By now, you’ve probably heard all about the wonders of incorporating a meditation practice into your life. With apps galore, free online tutorials and classes at your local yoga studio, learning how to meditate is more accessible than ever before.
With World Meditation Day (May 15th) around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to kickstart your mindfulness or meditation practice. That doesn’t mean you have to go from zero to 100 overnight – even just five minutes a day is enough to begin with. As time goes on, you can continue to increase or explore different meditation styles and reap the benefits of a regular meditation journey.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a way to train your mind to gain more awareness and a better understanding of the state of your being - thoughts, body, emotions, etc. Meditation modalities could include breathing exercises, intense focus on an object or sound, a pattern of movements or repeating a mantra.
Originating in India, followers of Vedantism – a Hindu philosophy – meditated to gain enlightenment and connect with themselves and others. Centuries later, other forms of meditation developed across China and South Asia, each with its own variation on the practice.
People come to meditation for any number of reasons, including to gain clarity, to reflect on their state of mind or to relax and decompress from distractions. For some, meditation offers a chance to understand their emotions better or to take a step back and check in with body and mind. For others, it’s an opportunity to breathe deeply and reflect on the things in life that they’re grateful for.
Fans of meditation are sure to rattle off a variety of different reasons why this ancient practice enthralls them. And, unlike some wellness trends, meditation comes with credible scientific backing.
Increase feeling of wellbeing
Alleviate insomnia and promote better sleep
Help relieve symptoms of depression
Aid in pain or disease management
Perhaps one of the most commonly practiced styles of meditation in the West is mindfulness meditation. This technique has due to its contemplative, silent and accessible nature, so you can practice it pretty much anywhere -- whether on the train to work or while sitting in a park. You can practice mindfulness any and every day by directing your attention to the present moment; you could be listening to music, going out for a walk or brushing your teeth -- try not to get lost in thoughts and focus solely at the task at hand.
The idea behind mindfulness is to try to concentrate on whatever it is you’re doing rather than being swept up in worries about the future or ruminate on the past. Ever been so lost in thought that you didn’t even realize what was happening around you? Maybe you drifted off at work, only snapping back to reality after a coworker approached you with a question, or perhaps you’ve driven home on autopilot, not even noticing the journey until you arrived. In cases like these, your body was functioning just fine, but you just weren’t mindful.
Why not try practicing mindfulness next time you eat your food? With your food in front of you, put away your phone or electronic device and focus on the task at hand: eating. Pay attention to what’s on your plate. Is it colorful, plain or a mix of both? Next, smell your food, then take a bite and slowly chew, noticing the different textures and appreciating them for what they are. Continue taking a bite, fully immersing yourself in the experience.
Mindfulness meditation applies the same approach, this time as you look inward, breathing deeply and paying attention to your state of mind. Instead of trying to repress your thoughts or emotions, and trying to change them, observe them and let them pass without judgment and expectation. The mindfulness meditation techniques can be used with regards to most things you do, empowering you to live in the moment and improve your wellbeing.
Other common types of meditation
Although mindfulness meditation is the most commonly known style of meditation in Western countries, a wide range of meditation practices and schools of thought exist around the world. The following types of meditation are just a handful of the plethora of out there today:
If you're a fan of The Beatles, you may already know of transcendental meditation -- it became popular in the 1950s and ’60s after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced the method globally through a series of world tours. Transcendental meditation requires practitioners to meditate on a specific mantra silently, for 20 minutes twice a day.
Also known as loving-kindness meditation, this meditation style helps people foster loving relationships with themselves and those around them. The meditation works through breathing techniques and by silently repeating a mantra of messages that you would mentally project to others. This treatment is especially useful for people who wish to work through anger issues, to feel happier, or to combat adverse side effects from PTSD.
Breath awareness meditation
Like many other varieties, this meditation focuses on being aware of your breath. However, this particular form puts more emphasis on breathing than the others and encourages practitioners to always return to their breath, clearing the mind of distractions. Of course, your mind will inevitably wander, and when it does, just return to observing the rising and falling of the breath.
Meditation as part of a healthy lifestyle
Alongside working out, eating nutritious foods – like when you use the 8fit app – and getting enough sleep, just a few moments of meditation a day can contribute to a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Give it a try this World Meditation Day!