Yes, that is true! While meditation eases your mind and body, the result is also a refreshed and invigorated body. So, what is meditation and how does it work? Is meditation something you can do if you're a beginner? Let's answer some of these questions so you, too, can begin a meditative practice.
Currently, our active lifestyles are filled with many obligations and distractions; yet we rarely take the time to release and relax fully. Some of the main objectives of practicing meditation are to gain mental clarity, to achieve acute awareness, and enhance emotional stability. The practice of meditation still leads us to a path of clarity so that we can see ourselves and our lives more clearly. Although the intentions are good, they still may seem difficult to acquire.
A myth regarding meditation suggests that one should be able to sit in stillness for hours and empty their minds to achieve enlightenment. If you are new to the practice, this may feel quite intimidating. This certainly can be a goal for well-practiced meditators and even for the experienced yogi, this could take many years of devotion.
If you are a meditation beginner, focusing on your breath is the first step. The breath is considered the foundation of most meditative practices. It has several functions that will aid you in your goal toward relaxation and rejuvenation. While sitting, the breath gives you something upon which to turn your attention to. In addition to that, intentional breathing is good for your heart. It generates efficient oxygen and blood flow throughout the entire body. Our busy lives contribute to conditions like high blood pressure, anxiety, muscle tension, and other debilitating circumstances. Meditation, however, can remedy and manage these conditions!
A breathing technique that is often practiced in meditation is called Pranayama. "Prana" means "life force" and is represented through the breath. "Yama" can be thought of as the action we give the breath. For example, breathing slowly, quickly, or even holding your breath are considered ways to bring greater awareness to yourself. The intention is to use these various breathing exercises to open up the energetic system in your whole being. There is a Pranayama exercise for just about anything you need: better sleep, staving off a fever, improving digestion, heightened memory, etc. There is a long list of exercises from which you can choose—doing these breathing exercises will guide you toward a healthier body: mentally, physically, and spiritually.
The manifestations of your breathwork result in the mental clarity you originally wanted to achieve.
Bhramari Pranayama is a particular breathing exercise that helps with calming and decluttering a very full mind. When you practice this, you sound like a buzzing bee. It creates an internal vibration that releases tension in your head and body. You emerge feeling refreshed and clear-headed.
How to? Start by sitting comfortably; it can be in a chair or on the floor on the meditation cushion. Close your eyes and take a moment to simply notice your breath. Take slow, steady breaths so you can experience each inhale and each exhale. Remember, breath is the key to a good meditative practice. Softly cover your eyes with cupped hands. Gently plug your ears using your thumbs. Next, inhale deeply. As you exhale, produce an audible humming sound. This creates the buzzing sound, but because your ears are plugged, the sound will resonate loudly in your head. You will also feel the tingling and vibration with this breath. Repeat this exercise 8-10 times. When you are complete, sit in stillness with your hands in your lap; notice how you feel. Hopefully, you will notice that there are no racing thoughts in your mind! You will feel calm and less tense. It should be said that Bhramari Pranayama is an old practice, but students still practice this exercise in yoga classes in this modern age to achieve mental clarity.
In Mindfulness Meditation practice, one uses breath awareness to focus on one thing at a time. In a typical situation, our minds wander and are saturated with many thoughts. Taking slow deep breaths allows you to narrow your focus to steady the mind. This is considered a Mindfulness Meditation, focusing solely on your inhalation and exhalation. You can also focus on other bodily sensations or passing by thoughts, but breath is a good place to start. The intention of this practice is to stay focused on one thing.
Much like Mindfulness Meditation, Body Scan Meditation practice allows meditation practitioners (or yoga practitioners) to focus on one thing; in this case, you may focus on a particular sensation in your body. This may be tightness in your back, pain in your foot, or strain in your shoulder.
How? Start body scan meditation practice by closing your eyes and bring your focus to your breath. As you notice your body coming to a settled place, pay attention to that one uncomfortable sensation in your body. If it is the tightness in your back, direct your full attention to this body part. Pinpoint the exact placement of the tension. Prescribe a degree of intensity to the sensation. As you become fully aware of the back pain, send thoughts of release, relaxation, ease, and calmness to the spot. The idea is to shift that sensation of discomfort to one of painlessness.
The Sanskrit word Mantra is derived from two words—manas (mind) and tra (tool). Mantra literally means “a tool for the mind".
For example, you can add Mantra to your Body Scan Meditation. A mantra is a word or a set of words that is repeated silently or out loud to keep you focused on your meditation practice. By saying the words over and over, it keeps you centered and present, allowing distracting thoughts to disappear. In the case of your Body Scan Meditation, your mantras could be "I am pain-free", "I have a healthy body" or any phrase that explores internal healing. The beauty of Mantra Meditation is that you can create your own mantra and chant it in your own language.
Though it is different if you choose to chant (whether repeating loudly or whispering silently) words/mantras in Sanskrit. You might want to learn to pronounce them correctly first, because chanting a particular mantra activates a particular kind of energy in a different part of the body. Chanting in Sanskrit is known to help to free your mind of a background chatter, which at the end calms your nervous system.
And if, for one reason or another, you feel uncomfortable chanting, you can still benefit from this by simply listening to the chants while you sit with your eyes closed. You might discover that it can help you experience deeper meditations.
Another type of meditation that is beneficial to the meditation beginner is a Walking meditation. Walking meditation requires some degree of awareness while you move your body. You can do this outside in your front yard, at the park, or even in your living room. The intention of this practice is not to reach a particular destination, but rather feel sensations in your body while you make steps. In walking meditation, as you walk, you should take very slow steps and be mindful of your foot when it touches the ground. Pay attention to how your heel first touches the floor then rolls through until your toes touch the surface. This is the meditative nature of the experience. It is about being aware of your slow, steady stride, to maintain a strong connection to the task at hand. The result is a reduction in rapid thoughts, a more focused mind, and a residual calm.
