Meditation – A State of Complete Conscious Awareness
Introduction to Meditation
If you want to live a more fulfilled life, first you should know your potential, who you are! Meditation is the route to that knowledge. It is the methodology of the science of awareness. Meditation, being one form of Antaranga yoga, is given more importance in today’s world.
We all have so much on our minds with work, school, bills, children, etc. Meditation simply focuses on one thing and pushes all other thoughts out of our minds. It clears our minds, makes our tasks much easier to perform with full concentration.
What is Meditation?
Meditation (or the meditative state) is the natural outcome of yoga and other spiritual techniques and the ultimate aim of these practices is to reach a state of complete conscious awareness, also known as bliss consciousness. This term is a complex one and even enlightened masters have not attempted to describe that state to us. Nevertheless, meditation, once practiced regularly, will manifest obvious benefits both on a purely physical level and on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level.
Why should we Meditate?
Meditation has long been considered an esoteric practice, far removed from the realities of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is practiced to help ground us in the realities of the world. According to one of modern India’s most renowned yogis Sri Aurobindo, “Spirituality is not the flight of consciousness away from matter, but the flight of consciousness into matter”.
Effects of Meditation
- On Stressors
When we release mental bonds to everyday events, we also clear our subconscious. Stress greatly affects our mentality. We constantly have stress at the back of our minds whether we realize it or not. Meditation is a way of clearing (and aligning) our conscious and subconscious, and as a result our concentration improves, we are more focused, and we are relieved from stress making us happier individuals.
Unfortunately, this is only temporary for as long as we contain our ch’i, or energy (qi being another way of spelling it). Environmental stimuli affect our energy and while some people may be able to compose their happy-go-lucky mood for hours, others may only be able to maintain their ch’i until they step out of the room. Fortunately, just like every other ability we possess, we can improve our meditation results through practice. Also, there’s no overdose limit to meditation.
- On the Mind
Most importantly, meditation can be used to “dive” into our inner selves. Most people obtain this inner-knowledge/consciousness/frequency by meditating on themselves; concentrating on nothing; just being. This revitalizing oneness, in combination with full concentration (during and after meditating), opens up new windows of abilities and new insights of enlightenment, or instantaneous profound understanding, of self, others, or even the world. This kind of meditation is a good prerequisite for people who are involved in a lot of mental work and philosophers. Different meditations can have different effects.
Meditation is a technique for training your mind to concentrate and refocus. Relaxation and mindfulness can be achieved through meditation.
Types of Meditation
There are many different ways in which people choose to meditate of which the most popular types are listed below:
- Mindfulness meditation – This practice combines concentration with awareness and can be easily practiced alone.
- Spiritual meditation – Beneficial for those who thrive in silence and seek spiritual growth, this type of meditation can be practiced at home.
- Focused meditation – This type of meditation involves concentration using any of the five senses. It is ideal for anyone who requires additional focus in life.
- Movement meditation – An active form of meditation where movement guides you. It is good for people who find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander.
- Mantra meditation – This type of meditation is for people who find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. These people prefer repetition over silence.
- Transcendental meditation – This meditation is more customizable than mantra meditation as here the mantra or series of words is specific to each practitioner.
- Progressive relaxation – It is also known as body scan meditation and is aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting relaxation. It can be used to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
- Loving-kindness meditation – This form of meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance towards self and others. It may be ideal for those holding feelings of anger or resentment.
- Visualization meditation – This technique focuses on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness. It is intended to increase focus and motivation.
The Benefits of Meditation
The improved health that one inevitably notices upon sticking to a regular meditation practice is something one cannot ignore. Whether you start as a healthy meditator or come to it for health reasons, you will notice enhanced physical well-being right from the beginning. Lustrous skin and sparkling eyes will be the first to appear, simultaneously embedding other permanent changes within the body.
Meditation makes it possible for cells to receive fresh oxygenated blood consciously and anything done consciously is bound to have profoundly positive effects. The regular and sustained practice of meditation makes one more efficient, proactive, confident, and energetic. It boosts concentration and will power, making achievements in a chosen field more easily possible. Overall, it makes for success, at whatever level one perceives and desires it.
Some of the obvious benefits of practicing meditation include:
- Decrease in the rate of respiration
- Improved blood circulation and relaxed heart rate
- Lowered blood pressure in cases of hypertension
- Reduced muscular aches and pains
- Increased rate of healing in convalescing patients
- Reduced stress and reduced reactivity when confronted with stressful situations, at the mental, emotional, and physical level.
- It has also become a beacon of hope for the terminally ill, and those with diseases that could potentially hinder their normal functioning on a day-to-day basis.
