Meditation is a simple and beneficial practice, but for many this ancient practice can be an illusive one. We have all heard about the studies benefits of meditation as it reduced stress, improves your sleep, and lowers blood pressure, but many struggle to start the practice because they are unaware of its origins and how to make the practice work for them.
You might be wondering: Where does meditation come from? Which style is right for me? What time of day should I meditate? What is the science behind meditation? In an effort to shine light on the foundations of this practice, and make it seem less mysterious I have compiled a comprehensive list to answer these commonly asked questions and perhaps inspire you to take the steps to being your own meditation practice.
Meditation– the action or practice of single pointed concentration on an object or concept. The word “meditation comes from the Latin word meditatum, meaning “to ponder.”
Simply put- meditation is single pointed concentration. I often describe it as if your mind was a light bulb and we want to turn it into a laser pointer where you take all of your mental power and turn it to a single point of concentration and become completely immersed in that object. Meditation is a stand-alone practice, you cannot do something else while you are meditating. Although it is possible to do many things mindfully, meditation is different from mindfulness where you cannot do another action while you are meditating.
The earliest recording of meditation is found in the Vedas, an ancient Hindu text written around 1500 BCE, that describes meditation as an integral part of the Hindu society/culture and a crucial element on the path to enrichment, but quickly expands to Chinese Taoist and Buddhist traditions and is then explored in Texts like The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita (400-100 BCE) and are mentioned in writings from the Roman empire, and Greek philosophers like Philo of Alexandria who were fascinated by capturing the mind, and meditative practices.
Meditation then gets a mass spread from east to west through the transmission of thought and practices on The Silk Road and practices such as mantra repetition, and single pointed concentration are then infused into other faith practices in the west, and become more widely available to those seeking to master the mind. By the 18th century Eastern ancient texts are being translated and circulated in the West, introducing The West to these ancient meditation practices and creating curiosity around the idea of meditation and mental awakening and are followed by more modern books such as The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, and The Darhma Bums which sparks meditation seminars and discussion around the globe.
As with month trends, meditation then takes a large leap when The Beatles speak openly about their passion for Transcendental Meditation. and practitioners like Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Deepak Chopra begin giving classes and doing research into mindfulness and meditation. Meditation has continued to grow in popularity and accessibility from this time until modern day where the idea of living mindfully not only becomes much more popular, but widely accepted as a beneficial health and wellness practice.
There are many different styles of mediation, and loads of wonderful teachers that are able to guide you. When it comes to picking a style of meditation that is right for you, you might have to try a few before you find the one that fits. Just like fitness or diet you have to find that works best for you and know that it is ok if the first style you try isn’t right. Everyone’s mind is different and might need a different style. Below is a list of the most common types of meditation to help guide you to a practice that sounds interesting to you.
Breath Meditation- A type of meditation where the point of concentration is the breath, the practitioner becomes completely immersed in the sensation of breath, and uses effortless breathing or specific breath patterns (pranayama) to achieve a state of higher awareness and consciousness. This practice is great for those that are deeply connected with their breath and are used to breath-led mind/body practices like yoga or pranayama.
Guided Meditation- A form of meditation where the practitioner is led through a visualization or exercise by someone else to achieve a specific goal. This is my personal favorite style of meditation and the style that I recommend most begin with. When you use the guidance of a teacher it helps to keep your mind on track and eases you into single pointed concentration.
Present-Moment/Mindfulness Meditation- A form of meditation where the practitioner becomes completely present in each moment and tries not to be pulled into the past or future and does not cast judgment or thoughts on the moment, but simply experiences it. This practice can be challenging for beginners as you need to harness your ability to handle distractions and a wandering mind, but is wonderful for those that are craving a practice that is closer to the ancient roots of the practice.
Walking Meditation- A moving form of meditation, usually done between long periods of sitting meditation, in which your consciousness shifts from each step to step and each moment to moment. It is a slow, deliberate, and intentional walk, and it not the kind of walk you would take your dog on or for exercise. This practice is wonderful for those that are convinced they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still.
Loving-Kindness (Metta) Meditation- A type of meditation in which the practitioner focuses on radiating loving kindness, compassion, and good-will to people and the world around them. Those are looking to build compassion and happiness might enjoy this practice.
Vipassana Meditation- A type of insight meditation in which the practitioner focuses on one point of concentration usually the breath or body sensations and does this to get insight into the true nature of reality. You may need to look into a retreat or finding a Vipassana teacher nearby to get started on this practice.
