Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits & Beginner’s How-to

Why and how to meditate

Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. But many meditation techniques exist. So how do you learn how to meditate?

“In Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activity, not a single thing,” University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., told The New York Times. And different meditative practices require different mental skills.

It’s extremely difficult for a beginner to sit for hours and think of nothing or have an “empty mind.” But in general, the easiest way to begin meditating is by focusing on the breath — an example of one of the most common approaches to meditation: concentration.

Muse: the brain sensing headband

Concentration meditation

A concentrative meditation technique involves focusing on a single point. This could entail watching the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong or counting beads on a rosary. Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations.

In this form of meditation, you simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, you simply let them go. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation technique encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.

Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge experience as “good” or “bad” (“pleasant” or “unpleasant”). With practice, an inner balance develops.

In some schools of meditation, students practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.

Other meditation techniques

There are various other meditation techniques. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. There are also moving meditations techniques, such as tai chi, chi kung and walking meditation.

Benefits of meditation

If relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is often one result of it. Back in the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term the relaxation response after conducting research on people who practiced transcendental meditation. The relaxation response, in Benson’s words, is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”

Since then, studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:

  • lower blood pressure
  • improved blood circulation
  • lower heart rate
  • less perspiration
  • slower respiratory rate
  • less anxiety
  • lower blood cortisol levels
  • more feelings of well-being
  • less stress
  • deeper relaxation

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. Yet it is worth repeating that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits. To put it as an Eastern philosopher might say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It is simply to be present.

In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated, or “enlightened,” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calmness of mind and sense of inner balance.

How to meditate: Simple meditation for beginners

This meditation exercise is an excellent introduction to meditation techniques.

1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair.

2. Close your eyes.

3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.

4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage and belly. Make no effort to control your breath; simply focus your attention. If your mind wanders, simply return your focus back to your breath. Maintain this meditation practice for 2–3 minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.

Get your Zen on! Watch meditation videos on GaiamTV.com.


Republished courtesy of Inner IDEA.

 

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Comments

Christon Sizile...
Christon Sizile Mnisi's picture
User offline. Last seen 1 year 24 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 11/09/2014

Through meditation, have you had any astral projection/OBE's?

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Relax shoulders, relax back muscle. Relax neck and face muscle. Slowly relax mind. Aware of the pain of sitting and let it go or adjust body sitting position comfortably.
If feeling sleepy, slightly open your eyes look down about a yard ahead.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

I'm a beginner with a lot of stress and evil spirits surrounded me I frequently go to the gym and watch what I eat and I'm really interested on focusing meditation what steps should I take to better help me with my meditation process

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Maybe that's more likely to be for those who are born with this ability

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Remember and recite the name of God with same intensity as child calling his mother when in pain or happy or when hungry or want to share some intimate secret. Do this for 10 minutes in the morning and you do not have to do any meditation, concentration.
Talk to God ask for forgiveness and,if necessary, fight with him. BUT always remember Him.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

I agree with this as long as people replace the word "God" with the word "Science". Thank science that we have our health.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Meditation is healthier for the body and mind than screaming the name of the unknown. That's common sense and it's been proven scientifically.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Concentrate on nose tips while breathing. do this for some days and see the changes.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

Remember, God does not exist in Buddhist philosophy because it is we who are responsible for our own suffering and only by training our minds or spirit of you will, we can remove ourselves from the struggle. There is no point in asking gods we never met for favors or pretend to be a pleading child to get through life.

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture

im an IT professional im just sitting all day with my pc how do this for me

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