Meditation can significantly reduce anxiety, depression, stress, pain and enhance overall well-being. This is in a spiritual, mental and physical sense.
A typical image of meditation is someone sitting in the cross-legged lotus position. But there are many ways to meditate – it’s for each individual to discover what works best for them.
Mindfulness is a popular way today. This is when someone purposely brings their attention to the present moment, just observing without any judgment.
Meditation helps us to gain emotional calm and mental clarity.
How did meditation develop?
First records of meditation – known as dhyana – are found in the Vedas Indian scriptures that are believed to have been composed between 1500 and 700 BC. Also centuries ago, meditation developed in China as part of Confucianism and Taoism as well as in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Islam.
Progressing from the 6th Century, Christian meditation involved reading passages of the Bible. This was followed by pondering on what had just been read, praying and quiet contemplation on it all.
Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) and psychologist Erich Fromm (1900-1980) were both known to have been interested in looking into meditation as a way to attain well-being.
The word “meditation” derives from the Latin word meditari, which means “to concentrate”.
How can I meditate?
Many people find meditation is best when they sit cross-legged and rest their hands on their knees. This is a position that’s believed to have a calming effect on the brain and it also helps to develop a good posture that is helpful for good breathing.
But some people find they can meditate better while lying down, walking or doing a simple task. Others find it’s best when they are doing yoga, running or swimming.
What is believed by many of those who are experienced in meditating is that meditating in a calm and still place is important. But there are some who believe meditation is quite possible and who in fact do meditate in the middle of noisy bustling city centers.
Many people who start meditation struggle as they find they just start thinking about various things they have to do or some of their worries. But experienced practitioners urge people to keep going and to simply acknowledge these thoughts as part of the meditation.
One useful way of noticing thoughts is by imagining being at a harbor and thinking of thoughts as being “thought boats” that are drifting by – without any need to board them to a destination. They are just coming and then going.
Some people find it helpful to quietly name the thoughts they become aware of while meditating. So such as: “That was a thought I had just then that I must catch the train at 9.30 this morning” or “That was a negative thought that I just had about my husband.”
Try finding a quiet and still place where you won’t be disturbed. Then try to focus on what you can see, hear and feel, such as hearing your breaths or noticing the breeze on your face. Be in the now.
It can help to pick a regular time. Thirty minutes first thing every morning is recommended by many meditation experts as the most beneficial.
One aim for those who have been meditating for some time is to be in a place where their thoughts are lessened, quietened or even gone completely. They say they are energized by relaxing and being in the present moment this way.
One method for feeling stillness inside is to focus on something in nature such as a peaceful lake or tree that is still. Other people find it’s beneficial to repeatedly say or think a certain word or phrase.
What are the benefits of meditation?
1. Increases brain power
Meditation relaxes the brain as well as the body. Norwegian and Australian researchers discovered in a 2014 study that meditation enhances areas of the brain connected to memory.
Then a Dutch study published in an academic journal on psychology called Mindfulness revealed that certain meditation methods can boost creative thinking.
2. Being in the moment
Thinking about the past often just creates regrets and the negative feelings that accompany that. Those “should have, could have” thoughts are generally not good for us as we cannot change the past.
Similarly when we go into the future in our minds it is often only likely to create negative feelings of anxiety and worry. A 2014 study from Johns Hopkins Medicine discovered that 30 minutes of meditation every day improved anxiety feelings and relieved depression too.
In general, keeping it in the now is beneficial because most of the time the present moment is absolutely fine!
3. Reduces stress
A 2012 US study found that taking part in an eight-week meditation program led to positive results on how the amygdala – a part of the brain involved with the experiencing of emotions – responded to stress. This was even when someone on the program was not actually meditating.
4. Increases empathy
In 2013, researchers from Northeastern University College of Science and Harvard University found that meditation made people more likely to understand and assist someone in need of help.
It could be because meditation increases spiritual growth and that reduces egotistical tendencies. Meditation leaves people feeling more connected to other people and nature.
5. Physical benefits
Studies have shown that the more someone meditates the better their cardiovascular health. People who meditated lowered blood pressure.
This means that as well as someone feeling fitter, meditation can lower the risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
The American Heart Association reported in 2012 that a group who took part in regular meditation were nearly 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from either.
Then a study by the American Pain Society in 2015 found that meditation is effective at reducing chronic pain. Researchers concluded that meditation has unique benefits for producing pain relief.
Meditation has also been shown to boost our immune systems. This means that illnesses are kept away more efficiently – and recovery is swifter if an illness does develop.
6. Can help beat addiction
Meditation develops self-awareness. This is important as it can help people who suffer from addiction problems become aware of triggers that may lead to them indulging in their addiction.
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