The world is filled with so much noise and stress.
It is a place where you can barely gather your thoughts before receiving someone’s input or anxiety creeps up and destroy your peace of mind. It almost feels impossible to get a moment’s solitude. Whether you’re at school, work, home, or even in the comfort of your bedroom—something always disturbs you. Sometimes it feels like the only way to find peace, focus, and find yourself is to go far out into the wilderness alone—or is it?
“The more regularly and the more deeply you meditate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of peace.” – J. Donald Walters
You don’t have to escape to the woods to find stability and calm. Even in the middle of the storm that we call life, we can find a way to clear our minds—and we can achieve this peaceful mental state through meditation.
What is Meditation?
Most people think of meditation as the process of sitting down, cross-legged, with both hands raised and saying “ohmmm” for hours on end. Well, yes—you could do it that way, but meditation is about more than that. Meditation is the practice and techniques that you can use to focus your mind on a particular thought, object, or activity, thus training your perfection, awareness, and attention. In doing so, you can achieve a state of mental clarity and emotional stability.
So, does this mean that meditation is simply the art of relaxing? Not really. While relaxation is one of the benefits of meditation, it is merely one of the by-products of the entire process. Again, while Hollywood and the media depict meditation as sitting and breathing in and out, this is but a part of the process in the ongoing pursuit of freeing your mind.
The best way to define meditation would be through the Buddhist Philosophy. It is the means of transforming the mind, developing concentration, clarity, and emotional positivity to liberate ourselves from the notion that we have to control everything around us. Meditation relieves the mind of attachments to things that we are not able to control, and by doing so, frees us to see the true nature of things. Through meditation, we can find more positive ways of simply being. It makes it easier to find peace but at the same time energizes our mind, leading us to a better understanding of life around us.
The Relaxation Response: Meditation’s Physiological Benefits
Enlightenment and a sense of peace and calm sound amazing, but for the cynics out there who don’t buy into the whole idea of meditation, there’s a lot of other side benefits that come with the practice. The scientific term for the phenomenon is known as the relaxation response. This involuntary response of the body as a result of meditation, a result of the significant reduction in activity, particularly of the sympathetic nervous system.
Among the chief benefits of the body’s relaxation response is the improvement in your cardiovascular health. The strain on your heart is reduced because meditation reduces your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. The improved heart and respiratory rates also, in turn, reduce perspiration.
Among the many other benefits of the relaxation response that researchers found were the reduction in stress, anxiety, and blood cortisol levels of people that meditate. Moreover, subjects of studies displayed an increased feeling of well-being and a more positive outlook on life, evidencing the transformative effects of meditation.
Isn’t meditation amazing? The latter reasons alone are a testament to that, but the interesting fact is that, as we mentioned before, these are merely side benefits to meditation and not its true goal. If you asked a Buddhist monk or philosopher what meditation is for, you would probably receive an answer similar to this: Meditation has no true goal, except to simply be.
The one true benefit of meditation is enlightenment: The liberation of our minds, relieving us of the idea that we can control everything around us. In the ultimate irony, by letting go, we become more in control. We can maintain calmness and a sense of inner harmony that allows us to live a better life.
Meditation for Beginners
Have we convinced you of the many health benefits that meditation has to offer? Has meditation piqued your philosophical interests, and you’re now ready to attain emotional well-being? Well, then—let us help you with a quick exercise on how to meditate. You can expand on this as you learn what works for you, but it’s a great starting point.
First, find a quiet spot in your home or even in the office if you’re in genuine need of relaxation and peace at the moment. Sit or lie in a fashion that you’re most comfortable with and then close your eyes. Maintain your position and let yourself breathe naturally and make no attempts to control it.
Once you feel that you have achieved that natural rhythm in your breathing, focus your mind on the process. Be mindful of your breathing, each movement, each action you take with each breath—how your body moves, your chest, your belly, your ribs. Remember to keep your eyes closed and that you’re not trying to manipulate your breathing, whether in its pattern or its intensity. You are merely being, understanding, observing what goes on. Do this for two to three minutes.
During this process, your mind may stray toward work, family, or other matters. You need to push those thoughts out, and you must keep your mind from wandering. This beginner meditation exercise helps to train you to be mindful, increase your awareness, and help you focus.
If this exercise brought you a sense of calm, an increased sense of awareness, or allowed you to relax, then continue to do it. Try to meditate two to three minutes a day for a week. If it continues to go well, double the duration and do it for another week, and continue to do so. By the second month, you will be meditating for at least 10-15 minutes per day, and it has become a habit.
