What is meditation?

meditating in natureAlthough meditation began in ancient eastern cultures as part of religious practice or tradition, meditation entered the mainstream in the west in the sixties. Although at its core, meditation is still seen as a spiritual practice, it is now widely practiced to enhance our health and well-being.

In 2007 a survey by the US National Center for Health Statistics found that more than 20 million people in the US practiced meditation in the previous 12 months. According to the research, people used meditation to help overcome a variety of health issues including stress, pain, anxiety, insomnia and depression. In addition, many practiced meditation for overall wellness. [1]

People are searching for ways to improve their physical health and their emotional well-being. They want to change their lives, be calmer, improve their relationships, feel more confident, reduce stress and find inner peace.

The term meditation refers to many techniques, but essentially it is a practice of focusing attention, or focusing the mind.

Salzberg says that meditation is training our attention so that we can be be more aware — not only of our inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now. [2]

Meditation can be as simple as focusing on a single object, like our breath. Some people use mantras (a sound, word or phrase which is repeated). But there are other ways which can help us concentrate — such as music, sounds or beats.

Still, many of us find it difficult to train our attention (or concentrate) and we give up. But we can all breathe, so even if we are distracted for a moment, if we are able to bring our focus back to the breath, we are on our way to learning how to stay in the moment.

Research has found that sound or music helps us concentrate. Audio technologies which produce audio stimuli have been developed to assist in meditation practice. Known as brainwave entrainment, it is a simple method of listening to separate beats or tones in each ear through earphones. Our brains decode these sounds and our brainwave frequencies start to sync with the beats or tones.

Over time, this stimulation on the brain—a different type of meditation practice—produces the same beneficial physiological and emotional effects as traditional meditation techniques and practice.

However, meditation should not be seen as a one-off activity that will generate feelings of well-being after just one session. It doesn’t work that way. Establishing a regular practice (even 5 minutes per day) of focusing our attention, allows us to steady our minds and let go of distractions — which in turn helps us be in the moment. This being in the moment, or awareness of the here and now is termed being mindful.

Mindfulness, says Sharon Salzberg ‘entails giving purposeful, non-judgemental attention to whatever arises in the present moment’. She suggests that everyday activities such as drinking tea, brushing teeth or walking could be used as practice in mindfulness.

This type of meditation practice, of paying attention to each aspect of an activity by using all the senses, helps us focus our attention on the present moment.

Through regular meditation practice, we find that our lives become more harmonious, we feel happier, less stressed, less anxious. We are able to concentrate better at work and school, boost our immunity and cope better with pain.

In short, meditation helps us to live fulfilling, happy lives with the ability to care for ourselves and others with loving kindness.

Sources

http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

Salzberg, Sharon, 2011 Real happiness, the power of meditation Workman Publishing, NY