Have you ever wondered what the fuss is over meditation? Why so many people are getting into it? And it’s not that everyone is now converting to Buddhism now or anything like that. I, personally, know lots of people who have recently become interested in meditation — friends, cousins, fellow church members — and my wife and I.
So what is the big deal?
This post is my humble and uninitiated attempt to explain what I understand meditation to be and what we can gain by trying it out. I will provide some data regarding what people say meditation does for you and also what I have personally gained from my (limited) experience with it.
Meditation: A Practice for All Faiths
As I said, meditation is not just something that Buddhist monks do at a sanctuary up in the mountains. Some sort of meditation is promoted by almost every major religion in the world, whether it be Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, “New Age” groups, or others.
Although we don’t usually associate meditation with those religions, like Judaism and Christianity, that are common in Western countries, they actually have a long history of promoting meditation as a means of increasing spirituality.
For example, the Torah (part of the Old Testament) provides examples of some of the great patriarchs and prophets engaging in meditative activities. Gen. 24:63 states that “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide.” Furthermore, the Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah, integrates forms of meditation into its practices.
Although in Christianity, including Mormonism, the word “meditation” is often used as a synonym for “contemplation” or “pondering,” and some forms of “transcendental” meditation are often condemned, a number of types of meditative prayer (e.g., hesychasm) were developed, especially in the Middle Ages.
LDS Church President David O. McKay once said: “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”
No matter what your religion or belief system is, meditation can be made to fit your spiritual needs. I find no reason to dismiss it as something foreign or against anyone’s religion as long as you keep yourself rooted in your own understanding of how life and the universe work. Meditation might mean something slightly different to you than it does to a Hindu yogi, a Buddhist monk, a Tibetan lama, or an Orthodox priest, but that’s okay. You can still use it to benefit your life in your own way.
Beyond Thinking Deeply, What is Meditation?
Although this can be part of the definition, meditation is generally considered to be more than simply thinking deeply or repeatedly about a topic.
Whereas some traditions would describe meditation as a way to “clear” your mind, I see it as more of a way to get in touch with your mind, or your spirit, on a deeper level. It is a way to relax your body and your mind so that you are able to get through all of the clutter and stress of daily life and really be “you” in the most basic and pure state.
Scientifically speaking, one source describes being in a meditative state as meaning that “your brain waves shift from ‘beta’ or normal, waking consciousness, to the deeper states of alpha, theta and delta. Physiologically, this means is that your brain’s frequency shifts from quick and shallow waves to slower, deeper ones – the definition of mental relaxation.”
So, for me, this type of meditation involves silence, relaxation, and letting your mind slow down a bit. When you delve down into your own mind, you can discover many things about yourself, your thought processes, your doubts and fears, and what limits your growth in life. You can also better “plant” in your subconscious mind ideas regarding what you want in life, goals you desire to achieve, affirmations for what you want to believe about yourself and how you want to live your life better.
So again, for me meditation is not about getting to a state in which you have a total absence of thought — although that is what some people’s goal is. It is about getting into a quiet, relaxed, peaceful state in which you can really focus your thoughts and be in-tune with your “inner self.”
There are a number of types of meditation and ways that you can reach this meditative state, but that will be the subject of my next post! First, I want to talk about some of the claimed benefits of meditation.
What Can Meditation Do for Me?
The list of positive effects that meditation is supposed to have on you is very impressive. I will share some of them here:
- Stress reduction — this is one of the top benefits mentioned. The deep relaxation that meditation encourages helps alleviate the high blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, indigestion, and other problems that accompany stress. Meditation brings your mind into a state similar to that of sleep, allowing for tissue repair and regeneration (University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2003).
- Increase your focus and attention — So many of us in today’s world find it hard to concentrate and focus. I know that I feel that “mental fog” clouding my mind more often than I would like. This feeling is usually a result of stress, worrying, and other problems. Meditation can help you control your mental state and improve cognitive processes (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2007).
- Help overcome emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, phobias and anger — Similar to what we’ve already seen above, getting control of mental state and eliminating stress will help with all sorts of other related problems. Meditation helps you gain greater mastery over your mental state so that you can more easily step back and analyze your responses to things (Psychosomatic Medicine, 2009).