This is an ancient style of meditation. The word Vipassana means "clear seeing." In Vipassana meditation practice, you sit in stillness and allow thoughts to enter your mind. The work involved is to let those thoughts pass through your consciousness rather than dwelling on them (which we tend to do). As a thought enters your Mind, you acknowledge it without judging it, and then let it go. With continued practice, this meditation teaches your mind to release useless thoughts. With this meditation you develop a strategy for clearing your Mind.
Loving Kindness Meditation is also known as Metta Meditation.This traditional practice introduces more intention. Using devotional prayers, you send positive intentions to yourself, a loved one, and those with whom you struggle. Everyone, including yourself and those that trouble you, deserve love and kindness. In this directive meditation, you can guide that energy inward and outward to those who most need it.
Here is an example of the Loving Kindness Prayer:
May you be filled with Loving Kindness.
May you be Safe from inner and outer dangers.
May you be Healthy in body and mind.
May you find Peace and truly be Happy.
• Meditation boosts Creativity: Creativity cannot come from a busy, worried mind. Creativity needs silence. For the creativity ‘to
surface’, we need to learn how to slow down our racing thoughts, relax and observe. This is exactly what meditation is teaching us: to observe the breathing, sensations in the body and relax in the moment. Have you ever wondered why you get your best ideas in the shower? Because running water has a relaxing effect on our brains. The train of thought slows down and great ideas get the opportunity to ‘pop out’ to the surface. So, if you are looking for more creativity in your life, you might want to save water and make Meditation your own Amigo!
"Meditation helps us consciously take rest from our buzzing mind. When the mind rests with awareness through meditation, creativity is naturally evoked" - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
• Meditation enhances Self-awareness: Self-awareness means understanding our own feelings, emotions and repetitive patterns, and identifying habits which might not necessarily be contributing to our overall happiness. During the
meditation practice, we learn to observe the chatter in the mind. Especially if you are a meditation beginner, as soon as you quieten your mind, the mind takes the opportunity to begin the monologue filled with judgments (for example: ‘Why am doing this ?’, ‘I don’t like this sitting pose’ and similar). In meditation we are taught to let those (negative) thoughts pass by without attaching to them. We just observe, and after a few deep breaths in and out – we again observe our breathing. Similarly in our daily life, we will start noticing our feelings and emotions in certain situations (especially if they are unpleasant) and begin to scrutinise our perceptions: ‘Why do I feel the way I feel?’ For example, rather than unconsciously reacting out of habit, we will ask ourselves ‘Why am I getting angry/upset?’ and search for answers.
"Only what you are aware of exist for you" - Sadhguru
• Meditation helps to improve Relationships: You may raise your eyebrow now, but the truth is very simple: when we learn self-awareness, we naturally start understanding other people's feelings, emotions and sometimes even actions. Rather than judging them on their behaviour, we consider the possibility that they might not be aware of how they speak or what they say. Again, negative habits are very difficult to overcome. It requires a lot of inner work and self-awareness. Meditation is teaching us love, especially Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta meditation) which shows us how to share our love and appreciation with everyone, regardless of our own judgement. Developed awareness of what we say, how we say it and how we respond will definitely take our relationships to another level!
"Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" - Buddha
• Meditation boosts Brain health: There are thousands of research supported articles confirming that Meditation can literally reshape your brain . For example, part of the brain (the amygdala) which is responsible for fear and anxiety is shrinking, and the grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory - is increasing. Knowing that Meditation brings positive physiological changes in your brain should be enough to make this practice your daily companion.
"It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life." - Britta Hölzel, PhD, Researcher at MGH and Giessen University, Germany.
• Find a Quiet Space: It is important that you find a quiet room or area without distractions. We are already overwhelmed with too many external stimuli, so it is vital to create a space that is silent so you can truly focus on your meditation practice. With regular meditation practice you will learn how to quiet your Mind easily and external noise will no longer bother you.
• Meditate on an Empty Stomach: If you are full after a meal, meditating can be a challenge. Blood flow travels to the stomach area to facilitate digestion. This may leave you feeling mentally sleepy. Because you are bringing your body to a place of ease and relaxation during meditation, you may end up falling asleep. Instead, you want to have some mental alertness even while meditating.
• Sit Upright: It is advised to sit up while meditating (unless you are doing Yoga Nidra (Yogic sleep) Meditation). Whether you decide to sit in a high-back chair or upright on the meditation cushion, the most important is that you feel comfortable. Some yogis sit in what's called a Lotus Posture (a specific style of crossing your legs), but it takes some practice and patience to reach that level. Keep in mind that this is an intentional practice, and you want to have an amazing experience meditating.
• Keep it Short (at the beginning): If you are new to meditation, then your first meditation doesn't have to last a very long time. Start with short practices: 3-5 minutes. (if it helps, set a timer so you won't have to worry about the time while you're meditating.) This will allow you to get more accustomed to the experience. As you progress, you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time.
The intention of meditation practice is to be present and mindful. Through paying close attention to what's going on inside ourselves during the meditation, we become more aware of what is going on outside ourselves – the life around us. We filter external factors and decide whether we allow them to influence our ‘inner world’ (happy moments) or whether we mindfully ignore them (unpleasant situations). The peace and content inside ourselves becomes our priority, and we want to preserve it.
That’s where the question of consistency and commitment to meditation practice steps in. No one learned how to play piano after taking just a single piano class. As with many things in life, endurance is key. If we want to enjoy the benefits of mental clarity, a stable state of mind and inner peace, adding a few minutes of meditation per day to our busy schedules will definitely make a difference in the long run.