Meditation: a complete guide
Meditation means many different things to many people. For example, for some it means simply relaxation, to others a unique path to the Self.
In general, it is considered an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. If you like sports, you certainly know that when you start to be disciplined and aware of your own body (needs, capabilities, limits), the practice itself ceases to be so exhausting, just as the effort ceases to be so excessive.
With this we want to say that meditation is about training awareness and getting perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings, or even becoming a different person. You’re just learning to observe yourself or your environment without judgment and, eventually, you may start to better understand your thoughts and feelings as well.
In this sense, meditation is about cultivating present-moment awareness and getting the countless benefits from it. Yet, it’s worth to note that its purpose is not to achieve benefits or even to relax (you should see them as a result). To put it in another words, the goal of meditation is really not a goal. It’s simply to be present. But, what does this really mean?
What you see, hear, feel and think now: why to practice meditation?
People often begin meditating with some kind of motivation: to slow down the everyday rhythm, to empty the mind from the daily pressures, to focus on healing the body and the mind, to understand when to let emotions flow and when to suppress them. Well, the motivations are countless, but in the end what is important is that there is a path that needs to be ‘walked’ through.
With consistent daily practice and learning to sustain mental stillness or present-moment awareness, meditation can promote deep changes.
This is why meditating is associated with the ancient wisdom traditions: because it has a profound impact on consciousness, which is another word for self-awareness. Consistent practice peels away aspects of your psyche that are unconscious and conditioned, and makes them conscious.
So, we could say that the goal is the path itself. Or if you prefer, there is no goal in meditation, it’s simply a path (in our understanding, a path to empathy).
Three major ways to approach meditation and their benefits
According to the information we gathered it’s said that there are three major ways of approaching meditation: medical, martial and spiritual.
The medical approach
The medical approach to meditation includes focusing on healing and wellness. According to some studies, meditators live longer and suffer fewer degenerative diseases than people who don’t practice it.
Specifically, meditation has been studied has an effective way of treating high blood pressure, insomnia and chronic pain. These symptoms are treated with proper medication but meditation also relieve them.
Stress-related diseases and disorders also respond to the therapeutic effect of meditation.
The martial approach
The martial approach is geared to the enhancement of performance. This includes but is not limited to sports. Artists, actors, dancers, students, business, government and sales people also use meditation techniques to improve their skills, to have more energy, to bring more insight and creativity to the workplace.
The spiritual approach
In this approach, it helps to create a balance between the mind, the heart and the body, or if you prefer, the body and the soul. Working on your spiritual vibrations is the path to creating a better and more fulfilling life and also to better understand your inner voice.
Types of meditation
There is no “right way” to meditate, meaning that you can explore the different types until you find one that works for you. We also underline that within each type of meditation, there are several subtypes. The following 7 examples are some of the best-known ways to meditate:
1. Loving-kindness meditation
The goals of loving-kindness meditation, also known as “Metta meditation”, is to cultivate an attitude of love and kindness towards everything – your enemies or sources of stress.
While breathing, practitioners send messages of loving kindness to the world, to specific people, or to their loved ones.
In this type of meditation, the key is to repeat the message many times, until you feel loving kindness. It can help those affected by anger, frustration, resentment, interpersonal conflicts and may increase positive emotions. Is has been linked to reduced depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
2. Yoga meditation
Kundalini yoga, for example, is a physically active form of meditation that blends movements with deep breathing and mantras. People usually learn from a teacher or do a class. However, someone can learn the poses and mantras at home.
Similarly to other forms of yoga, it can improve physical strength and reduce pain. It may also improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression.
3. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that urges practitioners to remain aware and present in the moment.
Rather than dwelling on the past or dreading the future, mindfulness encourages awareness of a person’s existing surroundings. Crucial to this is a lack of judgment.
A form of mindfulness is involved in most kinds of meditation. Breath awareness encourages practitioners to be aware of their breathing, while progressive relaxation draws attention to areas of tension in the body. You can also try Mindful yoga.
