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What is meditation?

The meditation therapy originated in prehistoric times and there are many religious texts which mention this form of therapy (Everly and Lating 2013). The earliest mention of meditation has been seen in the ancient Hindu scriptures, The Vedas, which are more than 5000 years old. Archaeologists have unearthed many wall paintings and art that depicted people sitting in, what is known as the ‘meditative pose’, from the Indus valley civilization. This form of therapy was restricted to Asia for thousands of years and spread outside the continent only after the 18-19th century.

Meditation could be an ancient practice, but it is still practiced in cultures throughout the world to bring a feeling of calm and inner peace. Even though this practice has ties to many different religious teachings, meditation is less about religion and more about shifting consciousness, finding consciousness, and achieving peace. Nowadays, with the increased need to decrease stress in the middle of our busy schedules and demanding lifestyles, meditation is growing in popularity.

See: Mindfullness Meditation For Sleep

Philosophy of meditation

Meditation involves calming the inner thought processes and being in tune with the surroundings. It involves the self-regulation of the mind and promotes the removal of negative and destructive emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression. This increases calmness, concentration, and peace of mind.

See: Yoga, meditation, and imagery: clinical applications.

Benefits of meditation

The primary aim of meditation is the removal of stress. It aims to unite the mind and the body, which leads to physical and emotional well-being. There are decades of research that prove that meditation helps you relax, indirectly contributing to a healthier mind and body. 

Why is meditation beneficial? There's a lot of evidence supporting the various advantages of meditation. Meditation can help:

- reduce stress

- lower blood pressure

- reduce pain

- alleviate symptoms of depression

- enhance sleep

Those who follow a daily meditation practice are generally convinced of the benefits of their own lives. Whether you're seeking to decrease anxiety or find spiritual enlightenment, find stillness, or stream through motion, there is a meditation practice for you. Try to feel comfortable with a new method of relaxing and try various types. It often requires a little trial and error until you find the one which fits.

Meditation isn't supposed to be a forced thing. If we are pushing it, then it becomes a chore. Gentle, regular practice finally becomes sustaining, inviting, and enjoyable. Open yourself up to the possibilities. There are so many distinct kinds of meditation that if a person is not working or is not comfortable, just try a fresh one.

See: Happy Heart Meditation

Meditation for health conditions

Meditation boosts your memory and learning abilities, helps in concentration, reduces anxiety, stress, depression, and banishes negative thoughts (Manchanda and Madan, 2014). Indirectly, it helps to reduce blood pressure, obesity, eating disorders, substance abuse, improves blood circulation, boosts the immune system, and increases resistance to diseases (Goyal et al., 2014). As it lowers stress, it helps reduce inflammatory conditions like arthritis, asthma, heart diseases, or skin disorders. It also helps in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, while decreasing bloating, flatulence, and other related symptoms.

See: Beat Depression with Meditation

Types of meditation

Experienced meditators agree: a daily meditation practice may have significant benefits for physical and mental health. There are hundreds of meditation methods surrounding practices from other traditions, cultures, spiritual disciplines, and religions. There is not a universally accepted best meditation. Our personal taste helps us select the one (or ones) that works best for us. Following are some of the more popular kinds of meditation to get you started.

Guided vs. unguided meditation

Selecting between guided and unguided meditation is often the first step in establishing a meditation practice. A teacher guides you through the fundamental steps of the practice in a guided meditation. This sort of meditation is incredibly helpful for beginners because the instructor is experienced and trusted. Their advice can be crucial to helping those who are new to the clinic get the most from experience. The instructor explains how the brain behaves through meditation, leads you through a specific meditation technique, and then suggests incorporating this technique into your daily life.

- Unguided meditation: In unguided meditation (quiet meditation), you meditate alone, without someone else explaining the procedure. For some individuals, unguided meditation entails merely sitting quietly and paying attention to the body and ideas for a predetermined time period. For others, it involves using a few of the techniques they have learned from previously guided practices.

