These days the world is turning to alternative therapies as the ideal solution to a number of mental and physical problems, and meditation is one leading therapy that has won the trust of many as an excellent fitness promoter, both for the mind and body. Whether your mind is riddled with soaring levels of stress or insane negative thoughts, or your body wreathes with excruciating aches and pains which you find difficult to handle, meditation is one solution that can redress both the issues.
The Science Behind Meditation
Meditation is a great solution for many things pertaining to man’s mental health or bodily health. It reduces your stress, it improves your alertness and attention, it boosts your memory, it boosts your creativity, improves brain function, banishing all negative thoughts.
Physically you will feel highly energetic if you meditate daily. Your blood pressure will be under control. Your pain sensitivity will improve, heart rate will improve and symptoms of IBS will be eased out.
But the question is – How can something as simple as meditation generate such dramatic & remarkable results on our body? What is the actual science behind this mindfulness focusing therapy popularly called Meditation?
Benefits of Meditation are scientifically backed
Here is what research tells us about Meditation:
Research papers throw light on the scientific evidence; i.e. the ‘science behind meditation’, telling us how regular meditation can change the total functioning of the human brain by leading to certain structural changes in the brain.
According to a study conducted in the year 2012, it was revealed that with routine meditation gyrification level of our brain are accelerated. This is the result of the changes in the brain’s cerebral cortex; i.e. the folding of the cortex. According to neuroscientists, it heightens the capacity for processing information most speedily. Thus your memory, alertness, attention, decision making power are all tremendously boosted by meditating.
Some studies revealed that meditation increases the brain’s cortical thickness which can be an explanation to why you can cope better with your aches and pains when you meditate on a daily basis. A study conducted in the year 2009 revealed that if you have been meditating for a few years, the density of gray matter in the brain stem will increase and with that your immunity power, power of concentration or focus and emotional stability will see remarkable improvement.
Types of Meditation Techniques
Meditation is all about being in the ‘Here and Now’, focusing on the present as you remove all thoughts of the past and future from your head. There are many forms of meditation, but basically they fall in to two broad categories –
Concentrative techniques require you to focus on something so that you can clear your thoughts. This is an object on the outside – a spot on the wall, a tree in front of you, the burning flame of a candle, a mantra you are chanting etc. However, to practice non-concentrative techniques of meditation, you focus on not one thing but the collective environment around you. It could be the sound of the rain falling outside, the sounds in the environment or even your own breathing.
Some meditation techniques can be a combination of concentrative and non-concentrative meditation, while others will fall in a single category. Here is a quick look at some of the popular meditation techniques.
1. Basic Meditation – This is a basic technique that requires one to sit in a comfortable pose and clear all thoughts. To concentrate, one could use both concentrative and non-concentrative methods in order to focus inwards.
2. Focused Meditation – Here the idea is to focus on something, like an object or a sound, but not think about it consciously. It could be a visual object like a painting on the wall, a tower you see outside the window or a dancing flame. It could also be an auditory sound like chimes, the wall clock or the sound of a water fountain nearby. This is purely a concentrative meditation technique that allows you to go into an altered state of consciousness through focus.
3. Activity-Oriented Meditation – This is a technique that allows you to couple an activity with meditation. Since meditation is nothing but clearing your mind of all active thoughts, it is possible to do so while walking, watering the plants, practicing yoga or even doing some creative artwork. The only trick is to engage in a repetitive activity, so that it is possible for you to get in the zone and focus inwards.
4. Spiritual Meditation – A form of meditation that takes the form of spiritual experience, here you chant hymns and prayers or can simply think about god, concentrating on an image of him while you calm your mind of all thoughts. This technique works like a ‘guidance’ for some and becomes their daily form of prayer and devotion.
5. Mindfulness Meditation – The toughest of them all, the mindfulness technique is about clearing one’s thoughts and focusing on the present. It is tougher than it seems since there is nothing external like an object, a sound or a thought that you can focus on. To practice this technique, you need to really be in tune with your inner self and focus on emotions you feel or sensations in your body.
Meditation Tips For Beginners
If you are new to the concept of meditation, it can seem like a complex process. After all, there are many enlightened souls who claim that meditating showed them the path to success, connected them to their inner self and changed their lives.
Can something that has so much potential to turn your life around really be so simple? Yes it can!
Meditating is nothing but silencing your mind so that you shut the outside world and come to get a better understanding of your internal self. It has nothing to do with spirituality, yet is carves the path to self awareness by creating a sense of balance. Here are a few simple steps to start meditating, and start your journey towards self awareness.
1. Define The Purpose –
Have a purpose in mind. Why are you meditating? Is it to beat stress, to renew focus, to connect with your inner self, to achieve emotional balance or to find spirituality? Knowing your reasons will make it easier for you to decide what to focus on when you close your eyes and clear your thoughts.
2. Timing Is Important –
Make sure you choose a convenient time. If you are due for a meeting in 5 minutes or need to go pick up the kids shortly, it will become difficult to turn off your mind and focus inwards. Pick a free slot in your day to begin meditating, so that you have no pressing matters that need your time and attention anytime soon.
3. Location Is Just As Important –
Find a quiet place. It could be your tranquil bedroom with a few aromatic candles lit, it could be a local park outside your apartment building or it could simply be your cubicle at office. You need to understand that you will be devoting your energy towards resting – quiet down your mind and body and surrender to the silence to come to greater understanding about wakefulness. So make sure your phone is turned off, your bell unplugged and you aren’t in a noisy area full of distractions.
4. Be As Comfortable As Possible –
It is crucial that you feel comfortable physically. This means that your clothing and posture must allow you to concentrate on the silence, rather than distract you because of the discomfort. Make sure your clothes are breathable and not restraining, and if you are sitting on a chair ensure that you are in an upright comfortable position. You can also sit cross legged on the ground with your back straight.
5. Focus On Your Breathing To Calm Your Thoughts –
Relax and breathe deeply. Inhale through your nose and hold for a few seconds, then exhale. The aim is to turn your attention inwards and if it helps, you can try counting your breaths or can chant something that holds meaning to you and calms you down.
In all earnestness, Meditation is very beneficial for your physiological, psychological, emotional as well as spiritual health. So, give it a shot, and find out for yourself! If Meditation is so hyped about, there has to be something about it that makes it worthy of all the attention, don’t you think?
However, don’t follow everything you are told blindly. I suggest, you also read: Can Meditation Actually Be Bad For You, so that you have a clearer picture of what you are getting into.