“Meditation is not about getting out of ourselves or achieving something better.
It is about getting in touch with what you already are.”
– PEMA CHODRON
You’ve likely seen meditation portrayed in movies and television as people sitting cross-legged with their heads down in silence. But what exactly are they really doing? Is this an accurate depiction? And what significance does this hold beyond religion and in terms of well-being? This article will focus on the origins, types, and importance of meditation.
According to ancient teachings, meditation is defined as a way to change how the mind works. Under these teachings, everyone is destined to make mistakes, some of it which is based on desire. And while people may say that they’re going to change something about their life, saying it is a lot different than doing it. That’s where meditation comes in: It’s designed to raise the mental awareness to change habits that are a part of your lifestyle. It helps you to truly think about things in your life that you need change and then mentally try to change it. Meditation is intended to be liberating – a chance to rid your mind of the day’s problems to concentrate on change. It’s also said to be relaxing, as typically you’re practicing in complete silence for minutes at a time. In fact, some teachers teach you to begin meditating for 15 minutes, then gradually extending the meditation periods by five minutes each week until you’re at a point where you’re meditating for 45 minutes at a time. This is because your mind and concentration take time to improve and get to the point where you can shut out most other thoughts. This ensures that you get times of true peace.
Meditation is a quieting of the chatter inside our heads. From the moment we wake up, there is a mental dialogue going on – which is natural and healthy! However, when we don’t eat right, miss out on sleep and overextend ourselves, these voices become chaotic. That’s when it’s time to meditate. Instead of firing back at every demand your mind makes, you can let thoughts come and go naturally for greater peace of mind and greater cognitive potential.
Benefits of Meditation
Perhaps spiritual teachers were on to something thousands of years ago when they began their meditation practice. Many professors and researchers have done studies on the benefits of meditation. And the benefits are plentiful, based on some of the research and findings – both psychological and physiological. Here is a rundown of some of the benefits:
Meditation and the Body
- Helps general balance and flexibility
- Calms our muscles, releasing physical tension and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Better immune system: findings have indicated that regular practice of meditation can not only help people fight colds and illness, but can also help slow or control the pain of serious diseases and illnesses.
Meditation and the Mind
- Meditation helps us process mental noise in a calm and peaceful manner.
- It also reinforces positive thoughts, leading to better memory and mood levels.
- A lower rate of stress and anxiety.
- An increase in intellect.
- Better emotional state: meditation can also help forge better relationships with your family and friends, reduce irritability, increase your self-esteem and have you feeling younger, fresher and rejuvenated.
Meditation and the Spirit
- Meditation helps us focus on becoming one with every part of ourselves.
- Mantras can help us cultivate feelings of wellness, happiness and belonging with our surroundings.
Varieties of Meditation
While there are many different varieties of meditation that are practiced today, the two main types are “Mindfulness of Breathing” and “Loving Kindness Meditation.” The first type mentioned here, not surprisingly, focuses on breathing, while the latter focuses more on quality of life. In meditation, it’s important to find a quiet place to practice and then find a comfortable posture to sit in. Since you’re likely going to be sitting in the same position for eventually up to 45 minutes, it’s a good idea to sit comfortably, and perhaps even add comfort to your posture with a pillow. In “Mindfulness of Breathing” meditation, start by focusing completely on the in and outs of your breath. According to Buddhist teachings, this helps to enhance your concentration and achieve a mental peace and calm. “Loving Kindness Meditation” should be done after you’ve mastered and have become comfortable with the “Mindfulness of Breathing” meditation. This is characterized by wishing both yourself and other people you know well as you meditate.Other types of meditation are tranquility and insight. The former aims to train the mind to concentrate while the latter is designed to help a person realize and understand certain truths in life. Other types of meditation are tranquility and insight. The former aims to train the mind to concentrate while the latter is designed to help a person realize and understand certain truths in life.
The Significance of Meditation
Yes, meditation can be powerful. But how? It’s because of the human mind – it’s arguably the most significant part of your body. Meditation simply teaches you how to focus your mental energy on positive things so that they can help you live more prosperously. Think of it like this: It’s often said that golf is a game that is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical and if you don’t have the ability to use your mind and concentrate on the task at hand, the physical attributes can only carry you so far. So how can meditation help benefit you? In Loving Kindness Meditation, positive change is encouraged to take place both in how you perceive yourself and how you perceive and feel towards others. This type of meditation teaches you to forgive yourself, to look at others differently and to nurture your feelings toward yourself and toward others. This can be a very powerful and uplifting practice as it certainly can lead to a higher quality of life.
The History and Origin of Meditation
Meditation helps heal the mind, balance the body, and restore the spirit – all wonderful pathways of finding peace in modern life. Meditation practice, however, goes back much further than recent history. While early texts are muddled, and archaeological finds sketchy at best, there is enough evidence to suggest that people practiced meditation at the earliest stages of civilization – going far back as hunter-gatherer tribes (5,000+ years ago). Following the growth of civilization and development of written language, the epic poems and legends from the Indian subcontinent describe meditation as an important practice in the Hindu tradition – one of the world’s oldest organized religions. The life of Buddha (formerly Prince Siddhartha), around 500 B.C., began another important chapter in the narrative of meditation as a spiritual practice. While Buddha didn’t create or start meditation, his teachings helped its spread across the Asian continent. Over the next millennia, meditation grew in significance as a spiritual practice in many cultures, although it remained confined largely to the Eastern world – spreading to the West only after thousands of years of incubation in Asia. With the development of convenient intercontinental travel meditation practices slowly traversed into the Western hemisphere, and by the time of the 1960s and 1970s university professors and researchers truly began to study meditation practice and understand its origins and benefits beyond religion. Today meditation is an accessible, engaging pursuit for many religious and secular people alike – however, its significance in our lives can be much deeper than any quick study or shortcut found online (including this brief history!). The roots of this sacred practice go much farther than recorded memory, and the benefits of real practice (with no aim of promoting ourselves, only finding knowledge within) can reconnect us to a history larger than any modern electronic substitute we may encounter.