Have you thought about adding meditation to your daily routine? Here are some great benefits, different types, and some tips for preparation.
First of all, let me just clear up and state that to me meditation is not synonymous with any type religion. It is what you make it to be, and no matter what religion you are or are not, I believe it has numerous benefits for all.
So Why do we Meditate?
There are so many great reasons to meditate, and I could write a HUGE list and go into great detail with them all, but today I just want to outline a few key points:
- Meditation can enrich your life, it can give you a sense of peace and balance, a time of quiet and calm in body, mind and spirit.
- It decreases stress, anxiety, alleviates depression, boosts your immune system and in general makes you feel happier.
- Accompanied with good breathing techniques it can also help with high blood pressure, slow your heart rate, as well as help with insomnia, pain, and symptoms of asthma and allergies.
- As for your brain health, meditation can improve concentration, awareness, and acceptance.
- There have also been studies done that prove how meditation can slow the aging process, by increasing the length of telomeres, which are the little caps on your chromosomes that are indicative of biological age.
Telomeres as we age
Two of the best things about Meditation are:
- It can be done virtually anywhere. You can be alone at home, in a car on your lunch break or in a group. It takes as much time as you have and can be done for as little as 3-5 minutes or for longer, any length when practiced regularly will provide you with amazing benefits.
- It doesn’t take any special training, but like anything else in life, as a beginner you will struggle, but the more you practice the better you will become. Even as a veteran, there will be times of difficulty, but I can guarentee you the rewards are worth it.
There are many different forms of meditation. You may decide to choose your favourite and perform that one on a regular basis or mix it up and perform a different one each day. I recommend trying out different techniques and finding the one(s) that suit you best.
Here are some of my favourites:
- One point of focus - this one is the simplest and quite popular, especially for beginners. As you sit with your eyes closed, begin to breathe deeply on the inhale and accentuate the exhale, making it as long as you can. You can count in your head with different ratios of inhale to exhale (1:1, 1:2, etc.). By making your exhale as long as possible you are stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxing half of your nervous system, the opposite of your “fight or flight”. The longer you sit and the more you concentrate you will find the breath becomes natural again as you drift into stillness. Your mind will wander naturally and you need to acknowledge the thoughts that are trying to pass in and let them go, you can address them later. You can also focus on your third eye, by gently gazing half an inch above your eyebrows with your eyes closed.
- Steady or fixed gazing - instead of focusing with your eyes closed, you can now begin to concentrate your gaze towards an object, a candle in a draft free and darkened room is a great place to start. Place the object a few feet away at eye level on a table or chair. You will begin to stare at the object without blinking for a minute or so - your eyes will begin to tear. Then close your eyes gently and focus on the image that is present in your third eye space. As the image fades you can open your eyes and repeat or keep them closed and continue on in your state of meditation.
- Guided Imagery/Visualization and Body scanning - these all fall within the same category to me. With these you are focusing on an image or a specific point in the body, trying to create peace and relaxation. Guided Imagery can be done in a class or with the use of a CD, recording or app. There are many apps you can use to help you with this, search and find the one that works for you. Visualization is a technique used by many athletes, motivational speakers, and healthcare practitioners to help increase performance, get into the right mindset and alleviate ailments. Body Scanning is a great way to go through and check in with yourself and really connect your mind and body. It allows you to learn to listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you. This technique is best done while laying down or can be performed sitting up, whatever suits you and your body best.
- Chanting a mantra - Mantras are one of the most common forms of meditation, it allows your mind and body to use sound to help you focus and bring you to a state of positive peace. The most common mantras are “Om” or “Aum”, which in simplest terms is said to be the divine sound that represents the creation of life. It sends positive vibrations through the body and allows a sense of calm tranquility to wash over the body every time you say it. You can say anything you like, set an intention or mood for your day. It can be as simple as repeating “peace, positivity, passion”, or “live, laugh, love”.
These are just a few forms of meditation. I often do a walking meditation with my dog as well. As we walk I focus on staying in the present moment and noticing all the things going on around me - the smells, the sights and the sounds. It is very calming and allows me to get my head away from the stress that can build up through the day.
Lastly let me go over 7 ways you can prepare for meditation:
- Find a nice quiet area that you can designate as your meditation space. The good thing is that it doesn’t have to be a big space, just enough for you to sit comfortably on a cushion.
- Make it free of clutter, away from electronics (EMR - electro magnetic radiation) and cold drafts. A place where you can create positive energy, you can set up candles, pictures, statues, whatever you want to create this space and make it yours.
- Some experts will say that if you’re trying to make your experience authentic, you want to face East or North to take advantage of the most favourable electromagnetic current. In my opinion as long as you have a regular meditation practice, it doesn’t matter which way you face.
- Try and set the same time of day to do your meditation. As with any routine or habit, if you have a set time, that not only you, but your family knows is “your time” it will become a part of your healthy lifestyle.
- When you are ready, make sure you sit comfortably using a cushion, especially if you are a beginner. You want to find the position that works best for you, which as a beginner may be laying on your back to start. If you are able to sit, cross-legged or in siddhasana, drawing one heel into the perineum, while having the other pulled directly in front. If your knees don’t relax down, you can add blankets or cushions underneath to gently support them. Make sure that the crown of your head is extending towards the ceiling and your spine is long and straight, but not tense. Your ears are directly over your shoulders, which should be relaxed, and your shoulders over your hips. Keep your chin parallel to the floor, it tends to want to lift up through your practice (or at least mine does), so try and keep it relaxed and parallel.
- You will want to focus your mind and breathe deeply to start trying to calm your mind. As I said above your internal gaze can be directed towards your third eye, which is between your eyebrows about half an inch up. From here you can set your intention or concentration on one thing and begin to focus on it.
- One of the key elements in meditation is being able to keep your focus internal while the external world is going on around you. This can be a challenge, especially since the outer world of dogs, kids, spouse and the environment doesn’t stop because you are meditating. You will begin to learn how to stay in the moment and let the external distractions melt away and become distant.
Now I hope you have a better understanding of the power of meditation and the importance of making time for it in your daily routine.
Buddhist Centre - for more on meditation they have lots of great info here
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