We live in stressful times. In the past twelve months, anxiety levels have been collectively on the rise. This year, we have lived through many historical moments, from the pandemic and the election to protests and natural disasters. What if we told you that there is a free way to escape and mitigate it all that is accessible to any and every person? Would you be relieved? Luckily, there is a way that you can interrupt negative thought patterns, calm anxiety, and release stress. It is called meditation! Read on to learn more about what it is, the benefits, and how to get started!
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
To understand the many benefits of meditation, we must first have an understanding of what it is. Most people have a mental image of someone sitting cross-legged with their thumb and forefingers adjoined and palms facing up on their knees. But what is going on in that mental image? (And by the way, there are many, many ways to meditate in that position.)
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, meditation can be defined as an intransitive verb, meaning, “1: to engage in contemplation or reflection. He meditated long and hard before announcing his decision. 2: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”
While the definition uses the term “mental exercise,” we would argue that meditation is quite the contrary. Meditation is more so a means to relax, quiet the mind and allow the many layers of chatter that are part of our existence to come to rest. In our day-to-day lives, we live through the details, the constant hustle and bustle, and the systematic crossing off of our daily to-do lists. While it is essential to be pro-active, productive, and efficient in our lives, it is easy to be caught up in the drama of the details. We can get so wrapped up in being task-driven that we almost become servants to external forces.
With meditation, you can consciously silence the external layers of yourself and your thoughts, carefully and one by one. You can focus your awareness from the exterior inward to the many layers of yourself. Yoga teaches us that there are five layers of self in every person. These are known as sheaths, or “kosas.” They range from our body (where we experience physical sensations) to our innermost spiritual beings (where we may experience inner joy and peace and connectivity to a greater power or life force.) If you are interested in developing a yoga practice, consider booking a Yoga Physical Therapy session with one of our Yoga Physical Therapists.
While a meditative state is typically achieved by relaxation and silencing of the mind, that is not to say that it is easy. AT ALL. In this day in age, turning off the chatter is possibly more complicated than it ever has been. On top of our responsibilities, we (as a species) are addicted to our devices, social networking, and the notion that we need to broadcast our lives to validate them. (Hello millennials, we see you.) When you pair all of that with having jobs, careers, families, and social lives, the chatter is LOUD. So, while the definition uses the words “mental exercise,” we believe it implies mental discipline. It takes a lot of practice and discipline to let go of everything going on in your life and allow your awareness to turn to the spiritual core of your being. Even more so, it takes a whole lot of discipline to stay in that state.
THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION
Because meditation allows you to connect with the most spiritual and sacred layer of yourself, the benefits transcend the moments you spend in a meditative state. Having that self-awareness will positively impact every aspect of your life. First and foremost, meditation is a fantastic way to mitigate stress. The more time you spend being fully present in the moment, wherever and whenever you are, the less time and energy you will devote to dwelling on issues or stewing in anxiety around, “what ifs?”
You may also find that meditation is potent in boosting your imagination and creativity. When you are in touch with your true self and purpose, you are more equipped to see the potential in all that is around you. When you liberate yourself from negative emotions (which meditation will undoubtedly do), your perspective will shift to seeing what is possible. Most forms of meditation involve controlling your breath in rhythmic patterns. This has many health benefits for your lungs and heart and can lower your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
HOW TO MEDITATE PROPERLY
There are many forms of meditation. It is an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years. Almost every ancient culture practiced one form or another. In today’s society, people practice mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, and sleep meditation, all of which have unique benefits.
If you are new to the practice, we recommend beginning in either a seated position with your legs crossed and your palms facing upward or laying down on your back with your palms facing upward. If you are opting to be seated, be sure to sit with your spine fully elongated. (Feel free to prop your hips forward by sitting on a pillow or a bolster.)
Allow your mind to quiet and begin to focus inward on your breath. Inhale for four seconds, exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this several times until you are entranced in the rhythm. Thoughts will arise. This is normal, especially if you are new to the practice. Acknowledge them and let them drift by as you bring your focus back to your breath.
Once you are in the rhythm of breathing, shift your focus to your body. You will begin with your toes. Without moving, see if you can feel them. Notice any sensations that are there. Acknowledge the sensations, and then non-verbally (in your mind), say, “toes, relax.” Continue this up through your entire body until you reach the crown of your head.