By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.
Meditation is a practice that is nearly as old as our oldest ancestors. It has been practiced in cultures around the world and is as popular today as it has ever been. Practiced by holy men and women and by individuals seeking the health benefits meditation can provide, it is a state of relaxed concentration and enhanced awareness. Also, it gives an inward focus that allows you to see and better understand the workings of your own mind.
Simple to learn, meditation is in fact a skill that can take a lifetime to perfect. If you are curious about meditation and would like to sample its benefits, start with one of the meditations outlined here. Remember to give yourself time–the benefits of meditation come with practice and patience. The more you can adopt an openly receptive state of mind, the more successful your meditating experience will be.
One of the most popular forms of meditation in the world’s many spiritual traditions involves meditating on one’s breath. Although it may seem mundane, and it certainly is repetitive, the process of focusing on one’s breathing can, over time, lead to all of the physical and mental health benefits meditation promises to provide, including reduced stress, improved mood and improved pain control. It can also provide a deeper pleasure in life and a sense of connection with one’s essential inner core of being.
Most people are caught up in the everyday details of life–our families and jobs, what we need to get done, checking our email and texting our friends, reading the news of the day, and watching our favorite television show. Most of us get so caught up in these details that we fail to pay attention to what is going on inside us–in our own hearts, minds, and bodies. In truth, popular culture is designed to get us to believe that happiness and satisfaction come from outside, in the world of popular culture and advertising messages. Focusing our attention inward can seem like a huge step in a different direction.
Relaxing Your Body
As you gain experience practicing meditation, you will find that the process naturally relaxes your body while at the same time it focuses your mind. As a beginner, however, it may be difficult to experience bodily relaxation in the early days or weeks of meditating. It may be helpful for you to practice a relaxation technique before you meditate, especially if you are aware of feeling tense or stressed.
Meditating on Your Breath
Paying attention to the inhalations and exhalations of our breath certainly isn’t exciting, but it does slow our minds to match the speed and rhythms of our bodies; we breathe an average of 12 to 16 times per minute. There are several different ways to do this, but one to try — in the early stages of meditating — is counting the number of breaths needed to build concentration. The structure of counting provides a structure so that we can quickly notice when our minds are wandering off the task.
Learn more about meditation in our homestudy course, Meditation.