Meditation isn’t just for trippy hippies – we can all learn to meditate to help cope with stress, sleep better, and improve our general happiness and wellbeing. We show you the benefits of meditation, and how you can make it part of your life.
Meditation is a common mind-body strategy. While there are many types, meditation is any activity in which you control your attention. This mind-body technique helps you achieve a “relaxation response,” a term used by Herbert Benson to describe the physical changes tied to a state of relaxation—decreased heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure.
There are two general forms of meditation, each with slightly different methods and goals: concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is the other main type of meditation, also known as vipassana or insight meditation. Mindfulness involves intentional, non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.
Like TM, mindfulness begins with one-pointed attention, but expands to a wider scope of observation. You observe thoughts, feelings or sensations as “mental events”—without judging or analysing.
By observing thoughts and emotions in this more distanced and accepting way, you can approach a stressful situation with a mindful response and without reacting in a way that may increase your stress. Mindfulness meditation is also known as insight because the intention is to gain insight as to the true nature of reality. While concentration involves the practitioner focusing their attention on a single object, in mindfulness meditation practice, every aspect of experience is welcomed and appreciated.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many reasons why people meditate. For some it is part of a spiritual journey and has to do with expansion of awareness and how they perceive and experience life. Some simply want to relax, and this benefit of meditation is self-evident. Other people are very specifically interested in the benefits of meditation for health and general well-being. The effectiveness of meditation comes from deep relaxation. When we are deeply relaxed, the body and mind are refreshed and revitalized. This brings many benefits that are both immediate and long lasting. Some major health benefits of regular meditation include:
Lower blood pressure
Decreased use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes
Stronger immune response
Different postures affect how the energy flows through the body and how alert the mind is in meditation. For most meditations, we suggest sitting upright with the spine erect while still being comfortable.
When to meditate
When you meditate will partly depend on what kind of meditation you are doing and the purpose of the meditation. Although you can meditate at any time, the ideal times are usually in the morning as a start to your day, or in the late afternoon in order to unwind from the activity of the day and be refreshed for the evening.
How often to meditate
The ideal frequency of meditation may vary from person to person depending on many different factors. Generally speaking, once or twice a day is ideal. A regular routine of meditation is invaluable.
Thoughts in meditation
Thoughts arise spontaneously in the mind. They are a natural part of meditation. The goal of meditation is to become more at ease, relaxed and at peace with whatever is happening. Therefore, it is important to not resist anything that comes in meditation, including thoughts.
Don’t try to push out thoughts or resist them. Simply notice that thoughts are present and let them go the way they come — effortlessly. When you find that the awareness has been caught up in a train of thought, easily come back to the focus of your meditation. Don’t purposely follow the train of thought. Let it go. Let go of the meaning of thoughts. Let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind!
Our experience of thoughts may change as we meditate.As we disengage the gears of the mind, the mind has an opportunity to settle down. We may experience more subtle levels of the thinking process. Thoughts may become more vague, or may even be an intuitive felt sense of something — a knowing that does not get translated into words and concepts. Allow this process of the changing experience of thoughts to happen.
It’s enjoyable to meditate in a quiet place, but it is not always possible. All of the meditations on our website can be done in a noisy environment. The key is to not resist noise. Don’t try to ignore the noise or to block it out. Simply let it be and continue with your meditation.
It’s important to take time to come out of meditation slowly. When we are deeply rested in meditation, it can be jarring to suddenly get up and start our activity. Remain with your eyes closed for a minute or two. Stretch, move around a bit, and gradually become more active. When you are ready to open your eyes, you can open them downcast at first. Take your time!
Do you meditate?