Meditation is a way to train the mind, similar to the way fitness is a way to train the body. Much like exercise, there are many meditation techniques that exist — so where do you start?
“In Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing,” University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., told The New York Times. And different meditation practices require different mental skills.
This method involves focusing the mind on a single point. This could be following your breath, repeating a single word or mantra (Vedic hymn), staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong, or counting beads on a mala. Focusing the mind is exceptionally challenging, in the beginning, meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations.
In Concentration meditation, you re-focus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, you simply let them go. Over time, your ability to concentrate improves.
Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.
Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge an experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, an inner balance develops.
In some schools of meditation, students practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.
Other meditation techniques
There are various other meditation techniques. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. There are also moving meditation techniques, such as tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.
Benefits of meditation
If relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is often a result. Studies on the relaxation response resulting from meditation have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
Lower blood pressure
Improved blood circulation
Lower heart rate
Slower respiratory rate
Lower blood cortisol levels
More feelings of well-being
Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether a consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and the positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators.
In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.
How to meditate: Simple meditation for beginners
This meditation exercise is an excellent introduction to meditation techniques.
Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair or cushion.
Close your eyes. We recommend using an Eye Mask or Eye Pillow
Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods. Use of a timer for beginners can help.