An Introduction to Meditation
It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as sitting in silence for a few minutes while thinking of nothing can completely revolutionise your perspective on life, but it’s true!
According to Harvard researchers, meditation, also known as mindfulness, can change the structure of the human brain and affect its internal processes, from memory and learning to self-referential processing and emotion regulation.
Studies have also shown that meditation can help with a host of conditions, from certain psychological disorders like anxiety and depression to high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome.
But where did meditation originate from, exactly? More importantly, how can one start to implement meditation in their daily routine? We cover this and more in this introductory guide to meditation, so stick around.
The Origin of Meditation
Pinning down the origin of an ancient practice like meditation is quite tricky, as there are different schools of thought concerning the actual concept of meditation.
The earliest written records that blatantly mention meditation practice can be traced back to Hindu traditions, particularly Vendatism, around 1,500 BCE. Vendatism is considered a school of philosophy in the eyes of many, but in the eyes of some, it's viewed as one of the earliest paths to enlightenment.
Meditation is also cited in records traced back to the 6th and 5th centuries BCE from Buddhist India and Taoist China.
What’s even more surprising is that, according to Psychology Today, the origin of meditation was dated to as early as the 5th millennium BCE based on archaeological research!
There are also several religious ties between the practice of meditation and ancient Egypt, China, Jainism, Judaism, and Sikhism.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the concept of meditation made its way to the West, where it’s currently booming as both a chic and secular trend.
Why Practice Meditation?
You can reap many benefits by making meditation part of your daily routine, from increased self-awareness and self-discipline to better sleep patterns, higher pain tolerance, and effective stress management.
Let us walk you through 10 different benefits of meditation that are backed by science.
1. Develops Self-Awareness
Meditating on a regular basis can help you be more in tune with yourself, which, in turn, will boost your emotional intelligence and help you reach the best version of yourself.
By practicing certain meditation techniques, such as self-inquiry meditation, you’ll be able to identify and eliminate self-defeating patterns. Not only that, but it also positively influences how you relate to other people around you.
2. Helps Reduce Stress
Stress management is one of the most prominent benefits of practicing meditation, and it’s actually why many people choose to try this ancient practice.
Research also indicates that meditation can help alleviate stress-related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.
3. Increases Attention Span
There are several meditation techniques out there, one of which is focused meditation, known for boosting mental clarity and improving attention.
What’s even more impressive is that meditating on a regular basis can help your brain lessen the influence of patterns that induce mind-wandering.
4. Boosts Pain Tolerance
Did you know that the extent of physical pain is affected by one’s state of mind? This explains why mindful meditation is so beneficial when it comes to controlling pain.
Yet, please bear in mind that practicing meditation isn’t going to numb any physical pain you might be experiencing. Rather, it’ll help you cope with it more effectively.
5. Promotes Mental Clarity
In addition to improving attention, the practice of meditation improves mental clarity and reduces the risk of age-related memory loss, according to this study.
It was also proved that meditation can help improve the memory of patients who have dementia as well as reduce any stress they might be feeling.
6. Improves Self-Image
Practicing meditation can improve your self-image and emotional health, which, in turn, gives you a more positive outlook on life.
Additionally, meditating on a regular basis can help alleviate symptoms of depression, reduce negative thoughts and emotions, and decrease the release of cytokines, which are inflammatory chemicals that have a negative impact on mood.
7. Enhances Sleep Quality
In our digital day and age, insomnia is more prominent than ever. Luckily, according to several studies, mindfulness meditation can help reduce the severity of insomnia and increase sleep duration.
It’s also worth pointing out that meditation can help you release pent-up tension, which, in turn, relaxes the body, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
8. Helps Control Anxiety
Meditation is known to help with a variety of psychological conditions, including anxiety. According to research, mindfulness meditation can help reduce anxiety symptoms, improve stress reactivity, and enhance one's ability to cope.
If you’re suffering from job-related anxiety, you’d be happy to know that meditating regularly can greatly reduce job strain and distress.
9. Lowers Blood Pressure
Meditation can help with a wide variety of physical health conditions. Most notably, it can help reduce blood pressure. Reduced blood pressure equates to reduced heart strain and improved heart function.
You may be wondering, how exactly does meditation help reduce blood pressure? According to studies, meditation helps relax the nerve signals associated with heart function, fight-or-flight response, and blood vessel tension. By relaxing these nerves, blood pressure is reduced.
10. Helps With Addiction
As mentioned earlier, practicing meditation helps promote self-discipline, self-control, and self-awareness; three essential factors to breaking any addiction or dependency.
From alcohol addiction to binge eating, meditation can help you seize control over your cravings and manage your attention, emotions, and impulses more wisely.
Different Types of Meditation
If you're looking to implement meditation into your daily routine, it's important to understand different meditation techniques for different needs and purposes.
Note that you don’t have to practice a specific meditation technique, as there’s no right or wrong way to practice meditation. Simply opt for what you find comfortable and encouraging.
With that being said, let’s discuss some of the most popular meditation techniques you can try.
Mindfulness meditation is arguably the most popular meditation technique, at least in the West. This technique is all about letting your thoughts pass by without assigning any judgment.
As you’re practicing mindfulness meditation, take notes of any patterns that may arise, but don’t entertain or be involved with them.
If you’re having a hard time practicing mindfulness meditation without entertaining your thoughts, try to focus on your breath, acknowledging every inhale and exhale.
Mindfulness meditation is perfect for beginners because it doesn’t involve much, and it doesn’t need to be taught.
Visualisation meditation is all about promoting calmness and relaxation by visualising images and scenes that you find appealing. You can think of it as visualising your “happy place.”
To make the most out of visualisation meditation, you need to put all your five senses to use. The more vivid and detailed the scene/image, the more calm and relaxed you’ll be.
Alternatively, you can visualise accomplishing certain goals you have in life. This form of visualisation meditation can be quite motivating and can help increase your focus.
Movement meditation, as you’ve probably guessed, revolves around the guidance of movement. It’s one of the different forms of active meditation.
To practice movement meditation, all you need to do is engage in a gentle, relaxing activity. This can be anything from gardening to taking a walk in nature.
This form of meditation is perfect for people who find movement more relaxing and calming than sitting still in silence.
Mantra meditation relies on repetitive sounds as a means of bringing clarity and serenity to mind. This technique is synonymous with the popular "Om" sound.
You can repeat the mantra of your choosing as quiet or as loud as you want. After repeating the mantra a few times, you’ll notice that you’ve become calmer and more alert.
This is another technique that’s perfect for beginners, as it’s fairly easy to focus on a word, phrase, or sound for a considerable amount of time. It’s also perfect for those who don’t enjoy silence.
This meditation technique is all about observing with any of your five senses. You can focus on something external like a candle flame or something internal like your breath.
Reading this, you probably think that this process is a walk in the park, but it’s not as easy as you think. Think about it, can you focus on one thing and one thing only for longer than a few minutes? Probably not, and that’s totally fine. If your mind starts to wander, simply try to refocus.
Clearly, meditation has a lot to offer from a psychological standpoint and a physical standpoint, with tons of research to back it up.
Fortunately, meditation is accessible anywhere, meaning that anyone and everyone can reap its many benefits.
All you have to do is pick the technique that you find most comfortable and start implementing it in your daily routine. The more you meditate, the faster you’ll start seeing results.