Meditation is the physical and mental process of honing the brain’s ability to concentrate on (pay attention to) the object of meditation, frequently the breath, to the exclusion of other sensory input.
One of the first goals of meditation is to increase this ability to concentrate fully on the breath until you can reach ten or more breaths. Once you reach ten, it isn’t difficult to extend your period of concentration to tens of minutes and even hours.
That’s basically it! Sure, there’s more. Let’s cover the basics.
What Types of Meditation Exist?
There are eight main types of meditation. A type is defined by what you’re doing physically and mentally during the meditation.
Meditation on the Breath – Meditating on the breath is the most common way people practice meditation. You simply sit down somewhere comfortably in a stable position and focus on the breath where you feel it in the nose. Meditating on the breath is probably the best-known and easiest way to practice meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation – This has become huge in the United States and other Western countries. It involves being present in the ‘now’ moment. It is the feeling that now is the only time there is – past and future are not allowed into the present moment experience.
Focused Meditation – This can include meditation on the breath and can expand to encompass focusing on anything you choose with your mind over the period of your meditation session. The goal is to be able to reign the mind in and be able to focus on what you choose to focus on, not what the mind wants to chase around in your head. You can focus on your breathing in the stomach, the sun, the moon, or any object you choose.
Movement Meditation – Simple movements the mind focuses on as the object of meditation. This can be walking meditation and other movements. I was at Suan Mokkh Theravadan Buddhist temple in Chaiya, Surat, Thailand a few years ago. I was doing walking meditation down the dirt paths and I came upon a young monk sitting outside his kuti on a plastic stool by the stream. He was moving his hands as if doing a slow magic trick. I had never seen this type of meditation before but apparently he was doing some sort of movement meditation he had learned in Sri Lanka where he was a monk before coming to Thailand.
Mantras – Repeating mantras over and over can be a form of meditation itself, or it can slow the mind down and rid it of extraneous thoughts before you begin to meditate on some other sensory object like the breath.
Transcendental Meditation – A type of mantra meditation where one sits with eyes closed and repeats mantras for twenty minutes or so. This is to promote a relaxation of the mind and greater awareness of the reality of life.
Progressive Relaxation – Yoga and other body movement styles which encourage you to stretch and hold poses or complete physical acts in order to progressively relax the mind can fit into this type of meditation.
Loving-kindness Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has written many books on mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation. I don’t know anyone else who can present the topic in such a meaningful way. This meditative state is filled with love and empathy, compassion, kindness toward yourself and everyone else. It is a process of filling your mind with love to such a degree that negatives cannot enter or stay long in the mind.
How to Meditate by Focusing on the Breath?
The easiest way to get started in meditation is to meditate on your breath. After all, it is always with you and you can practice anywhere you like for as short a time as you choose. Many meditators will meditate on three in and out breaths at various times of the day to calm the mind and give them a better balance and calmness for facing stress.
Step 1 – Find a quiet place to sit on the floor, on the couch or futon, or in a simple chair (or on a stool close to the ground).
Step 2 – Close your eyes. Rest your hands facing up on each thigh but not touching. Keep your back vertical and move into a solid, balanced sitting position that you can hold for twenty minutes. Go through each part of your body to relax it all. Sense your hands. Are all the muscles in your hands relaxed? Move on to your arms, shoulders, chest, stomach, hips, thighs, and literally everything in your body. Don’t forget your face! Smiling just a little bit will relax your face substantially and can impart a good feeling as you begin.
Step 3 – Breathing through your nose, feel the sensation of air in your nose. Where in your nose do you feel it the strongest? Focus there on the feeling of the air coming in and out over that place.
Step 4 – When the breath is not strong, the feeling is very light and even absent sometimes. Keep your mind attentive to that exact spot where you felt the breath before and wait to feel it again. Breathe naturally, not controlled.
Step 5 – As thoughts enter your mind and pull you away from focusing on the feeling of breath in the nose, make a mental note that you are off track and simply return back to focusing on the breath without emotion or berating yourself. This is the game of meditation and you’ll need to be able to focus on entire breaths uninterrupted for some time before you are ready for the next steps.
Step 6 – Meditate for twenty minutes per day daily. Try to use the same place at the same time and look at meditation as a reward, not a chore. Don’t have expectations for great changes as you begin, look at each session as a peaceful little oasis in time where you have to yourself and don’t need to stress about anything.
That’s a good start, but of course there is a bit more. I wrote this short book to help EVERYONE learn how to meditate in as easy a way as possible.
What Is Meditation Used For?
Physical and Mental Relaxation – Probably the most often stated reason for beginning meditation is that it helps people attain a peaceful state of relaxation. This can be in a matter of minutes or even seconds with just a few simple breaths in and out taken with full attention on the breath.
Increase Awareness – Meditation can increase your present-moment awareness of what is going on around you and inside your mind and body. It is a way to slow down the mind and allow you to see the processes that are happening naturally inside you. With a steady practice, you can attain a state of mind that is aware of your emotions as they happen and before they happen. This is very valuable because you can then choose how to react to situations without having to Meditation has been practiced in cultures all over the world for thousands of years.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
Well being, optimism, control over emotions, a relaxed state of mind, greater empathy, expanded consciousness, and more love and kindness shown toward others and yourself are some of the major psychological and health-related benefits of meditation.
The list doesn’t stop there. Hundreds of changes take place in the mind as you learn how to fully concentrate the brain on your object of meditation to the exclusion of other extraneous random and sensory-induced thoughts.
List of Common Benefits of Meditation
- lowers stress
- increases awareness and consciousness
- improves optimism and positive emotional state of mind
- increases empathy and love/respect for others
- gives us tools to slow the mind down so we can choose how to act, not acting purely on emotions
Many religions use meditation to foster well-being and emotional stability among followers. Psychotherapists can use meditation to treat anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder, and other disorders of the mind.
How Many People Practice Meditation Worldwide?
A gross estimate of 200 to 500 million people worldwide meditate. In the United States the CDC (Center for Disease Control) states that the number of people meditating in the USA is more than 14% of adults. This is up from smaller numbers in years past. (see chart)
What Is the Most Common Type of Meditation?
The most common type of meditation is focusing on the breath meditation. This includes anapanasati meditation and Vipassana meditation.
Can Children Meditate?
Yes, of course children can meditate! In Thailand and some other Buddhist countries children meditate for five minutes before the start of their school day in a general assembly. It’s probably best to stick to short meditation session lengths and a simple focus on the breath.
Can Meditation Cure Depression?
Some people have claimed that meditation has cured their depression. It can happen, meditation changes a person’s mindset and outlook. It gives people tools they can use to get through life a bit easier with less emotional baggage.
Can Meditation Be Harmful?
Some people find meditation harmful because they have unwanted negative thoughts surface that are too much to face. Meditation brings all of our unconscious thoughts to the surface where they meet our rational mind which needs to deal with them. Most people can get over the small memories that pop up but if a person has deep-seated traumatic memories or other problems, even brain-chemical related, it can lead to a relapse and setback in mental functioning.
If you experience traumatic memories or feelings as you meditate, stop and make an appointment with a therapist who can help you.
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