The practice of meditation has become synonymous with self-care. It is regularly pitched as an antidote to depression, stress and many mental health issues and can be just as quickly disregarded as a “band aid approach” to looking after one’s wellbeing. And while it’s understandable that some may dismiss it as a ‘catch-all’ solution, the amazing thing about meditation is that its benefits are not generally overstated and regular practice can have a profound impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing.
What is meditation?
So let’s start with the basics and explore what meditation actually is and what it involves. Meditation is a practice in which a person aims to focus their attention and slow down or stop racing thoughts to achieve emotional calmness and mental clarity. It is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine and can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Many people think it’s about completely clearing the mind of all thought but it’s more about bringing non-judgmental awareness to one’s present state.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and has its roots in various religious traditions. While meditation is still firmly connected to spirituality, many people now practice it independently of any religious beliefs.
There are many different types of meditation including mantra meditation, guided imagery meditation, Transcendental Meditation, and mindfulness which is probably the most widely recognised.
Types of mediation practices
Some of the most popular types of meditation practices include:
Originating from Buddhist teachings, this form of meditation focuses on cultivating non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Practitioners observe their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations as they arise, without attempting to change or suppress them.
This type of meditation involves focusing on a single point, such as the breath, a mantra, a visual object, or a sound. The goal is to train the mind to maintain unwavering attention on the chosen object, cultivating mental discipline and clarity.
This practice aims to cultivate feelings of compassion, love, and goodwill towards oneself and others. It involves silently repeating phrases, such as “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe,” and extending these wishes to others, including loved ones, acquaintances, and even adversaries.
A mantra-based meditation technique, this type of meditation involves silently repeating a specific word or phrase (a mantra) given by a certified instructor. The goal is to achieve a state of relaxed awareness, transcending the surface level of consciousness.
Practiced in Zen Buddhism, Zazen involves sitting in a specific posture and focusing on the breath while maintaining open awareness. This form of meditation aims to foster insight, self-realization, and a deeper understanding of the nature of reality.
In this type of meditation, an experienced guide or teacher provides verbal instructions or guided imagery to help the practitioner enter a meditative state. This approach can be particularly helpful for beginners or those who prefer more structured guidance.
Meditation practices generally involve deep breathing, focused attention, noticing sensations in the body, and sitting or lying in a comfortable position. There is often a set amount of time for the practice and it is usually done in a quiet space, though not always.
Impact of meditation
You may have heard that meditation can change your brain and that is absolutely true! A lot of research has been done in this area. There are a number of well–regarded studies which have shown moderate benefits for patients presenting with depression, chronic pain, and anxiety who engage in mindfulness meditation programmes, even having effects similar to other existing treatments including medication and talk therapies. As with all forms of intervention, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these presentations, but mindfulness programmes were seen to be as good as other treatments for some patients (Powell, 2018). Though less well researched, there is also some evidence to suggest that meditation can help people with addiction recovery as well as a number of physiological ailments such as high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome.
Scientists have viewed the brain after meditation using fMRI scans and have noted that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, states that four regions of the brain associated with healthy brain function become more substantial after meditation. These areas of the brain are responsible for empathy, memory and compassion. Similarly, the brain cell volume in the amygdala actually shrinks in size. This is the part of the brain responsible for anxiety, stress and fear (MindWorks).
Benefits of meditation
These changes in the brain can enhance our overall wellbeing. The knock-on effect of this means that meditating can have a huge benefit in many aspects of our everyday life. Meditation can;
1. Help with stress management
2. Bring our focus into the present
3. Increase self-awareness
4. Strengthen emotional connection to physical sensations and pain in the body
5. Increase patience and tolerance, reducing feelings of judgement
6. Enhance creativity
7. Building regular practice
Now that we know just how beneficial meditation can be, the next step is to try incorporating a daily practice into our routine.
It’s usually recommended to start slowly, perhaps trying for even just 5 minutes per day. This can be gradually increased over time. Find a comfortable seat or space in your home you can dedicate to your meditation practice and get to know what position feels most comfortable to sit or lie in for your practice. If possible, try to meditate at the same time each day. This may help with establishing a routine which recent research shows takes longer than 21 days as previously considered, so try to be patient with yourself!
Use a dedicated meditation app, or find a video online to follow. Not all meditations require following a spoken guided practice- some use chanting or many people meditate in silence. This is generally for more experienced practitioners, though, so if you are a complete novice, using an app or video may be a good idea. Try out different styles of practices. There are so many to choose from; body scans, visualisations, progressive relaxations, mantras and many more…
Approach each practice with compassion and without judgement. It can take time to get used to meditating and the journey into it can be as important as the practice itself.
How to meditate – A simple guide
Here’s a brief guide help you get started with meditation:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable space
First things first, find a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted. You can meditate anywhere – your office, a conference room, or even a park nearby. However, make sure the space you choose is private and free from distractions.
2. Get into a comfortable position
Next, find a comfortable position. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground, lie down on a yoga mat, or any other position that feels comfortable. The key is to find a posture that you can maintain for a few minutes without feeling any discomfort.
3. Focus on your breath
Now comes the most important part – focusing on your breath. Start by taking a few deep breaths and then let your breath settle into its natural rhythm. As you inhale, focus on the sensation of air entering your nostrils, and as you exhale, focus on the sensation of air leaving your nostrils. If you find it hard to focus, try counting your breaths. Start by counting one on your inhale, two on your exhale, and so on, up to ten. Once you reach ten, start over.
4. Be non-judgmental
During your meditation practice, it’s natural for your mind to wander. You might start thinking about work or your to-do list. However, instead of getting frustrated or judging yourself for getting distracted, simply acknowledge the thought and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Remember, the purpose of meditation is not to stop thinking, but to observe your thoughts without judgment.
5. Start with a shorter session
Start with a shorter session, such as five minutes, and gradually increase it to ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or even twenty minutes. The key is to be consistent with your practice. Even if you can only spare a few minutes a day, make sure you meditate every day. As you get more comfortable with your practice, you’ll find it easier to sit for longer periods of time.
Take a mindfulness workshop to get started
Meditation is just one way to enhance and support your overall wellbeing. Zevo Health offer a broad range of services, including our mindfulness workshop that are designed to boost and enhance the wellbeing of employees in your organisation.