Just like our bodies, the brain slumps with time. Research, however, shows that in people who meditate regularly this happens at a much slower rate.
As a result, elderly people with a long-term meditation practice can have a strong and significantly younger brain. This, by itself, brings several additional benefits including reduced age-related memory loss.
According to studies, meditation increases the memory and mental quickness in older patients. Recently, studies are also focused on whether and how meditation can help people suffering from dementia.
Helps you become your best self
Some meditation types are focused on the world around you. Others, like the self-inquiry meditation, guide you into growing a better understanding of your inner self.
The self-oriented practice is all about getting to know yourself. It aims to help you recognize thoughts that could be harmful or simply set you back. Understanding your weakest and strongest spots and habits can direct your focus into making a positive change in your life.
Other types of meditation, such as metta, or loving-kindness meditation, increase the positive feelings towards self and others.
Changes the structure of the brain
While it may sound unbelievable, it has now been proven that long years of meditation practice can literally change the structure of your brain. Brain scans show that years of active practice result in expanding essential parts of the brain and strengthening their connections.
One of the noticeably affected areas is the amygdala that is responsible for generating negative emotions and traumas. Regular meditation practice weakens the amygdala which gradually turns you into a more centered, mindful person.
Learn to meditate the right way
They say there is no right or wrong way to meditate. There are, however, a few best practices that could help you achieve the result you are looking for, especially if you’re just starting.
While the details will vary depending on the type of practice you choose, here are some general guidelines to get you started.
- Set a special place for meditation. Having your dedicated space with the right atmosphere will help you ease into a meditative state. Surround the space with candles, essential oils, fresh flowers or interesting items you would like to focus your meditation on.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Whether you prefer a chair or the floor, always make sure you are comfortable enough and sitting with a straight back to allow the tension to leave your body.
- Avoid distractions, focus. Close your eyes to focus your mind inward or keep them open and focused on the item you have chosen. When your mind wanders, bring it back gently and continue without judgement.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Don’t force your breath, just let it enter and exit your body.
- Be consistent. Don’t expect a full mind and body transformation after a couple of days. Neither should you quit if you think it’s not what you have expected. Start small with 5 minutes at a time, practice regularly and the results will appear when you least expect them.
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