While the practice is not a new one (in fact, it’s ancient!), the need for meditation in our modern lifestyle has become evident now more than ever.
With the evolving use of technology our attention spans are decreasing, with higher workloads we are getting burnt out faster, with increased pressure on students to excel they are stressed and anxious - the use cases for meditation are plentiful.
Apart from the psychological benefits, doctors in the West are prescribing it to lower blood pressure, increase reaction speed, improve creativity and brain power, relieve insomnia and many other benefits.
While mostly everyone has heard of meditation in some context or the other, it is important to understand that meditation is not simply sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed trying to relax. Yes, relaxation is a natural outcome of meditation but there is so much more to the practice.
So what exactly is meditation?
“Meditation is the art of breaking habits, to purify the mind and to take care of day-to-day things.” - Yogi Bhajan
It is the process of achieving mental stillness by creating harmony between the mind, body and soul.
The main activity involved in meditation is alert observation. As the mind has no real location, the untrained mind wanders here and there, like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. Through meditation, we train to ‘grasp’ the mind by placing it somewhere physical - for example, on our breath, a candle flame, or a mantra.
There are various approaches to the practice of meditation and understanding the subtle differences can help you determine which form is best suited to you.
Here’s a list of the most common forms of meditation and their benefits.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Simply put, mindfulness means being fully present in the moment. It’s a method of paying attention to the continuous stream of thoughts, emotions and sensations you are experiencing, as they happen. You don't pass judgement or get involved in them, but simply observe, as a witness. Mindfulness meditation can be done almost anywhere and anytime, for example, sitting, lying down, or in daily activity such as driving, eating, brushing your teeth, etc. It is simply witnessing whatever is happening, as you let go of thoughts about the past and future and focus on the now.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Improves focus and attention
Reduces fixation on negative emotions
Improves mental clarity
Promotes better sleep
Helps prevent depression relapse
2. Focused Meditation
Focused meditation requires you to focus all your attention on one sensory stimulus. For example if you’re at the beach you can choose to focus on the sound of the crashing waves, the sound of the birds, the feeling of the breeze on your skin or sand on your feet, or on your breath. The most common one is the breath, because it’s always available to us - as long as we’re alive, we’ll be breathing! Also because the quality of the breath is correlated to the quality of the mind.
But the point is you pick one, and try to stick with it.
What’s great about focused meditation is that you don’t need someone else to teach you how to do it. It can be done by anyone who has a quiet space, something to focus on and a few minutes of time. At the beginning you might find it difficult to hold your focus for more than 5 minutes. However, the more you practice this meditation, the more you will feel the benefits.
Quickly quietens the mind
Improves concentration abilities
Sensation of calm and peace (if the object of meditation is calm)
Reduce stress and anxiety