History of Meditation
Today’s culture might not have invented meditation, but we seem to have cornered the market on meditative styles. From yoga to Autogenic Training, methods of meditation have become a booming business in the Western world.
Professional trainers and physicians alike tout the benefits of relaxation and meditation. Finding an instructor to teach you this art is easy, finding the origins of meditation is not quite as straightforward.
The practice of meditation dates back to ancient times. Early recorded history shows evidence of Taoist meditative techniques practiced in China as early as the 6th century BC.
Almost as early as 4000 BC, Hindu holy books like the Vedas emphasized meditation as the road to enlightenment.
It is through the Buddhist writings that meditation reaches a wider audience. Buddhist teachings spread across the Asian continent and around 500 BC, meditation became an essential part of virtually every Asian culture.
During the Middle Ages, meditation appeared in texts relative to Judaism and Christianity. Biblical references to meditation appear in the Old Testament. Both Genesis and the Book of Joshua encourage sacred scripts or prayers.
The Islamic practices of remembrance or recollection called Dhikr, chronicle specific postures, and breathing techniques as well as repetitious phrases.
The combination of these postures and phrases are meant to create a connection with the universe and God. In many religions, meditation is a crucial part of feeling a closeness to God.
The oldest known writings of almost any culture that you might imagine, mention some form of meditation. Although most meditative techniques come from religious works, there are nonreligious styles of meditation, as well.
Later in history, especially in the 19th century, meditation became a more intellectual pursuit.
Rather than encouraging a person to reach a state of commune with God, the meditations sought oneness with the universe. This type of meditation stemmed mainly from Buddhist practices but became quite extensive in martial arts.
Increasing the power and concentration of a participant is the aim of meditation in martial art forms such as karate and judo. Many classes began with a brief period of meditation involving no particular religious preference.
This style of meditation is directly descended from the Buddhist practices of centuries ago. The Asian influence on modern martial arts programs remains strong to this day.
Although meditation comes from ancient people, today’s practices have evolved in a huge way. Since the 1890s, yoga and Transcendental Meditation continue to remain popular. Physicians in many medical disciplines use meditation as a technique to combat disease.
More recently, guided meditation has become increasingly important in cancer recovery and in overcoming addiction.
From the ancient Vedas texts to modern ashrams, meditation has been and continues to be an important part of human culture.
Across the world, people of all cultures enjoy the benefits of meditation. Internet websites devoted to meditation help to bring these ancient practices to the masses.
Purpose of Meditation
Meditation is a word that has many different meanings. Depending on your culture, religion or even the type of exercise you prefer, meditation might be essential to your life.
Finding yourself at a point in your life where you feel restless or unfulfilled, might lead you to meditation.
Whatever the reason, meditation has a purpose for you.
When beginning a meditation program, the most crucial decision to make is deciding what you want to gain from the program. Choosing to meditate might mean that you wish to control your waking mind or to still restless thoughts.
There is a large variety of benefits to any form of meditation you choose. Some of these benefits might really surprise you.
Meditation calms the mind. It allows a person to focus their conscious thoughts on a single purpose. Often, chanting a phrase or word allows a person to push all other thoughts from their mind. This opens the mind to new ideas.
Meditation intensifies the power of concentration within your mind and body. It actually works to still the body and separate a person from the rest of the world. Certain forms of meditation are used to find the answer to a nagging problem.
Focusing the entire mind on a single thought can free it from the constraints of normal interference from the outside world. There is no way to turn off the sounds of the world around you but with meditation, they can be temporarily softened.
Meditation can also be used to open the mind to the outside world. When a person feels disconnected from their life or their family, meditation can bring that connection back to them.
There are forms of meditation that strive to connect the unconscious mind to the entire universe.
The idea is to push all ordinary and mundane thoughts from the mind.
Once these thoughts are moved out of the brain, fresh new ideas and comforting thoughts can flow into the mind.
Many forms of meditation are meant to strengthen the link between the body and the mind. During this type of meditation, called waking mindfulness, a person is focused only on what she feels inside her own body.
Breathing and heart rate are slowed during this program.
Often, lowered blood pressure and heart rate lead to a healthier body. Meditation is used as a part of the healing process for many acute diseases, including cancers.
Kindness meditation or external meditation is a form of meditation that focuses all of the energy derived from the exercise, toward another person. The purpose of this type of concentration is to give a gift of peacefulness and joy to a person other than yourself.
During this type of meditation, the person reaches beyond herself into the consciousness of another person; allowing her energy to flow into another person.
Whether meditation is completed for yourself or with another person, the purpose of meditation is always the same. It allows you to separate yourself from the mundane and try to enter a higher state of control and relaxation.
Forms of Meditation
There are so many different types of meditation that a person might have to meditate on the choices. Getting confused about meditation is not uncommon.
The amazing thing about meditation is that no matter which style you choose, you are likely to fulfill your goals.
Each meditation has its own benefit, but most people achieve the same end result; a more relaxed and stress-free state of mind.
- Mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular styles of meditation. Practiced by Buddhist monks, mindfulness meditation allows you to focus on the world around you. This practice is about being aware of your feelings and thoughts but making no judgment on them. It includes a way of exploring the world around you, including the people around you, without allowing those explorations to affect you. Mindfulness meditation is used to connect the meditating person to her world without focusing on any particular situation. It gives a free-floating overview of what is happening around you.
- Breath watching or breathing meditation is a form of focused meditation. In this practice, a person is aware of only her own breath. She concentrates her entire conscious mind on nothing but the movement of air within her body. This meditation is deeply internal and is often used to solve a stressful situation or problem. Breathing meditation is one of the simplest forms of meditation and is easily learned.
