Meditation has been such a craze in recent years that we often feel like we should know everything about it. However, the truth is that most people don’t. There is so much information, discussion and publicity about meditation but for most people is just mere background noise. So let’s start with explaining some basic concepts that, hopefully, will cast some light and draw you closer to this extremely useful practice.
According to the spiritual meaning of the term, meditation is not a process of the mind, but the spirit. The basis of this concept is that our body and mind are only important because they contain the soul, which is our real self. The suggestion is that, like all other parts of our being, the soul needs to be fed via meditation. Meditation provides the type of nourishment that it needs through training our awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. It’s not about turning off thoughts or feelings, but learning to observe them without judgment. This leads to recognising, understanding and accepting them better.
There are several ways to meditate and they are often subject to personal variations. However, mindful meditation and open-monitoring meditation are the techniques that have been subject to the most scientific research. Mindful meditation involves focusing on one specific thing. This is typically one of either breathing, a sensation in your body or an object or sound. This type of meditation aims to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders. Open-monitoring meditation entails paying attention to all of the things happening around. It simply encourages us to notice everything without reacting.
Scientists now have a deeper understanding of the effects of meditation on our brain. By using modern technology like MRI scans, scientists have proved that after only a single 20-minute mediation the brain shows a decrease in beta waves. These are associated with better memory, less stress, better focus, more compassion, and more creativity.
After only eight weeks of daily practice, meditation can already have some positive effect on our emotional health as well as improving our performance in physical or mental tasks. In the long run, its benefits include wellbeing, performance and focus. It can also help personal growth through emotional healing, self-knowledge, self-discipline and letting go.
Let’s try basic practice to introduce us to the principles of meditation. The most important thing to bear in mind when starting is that meditation is not automatically going to wipe our mind clear. Experiencing thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in our brains is quite normal. We just have to practise to bring back our attention to our breathing when we notice that our attention has wandered. Have a go:
Meditation is about recognising how our mind works and allowing it to take a pause from incessant activity so we can choose what to focus on. Distractions during meditation are not only normal but very useful. They allow us to assess just how much frenetic, ‘automatic pilot’ activity goes on in our head at any given time.
We all live in the present but our mind is often busy exploring the future or the past. Meditation can help it be ‘mindful’ in the present moment. In a nutshell, meditation helps us live in the present so that we can achieve a much healthier relationship with ourselves. By extension this will help us have better relationships with others. There is a plethora of YouTube videos and written routines on the web. Do some research, pick the one you feel most comfortable with and try it. And remember, practice makes perfect, especially in meditation.