- Guided meditation: Calming vs. insight meditation

Calming meditation cultivates a quieter, more peaceful frame of mind and enhanced concentration. Meditation techniques are often classified as calming or insight meditation. Most calming meditation practices entail focusing on a specific thing -- your breath, a mantra, a visualization, a physical thing, even physical sensations in your body -- and returning to this thing when you get distracted or detect your mind beginning to wander.

Otherwise, people who exercise insight meditation often put a goal to alter their minds by creating qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Insight meditation helps you focus on the breath and be aware of and imagine all of the physical and mental sensations that arise.

Here is the cool thing about meditation: it does not have to be one or the other, calming or insight. In actuality, many meditation techniques combine elements of both. Meditation brings a sense of calm and enhances feelings of well-being, happiness, and compassion for others.

There is no such thing as a right or wrong way to meditate. It is essential, nevertheless, to pick the right meditation that matches your needs and personality. Not all meditation styles are ideal for everybody. These practices require different skills and mindsets. How can you know which method is perfect for you? It is what feels comfortable and what you are feeling encouraged to practice. These are some of the popular types of meditation practice:

Mindfulness meditation

This style of meditation originates from Buddhist teachings. In mindfulness meditation, you focus on your ideas as they pass through your mind. You do not judge the ideas or become involved with them. You simply observe and pay attention to any patterns. This practice combines concentration with consciousness. You might find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath as you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings. This sort of meditation is great for men and women that do not have a teacher to guide them as it is easily practiced alone.

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental meditation is your most popular form of meditation worldwide, and it is the most scientifically studied. This practice is much more customizable than mantra meditation, with a mantra or sequence of particular words to each practitioner. This practice is for all those who enjoy structure and are intent on keeping a meditation practice.

- Movement meditation

Although most people consider yoga when they hear motion meditation, this practice might consist of walking through the forests, gardening, qigong, and other gentle motion types. It is an active form of meditation in which the motion guides you. Movement meditation is suitable for men and women that find peace in the activity and want to let their minds wander.

Mantra meditation

Mantra meditation is notable in several teachings, such as Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This sort of meditation uses a constant sound to clear the brain. This is a word, phrase, or audio, like the popular"Om." It doesn't matter whether your headline is spoken loudly or softly. After chanting the mantra for a while, you'll be more alert and in tune with your environment. This method lets you experience more profound levels of consciousness. Some people today enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to concentrate on a word than in their breath. This technique is also a good practice for men and women that do not like silence and revel in repetition.

Focused meditation

Focused meditation involves immersion with any of the five senses. You can start by concentrating on your breath, or you could bring in outside influences to help focus your attention. Try counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame. This practice could be easy in concept, but it can be challenging for novices to hold their attention for longer than a couple of minutes at first. If your mind does wander, it is essential to return to the practice and refocus. As the name implies, this practice is excellent for anybody who needs additional focus in their lifetime.

Spiritual meditation

Spiritual meditation is used in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism. It's very similar to prayer because you reflect on the quiet around you and seek a deeper relationship with your God or Universe. Essential oils are generally utilized to heighten religious experience. Popular options include sage, cedar, sandalwood, frankincense, or myrrh. Spiritual meditation can be performed at home or in a spiritual place. This practice is beneficial for people who thrive in silence and find spiritual growth.

The best way to begin

The easiest method to start is to sit quietly and pay attention to your breath. You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes each day, but you can start with even a few minutes daily. It is ideal to start in tiny moments, even five or ten minutes, and develop from there.

See: Beginning Meditation to Reduce Stress

Calming vs. insight meditation

Calming meditation cultivates a quieter, more peaceful frame of mind and enhanced concentration. Meditation techniques are often classified as calming or insight meditation. Most calming meditation practices entail focusing on a specific thing -- your breath, a mantra, a visualization, a physical thing, even physical sensations in your body -- and returning to this thing when you get distracted or detect your mind beginning to wander.

