July 18, 2024
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How To Meditate, According To Experts

Meditation is an ancient practice found in cultures and religions all over the world. It’s described as “an exercise of consciousness that results in the expansion of consciousness beyond the day-to-day experience of duality” in the scientific journal AYU. The practice may reduce stress and bring “increased creativity and efficiency to the functioning of the inner faculty,” according to the researchers, and it “occurs without the mind directing the process.” If you’re interested in trying it, setting aside a few minutes a day can make a big impact on your quality of life.

Dr. Deepak Chopra, a pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation in Carlsbad, California, as well as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and Chopra Global, explains the benefits of meditation and how you implement the practice into your routine.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a technique designed to train the mind to concentrate differently. It is a conscious attempt to focus while limiting irrational, negative or perpetual thoughts. It can be a spiritual or therapeutic practice, and learning to regulate your mind, body and breath can have long-lasting advantages for your mental health and daily life. Meditating can even help you access a deeper state of self-awareness, calm and positivity.

According to Dr. Chopra, “the process is a type of “meta-cognition and reflective inquiry.” This method of observing the self may be “very profound and very deepening,” he says.

The benefits of meditation are well-documented. One study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine details the upsides of an eight-week meditation program and how it positively impacted the work environment, stress, anxiety and depressed mood of full-time workers. This study followed over 150 participants for the course of eight weeks, who were instructed to meditate for 20 minutes, twice daily, at home, as well as practice an hour-long session twice weekly, plus attend instructional sessions and questionnaires. Assessments were performed initially and at the conclusion of the trial period and major improvements were noted in the categories of occupational stress and depressive symptoms.

Another study in the Journal of Human Hypertension followed participants for 20 weeks and noted lower levels of ambulatory blood pressure, improved mood and fewer feelings of depression. The trial consisted of training for two hours per week on mindfulness, meditation and health education, with an initial intervention and follow-ups at four-, eight- and 20 weeks. Not only did the participants have clinically lower blood pressure, but measured improvements in being less judgemental, more accepting and less depressed.

Who Is a Candidate For Meditation?

Meditation is an activity most people can try. “Anyone can do this, even children under the age of five,” says Dr. Chopra. “If they are able to sit still and not speak for about five minutes, they, too, can experience inner stillness.”

It may seem challenging at first for some, but practice and consistency are all you need. Experimenting with various meditation types can help you find what resonates.

8 Types of Meditation

The types of meditation vary depending upon your end goal, the object of focus, even if you stay silent or use your voice. Meditation can be a scheduled, dedicated practice built into your day or more casually woven into experiences of daily life, such as walking or washing the dishes.

There are “hundreds, if not tens of thousands of techniques of meditation,” notes Dr. Chopra. He adds that what they all have in common is, “meta-cognition, the act of observing yourself and cultivating an experience of self without judgment.”

Dr. Chopra does not necessarily subscribe to a specific type of meditation, but more of a formula consisting of observation and awareness to help raise consciousness.

Listed below are a few main types of meditation.

  • Breath Meditation. This is often seen as the most basic form of meditation. It focuses on breathing and can be practiced alone, in conjunction with other techniques, and done while sitting still, laying down or moving.
  • Mindfulness Meditation. This technique is not about thought suppression, but awareness of thoughts, and sensation of thinking and being.
  • Sound Meditation. Often the use of music, gongs or crystal bowls are utilized to help focus the mind. Attention is brought to the sounds and breath.
  • Walking/Movement Meditation. Focus is brought into the act of walking and awareness of movement. This method can extend to dancing or yoga, and breath meditation can be combined with it.
  • Mantra/Chanting Meditation. This is a practice in which a single word, sound or phrase is repeated to help focus the mind.
  • Focused Meditation: Undivided attention is cultivated on a particular object, such as a candle flame.
  • Metta/Loving-Kindness Meditation: Focus is placed on cultivation of self-love and compassion for ourselves and others.
  • Vipassana/Insight meditation: Originating from the Buddhist religion, focus is placed on sensations as they arise within the body, without trying to change or fix things—just observing.

How to Create a Simple Meditation Routine

Consistency is key when it comes to meditation. It is important to try to add these practices into your routine, as benefits can be found even within a few minutes each day.

“Take short breaks during the day, which could last anywhere from two minutes to five minutes, to simply observe the breath or bodily sensations without any interpretation,” says Dr. Chopra.

He suggests following what he calls the “STOP” formula, which could be very beneficial in stressful moments or moments of conflict, and a great way to press the pause button and help break the circuit of stress. This may be a great starting point for beginners, he adds.

  • S. Stop whatever you’re doing.
  • T. Take three deep breaths and smile from your head to your toes. Letting every part of your body theoretically smile allows a sense of calmness to wash over you.
  • O. Observe your breath for however long is comfortable.
  • P. Proceed with awareness and compassion. Express these feelings throughout your day.

What Should I Do If My Mind Wanders?

First, don’t worry. Thinking and wandering are natural states of the mind. Meditation revolves around the idea of continually, and with compassion to yourself, bringing your mind back to the object of focus. “Ultimately the goal is not trying to get somewhere, but living always with your identity in the present moment, which is the most creative moment,” says Dr. Chopra.

How Do I Know If Meditation Worked?

Self-awareness is a huge part of the process. It’s important to check in with yourself before, and especially after, meditation. You can ask questions like, “How do I feel?” “Am I sleeping better?” “Am I less reactive?” “Do I have fewer negative thoughts?” Often, after practicing meditation, people will feel a bit more calm and aware. “Meditation is no longer something that you do, it is something you become,” adds Dr. Chopra.

“The effects of meditation are usually not experienced in the beginning,” he says. Instead, “they are experienced outside of meditation.” Changes may arise in areas of future self-observation, as one may feel more relaxed, less melodramatic, get better sleep and feel more overall at peace.

What Are the Benefits—and Drawbacks—of Meditation?

Meditation is known for a plethora of benefits that can impact people in almost all stages of life. It can be utilized in workplaces, schools and even hospitals. Here are some notable benefits:

  • Stress and anxiety reduction
  • May promote healthier sleep
  • May improves focus, memory and ability to learn
  • Can promote more creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Could decrease pain awareness
  • May improve immune function

On the other hand, potential drawbacks may include:

  • Repetitive negative thinking, anxiety or distorted emotions stemming from following certain threads of thought too deeply instead of not coming back to the object of focus
  • Feelings of dissociation,  such as entering into an ambiguous state of being
  • Pain or discomfort while sitting

Consult a health care provider if any of these side effects persist.

Where to Find Help Getting Started With Meditation

Often, starting to meditate or creating an ongoing meditation practice can feel overwhelming. People may question if they are doing it right or hesitate to try out of fear of not knowing how.

There are many talented and dedicated meditation practitioners to help you get started. Seek out a professional with a background in meditation, explore a few types and find a style that resonates with you. Many university programs also have meditation centers, classes or other resources. You may even encounter snippets of meditation within a yoga class.

There are also resources online. You can download audio meditations to help you stay on course, or look into other programs that offer meditation apps, which come with a variety of options from sleep practices to gentle music to guided sessions to help you achieve calmness.

When to See a Doctor

Anxiety, stress and depression can be serious mental health concerns, and you should never hesitate to reach out to a health care provider for professional help. While adding a meditation practice to your routine can certainly benefit both your body and mind, sometimes further treatment—such as therapy or medication—may be warranted.

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