This type of meditation can help to:
- Reduce fixation on negative emotions;
- Improve focus;
- Improve memory;
- Lessen impulsive, emotional reactions;
- Improve relationship satisfaction.
3. Progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation, sometimes called “Body Scan meditation”, encourages you to scan your body for areas of tension. The goal is to notice tension and to allow it to release.
Some forms of progressive relaxation require to tense and then relax your muscles. Others encourage you to visualize a wave, drifting over your body to release tension.
This type of meditation can help to promote generalized feelings of calmness and relaxation – because it slowly and steadily relaxes the body. It may also help with chronic pain.
4. Breath awareness meditation
Breath awareness is a type of mindfulness meditation that encourages mindful breathing.
Practitioners breathe slowly and deeply, counting their breaths or otherwise focusing on their breaths. The goal is to focus only on breathing and to ignore other thoughts that enter the mind.
As a form of mindfulness meditation, breath awareness offers many of the same benefits as mindfulness. Those include reduced anxiety, improved concentration, and greater emotional flexibility.
6. Zen meditation
Zen meditation, sometimes called “Zazen” is a form of meditation that can be part of Buddhist practice. Many Zen practitioners study under a teacher because this kind of meditation involves specific steps and postures.
The goal is to find a comfortable position, focus on breathing, and mindfully observe one’s thoughts without judgment.
7. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation is a spiritual form of meditation where practitioners remain seated and breathe slowly. The goal is to transcend or rise above the person’s current state of being.
During a meditation session, practitioners focus on a mantra or a repeated word or series of words. A teacher determines the mantra based on a complex set of factors, sometimes including the year the practitioner was born, and the year the teacher was trained.
People who practice Transcendental Meditation report both spiritual experiences and heightened mindfulness.
How to meditate: tips and exercises for beginners
If you are going to begin the practice of meditation, the first thing to do is to decide a time and place that works for you. The best time to meditate is really whenever you can best prioritize it. And the best place to meditate is wherever you can be comfortable and minimally distracted.
After that you should decide on an amount of time to meditate. Particularly for beginners, starting with 3, 5 or 10-minute sessions is key, so you can build up your practice.
In this process, make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Sit with your legs and arms uncrossed, feet flat on the floor, and hands resting on your lap or by your side. Keep your back straight, but not too tense. If you need it, a small cushion or rolled up towel can help keep your back straight.
Decide whether you want the meditation to be guided or unguided. Our advice is that you should try a guided meditation, because is led by an experienced teacher that will share with you the best way to start doing it. See also: The Best Meditation apps >>
Meditation exercise for absolute beginners
If you are a beginner, this exercise is an excellent introduction to meditation techniques:
1. Sit or lie comfortably.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Make no effort to control the breath. Simply breathe naturally.
4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe.
5. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
6. Choose a Mantra. While in meditation, repeat the mantra OM or any other syllable you like to purify the surrounding and invite positive vibes. Mantra chanting affects the psychological behaviour to assist in healing.
6. Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes and then try it for longer periods.
This is only a way to start, because there’s more to meditating than sitting quietly and breathing. When you meditate, you are essentially cultivating awareness and compassion. You are training the mind to stop being easily distracted and instead be more focused in the present moment. Using the breath as our anchor in the moment, you simply sit and gradually learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go.
Keep in mind that is completely normal if you start to meditate and your mind jumps all over the place. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts. Sit and practice to observe your thinking without getting caught up in your thoughts and emotions. Learn to tame this restlessness by developing an awareness for those moments when your attention has wandered off.
Each time you notice you are distracted, build your awareness and bring your attention back to the breath. Through the process of meditation, the mind becomes more comfortable with this idea of sitting still and you can begin to learn how to integrate the qualities experienced during meditation practice into the rest of your day.
You may also like:
- Conscious breathing: everything you need to know
- Yoga poses: know some of them
- Mudras: what are they and how can they help me?
- Two Mindfulness exercises you will want to try
- Mindful eating: how to do it properly