Meditation has long been used as a form of therapy and self-reflection in India and South East Asia. Its actual origin can be traced back to 1500 BCE in Hindu Vedantism traditions, although Buddhists will claim its origin is even older. Since about 1900’s and especially more so in recent times it has been adopted in the West and become more fashionable along with a rising sense of responsibility for one’s own well-being.
What is Meditation?
For some the ancient practice of meditation is a type of prayer or an avenue to grow in spirituality and to attain spiritual enlightenment or a super-consciousness that transcends earthly being. For others it’s a way of reflecting and contemplating the events in one’s life and making sense of our experiences. And yet on a simple level, it may simply represent a method of detaching from the busy-ness of the external world, allowing the mind to find inner calm and peace, which is essentially what yogis do to the nth degree in order to detach from the physical and move into the spiritual realm. Through the mind-body connect, a more peaceful mind enables the body to reset, recover and heal.
Why is it So Popular?
Many personal development authors, including Tony Robbins, Mark Hanson and Jack Canfield espouse the power of meditation to bring more positivity and peace into our lives. Over 1,500 separate studies since 1930 have shown that a meditation practice has major physiological and psychological benefits.
By inducing calm, the physical benefits are:
- A reduction in the production of the stress hormone cortisol and therefore greater resilience in stress situations
- A lowering of blood pressure
- A reduced risk and impact of heart disease and stroke and in some cases a reversal of coronary disease because meditation can actually reduce the thickness of artery walls
- A lower chance of getting cancer – Louise Hay used meditation, alongside other techniques such as positive thinking, affirmations, yoga, breathing exercises, to actually cure herself of cancer
- A reversal of autoimmune diseases through the rebalancing of the peptide flow (psychoneuroimmunology PNI theory)
- Prevention of insomnia (with 75% of insomniacs able to fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed after following a daily practice of meditation)
- Lowering of pain
- Women with PMS showed symptom improvements after 5 months of steady daily rumination and reflection
- Defy ageing – you can live longer and look younger for longer
- Shifting the mind from shoulda, coulda, woulda types of thinking promotes self-regulation and healing on all levels
The psychological and spiritual effects of meditation are:
- An improvement in cognitive attention as we learn to focus and concentrate better with deliberate meditation
- A greater capacity to love yourself and others unconditionally
- A more peaceful and harmonious mental state which means we become less reactive to anger or stress. Also inner harmony can then lead to outer harmony
- Less anxiety – 60% of anxiety prone people showed marked improvements in anxiety levels after 6-9 months
- Greater confidence
- Greater independence
- Less nervousness
- We are more at ease in our own skin, we start to feel more love for ourselves and we are also more likely to reach out to others in love
- Feeling more positive – feelings are a barometer of your health
More and more businesses, are turning to meditation, often in the modern form of mindfulness, to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. A Detroit-based chemical plant posted the following results three years after implementing meditation:
- Absenteeism fell by 85%
- Productivity rose 120%
- Injuries dropped 70%
- Profits increased 520%
The NHS itself is using mediation or mindfulness to improve recovery rates after surgery, treatments and prevent further relapse.
How to Start a Meditation Practice
The best way is to start with short periods of 2-5 mins and build it up gradually to 20-30 minutes. The important thing is to be consistent and make it a daily habit, i.e. an early morning or evening ritual – the latter is good if you struggle to wind down and get to sleep. If you own a Smartphone there are many free apps you can download both on Android and iOS (iPhone). My personal favourite at the moment is Insight Timer.
The preferred way to meditate is usually sitting down with your back straight and supported, your feet firmly planted (barefoot) on the ground and your eyes closed or you can sit cross-legged with a cushion helping you tilt your upper body forwards so that you can stay in this position comfortably for a long period of time without slouching. You can also meditate lying down or even whilst out walking (but not driving).
There are so many different types of meditations from podcast-type meditations to breathing meditations to music or nature sound meditations or a whole mix-up of one or the other. It all depends on where you are at and what your body and mind need the most. If you choose to meditate with your eyes open, it’s best to focus on a lit candle or a distant, static object. It is important that there are as little distractions and background noises as possible to get the maximum benefit. If you are indoors, make sure that the room is not too hot or not too cold. When you relax through meditation your body temperature could drop, so it’s always good to have something warm – a jacket, cardigan, shawl, sweater or dressing gown to throw over you.
Be kind to yourself. There is no right or wrong to meditation, so be kind to yourself. In the beginning it’s very hard to stop the monkey mind from chattering. But if you consciously tell yourself to let them be and go on their way, you will find it easier to detach yourself from them. The more you do this practice, the easier it gets. Never set yourself too high standards or expectations. Just go with the flow.
Feel free to out the following Self-Love Meditation – it helps to raise your energetic vibration by bringing love and forgiveness into your life.
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