Meditation is a sure-fire way (if done correctly) to increase concentration and decrease stress. We become less bothered by minor problems. Meditation is an exercise; working out your brain is crucial to avoid diseases and promote health (not only for the brain). The scientific community as well has grown to accept it as a valid way (that is scientifically verifiable) to improved health and well-being. Yogis claim that it can go so far deep into the system of the practitioner as to even alter the genetic make-up of the individual.
Changes taking place in the Brain while practicing Meditation
There is scientific evidence to prove that meditation has physiological implications that originate in the brain and translate into healing, relaxation, and overall wellness. One of the first things that the practice of meditation (Yogis always differentiate between practicing meditation and being in meditation – the latter takes a lot of practice!) does is, it creates alpha waves in the brain, which means we are inducing a state of dream-like relaxation, consciously. Meditating increases the frequency of our brain waves. It’s this frequency that is suggested to produce the trance-like state of meditation, and the calmness associated after. The concentration during meditation stimulates our frontal and temporal lobes, followed by the amygdala, a region in the brain responsible for triggering the flight or fight response, and thus creating a surge of biological reactions in the body, which, according to one study, is more robust in its response to stressful situations in people who meditate regularly. This means there is less reactivity to stressful situations, therefore, leading to better health.
This study also attempted to find neural evidence of how mindfulness meditation, for example, changes the structure of the brain. (read more… ‘The Neuroscience behind Mindfulness’)
The Neuroscience behind Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation, a technique taught in Buddhist traditions to remain in the present by observing sensations and thoughts as they arise, is known to lessen the amygdala’s hyper startle response, and activate the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This means delayed or significantly lessened activity in the amygdala when confronted with stressful situations, and more versatile activity in the prefrontal cortex, so more creative ways of dealing with stress.
Scientific research has also found that the left frontal region of the brain (the part responsible for lowered states of anxiety and positive feelings) of meditators, has 50 percent more electrical activity. Meditation gives such an overall feeling of well-being that its impact on enhanced immune functioning must be emphasized.
All that said, not all scientists agree that there is conclusive and hard-core scientific evidence to prove that meditation works to improve brain functioning and health. They do agree, however, that meditation does work. Meditation techniques are a dime a dozen. There are those ones that are very commonly practiced (amongst those who take to meditation) and still others that are relatively under-utilized.
Things to Keep in Mind before Practicing Meditation
Any meditation practice is always best taught by an experienced meditation teacher. There are also instances where meditation is not meant to be practiced such as in cases of clinically diagnosed depression, for example (unless under the expert guidance of an enlightened master). It is worthwhile doing a bit of homework and finding a good teacher before delving into these practices.
Meditation and Spirituality
Gautama Buddha achieved complete enlightenment while meditating under a Peepal tree. In Christianity and Judaism, followers meditate using prayer and other specific meditations. Hinduism practices yoga as a form of meditation. Taoists preach of “stillness in movement” as the physical act of meditating, and “movement in stillness” as the control of one’s energy.
Many religions practice meditation for its benefits, but not being religious does not exclude you from meditating. There is no need to believe in a higher power to believe in the power of meditation; numerous scientific studies have recognized the benefits of meditation.
Achieving a State of Inner Harmony using various Meditative Techniques
Making meditation a part of your daily health and fitness regime is a proven method to experience expansive wellness. How does meditation impact health? This question has merited attention from the scientific community, and what the Yogis of ancient India have been saying for centuries is now accepted as scientific fact. Meditation is more than just an aid to enjoying wellbeing. While it is certain to bring about a state of inner harmony – both physical and mental – meditation is a state of being, a way of life. That said, to be in meditation is different from practicing mediation and this article aims to explore the benefits of a regular practice of meditation.
The term meditation, simply put, refers to a group of techniques that help manage thoughts, thinking patterns, emotions, and consequently, the mind and body’s reaction to stressful situations. These methods are characterized by how they are practiced and applied, and most of them, if not all, have common elements among them. Take mindfulness for example or breath awareness. These two are commonly practiced as meditation, especially in the Buddhist tradition. (read more… ‘The Art of Mindfulness and Breath awareness’)
The Art of Mindfulness and Breath awareness
Mindfulness meditation takes the practitioner through a journey of awareness: awareness of thoughts as they arise, awareness of breath in relation to emotions as they arise, awareness of bodily sensations as they arise, take it a step further and you will even be practicing awareness as you walk, eat, clean or cook.
Meditations that focus on breath awareness will have you watching your breath and using that awareness to traverse the bridge between body and mind, thereby exploring the connection between the two. In either case, the idea is to slow the mind down, increase the space between two thoughts and ultimately slip into that space to experience meditation. Along the way, however, your health gets a major boost and your intellectual and cognitive functioning significantly upgraded. Life will be experienced at a whole new level; time will expand and you will start to feel like there are more than 24 hours in a day. The most amazing thing is you will find yourself happy for no reason.
