Here at Healthversed, we prescribe to the belief that health and wellness are about much more than leafy greens and six-pack abs. Sure, meditation has a staggering amount of physiological benefits, but we think it’s fair to say that when you cross your legs and hum, “ooohhhmmm” on the floor of your dimly lit living room, it’s inner peace you’re after and not, say, a stronger core.
Meditation has always been a peculiarity in the western world. But, every day, more and more westerners are taking the mindful plunge (and enjoying the incredible benefits) of this ancient practice. Today, Healthversed will break down the historical context, benefits, and stylistic differences between a variety of meditation styles. We’ll also provide you with a few easy to follow strategies that can help you seamlessly integrate a meditation practice into your everyday life.
So, let’s get to it! Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you Healthversed’s mini guide to meditation. Don’t forget to breathe.
What is Meditation?
Humans have been practicing meditation variations for centuries. In short, meditation is a practice meant to train the mind or induce a mode of consciousness. As if meditation as a concept isn’t complex enough, there are also a wide variety of meditation methodologies that span the globe.
Meditation is about single-pointed concentration. By focusing on a breath, a mantra, or a guided visualization, the practitioner can strengthen their compassion, patience, generosity, and forgiveness. It’s a practice that some say dates back as early as 2600 BC.
Though the preferred method and exact origin are often subject to debate, the mental and physiological benefits of meditation are not. Meditation is incredibly health for your mind and body.
Any time we contemplate walking a new path, we snoop around for information on those who have walked it before us. Knowing that other successful people have found the process rewarding is a great motivator! So, let’s take a look at some noteworthy names that have been known to fly the meditation flag.
Katy Perry begins every day with transcendental meditation. As does Hugh Jackman and Madonna. Kristen Bell uses 10-minutes of meditative yoga in the morning to help keep her centered. Heck, even the callous and seemingly emotionless actor Clint Eastwood calls meditation “a great tool for anyone to have.” Eastwood has been meditating for over 40 years. So, to answer the proverbial question, yes … all of the cool kids are doing it.
We could do a whole article on the benefits of meditation. In fact, there are so many benefits to integrating a daily meditation practice in to your life that you probably wouldn’t believe us. But, you should.
To start, let’s take a look at the emotional benefits of meditation. Meditation can alleviate stress and anxiety. Meditation can provide you with a much-needed respite from painful, emotional burdens. Meditation can also draw your mind away from worrying about the future or past transgressions, and make you more present and emotionally available. All good things indeed.
The benefits of meditation aren’t limited to your emotions. There are physiological benefits too!
Maintaining a regular meditation practice can improve the quality of your sleep. It improves your ability to focus which in turn can improve your athletic performance and improve how you accomplish your daily goals. Meditation can even boost your immune system by slowing your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol.
See what we mean? Meditation is transformative. But how do you meditate? Great question! Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular forms of meditation so that we can find one that’s right for you!
Those pictures of Buddhist monks sitting in silence in a naturally lit ancient temple? That’s zazen meditation. Zazen translates to seated meditation, and it’s what most people think about when they picture the practice. It has its roots with the popular Japanese Zen Buddhist discipline.
Though the method can vary dramatically from school to school, zazen is typically practiced in groups. Some practices aim to strengthen concentration by focusing on the breath. Other schools focus on a koan (an insolvable question, story, or statement), to stimulate the intellectual process of the brain, while others just sit and think of not thinking.
If zazen meditation isn’t exactly your style, try practicing mindfulness. It’s easy to do and a much easier concept for the budding Buddhist inside you to grasp.
Essentially, mindfulness is about living in the present moment. A mindfulness practice asks us to shave away the mistakes of your past, the obligations of your future, and the machinations of your imagination. Instead, mindfulness asks you to welcome the moment with compassion and love.
That’s all well and good but, how do you practice mindfulness? It’s easy! Just set a timer for 10-minutes, sit in a cross-legged position, and try your best to focus on breathing and only breathing. It’s tricky, but practice makes perfect!
Another popular form of meditation – mantra meditation – relies on the repetition of a single syllable word or sound to focus the mind during practice. Mantra meditation, or ohm meditation, is popular in the Hindu discipline and very beginner friendly.
To start, sit upright, straighten your back and close your eyes. Then, repeat your pre-selected mantra silently in your mind or softly during the duration of your practice. The goal is to repeat the mantra so many times that it loses meaning and gets “lost” in the act of meditation.
Need a mantra to get you started? Popular mantras include: om, so-ham, yam, rama, and ham.
That’s right, yoga is a form of meditation. Dating all the way back to 1700 BC, yoga combines the breathing exercises of zazen and mantra meditation with physical postures. It’s the oldest meditation practice on the planet and boy, is it ever good for you.
For a more comprehensive, how-to look at yoga, head on over to Healthversed’s beginner yoga guide here. If you’re in a rush though, a quick Google search should direct you to the local yoga studios around your home. YouTube also hosts a fantastic database of free beginner classes to get you started.
Guided visualization has gained a lot of traction recently. For example, world class athletes rely on a variety of visualization techniques to mentally prepare for game day. But you don’t have to be Lebron James to reap the benefits of this valuable meditation practice.
Visualization is about achieving goals. Let’s say you want to relax more. Using guided visualization, you can relive positive experiences from your past, retreat to a “happy place” full of your favorite things, or imagine an ideal world of accomplished goals and abject bliss.
Visualization harnesses the creative power of the mind to accomplish real-world goals. It’s a tough tool to master but a powerful tool for success.
You see the benefits of meditation, you know that all of the cool kids are doing it, and you have a grasp of the differences between the various meditation practices available to you. Now what? Here are a few tips to help get you started on your road to enlightenment. Or, at least, the road to less stress.
10-minutes of meditation per day is all you need to enjoy the many benefits of a regular practice. Having said that, you can work your way up to that 10 minutes. Start with two and see how you feel. Scheduling a regular time each day for meditation helps with consistency. First thing in the morning seems to work best.
Also, and this is important, YOU AREN’T DOING IT WRONG. Meditation can be frustrating at times. We live over-stimulated lives so the act of focusing can be difficult. Breathe, relax, and don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy the path that your mind drives you through and try not to get to frustrated.