What is Meditation and How Does it Work?

Most people have heard of meditation, less know what it is, and even less make a practice of doing it. That’s rather a shame as, when looking to improve mental health, reduce the negative effects of daily stress on the body, or even develop spiritually; meditation is one of the most powerful tools available. It costs nothing, no special equipment is required, and anyone, of any age, physical fitness level, or intellectual ability can experience the benefits of meditation.

How Did Meditation Originate

The origin of meditation is deeply rooted in time, Hindu and Buddhist monks practice daily and it’s also part of the tradition of the Christian religious tradition too. Yet it’s not necessary to have any specific spiritual or religious belief in order to start the discipline and discover the many positive effects of meditation.

Defining Meditation

There are lots of different answers to the question ‘what is meditation?’ But at the root, things don’t need to be complicated. Think of meditation as training for the brain, in the same way as jogging or going to the gym is an exercise for the body. As with a physical fitness program, meditation can seem hard at the start, and usually, the effects can take some time to notice. It’s best to start gently, maybe just a few minutes a day. Over time, you’ll find it gets easier and the positive effects will start to accumulate.

Meditation For the Mind, the Body and the Spirit

A Peaceful Mind

There’s no one single purpose of meditation, but for many people, the mental and emotional benefits are the most important reasons for devoting time to the practice. Scientific research, including brain imaging, has now demonstrated that meditation changes brain activity, reducing gamma waves which are associated with active concentration. In cases of stress and anxiety, the Gamma wave activity increases significantly, so meditation is a natural way to balance this stress. Beta, alpha, delta and theta waves increase in response to meditation.

Science has been a bit behind the mystics in this case but can now provide some solid answers to the questions ‘what does meditation do?’ or even ‘how does meditation work?’ The change in brain activity recorded in scans relates to the reduction of activity of the ‘thinking mind’ which is constantly processing information, asking questions and making sense of the world in a linear and logical way. Meditation awakens the parts of the brain that simply experiences and accepts the world rather than constantly judges it.

Oddly enough, awakening the accepting part of the brain also seems to stimulate non-linear problem solving and intuition. Some of the major early benefits of meditation include lower anxiety levels and more mental resilience. Individuals who practice meditation on a daily basis for longer periods of time also show increased creativity, better concentration and focus, better memory and even an improvement in empathy, compassion and communication skills.

Physical Benefits

As the mind becomes calmer, the production of stress hormones such as cortisol decreases. This along with changes in the parasympathetic system can lead to physical benefits such as:

  • Reduced heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Slower respiration
  • Improved circulation

Spiritual Development

Not everyone chooses to make their life a spiritual journey. But for those who do, meditation is almost always a central part of their daily routine. Taking time out from doing, or even thinking, just to be, to accept and connect with the life-force around us is essential to refresh the spirit. It is in these times of quiet reflection that it’s possible to connect with the higher self and better understand the purpose of life.

Starting To Meditate

There are lots of different types of meditation, and many meditation techniques. Most beginners find that the simplest method to start with is the one that suggests sitting in a peaceful place, and focusing awareness on breathing and upon how the body feels. Thinking about not thinking is harder than it sounds, whereas narrowing the focus of thought onto something we usually take for granted is a much more achievable aim.

There are lots of apps, books and websites devoted to meditation, but in truth, it’s much easier to develop your skills with the aid of a guide or teacher. No one can show you exactly how to quiet your own mind but a tutor will have lots of advice on techniques that will help you to find your own way into a meditative state.
As with any new skill, there will be times when progress is rapid and times when it seems to grind to a halt. That’s OK. It’s normal and there’s no competition or race to ‘get it right’. The one thing that’s crucial is consistency. The more you incorporate your meditation sessions into your daily life, the easier they will become and the more you will benefit from them.

Because daily life can be so very stressful and distracting, one option is to devote some time to nothing but developing your ability to meditate by going on a retreat, such as one of those offered at the Spirit Vine Ayahuasca Retreats. Being surrounded by people who’re also taking a similar path is always supportive and can often be inspirational.

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