If you ask three people who practice meditation to define the act of meditating, you’ll likely hear three different answers. That’s because meditation is an umbrella term for a range of different practices and techniques, many of which are highly customizable.
However, all meditation practices share a common goal: to connect with one's deep inner self.
As with its definition, the origins of meditation are also difficult to pin down, as the ideas behind meditation likely began developing in different places at various times. But historians agree that a likely birthplace of meditation was in India in 1500 BCE. Ancient texts from this time period reference the training of the mind, which they called Dhyāna or Jhāna.
These texts proclaimed that the human being comprised three aspects:
- Physical Body
- Inner faculty, which encompasses the mind, intellect, ego and Chitta (mind chatter)
- Deep inner self, or the core of consciousness
Meditation was, and continues to be, a way to access this deep inner self and expand the core of consciousness.How to Start Meditating
There are many ways to meditate, and choosing which one to try first can be overwhelming. Before exploring them all, it’s best to start out with something simple, just to familiarize yourself with the concept.
Mindfulness—also known as open monitoring meditation—is perhaps the simplest form of meditation. To practice it, do the following:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place and adopt one of the basic meditation postures. Try to keep your back straight while relaxing your shoulders, neck and jaw.
- Focus on your breathing. Follow your breath as you draw it in and let it out.
- While focusing on your breathing, thoughts will come and go. Observe these thoughts, as well as any emotions and sensations, then acknowledge them and let them go.
That’s it. Not too intimidating right? It’s posture, breath, and awareness, acknowledgment and acceptance of thoughts. Chances are you’ve probably done something like this before without even knowing it.
Mindfulness helps heighten our awareness and lower our self-judgment. Whatever thoughts, emotions and sensations we experience are observed, acknowledged and accepted. When you intentionally practice mindfulness for long enough, you’ll begin to practice it unintentionally. It will become basic muscle memory.
Important note: Many first-time meditators struggle with the false concept of “doing meditation right.” If you sit down to practice mindfulness and find it difficult to let an incoming thought go, don’t beat yourself up. It’s OK! There is no such thing as a wrong way to meditate. The effort is the thing. And the more you do it, the easier it will become. So if there’s a particularly sticky thought that just won’t scram, hang out with that thought. Investigate it. It will leave when it’s ready.
The Best Meditation Practice For You
Mindfulness is one of four basic types of meditation. If it wasn’t for you, or you enjoyed it but want to see what else is out there, consider these other three.
1. Focused Attention
This meditative technique asks you to place your full attention on a specific sensation (like your breathing or heartbeat) or stimuli (perhaps a sound or image). If your mind drifts—and it will (again, that’s OK!)—redirect your attention back to the sensation or stimuli.
Focused attention meditation can improve convergent thinking, which is the ability to find the single best answer to a straightforward problem.
2. Loving-Kindness or Compassion Meditation
This type of meditation is about developing an unconditional kindness and compassion for all people, and asks you to focus energies of love, affection and benevolence on yourself, people in your life and the world at large.
Loving-kindness meditation can help you manage social anxiety and anger.
3. Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation asks you to repeatedly chant a short mantra of only a few words or syllables. It should be something easy to remember that uplifts you and puts you in a positive mental state.
Mantra meditation can help foster positive mental health.
Benefits Of Meditation
There’s a reason meditation has endured for thousands of years. Research shows that the practice of meditation is associated with a wide range of health benefits, including stress reduction, decreased anxiety, decreased depression, physical and psychological pain reduction, improved memory, increased efficiency and reduced blood pressure and heart rate.
Meditation can also teach you discipline. It takes discipline to meditate every day, or every other day. (It can even be once a week, as long as you keep it up.) And of course, the act of meditating requires discipline as well.
And then there are the many joys of connecting to our inner self, which helps us understand who we truly are behind the mind chatter; behind our daily stresses, fears and confusion; and behind the person we became in order to survive life’s endless challenges.
By Joshua Kraus