Sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat and humming “Om” with your eyes closed may not be your cup of tea. But stereotypical images may come to mind when you ask, “What is meditation?”
Meditation isn’t about bending your legs into an uncomfortable pretzel shape. It also doesn’t require you to drink green juice or adopt a vegan diet. There are various disciplines of meditation, but ultimately, it’s about training yourself in awareness and changing your perspective for the better.
Meditation doesn’t mean turning off your thoughts and feelings. It’s an active mental process that can help you to become more in tune with your thoughts and feelings over time.
Why Do People Meditate?
There are many benefits to meditation. It can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance that benefits your emotional well-being and overall health. These benefits don’t just happen when you’re meditating. They can impact your daily life for the better and help you manage specific mental health conditions symptoms.
Benefits of meditation include:
- Enhanced Awareness. Meditation can help you clear away the information overload that builds up daily. When you focus on your breath, it can increase your concentration.
- Decreased Stress. Mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This increased stress can cause many harmful effects, such as releasing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Mindfulness meditation reduces inflammation caused by stress.
- Improved Sleep. It’s difficult to sleep when you’re stressed. Meditation can help you control or redirect the racing or runaway thoughts that often lead to insomnia.
- Increased Creativity. Stuck in a creative slump? Meditation may help you get your creative juices flowing and solve problems more creatively.
- Resisting Addiction. The mental discipline you can achieve through meditation may help you break dependencies. Meditation can help increase your self-control and awareness of addiction triggers.
- Pain Control. How you perceive pain is connected to your state of mind. Research suggests that incorporating meditation into your routine can help you cope with pain and perhaps reduce the sensation of pain.
- Reduced Blood Pressure or Symptoms of Illness. Meditation can improve physical health by reducing strain on the heart. It appears to control blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, blood vessel tension, and the “fight or flight” response.
What is Meditation?
When considering “What is meditation?” it might be helpful to determine the “right” and “wrong” way to do it. But the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” doesn’t apply to meditation. The goal isn’t perfection. That might sound a bit odd, especially if you have a competitive spirit. But consistent practice can help establish meditation as a staple of your daily routine, allowing you to reap more of its benefits.
- A Skill to Develop/Practice. Meditation is like exercising a new muscle. It’s a bit uncomfortable at first, and it takes consistent practice. Once you practice meditation regularly, you can become more at ease with it.
- A Spiritual Practice. Prayer is the most widely practiced example of meditation. Vocal and mental prayers are part of most faith traditions. You can pray in your own words, or it can be helpful to get started or to re-focus by using the prayers written by others in your faith who came before you.
- A Tool to Improve Mental Health. For some, meditation may be a chic thing to do. But for others, meditation can be a pathway to healing. Meditation can be a valuable tool to improve your mental health, from anxiety and depression to addiction and eating disorders.
- A Training Technique for Awareness. Many people wear their busyness as a badge of honor. They take pride in declining invitations in the name of mindlessly rushing from one to-do list task to the other. The problem is that this busyness can lead to mental clutter. Meditation and breathwork can help you become more self-aware and intentional with your actions.
Tips for Developing Your Meditation Practice
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does require you to stop procrastinating and start somewhere. Here are some tips for beginning your practice.
Focus on Your Breath
Is your breathing quick and shallow or slow and deep? If you don’t have a meditation practice, it’s not uncommon to subconsciously hold your breath throughout your day. As you inhale and exhale, concentrate on feeling and listening to your breath. It’s typical for your attention to wander. Bring it back with focused breathing.
There’s no need to sit in the stereotypical cross-legged position while meditating. For many people, this position is uncomfortable without elevation under your hips. The ideal position for the average person is sitting in a chair or couch with your arms uncrossed, feet flat on the floor, and a cushion or towel rolled up underneath your backside to encourage an upright position.
Try Mantras or Movement
A mantra is a word or phrase that you can repeat to focus on meditation, such as, “I am at peace.” Using this tool can lead to improved results from your meditation practice. When you think of meditative movement, you may think of yoga –– but it doesn’t have to be. Walking can become a meditation. Instead of focusing on a particular destination, concentrate on your legs and feet. Repeating action words in a mantra such as “lifting,” “moving,” and “placing” as you slow down your walking pace can help you to focus.
Notice What You Feel
As you breathe, notice how you’re feeling physically. Are there areas that feel tenser than others? Take a scan of your body from the crown of your head, and breathe into those areas. Stop focusing on areas of particular tension.
Choose a Time and Place
Morning meditation can be a beneficial way to start the day. But if your circumstances prevent it, commit to meditating at the same time and place daily. To make meditation a lasting habit, it’s key to make it a regular part of your everyday routine.
Let Thoughts Come and Go
Thoughts and feelings will inevitably pop up in your mind during meditation. The purpose of meditation isn’t to clear your mind but to focus your attention and energy. Try to avoid judging your thoughts. Instead, redirect your mind back to your deep breathing.
Show Yourself Kindness
Meditation isn’t about earning a trophy. It can be tempting to determine your meditation practice as “good” or “bad.” You won’t experience dramatic life shifts or soft and fuzzy consolation due to each meditation session. The key is noticing whether you feel any different from when you sat down. Maybe you feel slightly less tense than you did previously.
Using Meditation at Integrative Life Center
Avoid stereotypes the next time you consider the question, “What is meditation?” Meditation isn’t about perfection or discomfort. It’s about narrowing your focus to become more self-aware, and in turn, a better version of yourself.
Connect with Integrative Life Center to discover how meditation therapy can help you on your recovery journey.