Meditation is a trendy buzzword these days, but the word still comes with a lot of questions and stereotypes. What is meditation? Is this about clearing my mind and being a buddhist? Why does meditation matter? How can it affect me? Isn’t meditation just part of yoga?
What is meditation?
Meditation is honestly a simpler concept that many people think. I would say that mediation is simply intentionally guiding your brain in a specific direction, for a specific purpose. You may want to clear your head, reflect on an experience, process a specific topic, brainstorm about goals, pray or connect with God, or any number of things. Meditation can help with all of those.
What is it helpful for and why?
I won’t go into too many neuroscience details, but basically meditation can help you intentionally lower your brainwave frequency. Lower brainwave frequencies are associated with less stress, a more contemplative state, feelings of peace, openness to more existential thought, increased creativity, and more. It’s a good place to be! We tend to naturally reach these states when we’re about to fall asleep or dreaming lucidly, like that sleep-wake state. Meditation is a process by which you can train your brain to get there more easily.
People who regularly meditate tend to feel less stressed, are more at ease with making decisions, experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and are more equipped to deal with difficult emotions in healthy ways.
What types of meditation are there?
There are two broad categories of meditation: guided and unguided. Guided basically means that someone else is directing your meditation session, whether it is a live person in the room with your or through an app or video. Unguided, then, is meditation without anyone else directing you. Here are a few common types of meditation.
- Mindful meditation
Mindful meditation is, at its core, simply observing the world around you. Take in the sights, smells, tastes, touch sensations. Observe your own thoughts and feelings. As each sensation is as the forefront of your mind, acknowledge it and simply let it pass without judgment. What do I mean by judgment? Judgment is adding a “good” or “bad” quality to the sensation.
“Ugh, I hate that smell.”
“I shouldn’t think that.”
“I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”
“I’m not focusing very well.”
Even positive judgments can be detrimental in this exercise. The goal is to separate yourself and simply acknowledge. Waves of sensation and emotion, good and bad, will pass. Mindful meditation can help us be aware of that.
Mindful meditation is often a great choice if you are out on a walk or somewhere in nature.
- Deep breathing
Deep breathing is a basic form of meditation and one that can be performed literally anywhere. It’s simple, but powerful. Deep breathing is exactly that: practice taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Many practitioners recommend breathing in and out for about 8 seconds each. Deep breathing tends to work best if you focus only on your breathing itself. Other thoughts will inevitably come up; simply let them pass.
- Loving kindness
The goal of the loving kindness meditation is to build compassion for oneself. It is generally recommend to have a “typical,” seated, cross-legged position for this one. You will then repeat a few short phrases, first to yourself with an “I” pronoun, then to someone you love, then to an acquaintance, then to someone you straight up dislike or someone who has hurt you. The phrases vary from source to source, but they go something like this:
May I be happy and at peace.
May my body be strong and healthy.
May I be safe.
May I live with joy.
For someone you love, think about one of your favorite qualities about that person and then repeat the phrases. For the acquaintance, think of something you appreciate about them and repeat the phrases.
May you be happy and at peace.
May your body be strong and healthy.
May you be safe.
May you live with joy.
For someone who has hurt you, think of one positive thing about them, even if it is very small, and repeat the same phrases.
Finally, repeat the phrases one more time as a general loving kindness gesture to all beings.
I think it’s really helpful to practice this with different people in mind each day. I also often thank God for something about each person.
- Body scan
I think the body scan is best done lying down. Visualize a light or scanner going very slowly over each part of your body, starting with your toes. Notice any pain, sensations, or discomfort. Acknowledge how your body is feeling and take note. Continue to move up the body, noticing sensations along the way.
When you have reached the top of your head, process what you have noticed. Was there discomfort you were not expecting? Pleasant sensation? Pain you’ve had for so long you’ve stopped acknowledging it?
Sometimes, our bodies’ physical sensations are indicators of our emotional state. What could your body’s sensations be telling you?
Helpful apps for meditation
There are countless apps out there to help you get started in your mediation practice, grow in consistency, or try new ways to meditate. Here are some of my favorites.
- Insight Timer
- Simple Habit
- The Mindfulness app
- Smiling Mind
- Stop, Breathe, Think
I hope this helps you get started with meditation and clears up some of the most common questions surrounding it. Do you have a favorite way to meditate? Share it with me in the comments!