Meditation practice to the mind is what fitness is for the body. However, if you are a beginner, you probably aren’t exactly sure where to start and which of many meditation techniques to choose. There are many approaches to meditation and each requires different set of mental skills.
Beginners typically have difficulties grasping the concept of ‘empty mind’ and being able to sit for an hour or longer without thinking of anything. That is why one of the most frequent meditation practices is based around concentration, and is achieved by focusing on one’s breathing.
Meditation based on concentration implies focus on one single thing. This thing can be anything – repeating a mantra (or a single word), focusing on breathing, listening to a gong sound repeated in equal intervals, gazing at a candle flame or counting mala beads. Meditation based on concentration is quite challenging for the beginners and they typically start with shorter intervals, which they gradually prolong over time and practice.
With concentration-based meditation you need to re-focus your awareness on the single point of your choosing, every time when your mind starts to wander. This technique allows you to improve your concentration as it simply lets go of random invading thoughts instead of pursuing them.
This meditation technique requires observation of wandering thoughts as they come and go. The goal is not to process the thoughts, judge them or get involved with them, but simply to observe them and be aware of them as they arise and leave.
Mindfulness-based meditation allows you to notice particular patterns in which feelings and thoughts tend to move. This allows you to develop awareness of the tendency to judge experiences as either unpleasant or pleasant, good or bad. This technique is excellent for achieving inner balance.
Some meditation schools combine concentration and mindfulness techniques.
All these techniques require stillness of the body.
Other meditation practices
There are many other meditation techniques, used to achieve different goals. For example, Buddhist monks practice daily meditation that is entirely based on cultivating compassion. They achieve this by envisioning negative thoughts and re-shaping them through positive light by implementing compassion.
There are several meditation techniques that involve movement of the body – qigong, tai-chi and walking meditation.
Relaxation is one of the immediate beneficial bodily responses to meditation, even though it is not the primary reason why people practice it. The research conducted on practitioners of transcendental meditation concluded that meditation causes reduction of the activity in their sympathetic nervous systems, resulting in relaxation response of the body.
Further studies of this response documented many further benefits of meditation to one’s nervous system:
- Improved circulation of blood
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Reduced perspiration
- Slower respiration rate
- Reduced anxiety
- Lower levels of blood cortisol
- Increased well-being
- Reduced stress
- Improved relaxation
Contemporary research of meditation benefits explores the long-term results of consistent meditation practice. It has already documented positive effects on immune and brain functions among practitioners. Still, the purpose of meditation is not to achieve these types of benefits. According to eastern approach, the goal of meditation is to have no goal other to simply be present.
Buddhist philosophy uses meditation to achieve completely different benefit - liberation of one’s mind from attachments to things we cannot control. This includes strong internal emotions and any external circumstances. Enlightened or liberated meditation practitioner doesn’t need to cling to experiences and follows his or her desires, but simply maintains the sense of inner harmony and calm mind.
Simple meditation tips for the beginners
- Sit in a comfortable position. For the best results you might want to acquire a meditation cushion or a chair.
- Close your eyes and keep them closed.
- Breathe naturally and don’t make any effort to control your breath.
- Shift your attention on your breathing and notice how your body moves each time you inhale and exhale the air. Focus your attention on your chest, rib cage, belly and shoulders. Keep your attention on your breathing, without attempts to control its intensity or pace. When your mind drifts away, simply return your focus to your breathing.
- Start with this meditation exercise for two or three minutes in the beginning, then gradually prolong it over time.