The increase in interest over the past few decades in meditation and meditative practices is astounding, and it should therefore be properly understood. Meditation is not a word to be intimidated by, but on the contrary, something you may feel drawn towards and wish to explore.
In practice it requires the least amount of physical effort but is particularly mentally challenging due to the mind’s unstable and wandering nature.
This short article will explore what meditation is as well as its different styles and applications, and why it may be more important to practise now more than ever.
Why so Popular?
Meditation has gained immensely in popularity thanks to its effects in supporting the parasympathetic and relaxation response. Studies show that meditation can reduce stress, improve immune function and our mood, as well as increase grey matter (neural connections) located in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for psychological functions, attention, compassion and empathy.
In our current society, that is definitely a benefit, since we are subject to high levels of mental stress, numerous distractions, irritability and sometimes anger.
When we hear the word ‘meditation’, we instinctively imagine someone sat cross-legged with a light smile on their face, looking very peaceful – maybe even levitating. They are pictured in a state of deep inner calm and bliss. So how accurate is this depiction?
We can generally define meditation as a systematic mental training designed to challenge habits of attending, thinking, feeling and perceiving.
It is a mental training – which is why the idea of meditation being a practice which ‘blisses you out’ is a bit far-fetched and inaccurate.
It is a method or variety of methods designed to shift the brain into healthier and more balanced ways of relating to and experiencing the world. This is important because what we pay attention to and how we pay attention largely determines how we feel, daily behaviour and our thinking patterns – and this, the level of our suffering and joy.
Is there one meditation to rule them all?
The idea that meditation will benefit all types of personalities is wrong in my opinion. Due to the countless meditation techniques in use, it’s best to break them down into categories. Each category contains meditative techniques which affect the brain and the mind in certain ways.
Effects can be monitored by using technology such as the electroencephalogram (EEG) for measuring Brain Waves and the regions of the brain involved.
One way to divide meditation styles is into the following four categories:
- Open Heart
- Quiet Mind
These different styles can be used as intervention strategies for helping with mental conditions such as Anxiety, Depression, ADHD and Personality Disorders. They can be used individually or in combination.
Bear in mind that most meditation techniques are a combination of these styles, and that each individual will need a different approach based on their specific needs.
The Breath Can Help Immensely
Pranayama and Breathwork are real treasures when it comes to meditation.
For some, reaching meditative states can be achieved quickly and easily, especially for advanced practitioners. For beginners, breathing to certain rhythms can help tremendously in attaining a desired meditative state.
Different breathing rhythms and techniques generally have their own unique signature/effect, and can be used as powerful life tools for daily life and/or your personal practice.
Stress and Anxiety
As humans, we are all prone to levels of stress and anxiety – as well as negativity. Evolution has led us down this road for one simple reason: to survive.
But this does not mean that we are meant to blindly and robotically act in an ‘unconscious’ manner, and to suffer from the effects of mental and emotional stress that we have a tendency to persistently create.
Meditation could be one of the best non-invasive and holistic approaches to soothing stress and helping with anxiety, as well as many other conditions, aiding us in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
References and Further Reading
Meditation Interventions to Rewire the Brain – Dr. Jeff Tarrant
Buddha’s Braing – Dr. Rick Hanson
The Dragons of Eden – Carl Sagan