What is Meditation?
Meditation. A term we hear a lot in recent years. We hear about its wonders with reduction of stress and anxiety, the improvement of concentration and improved functionality of the immune system and more. We also hear of many senior managers who swear that the secret to their success is meditation.
So what is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that most likely originates in the East several thousand years ago.
Currently, we live in a world that praises accomplishment and doing, which means our attention is constantly directed outwards. Meditation is the exact opposite. The essence of the practice is the non-doing and turning our attention inward. The belief is that only if we allow ourselves this time, can we make sure that everything we do that is directed outwards comes first from some kind of internal connection to our desires and the way we want to express ourselves in the world.
There is a lot of research about what happens biologically in the brain during meditation, including the transition to alpha and theta waves, the state of relaxation we are in just before falling asleep.
But today I want to share my experience as someone who has been practicing meditation for several years.
When I close my eyes and try to understand what I feel when I’m meditating, this is what comes up – a meditative state for me is a state in which I manage to release the incessant activity of the brain and reside in a feeling of relaxation. I actually feel the relaxation in my brain. Like a muscle that is flexed and then consciously released. This relaxation brings me a deep mental release that allows me to feel a sense of connection to my inner strength.
The word meditation in Sanskrit, an ancient language that comes from India, is Dhyana which means no mind or being without thoughts.
When we enter meditation we try to enter a state of relaxation so complete that we have no thoughts in our head.
In this mental state of peace we can detect the more subtle layers of our being and allow for inspiration and new ideas to enter.
How to begin?
It is important to note that the goal of having no thoughts, is a very big one. Our thoughts continue in an endless stream, we don’t have much ability to control or stop them.
The practice of meditation is a practice because it is something that takes time to master. This is a skill that can be developed. The more we invest in the practice, the easier and more accessible it becomes.
As with anything new, initially there is a period of discomfort in the practice that comes from unfamiliarity, which later becomes comfort and even enjoyment.
In the beginning, the goal is to experience even just a few seconds of no thoughts. No one expects someone who is just starting, to sit for long hours in meditation. But with time and consistency, these few seconds become tens of seconds, and can turn into minutes, hours, and eventually a continuous, balanced, meditative state throughout the day.
Just so you know though, those who manage to sit for several consecutive minutes in a meditative state are considered very, very experienced practitioners. It’s something you manage to do after many years of practice. So don’t be hard on yourself 🙂
Why do we meditate?
The traditional goal of practicing meditation is to experience enlightenment – a state of total connection with everything (see article on the subject-link).
But that’s not the goal most people practice for.
Sitting in meditation is not the goal in itself.
We sit in meditation so that during the rest of the day we can stay in an inner state of balance and connection. A connection to our true desires, our inner peace and inner strength. This allows us to move in the world from a place that is more genuine and connected.
Types of meditation
There are many different types of meditations. One of the most common types of meditation is concentration meditation. It is a relatively easy and accessible way start.
In this type we choose one object to concentrate on as a tool to shift attention from thoughts to something we choose. Every time we notice that we have lost focus, we gently remind ourselves to return.
Some of the common things to focus on during meditation are-
- Breathing: paying attention to the sensations that accompany the breathing process- the movements of the body (expansion and contraction of the chest and abdomen), the temperature of the air, etc.
- Mantra: A mantra is a phrase or word with a certain meaning that we repeat over and over in our heads.
- Review and scan of general sensations in the body: the obvious and the less obvious ones
- Staring at a flame or the ocean
- Counting – of the breath, beads in a necklace and more
Another common type of meditation is movement meditation. A practice in which we devote ourselves to the movement completely and thus reach a state where we are without thoughts.
How to begin-
For anyone wanting to begin a meditation practice, my recommendation is to start with small steps. The best way to start anything is to set small goals that will give us a sense of accomplishment and motivation once completed.
Start with a guided meditation. It really helps to start with some kind of guidance so that we know what to do, whether it is recorded or live in a class or workshop. There are many videos on YouTube of guided meditations and there are wonderful websites such as ‘Calm’ and ‘Insight timer’.
It is recommended to practice meditation while seated as to not fall asleep. Make sure you are sitting very comfortably. If we are not comfortable during the practice, the mind will not be able to let go of the physical discomfort enough to allow for mental release. We must sit with a straight spine. If you are on a chair – make sure that your back is straight and upright and that both feet touch the ground. This is to allow an open flow of energy in the body.
When you feel ready to start meditating on your own, start small and work your way up. Try to sit for even just a minute or two. We all have a minute for ourselves.
Later, slowly increase the number of minutes. Set a timer so that you don’t have to keep checking the time.
Try to find a practice partner. Even if it’s someone you just tell if you practiced that day or not. Studies show that when we commit to something in front of other people, the chances we will stick to the commitment increase significantly.
An important point to note here is not to take the practice too seriously! You need to bring some level of lightness to this practice otherwise it will be more of a burden than beneficial. If we practice consistently and then miss a day, or a few days, it’s fine! Just Start practicing again as soon as you remember. If you sat down to practice and couldn’t find even one moment of silence or relaxation, that’s also okay, there are days like that too. If you sat less than you normally sit, everything is fine.
The most important thing is to start every day anew. Get back to practice no matter what happened yesterday. Keep showing up for yourself, come back, and don’t give up. This is the essence of the practice.