- Boost your creativity — Meditation can help you focus your thoughts and also boost your the capacity of your imagination, allowing you to come up with ideas and visualize them more clearly. It puts you in a better position to receive and recognize intuition or inspiration (ScienceDaily, 2010).
- Increase intelligence and memory — Meditation helps synchronize the two sides of your brain. It increases the size and capacity of your cerebral cortex and “gray matter” (Harvard University Gazette, 2006).
- Eliminate bad habits and cultivate healthy habits — For example, meditation has been shown to help those interested in losing weight (Journal Emotion, 2007).
- Decrease your risk of heart attack (The Stroke Journal, 2009).
- Improve physical/athletic performance — many studies have shown that athletes who meditate or visualize performing better are able to translate that into actual improved results.
So What Benefits Have I Seen?
I have been learning about and practicing meditation for a number of months now. I try to meditate a bit every day, but I am not as consistent as I could be. That is not a whole lot of experience, but I am already seeing positive effects, as is my wife.
Some of the benefits I have personally noticed:
- Decreased stress — I get stressed out pretty easily. My work requires me to be constantly engaged in a number of different projects at the same time. I work long hours and always have deadlines and ongoing research and writing projects. Stress is something that I am constantly dealing with, and I don’t deal with it very well. I have honestly found that meditation helps calm me down when I’m stressed and decreases the tension and mental anguish I often feel. Meditation helps me forget the pressure and feel positive about the outcome of my projects. There are some techniques that I have learned that help me sort out why I am feeling stress in a given situation and how I can manage the problem without reacting in that way.
- Better sleep at night and more awake during the day — I have noticed that when I meditate during the day, I fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly at night. Also, because I’ve slept well and because meditation involves deep relaxation and a mental state that is similar to sleep, I find that I am a lot better rested and energetic during the day. I have always had a problem with having low energy and falling asleep during the day. I have, for a long time, fallen asleep during classes, at church, listening to talks/speeches, and working on boring stuff. I have often taken naps during the day, especially on Sunday afternoons. I honestly don’t have this problem anymore (unless I’m inconsistent with my meditating). This result has been very surprising to my wife.
- Improved memory, attention, and imagination — Related to what I just said, my increased alertness has helped me to be able to think more clearly and concentrate better. I am also able to remember things better as a result. This has helped me a lot in my work and other projects. On top of this, I really feel that meditation is helping improve my imagination. Part of what I have been learning with the Silva Method of meditation and creative visualization is to picture things that I desire clearly in my mind. In my early attempts at this, I had a hard time picturing images of things in clear detail. However, the more that I’ve practiced this, the better I am able to imagine things well. As I continue on with these efforts, I believe that this will help boost my creativity and my ability to achieve the goals that I conceive and foster in my mind.
- Other benefits — I have noticed other little things like improved mood, ability to stay calm in aggravating circumstances, kinder responses to my family, and others. I have also lost a little weight, which I think is related as well as I have been better able to control my hunger and urges to eat things I really shouldn’t. I have also felt increased confidence and self-esteem. As I think I have mentioned before on this blog, I also actually feel more desire to pray to my Heavenly Father after I have meditated. Although a lot of proponents of meditation like to use language like “connect with the Universe” and the like, I have not felt discouraged in the least from my deeply-held religious beliefs. Meditation is very subjective and can be made to fit anyone’s belief system, in my opinion.
I hope this post has helped a bit in terms of letting you know, if you didn’t already, that meditation doesn’t need to be some big, scary, eight-legged beast. I believe that anyone, of any background, can find benefits from meditating. It does take some time and dedication, but not more than most good habits you would want to adopt. And the benefits, as I’ve explained here, far outweigh the sacrifices involved.
I know you probably want to know how you can begin meditating now — what do you do? How do you do it? There are lots of ways to meditate! And many techniques do not require you to sit cross-legged on the floor with perfect posture or chant “OMMM” to the smell of incense!
In my next post, I will share some of the different types of meditation and some tips for how you can easily begin meditating like a … er, like a Buddhist monk! :)
Sites That Link to this Post
- Meditation Techniques for Beginners : Planting Mind Seeds | August 13, 2013