Meditation can feel unfamiliar, not to mention mystical, too New Age and overly complicated. It did for me too, until it became a part of my self-development and spiritual growth! Learn what meditation is, how to meditate, the benefits of meditation and understand other tools that you can use to complement your practice, such as mantras, mudras, music or visualizations.
Meditation, the medicine of the mind
When it comes to meditation, a lot of people think ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I don’t know how’, ‘It’s not for me’, ‘I can’t clear my head’, ‘I am already too busy’, ‘I am not sure I’m doing it right’. It’s true, we live in a busy world that continues to get more frantic, more technology-focused and more distant from our true human nature. We are no longer able to understand what it means to be present in the moment. And for this reason alone, I believe meditation is more important than ever before!
What is meditation?
Let’s demystify this a little. In meditation, we are actually not trying to achieve or ‘do’ anything. Meditation is simply a state of ‘restful alertness’. Yes, there are many forms of meditation, but don’t be overwhelmed. You can start with simple techniques and, as you become accustomed to a regular practice, you can then expand with techniques of meditation that resonate with you. There is no right or wrong. This is about self-awareness and connectivity to your deeper consciousness. You can use meditation to bring yourself into a state of deep physical relaxation and inner awareness.
Meditation has become increasingly popular and even trendy in recent years, with more and more people turning to meditation for peace of mind. Ironically, technology has made meditation much more accessible can serve as a fantastic introduction to and way of experiencing some of the numerous benefits with Spotify meditation playlists or apps for guided meditation.
Meditation comes in all different shapes and sizes. There are hundreds of different types of meditation, including the below, so for sure there is a practice that will work for you:
- Mantra-based meditation
- Mindfulness meditation
- Guided meditation
- Sound meditation
- Kundalini meditation
- Zen meditation
- Transcendental meditation (which became popular with The Beatles)
- Vipassana meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Yoga meditation
- And so on!
We have on average 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day. If you go on the premise that through meditation you will be able to stop all thoughts altogether, you are headed to an impossible task! So much of the noise in our minds is generated by our own internal dialogue, impressions of past memories and anxieties about the future. The aim is not to force the mind to be quiet but to connect to the stillness that already resides within. This is our happy place, the place of higher awareness. The home of love, compassion, empathy and joy.
Why should you meditate?
The more you believe that your mind cannot be calm and that meditation is a waste of time, the more I say you probably need it. People have been meditating for thousands of years to expand awareness and stay in the present moment. One thing is for sure: our minds have become more frenzied than ever before, and we can sometimes lose control of our emotions.
Meditation helps us to regain control over our emotions and nerves by quieting the mind. Through meditation, you can start to reduce the number of thoughts that take over your day. Over time, you will be able to reduce negative emotions such as fear, grief, anger, greed and jealousy, which trigger the release of stress hormones that can affect your physical health as well. Connecting to your consciousness and deepening your intuition helps when you are trying to make healthy dietary and lifestyle choices.
How to meditate
Setting up the right environment will enhance the clarity and focus of your mind during the practice of meditation. Set up your space so that it is clean, clutter-free, noise-free, with plenty of ventilation so that fresh air is able to enter the room. Keep some comfort provisions, such as cushions and blankets, nearby in case you need extra support, padding, and warmth.
When you practice meditation, you should sit in a comfortable position, ideally seated on the floor or on a chair, with the spine erect, chest open and the focus on your breath. If you want, start by doing some breathing exercises (pranayama) to put you in the zone for meditation.
Place your hands on your legs or knees, palms facing up. Close your eyes and start to deepen your breath. Bring your awareness to your breath and keep your focus on the rise and fall of your chest area as you gently breathe in and out. Start by counting to 4 while you are breathing in and again counting to 4 while you are breathing out. When you feel relaxed, just be gentle and start to breathe normally again. Continue for as long as you can – up to 20 minutes ideally. If you want, you can use other tools to complement your practice, such as music, mantras, mudras or visualizations as focal points. Thoughts will come in. As soon as you witness them, release them and try to focus again on your breath, music, mantra, mudra or visualization.
What are mudras
The hand postures are known as mudras. These can influence your mind, body and mood. They are used particularly in worship and rituals in the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other faiths and are also used in many cultures to greet people.
In the UK, for example, people greet each other by shaking hands, in Europe you kiss each other’s cheeks and in India you place both hands together in prayer (anjali mudra), bow the head and say ‘Namaste’. This mudra with the word ‘Namaste’ translates as ‘The divinity in me bows to the divinity in you’, as a way of being welcoming and respectful to all. While preserving your personal energy, prayer hands help you to connect both the right and left side of the brain at the same time, representing unification. In Yoga, this gesture serves as an ‘offering’ of yourself as you commit to your practice. Prayer hands focus your awareness on the spiritual heart center in your chest.
Mudras can be used as a focal point in meditation. These hand gestures have been used in the East for thousands of years, not only as a way of connecting to your higher self and channeling energy in meditation, but also as a way to heal physical ailments, improve clarity and concentration, and encourage love and compassion.
We are composed of 5 elements and each finger represents one of those elements. The thumb represents fire (agni), the index finger represents air (vayu), the middle finger represents ether (akash), the ring finger represents earth (prithvi) and the little finger represents water (jala). Since all problems and diseases are caused by an imbalance in one (or several) element(s), you can use mudras to channel the flow of prana through your fingers and balance those elements.
Types of Mudras
This mudra stimulates the root chakra and is grounding. Calms and improves concentration.
This mudra helps prevent problems such as gas, sciatica, gout and rheumatism.
This mudra increases the space within body and mind. Increases intuitive power and alertness. It is beneficial for bone diseases, ear pain and toothache.
This mudra gives energy, reduces fatigue and nervousness. It calms you, brings inner stability and improves vision.
This mudra increases heat, energy and strength in the body.
This mudra increases and restores water balance in the body. It helps reduce dryness in the skin and congestion in the lungs.
What are mantras
Faith-based healing is real and there are cases all over the world. In our hour of need, when all else fails, many of us turn to prayer as a request for help and assistance from a higher source. Prayer helps to restore a sense of hope and comfort and helps us ‘feel’ better.
It doesn’t matter your faith, religion or belief structure. What is important is that you understand that words carry power, both internally and externally, and what we believe becomes our reality. It is the placebo effect. Praying or saying mantras is a way to communicate with your consciousness.
Mantras are energetic sound vibrations, and they can enhance the benefits of meditation. Man is the root of manas, meaning ‘the mind’ or ‘to think’, and tra is a suffix that means ‘tool’ or instrument, so mantra literally means the tool for the mind.
Mantras are sounds that produce vibrations within your body as you chant. This chanting connects you to your ‘higher self’ and to the universe. Mantras are a great tool to calm the mind in meditation. This powerful technique of sound channeling can also influence deep-seated emotional patterns, exercise, increase the strength of the mental faculties, open your intuition and increase your awareness.
Types of Mantras
Related to the earth, root chakra and adrenals. It brings groundedness, contentment, and stability.
Related to water, sacral chakra and reproductive glands. It encourages willpower.
Related to fire, the solar plexus and the pancreas. It gives power of movement and direction.
Related to air, the heart center and thymus. It gives space and force.
Related to ether, the throat chakra, and the thyroid.
Related to the third eye chakra, and the pituitary gland.
Related to the crown chakra, the center of consciousness and pineal gland.
Mantras are a great technique to incorporate with the practice of meditation, as the vibration generated can help balance the seven chakras and the five elements. These mantras stimulate positive energy and healing for their associated organs, chakras and elements.