- Walking meditation is similar to breathing meditation. The difference is that all focus is on the movement of the body during walking. A person is focused on her own footfalls and breath as she moves down a walking path. This meditation can be practiced while pacing or on a walk around the neighborhood.
- Guided meditation is often practiced in groups of people. A guide or teacher uses her voice to help focus on the meditation process. This guide might use words or phrases repeated several times to still the conscious mind. Soothing sounds like ocean waves or a babbling brook can also be incorporated into a guided meditation. Audiotapes are another form of guided meditation.
- Vibrational meditation uses a sound or word to focus your unconscious mind. The word or sound vibrates through the body as it passes from the mind to the mouth. The thought processes are focused only on the movement of the sound or word. Vibrational meditation is similar to Transcendental meditation.
- Transcendental meditation is meditation guided by a chant or series of words. During Transcendental meditation, a person repeats a mantra or chant many times. The chant can be silent or might be repeated aloud. This meditation is most useful for people who are easily distracted by outside noises or movement. Concentrating on an actual phrase is slightly easier than completely emptying the mind.
Each form of meditation allows the body and mind to reconnect. They calm the mind while increasing mental acuity. Meditation, no matter what the style, is an essential part of stress reduction.
How to Meditate
There are several different styles of meditation. Each style involves choosing postures, phrases or exercises to achieve your meditation goals.
Learning a few of these meditation techniques can provide you with a tool to manage the stress in your life.
Meditation is an excellent way to decrease stressful reactions within the body. Achieving a meditative state can actually lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Controlling your body is an essential part of reaching goals using meditation.
The easiest way to begin meditation is by choosing a simple style of meditation. Breathing meditations are the first form chosen by instructors for new students of the practice.
To begin a breathing meditation, first find an empty room.
Choose a room that does not have distractions, such as a bedroom or den.
Close the door of the room to prevent family members or friends from interrupting your meditation.
Dim the lights slightly or close the window blinds to further reduce distractions.
Choose a comfortable chair or sit cross-legged on the floor to begin meditating. Make sure that you are able to keep your spine straight. This is crucial because slouching can cause you to become sleepy or sluggish.
Close your eyes without pressing the lids together too tightly.
Inhale through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.
Part your lips just slightly, so that air passes easily from your mouth.
Concentrate fully on your breathing. Hear the air moving from outside of your body into your nose.
Feel the air moving down your trachea and into your lungs.
Sense the temperature difference as the external air enters your body. Feel your lungs fill and expand. Feel the air begin to warm within your body. Concentrate on the warmth of the air as it passes out of your mouth.
Focus entirely on the movement of your breath and do not allow your mind to wander. Resist any thoughts of anything other than your own breath.
Once you have calmed your mind with this breathing meditation, remain in the calm state for several minutes.
A deep contentment and happiness will begin to well up from your body. This happiness is a benefit of breathing meditation. The same happiness and contentment will allow you to begin to focus your mind on one single thought.
Choose a stress point in your body or question that has been bothering you. Use the same focus that allowed you to concentrate on your breathing to pinpoint your question. Feel the question in your mind. See the words and treat them as you treated your breath.
Follow the question as it enters your mind and heart. Repeat the question or object of stress over and over in your mind. You might say the words softly while you meditate.
You may also use a prayer or mantra for this part of your meditation. Allow your body and mind to focus completely on your question.
The ability to properly meditate will take practice.
Give yourself plenty of time to learn meditative techniques and to enjoy the results.
Meditation for Stress
In today’s world of high-stress jobs and busy lives, meditation might seem like an outdated practice. With thousands of years of human history behind it, meditation has remained a part of most cultures.
It often seems that cultures lacking the skills required to meditate are the most damaged by disease. Regular exercise including meditation leads to a healthy mind and body.
Because the human body is designed to run or fight when exposed to stress, we are often in a state of anxiety. We have moved out of the caves and built homes for ourselves, but those ancient instincts of flight or fight are still within us.
Unfortunately, these instincts that served us well thousands of years ago, are causing untold damage to our bodies today. Without the relief that comes with ending a stressful situation by running away or fighting, the human body carries stress instead of expelling it.
Meditation and exercise are fabulous ways to lift the stress out of your body and allow yourself to find peace.
In the same way that exercise strengthens and relaxes the body, meditation strengthens and relaxes the mind. Using meditation is again similar to exercise in that the more you meditate, the better your mind becomes at solving problems like coping with stress.
Meditation has been shown to provide relaxation and stress-relief similar to a medication when correctly applied to stressful situations. The problem with meditation is that, like exercising, many people claim to have little time to meditate.
A person who is trained in proper meditation techniques is armed with a tool that provides immediate slowing of heart rate and lowering of blood pressure.
This calms the body while allowing the mind to focus on the stresses that are overwhelming it.
The practice of meditation creates a body that ages more slowly than the average body. The lowering of blood pressure and heart rate adds to physical longevity.
Meditation also corrects the cortisol levels within the body. This hormone is responsible for feelings of anxiety and pressure. A lower level of cortisol along with a lower heart rate is the outcome for immediate meditation during a stressful event.
Once you become adept at using meditation for stressful situations, it actually improves the way your body deals with chronic stress.
Because you have control over immediate stress, your body is less likely to react strongly to new stressful events.
True meditation allows the mind to enter a state called an “alpha” state. This is similar to the state of mind experienced when sleeping deeply.
During this alpha state, the mind is able to reset itself and approach problems from new angles.
Similar to having a really good nap, ten minutes of meditation will refresh the mind. It increases wakefulness while relieving the stress of everyday life.
Taking ten minutes to meditate during an eventful day can stop your body from reacting negatively to the stress.
Meditation is a useful addition to any lifestyle as it can ease the negative impact of life’s stressors.