What is Meditation? – Definition, Benefits, Techniques, & Tips
What Is Meditation?
Meditation and mindfulness have become quite popular in recent years—yet most people can’t really define meditation, understand it’s purpose, or appreciate what meditation is good for. This page is here to bridge that gap.
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Meditation is a mental exercise that involves relaxation, focus, and awareness. Meditation is to the mind what physical exercise is to the body. The practice is usually done individually, in a still seated position, and with eyes closed.
Meditation is practiced in one of three modes:
Observation: paying attention to whatever is predominant in your experience in the present moment, without allowing the attention to get stuck on any particular thing (open monitoring meditation)
Awareness: allowing awareness to remain present, undistracted and not engaged with either focusing or observing
Other characteristics of meditation include:
Meditation is an individual practice, even if done in groups (such as in a meditation retreat).
Meditation is often done with eyes closed, but not always (Zazen and Trataka, for example, are open-eye styles of meditation)
Originally, the word “meditate” actually means to think deeply about something. However, when eastern contemplative practices were “imported” to Western culture, this is the term that was used to define them, for lack of a better word. Nowadays meditation has more the meaning of this exercise of focusing attention than to reflect deeply.
Here are some other definitions of meditation.
In Christianity, meditation is a type of contemplative prayer that creates a sense of union with God, or the contemplation of religious themes.
In Buddhism, meditation is one of the three core practices for the purification of mind and attainment of Nirvana.
Besides focus of attention, meditation also involves mental calmness and introspection (“looking within”). Meditation is, thus, somewhat different than other personal development or spiritual exercises, such as:
Affirmation, self-hypnosis, or guided visualization—where the objective is more to imprint a specific message on the mind
Pure relaxation—where the goal is only to release bodily tensions
Prayer—where there is a conscious flow of thinking and feeling, directed towards a Deity
Contemplation—where the thought processes is actively engaged in order to deepen the understanding of a subject or concept.
Trance dancing—where the main goal is usually to produce visions or an altered state of consciousness
Breathing exercises like pranayama and (most types of) qigong— where the focus is on producing a certain pattern of breathing and purify the body.
All these practices are also good and helpful, but they are different than meditation (although some meditation techniques may make use of some of these elements).
The Benefits of Meditation
There are dozens of scientifically proven benefits of meditation. Studies confirm the experience of millions of practitioners: meditation will keep you healthy, help prevent multiple diseases, make you emotionally well, and improve your performance in basically any task, physical or mental.
Some of the benefits come as soon as with 8 weeks of daily practice; other benefits take longer to mature, and will depend on your intensity of practice.
Meditation is good for several things, and it’s different things to different people. However, it is usually one of these three things that drive people to practice:
Specific benefit: improving your health, wellbeing, performance, focus.
Growth: emotional healing, self-knowledge, self-discipline, letting go.
Spirituality: connecting with God, inner peace, and other spiritual goals.
Whatever drives you to meditate, that is good. You will get the benefits you seek, in the proportion of your consistency and commitment to building this habit. But the wider you cast your net, the more fish you will get — so I would encourage you to practice not only for one particular reason, but for the sake of the practice itself.
Your motivation may also evolve by time, as the practice starts to unfold in your life.
How to Meditate?
There are dozens of meditation techniques, so it can take some time until you find the one that works best for you.
The approach I recommend is to experiment with different meditation techniques for a short period of time each (say one week), and to journal your experiences. After some time, you will be better able to choose the meditation technique that suits you the most.
Here are some general guidelines on the practice:
Posture: you can meditate seated on a cushion or on a chair. The essential thing about posture is that the spine is absolutely erect, from the lower back to the neck, and ideally not leaning on anything.
Time: the best time to meditate is first thing in the morning, so you don’t skip it, and the impact on your day is stronger—but any time that works for you is fine!
Place: a spot where you can sit uninterrupted. Ideally a place that is quiet, clean and tidy, in order to create a better influence on the mind.
Length: you can start with as little as 5minutes, and increase 1 or 2 minutes per week, until you arrive 20min sessions and beyond.
Here are six other tips to make sure your practice is optimal. They are not mandatory, but they make your meditation go easier:
- Your body should not be exhausted. So ideally not right after heavy exercise.
- Your mind should be awake. So not good when you are sleepy or tired.
- Your belly should not be full. Wait 2~3 hours after heavy meals.
- Put your phone on airplane mode during your practice.
- Relax your body with deep breathing exercises before meditation.
- If you are meditating at home, wear clothes that are comfortable and loose.
Once you choose your technique, the next step is to work on building the meditation habit (section below), and having a better understanding of the process of meditation.
How to Start a Daily Meditation Practice?
Meditation needs to be practiced daily, if you want to really benefit from it. Otherwise, the effects will be more short-lived and superficial
However, building a meditation habit, especially if your motivation for the practice is not so strong yet, can be challenging. It requires a dose of self-discipline.
This process can be greatly facilitated by following this seven steps system:
- Discover your true values
- Link meditation to your values (how will it help them?)
- Commit to a time, place and practice
- Setup a trigger and a reward
- Be accountable to others or to yourself (with a journal)
- Have the right attitude (no expectations + a Never Zero commitment)
- Hang out with meditators, online or offline (optional)
If you are inspired on the article above, I will share with you an amazing program that can accompany you as you embark on your meditation experience.
Guided Mindfulness Practices with Jon Kabat-Zinn mp3 – Series 1, Series 2, Series 3 mp3 Bundled Together
This mp3 collection of programs from Jon Kabat-Zinn is comprised of a complete set of his seminal works that constitute the core practice curriculum of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in the Stress Reduction Clinic.
Bundled together for the first time, you can now purchase Series I, II and III at a great value.
In addition, this bundle includes, as a bonus, unlimited access to the audio and video version of the program Stress Reduction.
They are meant to be used in conjunction with Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. You will find extensive descriptions of these practices in this book, as well as pictures of the mindful hatha yoga sequences. Thousands of people have used these programs either alone or in conjunction with the book to develop and sustain a meditation practice based on mindfulness, and to benefit from its stress reducing, healing, and transformational potential when practiced regularly.
Audio Preview of Body Scan:
R Colleen Steele
Just what i needed
I love the Guided Meditations of Jon Kabat-Zinn. I am reading his book, Coming To Your Senses and these guided meditations offer experiential learning for a way of Mindful Life.
It’s awesome to hear these original meditations from Jon Kabat Zinn himself: the father of western mindfulness practice… since adapted by so many people but here in simplicity and sweetness
I confess that I have not yet listened to these mindfulness practice sessions, but I will do so very soon. I intend to finish reading Jon’s book, ( i.e. Full Catastrophe Living) before launching into a meditation practice.
Very pleasant way to meditate
Very good. Good company. Healing
wonderful voice and good guidance to mbsr
Downloaded the Series in Germany, all worked well and I’m now enjoying the wonderful series.
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