A Guest Post by Sawera Dedar
What Is Meditation?
Photo by Katerina Jerabkova on Unsplash
How many times have you caught yourself ruminating about a past incident or obsessing over a future concern while trying to ‘relax’?
Thoughts are mental cognitions, an intrinsic part of the human mind, but when left unleashed, your thoughts become intrusive, nagging and overwhelming. The abstract nature of thought is often toxic, detrimental even.
“Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it’s considered normal,” said Eckhart Tolle in his celebrated book, The Power Of Now.
This is where meditation comes in. Meditation is a state of non-judgmental attention to the present moment.
It allows you to look at the nature of thought as a silent observer, without any judgements. When you observe your thoughts from the eye of your conscious mind, you separate yourself from your mind – the culprit behind anxiety, depression and unnecessary stress. You recognize the light of your being, the fact that you are not merely the product of the chaos brewing in your head.
Meditation, like everything else, demands practice and discipline. In the beginning, you may find it impossible to root your focus to the present moment and not get tangled up in the ever-flowing stream of thoughts screaming for your attention. The key is to adopt a non-judgemental attitude. When you find your attention wavering, just take a deep breath and gently bring it back to the present.
With time and practice, meditation will be interwoven into the fabric of your being. It will become a part of your subconscious.
Benefits of meditation backed by research:
1) Reduces anxiety:
Cortisol, a hormone responsible for activating the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight), is normally responsible for causing unnecessary stress and anxiety in a person.
The effects of cortisol include insomnia, depression and increased blood pressure.
A 2014 study conducted over 8 weeks concluded that meditation can mediate the effects of cortisol production, reducing stress and anxiety.
2) Improves Emotional Health:
Emotions are your body’s response to your mind, which is why negative thoughts lead to negative emotions.
A study conducted in 2014 divided participants into two groups: those who meditated and those who were in a control group. People who meditated listed fewer negative thoughts in response to negative images as compared to those who were part of the control group.
Another study conducted in 2013 concluded that meditation helped reduce the physiological abnormalities caused by inflammatory chemicals like cytokines that are released in response to stress and anxiety.
3) Sharpens Your Focus:
Since the primary purpose of Meditation is anchoring the mind to the present moment, meditation can help sharpen your focus and increase your productivity.
A 2018 study suggested that people who meditated regularly had longer attention spans than those who were not involved in any form of meditation.
4) Treats insomnia and improves sleep quality:
Insomnia is the physiological manifestation of an anxious mind, and more than 30% of the population suffers from it.
One study found that people who meditated regularly developed better sleep habits and had improved insomnia than those who never meditated and were in an unmedicated control condition.
5) Instills Kindness:
The purpose of meditation is to free the mind from toxic thoughts and negative emotions which often contribute to irritability, frustration and unkindness towards your partner or family.
When you practice meditation, you allow your mind to let go of all the baggage it did not need to hoard in the first place. This creates feelings of empathy and generates kindness for other people.
A meta-analysis of 22 different studies demonstrated the power of loving-kindness meditation on people who wanted to practice compassion towards themselves and others.
The Five Best Types Of Meditation:
As a beginner, this form of meditation is the best way to get your feet wet.
In guided meditation, you engage as many of your senses as possible: sights, smells, sounds and textures to visualize a calming situation and enter the soothing folds of meditation.
There are many apps that lead you through the process of guided meditation. Here are some of my favourites:
– Unplug: This app is the epitome of mindfulness. The interface is simple and user-friendly and there are hundreds – if not thousands – of virtual classes, courses and audios that can help calm the noise in your head. After the 7-day free trial, the app costs $12.99 per month.
– Calm: Another beautiful meditation app with unlimited mindfulness guides and audios to help declutter the mess in your head. The app costs $12.99 per month after a 7-day free trial.
– Medito: While Medito does not host as many features as Unplug or Calm, this app is a must-have for those who cannot afford monthly subscriptions at this point.
In mantra meditation, an affirmation or phrase is repeated while focusing your attention in the present moment. The phrase or affirmation acts as an anchor when negative thoughts or emotions seep into your subconscious and distract you from the present moment.
In this type of meditation, no visual aid or mantra is used to stay present. Instead, you focus on the natural flow of your breath, feel it filling your chest, expanding your lungs and leaving through the tip of your nose. You focus on the line of energy streaming through the soles of your feet to the crown of your head, and the force of gravity gently pulling you towards the earth.
When you are distracted by negative thoughts, you simply take a deep breath, observe thoughts come and go and gently bring your focus back to your breath.
Sound Bath Meditation:
As the telltale name suggests, sound bath meditation uses tools like chimes, gongs and bowls to anchor the mind to the present moment.
How To Meditate As A Beginner:
1) The first step is to find a comfortable position. You can lie down or sit in a chair. Do what feels good. There is no need to invest in a meditation chair or mat – at least as a beginner.
2) Take a deep breath, and focus on the way your lungs expand as you inhale and how your stomach fills with air, rising towards the sky. Feel the breath leave your body. Observe how your lungs deflate and your stomach bends towards the spine.
3) Imagine gravity pulling your tailbone towards the earth.
4) Let your breath return to its natural rhythm. Observe the way each inhalation and exhalation affects your body. If a thought enters your mind, observe it silently. This way, you will separate yourself from the mind and the thought will disintegrate on its own.
5) Do this for 3-4 minutes in the start, perhaps with guided audio or music playing in the background.
As you ease your mind into the practice, meditation will slowly become a part of your subconscious and you will be able to do it for longer periods.