Different forms/practices of Meditation
Mantra Meditation: The word mantra means “revealed sound”. It is a combination of sacred symbols which, when repeatedly pronounced (japa), brings the mind of the practitioner into a state of deep introspective quiet.
Transcendental meditation is a common form of Mantra meditation. It is very simple and requires one to sit with their eyes closed for approximately 15 minutes. Perhaps this is the best starting meditation technique and is a good way to get acquainted with just relaxing, and paying attention to mere thoughts.
Principles of Mantra Meditation
Mantra is usually performed under the guidance of a teacher or guru, especially if it is an initiation into mantra japa. Usually, a beaded mala with 108 beads is used as an aid to count the number of times the japa is repeated, preferably till the end of the mala. Mantra japa is a very powerful form of meditation, especially for the dynamic mind. The sound vibrations created by the mantra can slice through thought and bring the mind to the present. Mantra according to certain yogic traditions, works on the anahata chakra or the vortex of energy in the sternum and close to the heart.
Trataka: Trataka means “steady and uninterrupted gaze”. The object upon which to fix the gaze can be chosen by the practitioner.
A sacred symbol or an object that represents the sacred cosmic vibration to the individual can be used for this practice. The most commonly used “object” for Trataka is the candle flame. The candle flame represents constant impermanence, which in real life we seem to be un-accepting of. Trataka works on the ajna chakra (the centre of intuition and knowledge), also known as the third eye, and situated between the two eyebrows.
Chakra meditation: Chakras are whirlpools of energy located along the spine (invisible to the eye), and also called psychic centers. They represent levels of energy and spiritual development and each chakra can be developed through meditation practices that involve chakra visualization and breathing.
Principle behind Chakra Meditation
Chakras supposedly guide the optimal functioning of the organs in whose field of action they tend to be located. For example, the anahata chakra is located close to the heart and is responsible for the proper working of the organs and glands in that region. Chakra meditation, therefore, is a way to bring healing and wellness into the body and mind because of the way charkas can influence the organs in the body.
Zen meditation: Inner-selves meditation is called Zen meditation. Zen requires one to sit with good posture while closing the mind to thought.
Steps to Acquire the Zen State
Sitting in a good posture does have its benefits such as ease of breathing, but it comes down to comfort. Do what is comfortable: sitting with legs crossed, straight, sitting in a chair, leaning forward. Standing for meditation is not recommended as that requires full mental-participation (which is most). A simple method to do meditation is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Shun every individual thought out of your head. If it pops up again, force your mind to forget it. Focus solely on your breathing. Experience how each inhale feels, tastes, and smells. Feel your stress go away with each breath. Wash those thoughts away. First, focus only on your toes. Work your way up your body (from toes to ankles to shins, up to your head), spending at least two minutes concentrating on each region. Feel how each part of your body feels as you focus on it. Feel the clothing wrapped around it, or the air tickling it. When you have focused on the top of your head (or brain, you choose) for at least 2 minutes, clear your mind of all thoughts. Get rid of any thought, sensation, image, or sound that shows up in your mind. This technique is a much better way of acquiring the Zen state, without starting by erasing all thoughts (which is a very difficult task!). It is much easier to push away one thought than many at a time, or one after another. How long you hold this state depends on how long you want to. There is no definitive answer, but be mindful that meditation certainly affects our perception of time. Our mind will let us know when we are fully willing to try it.
Pranayama: Pranayama is the manipulation of the life force energy (or chi) using the breath. The idea is to achieve optimum health by manipulating the pranic rhythms of the body.
Pranayama has great health benefits. It helps one reach higher states of self-awareness. It is usually practiced before meditation. However, pranayama is considered a form of meditation too. The practice of pranayama can help impact the mind is a way similar to meditation.
5 types of prana govern the proper functioning of the body, namely prana, apana, vyana, udana, and samana. According to traditional yoga texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, two of these five are significant on a physical, day-to-day level. They are prana, which flows upward and apana, which flows downward. The practice of pranayama is said to initiate the balanced functioning of the body.
There are several categories of pranayama such as deep breathing, fast breathing, and breathing with the use of sound, and so on.
Some of the commonly practiced types of pranayama include:
- Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing
- Anuloma-viloma, also alternate nostril breathing, done psychically (that is without using the mudra to manipulate the nostrils)
- Ujjayi or the hissing breath
- Brahmari or the bee humming breath
- Sheetali or the cooling breath
- Bhastrika or the bellows breath
Pranayama is an efficient way to cleanse the body of waste. One important aspect of pranayama is breath retention. According to yogic literature, breath retention enables an increase in the flow of prana throughout the body, keeping it youthful and healthy in the process. However, breath retention is not to be practiced under certain circumstances including pregnancy and high blood pressure.
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