What is meditation? How do different meditation techniques work? What can I do to learn how to meditate? What are the benefits of meditation, In this article, we will revisit main ideas and concepts of meditation.
What is meditation?
A question I often face is “What is the difference between relaxation and meditation?” People rightly suspected that meditation is more than just being relaxed..
Meditation is a calm and alert mental state. This is when the body relaxes and the mind is concentrated. This is when our thoughts are put aside, and we are integrated into the present feeling.
Relaxation, on the other hand, is when the mind wanders. You can drift between dream, fantasy and thought. We may be half awake and we may not even know what we are thinking. It is a nice state but out of control.
We are very likely to be relaxed and alert when we are focused on something we enjoy.
It can be while we are :
- Listening to music.
- Watching the birds in the backyard.
- Doing yoga, or any exercise with awareness.
- Having a shower.
- Eating a peach.
- Arranging flowers.
- Lying in bed, listening to the wind and the rain.
We can also be relaxed and alert sitting in a chair, feeling our body gently expand and contract as we breathe. This is really meditating on the breath.
Meditation is a balancing act, we can be relaxed but not very awake; or we can be alert but physically tight.
Sometimes we need to relax more; at other times we need to rejoice.
Usually we are too alert, our anxieties keep us connected.
With adjustment and practice, we can achieve the best of both worlds.
At first, this seems like a simple question that deserves a simple answer. If I were to ask a hundred regular meditators, I would probably receive a hundred different answers.
‘I feel better in myself, to the mystical, ‘It brings me closer to God’. Perhaps the question is for you to answer in your own time. Meditation is really a personal search and no one person may answer for other.
Meditation may be thought of as a journey, an adventure into the depths of your own being.
It is said in Buddhism that we study Buddhism in order to study ourselves. It is a long journey. There is much to discover, more than you ever dreamed possible.
It has been wisely said, ‘A man would search for God. Let him beware he will discover his true self. A man would seek himself. Let him beware he is in mortal peril of beholding God.’
Here is perhaps the first paradox of the search, we look for the self only to lose it, we seek the lesser but find the greater. We begin with the self – after all what else is there that you can truly claim as your own?
The prohibition of knowing ‘Thyself’ is a universal call to awakening. Perhaps you feel that you already know yourself well.
What, then, is the point in taking up meditation?
Ask yourself again. Look into the mirror of the self. How well do you know the face that looks back at you and all that lies behind it?
What do you really know of your own motives, desires and aspirations? Where have you come from, where are you going?
When did you begin and when shall you end? Who are you? What you think, feel and know of yourself at present constitutes the starting point for your journey.
Meditation is a way of change. It is a process of gradual refinement, of distillation and transformation. It is you who sets the pace for your own progress.
Meditation and the Brain.
A casual observer walking into a meditation session might wonder what would happen if anything was really happening behind closed eyes and a calm exterior. The process of what happens in the mind / brain during meditation is fundamental to our understanding.
How are we able to gather information in this seemingly impenetrable area?
On the one hand we have personal accounts of both ancient and modern individuals.
However, the adjective opinion has never sided with scientific thinking and the experience of meditation is highly personal. Until recently the subjective account remained our sole source of information.
However, the unlikely field of electroencephalography, has provided us with some important clues in the mechanics of the meditation process.
It was in the early 1920s that Hans Berger made the discovery that the brain is in a constant state of electrical activity which might be recorded through the strategic placing of electrodes on the scalp.
He was abused and ridiculed for his claims, but in time they became the foundation for a brand new field of medical research and knowledge.
This branch of science has advanced considerably since the early pioneer days.
It has proved invaluable in the diagnosis of brain abnormalities such as dots, tumors, and epileptic seizures, all of which give abnormal brain patterns.
It has also been retained for other uses. The EEC machine has been used in the 1950s to monitor subjects’ brain waves using various systems and meditation techniques.
The field of electroencephalography has considerably expanded our understanding of the mechanics of the mind.
And the most interesting of these new findings is the discovery of four brain waves, each eliciting a different frequency range of electrical activity. They have been called the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Theta rhythms respectively.
Delta rhythm is the slowest, giving a reading of between 0.5 and 4 HZ, cycles per second. Not surprisingly this slow wave is most commonly associated with deep sleep.
