So, what exactly is meditation and why do people practice it? Meditation is a set of techniques which encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. It is about learning to observe and acknowledge our thoughts without judgement.
There are many different types of meditation including concentration, mindfulness, loving kindness and movement meditations.
To practice concentration meditation you focus on a single point – it could be the breath, the repetition of a word or mantra, a visual image or counting mala beads to name a few common examples. In this form of meditation you refocus your awareness back to your subject of attention every time you notice your mind beginning to wander. Instead of pursuing thoughts you let them go.
In this practice you are encouraged to observe thoughts as they drift through your mind. The intention is not to react to or judge thoughts but to be aware of them as they arise. Through this practice you can see how thoughts and feelings move in particular patterns and become aware of the tendency to judge.
Loving Kindness Meditation
In this practice the focus is on developing compassion. We must first cultivate a sense of loving kindness towards ourselves with the intention of being kinder and more forgiving to others. Compassion of others begins with compassion for yourself. The most common visualisation is bringing to mind different people – people we know, people we don’t; people we like, people we don’t. The intention is to extend kind thoughts to them and to focus on their happiness and in doing so we learn to let go of unhappiness that we are feeling.
Any movement can be performed as a meditation if we focus and apply mindfulness. We can learn about the ever-changing, ever-moving nature of life through the body because it is always in motion (even when we are asleep our hearts are beating and we continue to breathe). Slow, focused movements can help to create a calm mind.
Benefits of Meditation
Studies have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved circulation
- Lower heart rate
- Reduced perspiration
- Slower respiratory rate
- Less anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol levels
- Less stress
- Deeper relaxation
Researchers are investigating whether a consistent practice brings long-term benefits. In Buddhist philosophy the ultimate benefit of meditation is the liberation of the mind from things it cannot control.
A Simple Meditation
- Sit or lie comfortably
- Close your eyes, try to relax your forehead, your temples, your jaw
- Notice your breath, make no attempt to change it in any way just observe it as you inhale and exhale.
- Focus your attention on your breath, notice how your belly expands on the inhale and how your navel moves towards your spine on the exhale.
- Continue to focus on your breath, when the mind wanders bring it back to the breath. Continue in this way for as long as is comfortable for you.
- When you are ready begin to bring awareness back into the body, moving as necessary. When you are ready open your eyes on an exhale.