Meditation saved and changed my life. When I was a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety and depression. I was afraid of everything and everyone and my life came to a screeching halt.
My biggest dream was to travel the world but that would be hard to do if I couldn’t even leave the general vicinity of my house.
Various good-intentioned people suggested I learn to meditate. I really knew nothing about meditation but, being a teenager I thought I was an expert and the last thing I wanted to do was sit still and think about my thoughts.
Instead, I sought out activities that were high energy and intense like long-distance running or something that required my full attention like surfing.
Only later in life did I learn that running and surfing, amongst many other things, fall under the very broad term of mediation.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a word that cannot be put into a “textbook” definition. In very basic terms meditation is a way to calm the mind, body and spirit by bringing awareness, intention and focus to what is happening to you at the moment, physically and mentally. The main objective is to just notice these things while not putting any meaning to them.
Types of Meditation:
There are 6 main types of meditation. If one type doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged, just try a different method because meditation really does change your life.
When practicing mindfulness meditation you try to focus your attention on each detail of each moment. Being mindful involves being aware of the whole experience without putting a meaning to your thoughts or emotions about it. People who practice mindfulness often use phrases such as “living in the moment” or “being present.”
- Seated Meditation: This is what most people would think of when they hear the word meditation – just like my teenage self. To start:
- Find somewhere comfortable and relatively quiet to sit. You can cross your legs, sit on your knees, sit with your heels together or any other variation.
- Sit up straight and tall. Press your tailbone down while lifting the crown of your head. This elongates your spine, creating space between each vertebrae.
- Press your shoulders down and back, opening your chest.
- Close your eyes or gently set your gaze to something stationary in front of you.
- Place your hands in your lap or on your knees.
- Start to take long, slow deep breaths in and out of your nose.
- When your thoughts start to take over focus your attention back on your breath.
Mindfulness exercises can be practiced with literally anything. You can practice it by bringing awareness to any activity you do throughout the day. You want to take notice of every little detail. The easiest way to practice mindfulness is to examine your five senses as you describe what your doing. For example, next time you drink a cup of coffee ask yourself questions like:
- What does your coffee smell like? Is there an earthy smell? A fruity or chocolatey smell?
- What does your coffee look like? Is it black, brown, tan or somewhere in between? Is it creamy or frothy? Is there steam coming off the top or are there ice cubes? Are there bubbles around the rim? Are there ripples in the coffee? Is some dripping down the side of the cup?
- What does the coffee taste like? Is it bitter or sweet? Hot? Cold? Room temperature? Is it creamy? Is there a flavor?
- How does it feel going down your throat? Hitting your stomach? What does the mug feel like in your hand? Can you feel the warmth from the coffee? Does the mug fit nicely in your hand?
- What can you hear? Is there coffee dripping into a pot? Is there an espresso machine going? Are you alone? Is it quiet? Are people talking around you? Is there music playing?
You can ask yourself these sorts of questions for anything that you do throughout the day like brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, taking a walk, etc.
Spiritual meditation may mean different things for different people. This type of meditation can be very intense emotionally and it is a practice aimed to connect you to your higher power and/or to yourself. You can practice spiritual meditation by giving thanks or showing gratitude for all the things in your life, especially the tiny thing that you may take for granted. I practice this by writing a list every night of things I am thankful for from that particular day. An example of a list I have recently written while experiencing the COVID 19 pandemic:
- More time for Running
- My foster cat, Ella
- Time to garden
- Time to learn the piano
- Technology to stay in touch with family and friends so easily
- Time to read
This is my favorite type of meditation, movement meditation. It offers the same mental benefits and even more physical benefits than seated meditations. A moving meditation can literally look like anything that is active. Running, swimming, tennis, golf, hunting, fishing, yoga, surfing, dancing, playing music. It doesn’t really matter what you’re physically doing, what matters is your intention. Your goal of a moving meditation is to connect your mind to your body and really focus on the physical sensations that are happening.
During mantra meditation, you use a repeated phrase, a word or a prayer to help ward away intruding thoughts. You can use any word or combination of words that are meaningful or calming to you. Mantra meditations are also great for when you have a specific goal in mind and some people like to use prayer beads along with a mantra. Popular mantras for beginners include:
- “I change my thoughts, I change my world” – Norman Vincent Peale
- Every day in every way, I am getting better and better” – Laura Silva
- “Ohm” – this is considered by many as the vibration of the universe and it is commonly used to open and close yoga classes.
- Om Namah Shivaya – I honor the God within
- May my heart be kind my mind fierce and my spirit brave
- “El Shaddai” – God Almighty
- “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi
- Expect nothing and appreciate everything
- May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
- This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
- All things work together for good. Romans 8:28
- Breathe in, I send myself love. Breathing out, I send love to someone else who needs it.
- I give myself permission to slow down.
- I am the change.
- Everything I need is within me.
- Accept what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be
- I love myself, I believe in myself, I support myself
This form of meditation is a combination of mantra meditation and seated meditation. It has a very specific way of practicing and involves sitting still twice a day for 20 minutes with your eyes closed. While meditating you use a specific word to keep your thoughts focused. Transcendental meditation could be considered to be more spiritual or emotional than other forms of meditation. It involves a lot of looking inward at yourself.
Guided meditation is great for beginners or anyone who has a really hard time settling their mind or body, like me. It can also be called guided imagery or guided visualization. Guided meditations are always led by someone else and there are endless guided meditations you can find online or on downloadable apps.
What are the benefits of Meditation?
The benefits of any sort of meditation are endless. There are always ongoing studies about meditation but all have found some sort of benefit even if you only meditate five minutes a day.
- Reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Reduces depression symptoms
- Improves awareness
- Improves concentration
- Improves attention span
- Improves patience
- Improves decision-making skills
- Improves memory and reduces memory loss as we age
- Teaches you to control your emotions such as anger
- Improves mood
- Improves self-esteem
- Increases self-awareness
- Increases confidence
- Generates creativity
- Changes perception of things
- May help addiction
- Balances and regulates brain chemicals
- Balances and regulates emotion
- May help with symptoms of PTSD
- Teaches empathy
- Improves problem-solving and decision-making skills
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves blood circulation
- Relieves built-up tension
- Improves sleep and reduces insomnia
- Can help pain management
- Strengthens immune system
- Relieves PMS systems
- Improves overall health
- May relieve chronic pain
- May reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
- May relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- May help reduce the number of migraines as well as migraine symptoms
- May improve psoriasis outbreaks
There are so many ways to experience meditation and gain the benefits from it. One type might work better for you or maybe a combination of different methods will work the best. Either way, you stand to gain something positive from starting a meditation practice.