The Theta rhythm is normally defined as having a frequency range of between 4 and 7 HZ. It usually appears in the dream state but not in great abundance.
Alpha rhythm which has proved to be the most interesting and the most controversial, gives a reading of 8-13 HZ. It appears most easily when the eyes are closed and the subject is relaxed. It seems to be associated with a clear waiting mind and a state of relaxed wakefulness.
Beta rhythm registers at 13-30 HZ. It is found most frequently in the normal waking state and is associated with active attention, solving concrete problems and with being externally focused.
The Health Benefits Of Meditation:
Meditation balances left and right hemisphere activity. Each hemisphere of the brain controls the motor coordination of the opposite side of the body. If one hemisphere is hyperactive, the body may be slightly loose, folded, or out of balance. This naturally creates physical stress.
Simplistically, the left hemisphere usually controls thinking, while the right feels. Many of us get stuck in one side or the other.
We can think excessively throughout the day, or wake up with feelings. Meditation balances them.
A meditator is able to keep clear thinking even while keeping his emotional responses.
The medical evidence suggests that meditation can be particularly effective with insomnia, migraines, asthma, chronic pain, hypertension, allergies and recovery after illness.
It frequently has positive results with psychosomatic disorders of the skin, digestive tract and nervous system.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that meditation sometimes acts as a “magic bullet”. People suffering from insomnia and migraine are most likely to report quick and lasting results.
A study in about 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation can reduce stress. Specifically, this effect was strongest in individuals with the highest levels of stress
In fact meditation generally acts like naturopathic treatment that brings the whole body into harmony.
The results are slower, more pervasive and not as easy to measure scientifically.
However, we can assume meditation is useful for most ailments, not just those listed above. Most people, after three or four weeks of steady practice, will report improvement in general health and well-being.
Three years after completing the eight-week meditation program, another study was conducted with 18 volunteers. Most volunteers continue to practice meditation regularly and maintain low anxiety levels over the long term.
Meditation releases muscular tension which automatically relieves pain, increases mobility and lets the body relax.
The breath, the body fluids and the nerve impulses can flow more freely.
Meditation lowers high blood pressure.
The heart doesn’t have to pump as hard to force the blood through the veins and arteries. When stressed, our blood becomes thick with cholesterol and thins out when we relax.
Meditation stimulates the immune system and the production of white blood cells. The immune system winds down when the body is stressed.
The healing process works best when the body is relaxed or sleeping.
Meditation speeds recovery rates after illness or surgery. Meditation opens constricted air passages. It is particularly good for asthmatics or hayfever sufferers.
Meditation increases digestion, blood circulation to the skin and brain.
When we are stressed, our digestive system deteriorates. The blood supply is redirected to large muscles for a “fight-or-flight” reflex.
Meditation reverses this, and the digestive system can function efficiently again.
Meditation dramatically affects hormonal activity. This is a complex discovery that still needs interpretation.
Apparently, stress hormones decrease during meditation. However it also appears that the pattern of a mediator of hormonal secretion is usually five or ten years younger than himself.
This shows that the physical stresses of age are not so heavy on a meditator.
How to meditate :
The basic instructions for most meditations are the same.
We keep the mind alert as we relax by focusing on something. This helps keep us awake and holds any distracting thoughts at bay.
Choose one thing to focus on and explore If the mind wanders, bring it back let everything else go. Keep on doing.
Meditation For Beginners :
When you begin to meditate, you always seem to be distracted. A door slammed nearby, or a painful thought or good idea came up. what are we going to do?
We let ourselves feel for a moment, then put down and return to focus on breathing. It will take some time to realize that we do not need to indulge in everything that appears in our minds.
Concentrating is not easy. Beginners often get lost in few minutes before they realize it.
It may be a shock to realize how little we control our inner world. But that is the truth for almost everyone.
So when your mind wanders, bring it back without flogging yourself (“I must try harder”). Get on with the meditation, even if your mind wanders again and again … and again.
Keep hauling it back to the focus. It will get easier with time and practice.
With meditation you become more aware, you become more aware of your experience of your life.
And in the end, experience and life are really the same thing for your life, leaving your experience and becoming more aware of yourself is the moto.