Managing our thoughts and feelings is one of the most important foundations for good health. And meditation is a powerful tool to help us build that foundation. It can improve your emotional well-being, combat everyday stressors, and help reduce tension in your body and mind. But there is more than one way to meditate. The method(s) you choose often comes down to your comfort level, how you feel practicing that technique, and how profound the results are for you. If you’re new to meditation or want to learn about a variety of techniques, this article is for you. We’ll talk about five common meditation styles, how to practice them, and what the benefits are.
What does it mean to meditate?
The meaning of meditate according to Merriam-Webster is “to engage in contemplation or reflection….for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” The origin of mediation comes from the ancient Indian Vedic texts that came into existence thousands of years ago. In today’s modern society, meditation helps us take a break from the busyness of everyday life, to reflect, to slow down, to be in silence. On a deeper level, when you practice meditation over long periods of time, the results and benefits are phenomenal. We’ll talk about those in detail later in the article. For now, let’s discuss some of the most common and utilized forms of meditation.
What are good meditation techniques?
There are many styles of meditation, but we want to cover four of the most common techniques. Any of these four styles may suit your particular circumstances, or a combination of them may work best for you.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
This form of meditation has the goal of orienting your focus on the present-day. And utilizing the sensory organs to stay in touch with the immediate moment. In Mindfulness Meditation, there’s no specific mantra to repeat in our head, no image to put your focus on, and no thought to hold in your mind. Instead, you allow the mind to wander, without control or judgment. Simply observe and become aware of each passing thought or image.
2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Relaxation (MBSR)
Mindfulness-Based Stress Relaxation (MBSR) is a type of meditation created in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It brings together the two healing modalities of meditation and yoga. And its techniques have roots in Buddhist philosophies.
In addition, this practice has seven foundational attitudes. They include:
- A beginner’s mind
- Letting go
The technique makes use of mindful eating, mindful body scanning, walking meditation, regular thought journaling, and more practices to help participants relax and lower stress levels. Also, MBSR is often used by corporations to reduce the level of stress among executives, managers, and employees. The goal is to help these individuals avoid workplace burnout.
3. Loving-Kindness Meditation
The third type of meditation is called Metta Meditation which translates to Loving-Kindness. It’s a selfless practice that teaches selfless love and empathy for yourself and the world. This Buddhist practice or meditation believes that when there’s love in your heart, hate cannot exist. And to “know thyself” is the first practice of love.
In the words of world-renowned Vitenesame Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, “Metta meditation is a practice of cultivating understanding, love, and compassion by looking deeply, first for ourselves and then for others.” As a new meditator to Loving-Kindness, the aim is to focus loving attention on yourself. For instance, while sitting in a comfortable position, with your eyes closed, you can say to yourself:
“May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.”
Then over time, as the love fills you up, you have enough light and love to pass onto others through your meditation. This practice helps nourish the soul and makes you feel loved and appreciated by others — thereby establishing a solid sense of balance and well-being.
4. Meditation Retreats
The last method we want to share with you is Meditation Retreats. One of the most well-known retreats is called Vipassana, which is a silent retreat that lasts for 10 days straight. But there are other meditation centers, ashrams, and private groups that host meditation retreats for a few hours or several days. Not all the options are long in duration. Many studies have been conducted involving the participants of meditation retreats, and they show that attendees emerge with a lower heart rate and a much calmer state of mind.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation has long been known to improve some physiological and psychological components of your mind and body — providing you with greater energy, strength, and joy. Practicing meditation on a daily basis can bring about the most significant changes to your overall health. And the beautiful thing is, all you need is 5 to 10 minutes a day. As you start to notice the perks of meditating, you may decide to meditate for 15 or even 20 minutes a day. At this point, you’ll notice drastic improvements in your everyday life.
Let’s take a look at the most common benefits of meditation and review the science that backs them up.
- Reduces accumulated stress
- Lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone)
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduction in pain
- Decreases symptoms of depression
- Improves memory
- Increases blood flow to the brain, which improves healthy aging
- Positively impacts your genetic expression
- Increases creativity
- Reduces fatigue
- Improves the quality of sleep
- Promotes weight loss
Here are some other areas of your health that meditation can improve:
Meditation has been shown to improve our immune system function. It does this by decreasing cellular inflammation and by boosting levels of antibodies. When you have a greater number of antibodies (disease-fighting chemicals), you increase your resistance to pathogens and foreign invaders, which are known to cause illness. Also, the immune system benefits from a positive mental environment, which can happen while meditating.
One study shows women with fertility issues can benefit from meditation. And women who meditated while pregnant delivered healthier babies than women who didn’t meditate. Why did this happen? Well, there are a few reasons why. People who meditate consistently can lower insulin resistance, cortisol levels, and balance their sex hormones. When a woman is insulin resistant, it decreases her chances of getting pregnant. Also, when cortisol levels are too high, it creates stress in the body. And stress has a negative effect on ovulation.
Anxiety & panic attacks
Scientists conducted a study on the effects meditation had on anxiety levels. They studied 15 healthy adults with normal levels of anxiety and at the end of the study, they found that anxiety levels dropped by 39 percent. The scientists noted that the practice of meditation affected the activity in the participant’s prefrontal and anterior cortex. These are areas of the brain responsible for thinking, worrying, and emotion. High anxiety levels increase the incidence of panic attacks. So, decreasing your anxiety levels via meditation can reduce the likelihood of having a panic attack.
Heart disease is one of the most deadly diseases in Western countries. It affects both men and women alike and it’s tied to other factors besides genetics, diet, and exercise. Our mental well being and stress levels play a part in our heart health too. And this is where meditation comes in for the win. Meditation is capable of stabilizing blood circulation, regulating heart rate variability (HRV), metabolism, blood pressure, and other biological functions. In other words, meditation can empower you to get your health back.
How do you meditate properly?
There is a common stereotype that you have to sit in a cross-legged position (lotus pose) on the floor, for a long period of time to “properly” meditate. But that’s not the case. Meditation isn’t always passive, you can find and do active meditations. But, even when you’re practicing a passive form of meditation like mindfulness, you can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. Or sit on your bed with your legs out in front of you. The important part is to give yourself a quiet moment to be alone. Focus on your breath, observe your thoughts, and practice deepening your awareness.
It’s as simple as that. If you have a goal of achieving the “traditional” meditation posture by sitting in lotus, hands in gyan mudra, eyes closed, and spine erect — you’ll get there with practice and time. Yoga can also help you get there faster because it stretches and strengthens your body and helps you sit comfortably for longer periods of time.
By incorporating meditation into your life you can positively influence your physical and mental health. And it’s not just a practice for the spiritually advanced, it’s a practice for anyone with a body and a pulse who wants a better quality of life. Meditation has the power to improve your state of well-being, happiness, ability to cope with stress, and zest for life. What’s not to love about that?