When I talk to my patients about practicing meditative techniques at home as part of their prescribed health plan, I frequently encounter resistance for a variety of reasons. Some people are intimidated by practicing it on their own because they cannot ‘sit still and do nothing’ for more than a couple of minutes. Some are not sure what it is to meditate, or how meditation is to be practiced. Still others are confused into thinking that meditation will be in conflict with their personal religious belief systems. I’d like to alleviate some of the fear and mystery surrounding meditation, and give you a basic overview of what meditation is, the different styles of practice that are available for you to practice at home, and what the benefits are for your mind and body.
Meditation is the art and practice of mindful concentration and relaxation. I think the word ‘practice’ is the operative word here, as meditation is on ongoing journey of growth of the body, mind and soul, and less about mastering or controlling your thoughts. Unless the practitioner chooses to root their meditation in religious beliefs, it has no affiliated religion. When meditating, the practitioner needs to have receptivity to all that is occurring within the body, and become an observer of the experience as it is happening. Letting go of the internal struggle to control while observing your thoughts without judgement will be your guide to inner clarity, awareness and self-discovery.
So what is the purpose of meditation?
Meditation is primarily directed to self inquiry. Deep states of relaxed focus can be used to cultivate peacefulness of the mind, heightened states of creativity, discovery of one’s true being and ultimate understanding of self, discovery of personal blocks or stagnations, overall spiritual growth, expansion of love and consciousness and raising one’s vibrational frequency.
What are some of the benefits of meditation?
This can be a very valuable tool in treating psycho-emotional disorders like stress, anxiety and depression. You can use it to treat pain, increase mental acuteness, clarity, concentration and memory. It’s very useful for emotional cleansing and overall balance and can be used in creative visualization and manifestation of life goals in career, relationships, etc. I recommend using meditation to all of my insomniac patients to prepare their mind for sleep. Scientifically speaking, there are documented physiological changes that occur in the body while meditating including lowered heart rate, improved lung function, reduced tension, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduction of free radicals and many benefits to the brain chemistry.
So how can you start your meditation practice?
You can practice meditating in the traditional posture of sitting comfortably on the floor or in a chair with your spine erect yet relaxed. If sitting is difficult for you, you can also practice when walking, gardening, or doing simple repetitive tasks. Some meditations can even be done while lying down comfortably. There are many techniques to try and there is something that works for every individual. You can try following your breath as you breathe in and out, observing your thoughts as you connect the body and mind. You can also try focusing on an image or object, such as a candle flame, while practicing your breathing. Chanting or using a mantra is probably the most common form of meditation, you just need to find a phrase or sound that has meaning for you.
I usually recommend for my patients that they try guided meditations first, and then as they grow accustomed to the way meditation feels, they can practice more advanced techniques as the ones we discussed above. Guided meditation can be geared toward to a specific disorder that you want to work on, such as insomnia or stress, and can also be used for guided manifestation for specific desires or goals in life, such as abundance or love. I recommend using either the iTunes App Store or simple Google searches to find guided meditations specific to your needs. You can also find guided mediation CD’s in your local library.
They key to meditation is finding what resonates with your personal style and comfort level, and then practicing consistently. Anyone can be successful in meditation as it’s simple, free and can be done anywhere. Don’t be intimidated by the process, just commit to a manageable time frame of 5-10 minutes and day to start, or a 20-30 minute guided track, and then work up from there. With practice, you will find reward in not only reaching your goals, but in the journey as well.