Meditation – a relaxing way to health and happiness

Heart Chakra

I often hear people tell me “I’d love to take up meditation but….” which is often followed by “I don’t know how” or “I don’t have the time”. Others will lament that meditation involves “having to sit quietly in some strange cross legged position”.

Let me try and counter these objections and misconceptions about meditation.  The ‘I don’t know how’ is easily countered a little later in this article. The ‘I don’t have time’ can be challenged with “so you don’t have few minutes in a day to do something that can have a significant impact on your health and happiness?” Finally, the belief that one must adopt ‘strange cross legged positions’ is a myth.  They are purely optional in meditation.  Some also have this belief that you need elaborate props like candles, beads or incense sticks.  The truth is overcomplicating meditation can be a distraction.  Keeping it simple and being comfortable is important for meditation to be effective.

Meditation is the practise of quietening and disciplining the mind. A common purpose of meditation is to achieve a calm and clear mind, which will in turn help us to ease our worries and discomfort and place us closer to a state of happiness or inner peace.  Walsh and Shapiro in the American Psychologist, 2006 described meditation as “a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration”.

At the point of mastering meditation we create an inner space that helps us to control our mind regardless of the external situation. During the course of any day, as we face the pressures of modern life, our mind typically fluctuates to varying degrees between positive and negative states of mind.  This can be very unsettling and exhausting, and for those who are preoccupied with negative thoughts, it can be very dysfunctional and painful.  Meditation helps us to alleviate these fluctuations, achieve an equilibrium and stay calm and settled no matter how difficult the situation. The ultimate goal with meditation is to train our minds in a systematic way so that we can get rid of any delusions that are the cause of suffering, and then we are able to experience a permanent inner peace known as “nirvana”.

Benefits of meditation

The main benefit of meditation is its positive impact on stress reduction and its ability to improve its students’ quality of life.  Quasi-experimental studies suggest that meditation may be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders and chronic pain. Other psychological effects such as an increased sense of control and moral maturity and improved concentration have been found.  Other physical benefits such as decreases in heart rate and decreased blood pressure have been demonstrated, and spiritual benefits include increases in compassion and mindfulness living, harmony to mind, body and spirit, and increased acceptance of oneself.

How to Meditate

When looking to start meditating, the most practical of suggestions is to simply find a few minutes in your schedule and start practicing wherever you are. It doesn’t have to be long at all.  Importantly, don’t expect to achieve a quiet mind straight away. That will take time. Instead focus on trying to achieve moments of calm and quietness of mind. Practice makes progress, so keep at it and the moments of calmness and quietness will accumulate.  As you start becoming more comfortable you could look to meditate for about 10 minutes each day.  It may suit some people to meditate at the start of the day as that can help to maintain a state of peace throughout the day.  Others prefer meditating in the evening to help with a good night’s sleep.  When starting your meditation, find a place in your home where you can sit comfortably and avoid disturbances. You can choose to sit on the floor or a chair, whichever is most comfortable for you.  Make sure your mobile phone is switched off and you are completely free of distractions.

The first time you meditate it may seem hard to remain still.  With perseverance over time this will pass.  Once you have settled in, bring your attention to the breath and maintain that attention for a few breaths. Then aim to settle into your normal breathing pattern and concentrate your mind only on breathing. In effect you are attempting to not think at all, other than thinking about your breath.  This will be tough initially.  You will almost certainly have a number of thoughts that come to you.  It is important that you do not consider this a failure.  Instead you should try to simply observe them, and without analysing them, let them pass. Stay with your breath and observe your mind.  You may feel the energy in your spine like tingling sensations.  Once again try not to dwell on these.  Instead, aim to achieve a state of thoughtlessness.  Once you have finished your session, congratulate yourself for achieving some moments of calm and thoughtlessness.

Those who are diligent and commit to a daily practise of at least 10 minutes once or twice per day report significant benefits.  For many it’s a matter of starting off with low expectations and doing it for a couple of minutes at a time.  As you start to get the hang of it, the moments of peacefulness and thoughtlessness will accumulate and each time you can add a minute or two to your session until you routinely find yourself meditating for 10-15 minutes once or even twice a day.  Your mind will love you for it.

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