Let us begin by defining the modern concept of Mediation; in simple terms it’s a process of consciously focusing on a particular thought, object or process, which in turn may help to enhance feelings of calm and awareness.
Meditation today is well known as a technique used to reduce stress and anxiety but the concept of meditation has been around and practiced for many centuries. Origins of mediation can be traced back to ancient times as religious or cultural practice to gain a deeper understanding of the sacred or mystical forces of life. Consequently, most of the meditations modern techniques are rooted in the Eastern religious and spiritual traditions.
There are many schools of thought and variety of ways meditation is practised today but majority can be classified into one of the 7 main techniques outlined below.
1. Transcendental meditation
While meditating, practitioner sits in a comfortable position with eyes closed, while silently repeating specific mantra. Mantra is a meaningless sound from the Vedic tradition that’s been assigned by a certified instructor. Continuously repeating and focusing on the assigned mantra may lead to a state of perfect stillness and consciousness by eliminating all disruptive thoughts from your mind.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
This technique aims at helping practitioners to quiet a busy mind, and becoming more aware of the present moment rather than worrying about the future or the past. Participants try to focus on something simple such breathing, acknowledging various thoughts and emotions but letting them pass without judging them.
3. Qi gong
Traditional Chinese exercise and healing practice dating back to over 4000 years combining martial, medical and spiritual techniques. Name is made up of two Chinese words Qi (chee) meaning life force or energy that flows through all things in the universe and Gong (gung) meaning accomplishment. This technique combines breathing exercises, various body postures and movements while maintaining mental focus.
4. Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a type of Chinese martial arts consisting of a participant standing and performing a series of body movements in a very slow and graceful manner with each movement flowing without a pause to the next. According to the legend a battle between crane and snake was witnessed by Taoist monk, who was so inspired by snakes skilful ability to avoid birds attacks he devised a series of defensive body movements that aim to avoid opponent’s blows and use opponents momentum against him.
5. Guided Meditation
Guided Meditation also known as guided imagery, is a technique that uses verbal guidance to help participants form mental images of places, situations or activities that are calming and relaxing. Pictures, various objects could also be used to help further focus and utilise all the sensors during the meditation.
6. Mantra Meditation
During mantra meditation participant silently repeats a word or a phrase that has a calming effect, helping to relax and focus, while preventing distracting thoughts. Mantra phrases are generally positive affirmations such as “I am free from anger” or can have spiritual influence such as Govinda (one of the Hindu names of God). Anyone can create their own mantra as long as 4 basic guidelines are followed:
- Short and easy to remember
- Should be positive
- Word or Phrase that has a personal meaning
- Repeat it often
In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism the word yoga means “spiritual discipline” and while majority of people would think of Yoga as just a number of various postures and stances (Arsanas) targeting flexibility there is a significant spiritual side to Yoga that has existed for thousands of years. In fact Practice of Yoga has originated in India around 5,000 years ago but not in the modern form as we know it today.
Ancient Yoga practices emphasised spiritual awakening and only had a small number of postures. However, modern yoga has in many ways reversed that ancient practice and physical postures and stances dominate modern Yoga techniques to the point that some traditional Yoga practitioners do not consider it Yoga but rather physical fitness techniques.
Modern Yoga practice focus is on performing a set of movements, concentrating on the breathing and correct technique, strong focus and concentration that is required to perform these movements is believe to help practitioners to be more in the moment. Leading to reduction in stress and relax state of mind and body.
After analysing various mediation practices it becomes quite evident that there are many common elements. As the matter of fact we can list at least 4 essential elements to each of the 7 meditation techniques described above.
Focused attention is crucial to any meditation technique as it allows your mind to concentrate on the important idea, thought or an object, keeping at bay any distracting or negative thoughts.
Breathing or deep breathing is part of all mediation techniques, not only it is useful focus point during the mediation process but deep breathing can help to relax and promote increased oxygen consumption to the brain.
Comfortable environment is a must especially for anyone with no or little mediation experience. Environment refers not just to the quiet, peaceful relaxed surrounding but also to the relaxed and comfortable body position for the participant. One can meditate standing, lying down, commonly sitting down or even walking but personal comfort is vital to be able to achieve meditated state.
Keeping in mind as you become more experienced in mediation techniques you will be able to increasingly apply them in the most stressful surroundings, such as workplace or traffic jam. During the stressful times in your life when meditation can really help to elevate stress levels and focus your attention on completing the task at hand.
If you would like to experience meditation, you have to keep an open mind and allow yourself to be immersed in the various techniques that can be quiet hard to grasp and experience to the full potential straight away.
Benefits of Meditation
Over the years many physiological and psychological health benefits has been attributed to meditation. These include reducing stress and anxiety, helping with insomnia, pain management, just to name a few. There also have been claims that meditation can be helpful in treating such serious diseases as cancer and heart disease.
Unfortunately most of the health benefits were not substantiated from the scientific stand point and until recently scientific community believed most of the benefits were result of the placebo effect. In other words meditation practitioners believe in the health benefits of meditation was so strong that it actually lead to some of the health benefits.
However, recent 5 year study lead by John Denniger M.D.,PH.D of Harvard Medical School, has indicated that meditation can help to switch on and off some genes that are linked to stress and immune function. During the study neuro-imaging and genomics technology was used to measure the physiological changes with the far greater degree of accuracy. Prior studies have in the past mostly focused on using questionaries, measuring blood pressure and heart rate, which failed to provide accurate results. To quote Dr Denniger “ There is a true biological effect, the kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain”.