Types of Meditation
So, you’ve been doing the meditation exercise we provided. Why haven’t you achieved mental enlightenment and a Buddhist-monk-level of calm yet? First off, that was only a beginner-level meditation, and not a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution. There are multiple types of meditation available out there. Next, we’ll share some of the most popular ones that have helped us personally and have shown results.
Remember how in the beginner meditation, we asked you to keep your mind from wandering and keeping yourself focused on the task of observing your breathing? Well, in mindfulness meditation, you need to observe how your mind wanders and acknowledge the different thoughts that pop up while your mind is in a relaxed state. However, you must make sure that your consciousness does not get tangled up and bogged down with these thoughts, and that you are merely aware of them, but you do not engage them.
Through this process, you will quickly realize that’s not as easy as it seems. We’ve trained our minds to pass judgment on our every thought, experience, and memory. For example, we immediately mark moments as happy or sad, people as good or bad, or experiences as ones we love or hate. Through mindfulness meditation, you can get a sense of inner balance and remove these judging tendencies that we have in our thoughts.
To be mindful, to become still, and to not pass judgment and remain in a state of calm: This is what the practice of mindfulness meditation teaches us.
Instead of focusing on your thoughts, the concentration school of meditation focuses on your state of being in the physical world. In this set of techniques, you are to focus on a single point, a single item in your surroundings—whether it is your breath, like in our beginner meditation technique, or spoken words, the sound of your surroundings, or simply counting the beads on a bracelet.
While it may sound extremely easy, you’ll find that focusing on a single repetitive task for an extended duration of time is difficult, as your mind tends to wander. Through this form of meditation, you will train your mind to let go of random thoughts that pop up in your head. The difference between concentration and mindfulness meditation is that you do not actively make yourself aware of these thoughts, your goal is to push these thoughts to the side as they arise, let them go, and focus on your task. Through this meditation process, you can improve your concentration, focus on the now, and not let any of the surrounding noise disturb you. It allows you to develop a sense of calm, even amidst a storm.
If you are attracted by the idea of the Hollywood depiction of meditation, transcendental meditation is the method for you. This form of meditation requires that you remain seated, breathe slowly, and repeat a mantra or a series of words. As the name implies, the point of this meditation technique is to transcend your current state of being, become better, and move past your limitations through concentration and mindfulness.
According to Traditional transcendental meditation, the teacher determines the words or mantra spoken during the process. The founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, provided students with a mantra that consisted of Sanskrit words, which would help students focus instead of merely following their breathing pattern. Today, the exact mantra differs from one student to another and is still determined by the teacher according to different factors unique to the student, such as their birth year, gender, or particular life situation.
More modern versions or schools of transcendental meditation allow the student to choose their mantra. For example, if someone wanted to quit smoking, they would repeat the words “I do not need to smoke” during meditation, affirming their resolve and allowing them to transcend their situation. It is noteworthy that some traditional schools do not consider this as transcendental meditation, but we grouped them due to their similarities. The latter is merely a more modern adaptation.
We’ll close our list of meditation techniques with the Metta meditation school, also known as loving-kindness meditation. Unlike other forms of meditation that call for you not to engage your thoughts whether negative or positive, this particular form of meditation asks you to cultivate your thoughts and change them toward an attitude of love and kindness for everything.
The interesting part about Metta meditation is that it promotes a feeling of love and compassion toward all things, even sources of stress, or your perceived enemies. The goal of this meditation technique is to keep repeating loving messages to specific people or their loved ones; by doing so, you open your mind to receiving compassion and kindness as well.
While you may be dubious about this particular form of meditation, it has proven effective in people who have a deep sense of anger, resentment, or frustration toward someone or a situation. Metta meditation can help them move on and change their outlook toward the events and people they are in conflict with.
People suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and depression have vouched for the effectiveness of Metta meditation, so if you have any anger issues or strong, negative feelings for a particular person, you might find this meditation discipline helpful.
Clear Your Mind
Whether you’re looking to transcend your understanding of life and the world around you, or if you are looking for inner peace, innate calmness, and the simplicity of just being, meditation is a practice that you should practice often. If you are under the impression that meditation is outdated or just not for you, then take a few moments to read the benefits again. Even if you don’t believe in the mental and spiritual gains of meditation listed here, at least try it out once. See if the short-term physiological benefits win you over—we are confident you’ll like the results.