Manifestation Meditation- A more modern type of meditation in which someone consciously raises their vibration, and works on manifesting something positive into their life, also known as attraction meditation. Those are are interested in the law of attraction, and are looking to make major changes in their lives might enjoy this style of meditation.
Mantras/Repetition Meditation- A type of meditation in which the practitioner repeats a word, phrase, or chant over and over to evoke a certain meaning, feeling, or state of being. This style of meditation is often used with a strand of Mala beads to keep track of your repetition, and is a popular style of meditation for beginners.
With so many different styles of meditation, it might be best to try a few out before you land on the one that feels right to you. There are also a lot of resources such as apps like Headspace, Calm, and my podcast Mindful in Minutes that will lead you through different styles so you can find the right one so you can explore the different styles.
One of the biggest reasons people start to meditate is the health benefits that come along with the practice. It is widely known and accepted that meditation helps make the brain stronger, work better and achieve more clarity. But how exactly does this happen, and what happens in the brain when you meditate?
The neuroplasticity of the brain, or it’s ability to change and adapt over time is one of the most incredible things our bodies can do. Much like if you went to the gym to lift weights, overtime when you workout your brain with meditation it will change and become stronger over time. But how does this work? During the act of meditation it appears that focusing on one thing lights up the parts of the brain that are associated with behavior, concentration, memory, and emotion. During meditation the activity in the brain goes from general scattered patterns and activity to concentrated activity in areas like the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and quiets the fear/anxiety/pain center of the brain, the Amygdala. Studies have shown that an overactive, or larger Amygdala is one of the strongest indicators to anxiety disorders. Being able to shrink this area can physically help to reduce your anxiety and quell your nerves.
During mediation the brain also produces extra GABA, which gives you a sense of calm, and releases dopamine, the reward and pleasure chemical, norepinephrine, the chemical involved in anxiety drops, while the Amygdala stops firing activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system.
Although these changes won’t happen immediately, they do happen relatively quickly. Studies show that after regular meditation (8 weeks or longer) these neurological changes happen, and the structure and electrical patterns of the brain change and there are increases in mass of grey matter, hippocampus, and frontal lobe and connectivity between regions of the brain and decreases in the size of the Amygdala and will slow the natural aging, decaying, and atrophy of the brain
It’s not just your brain that changes with a regular meditation practice. Your body will benefit as well. According to recent studies by Lazar Lab and Psychology Today you can expect the following benefits from a daily meditation practice of at least 10 minutes/day over 8-12 weeks.
Research has shown that meditation:
-Reduces stress and anxiety
-Improves your sense of wellbeing and a positive self-image and life outlook
-Enhances self-awareness and ability to be introspective
-Improves your ability to sleep
-Decreases blood pressure
-Improves heart rate
-Increases your immune system
-Increases happiness and compassion
-Improve hormone regulations
-Slows down the natural aging of the body
Meditation also helps your mind work better, and make more logical decisions, focus for longer, and function at a higher rate and slow down the natural aging and deterioration of the physical body under stress and increasing your feelings of compassion and life satisfaction.
Many believe that in order to meditate you need to sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor for an hour a day, but this just isn’t true. There are many different positions you can meditate in, and studies show us that you only need to do it for 10 minutes/day to get the physical, mental and emotional benefits of meditation.
Learn about 3 meditation practices that stick here.
Do I have to sit on the floor to meditate?
A meditation position can look different for anyone. All you need to do is make sure that you are comfortable enough that you can stay there for 10 minutes-but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep, keep the spine long and make sure you can breathe without anything restricting your diaphragm. This means you can meditate lying on the floor, in a chair, seated on your couch with flat feet or anything else that fits the criteria and works for your body.
-Decide you want to start a meditation practice and commit yourself to it
-Find a style that feels right to you (you can always change or try different styles, but start with one)
-Set a date with yourself to practice your meditation and don’t break that date for anything, make it a priority
-Find your comfortable meditation position
-Begin with 10 minutes each day. Either the first 10 minutes, or the last ten minutes of your day
-Set a timer and when your time is up you’re done and don’t think about it for the rest of the day, there is no good or bad meditation
-Do it again tomorrow
-Commit to at least 2 weeks and then check in, and increase time if possible, work up to 15-20 minutes each day
When it comes to meditation, it is all about finding the right formula and style that works for you and creating a consistent practice. It takes time to feel the benefits, and see the changes but if you stick with it you will be able to truly experience the transformation that meditation can bring you.
Check out best meditation apps to help guide you through various easy practices.