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What is meditation?
The definition of meditation is not as simple as it might seem. Etymologically, the term for contemplative exercises comes from the Latin verb meditari whose meaning is to think, contemplate, ponder and has historically referred to Christian practices of contemplation since the 12th century.
The word meditation is now largely seen as a translation of Eastern spiritual practices, which are referred to in Sanskrit as dhyana (the contemplative and meditative practices of Buddhism and Hinduism). However, this name conveys a plethora of diverse practices and techniques, differing not only between traditions but also within traditions.
Meditation is defined in the dictionary as: A practice in which an individual uses a technique such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on an object, idea, or activity, to train attention and achieve mental clarity and an emotionally calm and stable state.
The earliest records of meditation appear in the Hindu Vedas and have been part of the repertoire of Hinduism and Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia ever since. Since the 19th century, meditative techniques have spread from Asia to other continents where they have found uses outside their original spiritual context.
Why is it good to start meditating?
Meditation is now a worldwide practice used to induce calm and inner harmony. Meditation is a widely practiced practice to find deeper awareness, alter consciousness and achieve peace. Especially now, in an age of increasing need to relieve stress and decreasing ability to relax, meditation is gaining popularity.
The positive effects of meditation can be felt after as little as eight minutes of daily practice, but more experienced yogis devote several hours at a time to it. Meditation enhances the flow of positive emotions and helps manage anxiety, stress and depression. It improves the ability to concentrate and leads to deeper self-awareness. By focusing the mind on the momentary experience during meditation, it calms the mind, even in stressful situations, and eases fears of an uncertain future.
The calming of the mind, improved ability to concentrate and resistance to distraction then has a positive effect on memory and productivity. The relaxation and restfulness of meditation will help bring about restful sleep and easier falling asleep.
How to start meditating
To begin, it is advisable to set aside 5-10 minutes and it is best to meditate in the morning. There are several different meditation positions, you can meditate lying on your back, in a Turkish sitting position (you can lean your back against the wall) or standing. A typical meditation position is then the lotus sitting, where the toes of the feet are resting on the inner thighs of the opposite leg, or the half lotus, where only one foot rests on the thigh.
At the beginning of each meditation it is advisable to concentrate on your breathing, for beginners it is good to concentrate your mind on counting your inhalations and exhalations. Start with inhalation (one), exhalation (two), and continue this until ten, then you can start again from the first inhalation, or move on to the type of meditation (below) you have chosen.
The standard meditation time is twenty minutes, but short 5-10 minute meditations can be interspersed throughout the day. With this practice, the positive effects of meditation will be felt very soon. Although it may sound contradictory, the correct way to meditate is to meditate longer and more often the busier and more stressed you are.
Different meditation techniques
Meditation is intrinsically linked to the belief system and teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but in the West meditation is separated from its sacred role. Meditation techniques in the West are divided into two broad categories:
- Focused meditation (or concentration) – e.g. concentrating on an object
- Mindfulness meditation (open monitoring/awareness) – e.g. awareness of mental processes
Since there are many different meditation practices, it is a good idea to find one that suits you. Not all styles are suitable for everyone, so each type of meditation suits differently minded individuals, and these needs may also change throughout life. Therefore, there is no such thing as right or wrong meditation, only that which is suitable for you.
The term mindfulness, commonly used in English today, is translated as mindfulness. The principle of this meditation is based on the connection between concentration and awareness. The meditator pays attention to the thoughts that come to mind during meditation. But he does not hold on to them, he does not judge them, he just becomes aware of them and lets them drift away. This technique is often associated with concentration on an object or the breath, and awareness comes from bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. The advantage of mindfulness meditation is the simplicity of the practice, so it can be practiced alone at home without the presence of a teacher.
Focused or concentration meditation uses the focus of the mind through one of the five senses. To increase attention, the meditator focuses on the breath or uses external stimuli. External stimuli that promote concentration may include the counting of prayer beads, the sound of a gong or prayer bowl, or the flame of a candle. This practice may sound simple, but some may find it difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes. If your mind wanders, it is necessary to bring your full attention back to the intended stimulus. This technique is useful for training the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Buddhist and Hindu traditions. This type of meditation uses repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “oom”. The mantra does not necessarily have to be recited out loud; just a few recitations will sharpen the mind and induce a state of mindfulness. This technique is particularly suitable for people who like repetitive patterns. Some people find this meditation easier than focusing on their breath.
Progressive relaxation – sleep meditation
Progressive relaxation, also referred to as body scan meditation, is a technique that focuses on reducing body tension through overall relaxation. It is often performed by alternately tightening and relaxing different parts of the body. It is also accompanied by the imagery of a wave of energy passing through the entire body and synchronized with the breath. It is great for relieving stress and relaxing the mind and body before sleep.
Spiritual meditation is used not only in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, but also in the Christian faith. The meditator contemplates the silence that surrounds him or her and seeks a deeper connection with God or deities and the universe.
This practice could be considered a kind of prayer. The technique is often accompanied by essential oils, the most popular of which are frankincense, myrrh, sage, cedar or sandalwood. It is suitable for individuals seeking spiritual growth.
Visualization meditation is a technique that enhances feelings of relaxation, calm and peace through imagining positive scenes and images. It is important to visualize the image in minute detail, including sounds and smells, and to bring the scene to life by engaging all five senses. Another option is to imagine yourself in a positive situation that you intend to achieve (e.g., a promotion).
Again, it is a good idea to add as much detail as possible (the taste of cake to celebrate your promotion, or champagne during a toast). This technique increases motivation and focus to achieve the goal. It is used to improve mood, reduce stress and achieve inner peace.
Movement meditation includes not only yoga itself, but also other exercise techniques that focus on gentle movement, such as qigong or tai chi. Many might be surprised to learn that one can also meditate while walking in nature or gardening. It is an active form of meditation where movement serves as a guide. This technique is suitable for people who are calmed by movement where they let their mind wander.
This meditation focuses on the ability to receive and send positive thoughts outside of oneself and towards oneself. In the Pali language (an ancient Indian language) it is referred to as metta, or positive energy and kindness. The main technique of metta-meditation is reciting (out loud or in the mind) positive phrases to oneself and other beings. The meditation reinforces feelings of compassion, kindness and acceptance of others and oneself. For this reason, it is appropriate for individuals with anger management issues or those suffering from negative thoughts about themselves and the world around them.