Published: 01/15/2016 - Updated: 01/16/2016
Hi everyone! Today I want to talk about the benefits of meditation, not as part of the practice of yoga but as an exercise in itself. Meditating at least 20 minutes each day gives us great benefits: it helps to calm us down and improve our health, both physical and mental: There are already many studies which talk about the benefits of meditation for our brain, heart and immune system.
For starters we should ask what is meditation? Everyone has their own answer: Meditation is… the action of applying profound attention to the consideration or thought of something, contemplation, to think or to leave the mind blank are some of the most common responses. There are as many existing definitions as there are people in the world and this demonstrates perfectly the fact that meditation is something very personal: Each of us expect different things from practice and live in different ways. However, all of us have one thing in common: it is a time that you dedicate to yourself, where you stop for a moment and calm the mind.
Schools of Meditation
According to Vipassana (one of the oldest Indian meditation techniques), to meditate is to see things as they are, in other words to see things clearly and without preconceived ideas. To do this you only need to look at your body and your mind, something simple yet complicated at the same time, because we are not used to observing something without evaluating it. At first you can start by observing your breathing as you breath in and out through your nose. Your stomach swells and deflates and you can simply take note and observe your breath!
Once you have ‘trained’ with the observation of breath, you can move on to observe the sensations in your body and your mind and try not to react to them. That is, you allow feelings, thoughts and sensations to flow freely. At the end of this process, you will arrive at a point where the true nature of all existence can be seen and observed through this exercises.
On the other hand, according to Zazen (one of the most widespread techniques in the West), to sit in meditation requires concentration, for one must count the breaths and should any sort of distraction arise, you must begin counting again. In this way, any unconscious or unnecessary content in your mind is treated and goes into a state of ‘void’, which in turn will allow you to reach a state of silence and inner peace.
To meditate you do not need anything, just you and your mind. You can meditate sitting, while walking or while doing any of your daily tasks. Although at first it is generally recommended to perform the practice in a quiet place where nobody will disturb you, sitting comfortably on a zafu, a couple of blankets or a chair, as in yoga the back should be straight to facilitate breathing. However, with some practice you can meditate anywhere and in any situation.
Once seated and relaxed, there are several ways to meditate as I have already mentioned. Another good and easy method is to try focussing your attention on an object, breathing normally (as a bridge between the physical body, mood and mind), and try not to let your mind roam away from that object. Another is the free directive or non-directive method, which also focuses on breathing but it allows the free flow of thoughts. You can decide which you prefer!
Benefits of Meditation
While meditation is often associated with a state of tranquility, studies have shown meditation to be associated with benefits on both a physical and psychic level. For example, studies show that the more we are engrossed in our thoughts, the “default neural network” (DMN) is also more active. The DMN is a kind of internal autopilot that controls our actions while the mind is at rest or distracted. It is also linked with many neurological diseases ranging from depression to Alzheimer’s. Meditating is thought to quieten DMN activity and develop a new default neural network where there is greater awareness and less self-absorption. All in all, meditation could be said to have a very positive impact on our health.
There are also studies that say that meditation has a positive effect on the immune system as well as the cardiovascular system, so it seems that the benefits of meditation are countless.
Starting meditation practice is difficult at first, so I suggest you start slowly. The first day you may only be able to stay focussed for one minute, but with patience and willingness can build up to a focussed meditation of 5, 10, 20 and 30 minutes, although the absolute ideal is to practice about 45 minutes day. You can also search for a local center that hold classes and workshops on meditation, because at the beginning there are always doubts and having the experience of a guardian is always helpful. However, the key to meditation is practice: Everything you have read and all the things people have told you about meditation are not worth anything if you do not experience it for yourself, so what are you waiting for?