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You have probably encountered meditation at some point in your life. Maybe you heard about it through a friend, on social media or even tried it yourself. Not surprisingly, meditation is gaining popularity around the world. Often renowned for its numerous health benefits, meditation has so much to offer. In order to fully understand the story of meditation, it is important to unpack its rich past, modern practice, and the health benefits.

Meditation Session Photo by Will Pagel on Unsplash
Photo by Will Pagel on Unsplash

“As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise, you will miss most of your life.”

Buddha

What is Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of awareness. This practice can come in many forms. Most techniques involve picking an object of focus and training the mind to maintain awareness of that object. The most common object of focus is the breath. Many techniques involve sitting and just watching the breath. If you have ever tried this then you probably know it is much harder than it sounds. Like most people, my mind is incredibly busy racing with thoughts. Often, when I try to meditate, my thoughts pull me away from my breath and take over my focus. This is one of the challenges of meditation. Experts are able to quiet their mind and focus on their breath for extended periods of time. This leads to a calm feeling both during the session and after it has ended. 

Meditation on a Mountain Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash
Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

When you think of meditation, you probably imagine a robed figure sitting cross legged under a tree. Though meditation did originate under similar circumstances, it is also so much more than that. Despite the growing popularity of meditation, studies about its actual health benefits are limited. However, a regular practice can reduce stress, improve emotional balance, and increase focus.     

History 

Many cultures and religions have adopted some form of meditation in-to their practices. It would take far too long to list all of those cultures here. Nonetheless, below is a brief overview of Buddhist meditation.  

Buddhist Meditation 

Arguably, the most famous culture involving meditation is Buddhism. This is because Buddhism is based on the wise teachings of a man who learned all of his wisdom from meditation. This man’s name was Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha). The story of the Buddha can help frame our understanding of meditation.

More than 2000 years ago Siddhartha was born in Nepal as the son of a king. He lived in a beautiful palace where life was easy. His family was rich so he was never hungry, uncomfortable, or sad. In other words, Siddhartha knew nothing of suffering. 

Buddha Photo by wilsan u on Unsplash
Photo by wilsan u on Unsplash

One day, prince Siddhartha journeyed outside of his protected palace and encountered suffering in several forms. He saw a sickly person, an old person, and the corpse of a dead person. Since the prince had never witnessed anything like this before, he was deeply moved by his first experience of suffering. Immediately after, Siddhartha left behind his kingdom to pursue an end to this suffering. He tried many different methods including fasting and self-harm to end suffering. Unfortunately, none of these were an effective remedy.

Eventually, frustrated and almost defeated, Siddhartha sat under a tree. Then, he closed his eyes and decided that he wasn’t going to move until he had an answer. Legend has it that Siddhartha sat beneath the tree for many days. Finally, he achieved enlightenment or awakening. After achieving this heightened state of awareness, Siddhartha earned the name “Buddha” or “Awakened one”. He spent the rest of his life passing his teachings on to his students. In Buddhist culture, enlightenment and the end of human suffering is the ultimate goal.

How to Meditate

You may not feel comfortable adopting all of the beliefs and teachings behind Buddhist culture. It is associated with many overarching concepts that make it more than just a meditation practice. Perhaps you are just interested in learning how to meditate. Below are instructions for an easy technique. You can do this at home without having to go to a monastery.

First, find a quiet room where you won’t be too distracted. If you are comfortable sitting on the floor then you can do so. You can also use a chair. Sitting during meditation is all about keeping your back straight. As long as your back is straight and you aren’t lying down, any form of upright seated position will work. Once you have found a comfortable seated position, close your eyes. Next, focus on your breathing. Sometimes it helps to pick a body part that is involved in breathing as a point of focus. Personally, I like to hone in on my belly button and watch it rise and fall. Either way, the goal is to maintain awareness of your breath. Do this for as long as you can.

You will find that your mind drifts and you begin to lose focus on your breath. Inevitably, thoughts will take over. When this happens, don’t get frustrated. Just gently bring yourself back to your breath. I typically like to do this for 10 minutes per day. After practicing consistently, you will become better at staying focused on your breathing. You may even start to feel more balanced when you aren’t meditating. 

Types of Meditation

Additionally, there are many other techniques that offer a different experience. 

Moving Meditation

Even though most meditation is done sitting still, there are some forms where the object of focus is movement. Some of these include Tai Chi, QIgong, and Yoga. In addition to having all of the same benefits of sitting meditation, moving meditation has the added health perks of exercise. 

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a word that is often paired with meditation. It can also be used as a way to differentiate between meditating to increase awareness and other forms of meditation such as repeating mantras or prayer meditation. Mindfulness is a useful word because its meaning captures the purpose of meditation. When meditating for awareness, your aim is to be mindful of something. Whether that something is the experience of eating a raisin, the act of sweeping a dirty floor, or your breathing, mindfulness means being present in the moment. Further, mindfulness has even been extended to encompass a way of life. To live mindfully is to be grounded in the present moment so as to enhance your experience of life overall. 

Buddhist Meditation

Buddhist meditation is one of the most popular types. Buddhism is an ancient way of life that has been around for centuries. It offers a guide that shows it’s students how to achieve lasting peace. There are many different schools of thought within the Buddhist community. They differ in their interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings. However, all of these schools of thought will give you some insight in-to the experiences you may encounter when you meditate. Buddhist texts can be a useful map that helps you to understand your own mind. You can use them to get the most out of your practice.   

Notable People

The people listed below have played a part in modernizing meditation.

  • Eckhart Tolle
    • Author of “The Power of Now”: a groundbreaking radical book about what it means to truly live in the moment. Eckhart Tolle takes us on his journey from near suicidal depression to his awakening. He gives an honest account of obstacles that prevent us from achieving present moment awareness. If you are brave and disciplined enough to face these obstacles, Eckhart even claims that he can lead readers to an awakening of their own.
  • Dan Harris
    • Author of “10% Happier”. Dan Harris is a famous reporter who struggled with anxiety and drug abuse on his path to fame. In his book he tells his story about how meditation helped him to overcome some of these challenges. He argues that enlightenment and indefinite happiness are unrealistic outcomes to expect from meditation. However, consistent practice can lead to a 10% increase in happiness.
  • Andy Puddicombe
    • Andy Puddicombe is the Author and Founder of “Headspace”. Headspace began as a book about Andy’s personal experience with meditation. He actually learned about meditation as a Buddhist monk. He stopped his study as a monk to bring meditation to the West without all of the mysticism. Headspace transformed in to a large company that is mainly sustained on subscriptions to their app.   

Benefits

Please see below for a list of some of the many benefits of meditation (The link beneath each benefit is a study where you can find more information):

Conclusion

Hopefully this article helped introduce you to meditation. I encourage you to try meditating for at least five minutes per day. If you do this for about a month, you might start to see what all of the hype is about. Please leave a comment below with any questions you may have about meditating.

References