Meditation is defined as a state of concentrated consciousness, a deliberate relaxation practice to focus and clear the mind of random thoughts. Although often associated with religious traditions, religion or philosophy is not important to the practice of meditation; it can be undertaken solely as a secular activity, for its many benefits.
There are many studies showing the benefits of meditation. The major benefit of meditation is stress relief. Meditation actually reverses the stress response, changing the body’s autonomic state from “fight or flight” to “rest and repair”. Meditation also lowers heart rate and blood pressure, changes brain wave patterns to a relaxation state, boosts the immune system, improves digestion, and has been shown to help relieve chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. It helps people to feel calmer and more focused, and to obtain a sense of inner peace.
It’s not necessary to travel to a mountain top in Tibet and live with Buddhist monks to meditate. It requires no special equipment, it’s free, it can be done anywhere (with some practice) and it takes only a few minutes a day. All that is required is commitment,
patience, and perseverance.
To begin meditating, start with just 5 minutes a day. Many people find they are most receptive to meditation early in the morning. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone, and relax in a comfortable chair or sitting on the floor with pillows supporting you. If you wish, you can play soft relaxing instrumental music, dim the lights, and light a candle and focus on the flame. Beginners may want to set a timer.
Begin by simply focusing on your breath. Take a deep breath and feel your belly rise. Notice the breath as it comes in your nose and is warmed and flows into your lungs. Exhale slowly and feel the air leave your lungs and flow outward. Continue breathing slowly and deeply, focusing your attention on your breath. If random thoughts begin to enter your mind, gently acknowledge the thoughts, and allow them to drift away like clouds. Continue to focus on your breath. Be patient with yourself; the ability to focus and clear your will improve over time with practice.
Some people find it helpful to repeat a thought or phrase over and over again as they meditate, to help their mind stay focused. It can be a sound or a tone or mantra like “oooohhhmmm” or any phrase that brings you focus and feelings of peace. When I first began to meditate, I would breathe in, and think “love,” “peace,” “joy,” and similar positive words with each breath. Another phrase that works for me is to repeat “I am”, followed by “Love is” over and over.
As you get more comfortable with meditation you will find you are able to focus for longer and longer periods of time. Begin with five minutes per day, and gradually increase the time you spend in meditation each day. For maximum benefits, try and meditate daily for 10 – 20 minutes. If you find it hard to focus, you may wish to try guided meditations, using a recorded meditation. Many people also enjoy walking meditations, either walking in nature, or walking a labyrinth, using the same focus on your breath and/or a mantra as a tool to clear your mind.
There are many resources available on the internet for guided meditations, suggestions on how to meditate, and information on how to develop your meditation practice. The key to success is patience with yourself, and persistence in the daily practice. If you like the idea of meditation, you may also like the experience of massage therapy.