Meditation

Practice mastering the power of your attention to cultivate inner calm

How can meditation nourish your soul?

Meditation is a very broad term that encompasses diverse practices whose common goal is to develop a peaceful, serene state of mind and clarity of thought. There are so many different styles and varieties of meditation that classifying them can be a difficult task. One approach involves grouping them according to practices that have a spiritual basis or goal, techniques that involve concentrating your attention on a particular subject, and methods that involve observation of the present moment

Meditation can involve developing control over your thoughts, for example by intentionally letting go of thoughts that cause you distress, or learning to attain a state of conscious awareness that is free of thoughts altogether. Some forms of meditation are practised in a specific pose, such as the lotus position, some people meditate while lying down, while others practise walking, dancing, or chanting meditations.

The many meditation methods that exist today originate from ancient times, with the earliest written documentation of meditative practices being dated approximately 1500BCE. The Vipassana meditation technique is claimed to have been taught by Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, around the fifth century BCE. In China, there are documents describing meditation techniques dating back to the Warring States period, about 400BCE.

Today, meditation is often practised independently of paths to spirituality or enlightenment. In this context, meditation can simply be an effective way of improving conscious control over your awareness and ultimately enjoying greater peace and happiness. There is no single ‘best meditation’ for everyone, but some of the more popular varieties include:

  • Guided visualisation

  • Mantra meditation

  • Mindfulness meditation

  • Movement-based meditation

  • Relaxation meditation

  • Transcendental Meditation®

Benefits of meditation

There is a wealth of academic evidence suggesting that mindfulness meditation may significantly reduce stress, improve focus, increase emotional stability and even have benefits for working memory capacity. It has been reported that a variety of meditation techniques may reduce symptoms of anxiety, and that mindfulness training may be more effective than other methods to help people stop smoking.

Meditation has been found to physically affect the structure of the brain, with potential benefits ranging from an improvement in perceived mood and psychological wellbeing, to a reduction in the deterioration of grey matter as people age

Mindfulness meditation has been reported to reduce the perception of pain in clinical trials, and may have a “substantial therapeutic effect” for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. One meta-analysis even suggests meditation may improve quality of life for asthma patients, although further research is recommended.

Meditation can assist in relieving symptoms related to:

  • Addictions
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Asthma
  • Blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Clarity/Focus
  • Concentration
  • Creativity
  • Depression
  • Happiness
  • Headaches
  • Heart conditions
  • Immunity
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Mental health
  • Pain relief
  • Self-awareness
  • Sleep Issues
  • Stress management
  • Tension relief

What to expect from a meditation session

It might take a bit of exploration and experimentation before you find the best meditation techniques to suit your needs. Since meditation is such a general umbrella term, trying to outline what to expect from a typical session is a bit like describing a typical session of sport. Nevertheless, it is possible to mention several common features that many forms of meditation share.

With the exception of movement-based meditation methods, you will begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and physically relaxing your body. Your meditation teacher will quietly give you instructions to guide you through the relaxation process, then invite you to bring your awareness to a focal point such as your breathing. A mindfulness meditation might then include simply observing your thoughts without judgement. 

During a guided visualisation, your instructor will describe a scene or situation, such as a beach setting or a sunny meadow, inspiring you to use your imagination. If you are practising movement meditation, such as a walking meditation, the motions will often be flowing, relaxed and repetitive. Mantra-based meditation may involve chanting aloud, or in the case of Transcendental Meditation®, the repetition of a mantra or series of words carefully selected by your instructor.

Although adverse effects from meditation are relatively rare, it is still advisable to consult your medical professional before commencing, for example if you have an existing health condition. If you have any concerns about whether meditation is suitable for you, also speak to your instructor, who will be happy to address these and explore the option of tailoring the session to your individual requirements. 

References

Meditation Association of Australia | meditationaustralia.org.au

Purpose of meditation | thehindu.com

The Types and Benefits of Meditation | verywellmind.com

What Is Mindfulness? | Greater Good Magazine

The State of No Thought | lifebeginner.com

How To Do Movement Meditation | doyouyoga.com

The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting | Nature

Meditation History | news-medical.net

What exactly is Vipassana, the meditation technique President Kovind swears by? | indiatoday.in

The History and Origin of Meditation | positivepsychology.com

What is meditation? | The International Meditation Teachers Association

What are the benefits of mindfulness? | American Psychology Association

Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review | Depression & Anxiety

Mindfulness Training for Smoking Cessation | Drug and Alcohol Dependence

Change in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention | Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy | Frontiers in Psychology

Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia | The Journal of Neuroscience

Mindfulness Training Reduces the Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome | The American Journal of Gastroenterology

Meditation for Asthma: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis | Journal of Asthma

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation | psychologytoday.com

Guided Visualization: A Way to Relax, Reduce Stress, and More! | psychcentral.com

Walking Meditation | Greater Good Science Center

What is Transcendental Meditation? | tmhome.com

Is there a negative side of meditation? | Public Library of Science