Otherwise, people who exercise insight meditation often put a goal to alter their minds by creating qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Insight meditation helps you focus on the breath and be aware of and imagine all of the physical and mental sensations that arise.

See: Kirtan Kriya Meditation For Mental Health Benefits

Precautions

Do not wear uncomfortable clothing or play heavy music while meditating. Find out the best posture that works for you and never meditate in awkward positions, or while drunk or stoned. Do not get upset or irritable and avoid meditating if you have been diagnosed with mental disorders or schizophrenia. Practice meditation under the guidance of a proper teacher.

See: Learn best ways to meditate properly

Side effects

Meditation has many benefits, but it can have adverse effects on certain people. It can conjure a lot of negative thoughts, generate mood swings, and can even increase stress, anxiety, and tension in some people. It can leave you more depressed, stressed, ‘spaced out’, confused, and surprisingly, even addicted to meditation. 

See: Meditation for Weight Loss-Try it

Science & Research

Meditation curbs inflammatory response in cancer too. In a randomized study, the researchers found that women who had undergone treatment for breast cancer showed less expression of the inflammatory genes and proteins after meditating. They also slept better and were less stressed and depressed (Bower et al., 2015).

See: Yoga Nidra and Meditation benefits for cancer patients

References

1. Manchanda SC, Madan K. 2014. Yoga and meditation in cardiovascular disease. Clinical Research in Cardiology, 103(9), 675-680.

2. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould, NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R. et al. 2014 Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

3. Everly GS, Lating JM. 2013. A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of the Human Stress Response. Springer Science+Business Media New York. 

4. Bower JE, et al. 2015. Mindfulness meditation for younger breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Cancer 121.8: 1231-1240.

5. Mindful breathing. (n.d.) https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing

6. Park, J., Lyles, R. H., & Bauer-Wu, S. (2014, July 1). Mindfulness meditation lowers muscle sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure in African-American males with chronic kidney disease [Abstract]. American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 307(1), R93–R101 http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/307/1/R93

7. Sipe, W. E., & Eisendrath, S. J. (2012, February). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Theory and practice [Abstract].Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(2), 63–69 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22340145

8. American Sleep Association. Sleep and sleep disorder statistics.

9. Coppieters, I., Cagnie, B., Nijs, J., Van Oosterwijck, J., Danneels, L., De Pauw, R., … Meeus, M. (2016, April 6). Effects of stress and relaxation on central pain modulation in chronic whiplash and fibromyalgia patients compared to healthy controls [Abstract]. Pain Physician, 19(3), 119–130 https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/7161849

10. Loving-kindness meditation. (n.d.) https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation#data-tab-how

11. UCLA Semel Institute, Mindful Awareness Research Center. Body scan for sleep.

12. Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012, July–August). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198–208 http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/pst-48-2-198.pdf

13. Kearney, D. J., Malte, C. A., Mcmanus, C., Martinez, M. E., Felleman, B., & Simpson, T. L. (2013, July 25). Loving-kindness meditation for posttraumatic stress disorder: A pilot study. [Abstract]. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(4), 426–434

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jts.21832/full

14. Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; Apr;175(4):494–501. DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081

15. Neuendorf R, Wahbeh H, Chamine I, Yu J, Hutchison K, Oken BS. The effects of mind-body interventions on sleep quality: A systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015. DOI:10.1155/2015/902708

16. Kundalini yoga. (n.d.) https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/types-of-yoga/kundalini

17. Lechner, T. (n.d.). 5 types of meditation decoded http://www.chopra.com/articles/5-types-of-meditation-decoded#sm.0005syqxv1brdd4p11k27d0qakfj7

18. Lo, P.-C., Huang, M.-L., & Chang, K.-M. (2003). EEG alpha blocking correlated with perception of inner light during Zen meditation [Abstract]. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 31(4), 629 http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S0192415X03001272

See: Mommy and Baby Yoga and Meditation class helped me calm down

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