As meditation is becoming more widespread and popular in Western cultures many people are wondering what is meditation? What are the benefits of meditation? Why is meditation becoming so popular? While I plan to answer all of those questions about meditation, here we’ll just cover… what is meditation?
For a lot of people, when they hear the word meditation they often think of someone sitting cross legged on the ground. They see them with their arms resting on the knees, their thumbs and pointer fingers touching while humming “ommmmmmm”. And yes, that can be the way some people practice meditation. And yes, it is an image that we have seen over and over again for meditation (see above). It doesn’t mean that’s how meditation always has to be done or that’s exactly what meditation is.
This doesn’t mean that for you to learn and practice meditation you have to sit like that and say weird words out loud. There are various ways to meditate but let’s first learn about what is meditation.
What is Meditation?
Let’s start with one common misconception about meditation (and yoga) and that is that it is not a religion or a prayer. At least it doesn’t have to be. While meditation has many roots in different religions, over the years as it has come to Western cultures and become more modern, meditation is now being looked at as a science.
It’s not so much about spiritual growth (it can be for some) but instead, it is and has been studied for many things like stress reduction, relaxation and over all improvement in mental health well-being. (read more about the benefits of meditation here).
Depending on the culture the definition of meditation can vary. Being in the U.S. and living life in the Western culture, we will talk about the more modern meaning of what meditation is.
Meditation is a mental technique to turn in towards your inner self and the present moment. Meditation is a transformation of the mind in that the mind comes to a complete restful state of consciousness
Facts about meditation
The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditatio which is from the verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, ponder”
According to Wikipedia “Meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual focuses their mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.” There is a lot more information on the history of meditation and meditation in different cultures on their site if you want to read more about it. (I’m not one for normally finding my sources on Wikipedia but it’s a start).
Meditation is the beginning of learning how to train your mind so that you can be in control of your thoughts. As we learn to meditate and practice meditation we are gaining more control of what our minds are doing and what we do with our thoughts. This is a huge step in becoming more mindful, learning how to control your thoughts & emotions and how to live in the present moment.
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Many of us have heard or seen this quote. Where it originates from is not definite (but it’s not Lao Tzu). While I think there is more to this quote, I love the general idea of it. Because it has been shown that meditation, mindful living, living in the present is best for our mental health. We will see less symptoms of depression and anxiety if we are living in the present.
How do we learn to live in the present?
As we learn to meditate, we learn how to control our minds and thoughts. A key part of meditation is clearing & silencing the mind while still being fully awake and alert.
Tips for Meditation
- While meditating, you cannot stop thoughts from coming. It’s going to happen. Allow it to happen. It’s what you do with those thoughts that make the difference. This is also what makes the difference in our lives when thoughts and emotions come to us. We cannot stop them from coming but if we are aware and have trained our minds (through meditation) we do get to control what we do with these emotions and thoughts.
- When thoughts come during meditation, recognize them then put them aside. Turn your focus back to your breathing. Focus on the air filling your lungs and the air leaving your lungs. Focus on breathing in for 3 to 5 counts then out for 3-5 counts. Another thought will pop up again. Just accept the thought and go back to focusing on your breathing and meditation practice.
- During meditation your focus should mostly be on your breath & body sensations. It is best to practice sitting up straight on the ground (on a soft blanket, block or pillow) with your eyes closed and placing your arms and hands in a comfortable position. It is not required that you sit like this and if you are just starting out and feel a little goofy then sit however you feel most comfortable. This is your meditation practice and you need to do what you feel is best for you!
- Find a quiet place where you won’t get interrupted since a main goal is to silence your mind. Sometimes though, this might mean doing a 1 minute meditation practice in the car (I know how crazy life can get). While that can work the hope is that you can find 5-10 minutes to practice meditating daily in a place you have designated for meditation. But hey, the 1 minute car meditation is better than no meditation.
Through meditation practice you will find that your mind is transforming. It will become calmer. You will become better at controlling your thoughts and emotions. You will think more clearly and openly, finding a more peaceful yet energizing state of mind.