| While meditation is generally synonymous with Buddhism, almost every religion uses some form of meditation. Catholicism uses rosary beads as a tool to focus while saying a mantra, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and many other religions use prayer as a form of meditation. Some look for enlightenment through meditation, but a person does not have to be in search of a religious awakening to begin meditation, but rather in search of a more peaceful way of living.
What is meditation?
At the core, meditation is taking the time to develop the skills needed to truly relax the mind. Meditation is used to calm the rush of repetitive thoughts that overtake the mind and get into a Zen State of Mind. It can help re-balance, refocus and recenter the meditator. With a little practice, you can experience what yogis all over the world have been teaching for thousands of years and finally learn to relax, naturally. One of the great things about meditation is how convenient it is to practice. It doesn’t matter whether you are at home, the office or on a walk. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you can safely find a few minutes at some point during your day to meditate.
Meditation is one of those things that so many people have heard of in, but not everyone has tried it. The idea of meditation can be pretty intimidating. There is something so different, almost occult to meditation in Western culture and in the past has been almost taboo. In the 1960s and 1970s meditation was synonymous with communes, beatniks and The Beatles. In recent years though, the Eastern movement has begun picking up mainstream momentum attracting people from all different walks of life who are each in search of a less stressful existence. Essentially, meditation is simply a relaxing of both mind and body by means of chanting, sitting quietly and trying to clear all the noise from the brain. Simple as it seems, thinking about nothing is much harder than one would expect. The benefits of this technique are well worth the practice and concentration it takes to learn how to meditate.
What's the draw to this practice other than the long history?
There are physical and mental benefits to meditating, though the gains for mind aren't as quantifiable as the physical attributes.
A study from the 1970s was the first to scientifically show that meditation can reduce physical symptoms of stress such as: decreasing heart rate, muscle tension and oxygen consumption. Some studies even show that EEG coherence improves after meditation.
Unlike therapy, exercise and other stress relievers, meditation does not require equipments and endless amounts of disposable income. Really, you don't even have to leave your house to meditate. Meditating is fairly easy once you have the hang of it and no prescriptions or appointments are needed to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress.
There are different kinds on meditation. Some are based in religion, while others are not at all. One of the more popular types of meditation in the United States is transcendental meditation.
Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1955, he is known as the father of transcendental meditation in the West. Taking a different approach than most spiritual teachers, he started a university in Iowa that teaches meditation as it relates to management. His practice focuses on quieting the mind through use of a religious mantra and his methods of teaching meditation are more standardized as specific meditation lessons are taught in sequence, just as if you were in school for any other subject.
When we experience stress, we get tense, irritable, depressed and generally unpleasant to be around. The calming benefits of taking a few minutes out of the day to be still and quiet are not only great for the mind but also for the physical body. Being able to just unwind for a little bit each day allows for your mind and body to re-energize themselves.
How to start meditating
Local community centers, temples, yoga studios, gyms and even some churches offer meditation classes for free or for minimal donations. Many of the classes are visually guided and many beginner courses are taught lying down. Though not necessary, it may help you to exercise prior to meditating so your mind will be clearer from the endorphins released making it easier to concentrate. Many classes ask you to focus on the scent of incense that is being burned or the flame of a candle. Different scents can set the intention for your meditation. For example, lavender is soothing and if you focus on the scent can help increase concentration. When beginning the practice of meditation, these items give the mind something to focus on other than the constant thoughts that cycle throughout the mind. As the meditator begins to get better at tuning out outside noise, these tools are no longer needed as to get into a meditative state, although they are still wonderful set the mood while you're meditating.
After attending a class, either online or in your local community, try meditating at home. Since there are probably plenty of distractions, find a place where you won't have to think about what you think you should be doing so that you can focus on yourself for just a few minutes. Get comfortable and pick a mantra that means something to you. Close your eyes and repeat the mantra to yourself. If you find it easier, leave your eyes cracked open with a beautiful candle burning. Practicing yoga or stretching are great ways to prepare your breathing prior to your meditation session.
What if I want a more structured meditation course?
Take a trip to one of the many retreats for a little more structure and at times luxury. Some meditation retreats are all-inclusive, while others leave a little more up to the participant. Dormitory style sleeping arrangements and rugged, basic living are themes almost across the board. A little more money will get you a wonderful spa-like meditation retreat. Typically, these retreats are focus on health and well-being in general. Many times the meals offered are vegan and organic and you are able to cleanse your body from toxins while cleansing your mind from stress. Classes and workshops are generally offered to maximize the time spent learning at a retreat.
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