Warning: This content discusses sensitive mental health issues
What is meditation?
Meditation is a widely practised technique, which has many mental health benefits. It is a mindfulness practise and involves focusing and clearing the mind. The term meditation originates from the Latin term meditatum that means ‘to ponder’. Meditating is the practice of focusing the mind for a period of time without engaging with any thoughts that may pop up in your head. The practice of meditating can be done in complete silence, someone instructing you or chanting. Some people may decide to meditate for religious reasons others may meditate as a form of relaxation. According to scientists, meditation can be helpful in fighting chronic illnesses such as heart disease including depression.
Where did it originate?
The exact origin of meditation is not known, but some researchers believe it started in India several thousand years ago around 467-221 BC then spread to other countries in the world such as Japan and China. Many religions and cultures such as Hindus and Buddhists practice meditation. In the west, meditation became popular around the 18th century when people started to realise the mental and physical benefit to meditating.
These are five popular types of meditation:
1. Mindfulness meditation
The practice involves paying attention to one's thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations in a non-judgmental way, often by focusing on the breath or an object. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to develop a greater sense of awareness and clarity, which can lead to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, and increased well-being. It can be practiced alone or with a teacher, and many resources, such as apps and books, are available for those who wish to learn more about the practice.
2. Spiritual meditation
This is a type of meditation that is practiced in many different religious and spiritual traditions around the world, including Hinduism, Taoism, and Christianity. In spiritual meditation, the goal is to cultivate a deeper connection with a higher power, such as God, the Universe, or a particular deity or spiritual figure. This may involve reflecting on sacred texts or teachings, reciting prayers or mantras, or simply sitting in silence and opening oneself up to the divine presence.
3. Concentration meditation
The goal of concentration meditation is to develop the ability to sustain one's attention on the chosen object or sensation, and to cultivate a sense of mental clarity and calm. By repeatedly bringing one's attention back to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders, one can strengthen their ability to concentrate and improve their overall focus and productivity. Some may try counting mala beads or listening to calming sounds such as a gong.
4. Progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation is a meditative technique that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body to promote physical and mental relaxation. It is often used as a relaxation technique to help reduce stress, anxiety, and promote better sleep. By consciously tensing and releasing different muscle groups, it can help individuals become more aware of their bodily sensations and encourage the body to release any tension or stress that may be present. Additionally, the use of imagery, such as imagining a wave of relaxation flowing through the body, can also enhance the experience and deepen relaxation. This type of meditation is usually used before going to bed.
5. Mindfulness meditation
Compassion meditation, also known as loving-kindness meditation, is a type of meditation that aims to cultivate feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance towards oneself and others. It typically involves directing positive thoughts and well-wishes towards oneself, loved ones, acquaintances, and eventually all living beings. During this type of meditation, practitioners focus on generating feelings of love, kindness, and compassion towards oneself and others. They may begin by picturing themselves in a peaceful and happy state, and then gradually extend these feelings of well-being to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and eventually to all sentient beings. The practice of compassion meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, increasing feelings of social connectedness, and promoting greater overall well-being.
Not every style of meditation will suit everyone all these meditations require different mindsets and skills and it is up to you to find out what meditation style suits your body the best.
Benefits of meditation
There are many benefits to regular meditation practice, including:
Reduced stress and anxiety: Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and decrease anxiety symptoms. A study found that mindfulness meditation is the best type of meditation for people with stress or anxiety.
Improved emotional well-being: Regular meditation practice can lead to improved emotional regulation, greater feelings of calm and happiness, and an overall sense of well-being.
Increased focus and concentration: Meditation improves cognitive function and enhances attention, allowing individuals to concentrate better and be more productive.
Better sleep: Meditation can help individuals fall asleep faster and improve the quality of their sleep.
Reduced symptoms of depression: Research suggests that regular meditation can help alleviate symptoms of depression and improve mood.
Lower blood pressure: Studies have shown that meditation can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Increased self-awareness: Meditation can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, leading to greater self-awareness and self-understanding.
Improved immune function: Some research suggests that meditation can boost the immune system, reducing the risk of illness and disease.
Increased empathy and compassion: Meditation has been shown to increase empathy and compassion, leading to better relationships and a more positive social outlook.