Meditation is a practice which uses several different techniques to help achieve a calm and tranquil mind to allow the objective observation of your thoughts and feelings, and to learn to live in the present moment. By providing a sense of calm, peace, and balance, meditation can be helpful in the improvement of overall physical and mental health. Thousands of scientific studies have identified numerous benefits of meditation.
Meditation is considered a type of complementary medicine, and is not intended to replace traditional medical treatment. Patients should discuss with their health care professional if meditation is appropriate for you, as meditation can worsen some symptoms.
Benefits of Meditation
Some scientific research suggests that meditation may be beneficial in the following areas:
- Stress reduction
- Social anxiety
- Postpartum depression
- Mood disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Prevention of emotional eating and smoking
- Stronger immune system
- Heart disease
- Inflammation and related problems
- Tension headaches
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pain control and resilience
- Reduction of age-related memory loss
- Clarity of mind
- Increased energy
- Assistance with ADHD
- Improvement of self-image and self-esteem
- Stronger understanding of yourself
- Greater attention span
- Generation kindness and compassion
- Improvement of emotional well-being
- Increased optimism
- Enhanced problem-solving skills
Types of Meditation
There are many types and lengths of meditation which will vary among individuals based on personal preference.
Metta is an Indian word translated into the meaning of loving-kindness, benevolence, or good will. In this meditation, rather than focusing on the breath, loving, kind, and compassionate thoughts are sent out into the world with the hope of releasing pain or discomfort in others. In Metta meditation, loving-kindness is directed towards ourselves, secondly to someone we love, then to someone we are neutral towards, then to someone we have difficulty with, and then toward all human beings everywhere. An example of a Metta meditation would be:
- May you be safe and protected
- May you be happy
- May you be healthy and strong
- May you be at peace and at ease
Transcendental Meditation (TM) was created in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s, and became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. TM is taught by certified teachers who have been trained by the Maharishi Foundation’s Transcendental Meditation program. There is an instruction fee for the TM courses. The TM technique involves the use of a mantra which is repeated silently twice a day for 20 minutes with closed eyes.
Zen meditation is an ancient Buddhist tradition originally from China. From China it spread to Korea, Japan, and throughout Asia. Zen is usually practiced seated crossed legged on a mat or cushion. The back is straight, the mouth is closed, and the eyes are kept lowered. Zen meditation is practiced by focusing all of one’s attention on the movement of the breath going in and out of one’s nose. Another technique is to allow thoughts to flow through the mind without judgment, remaining in the present moment, without dwelling on thoughts or anything within the environment.
Mindfulness meditation is modeled after the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is the practice of focusing on the present moment, accepting, but not judging the bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise. When your mind wanders during the meditation, gently return your attention to the breath.
Mantra meditation is composed of chanting mantras and meditating. A mantra is composed of a few words or syllables that can be easily repeated. When chanting mantras, the vibration can be felt in the lower belly, and each mantra has a different vibration which corresponds to your intention for the meditation. Therefore, it is important to set an intention for your meditation practice, and select an uplifting, inspiring mantra.
Qigong (chee-gong) is an ancient Chinese mind-body exercise and healing technique which consists of meditation, controlled breathing, and movement exercises. The translation of Qigong is mastery of your energy. Tai Chi is considered a form of Qigong.
Christian Meditation is a form of contemplative prayer which calls on Christians to fill their minds with God and His truth, and to increase their knowledge of Jesus’ life. This can be done through focusing and meditating on the teachings and the meaning of Biblical scriptures and their relationship to God’s love.
Guided meditation is a method using the senses of sight, sounds, smells, and textures, and images of relaxing places or situations are mentally formed. Guided meditation is led by a teacher either in person, or through audio or video media. Instructional apps are available for expert meditation guidance, or patients can participate in local in-person meditation classes in their area.
Whichever method of meditation is preferred, common features include focused attention, relaxed breathing, a quiet setting, a comfortable position, and an open attitude.
Sisters, from AARP recommends five apps which offer free content to help you meditate. The list includes: Liberate, which is the first mindfulness and meditation app geared toward people of color. It offers guided meditations, talks and Q&A sessions with meditation teachers. Insight Timer offers 40,000 free meditations from which to choose and includes talks about relaxation, charts to track your progress, and relaxation music. Calm offers limited free content through their webpage as well as an app. Calm has partnered with Samsung to bring free access to their content library which includes meditations, sleep stories and music to the TV screen. Headspace is an app which helps to improve sleep and reduce anxiety. There is a limited free version, with the option to upgrade.
The Chopra Center was founded in 1996 by Deepak MD, David Simon, MD, and is located in Carlsbad, California. The center provides events, educational opportunities, teacher certifications, workshops, and products that improve the health and well-being of the mind, body, and spirit. This is achieved through awareness of physical, emotional, and spiritual relationships, through the practices of yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. Online courses, articles, meditations, a library, and the Oprah and Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience are all available on this website.