Meditation is an approach to train the mind, similar to how fitness is an approach to train the body. Many meditation techniques exist so how do you learn how to meditate?
In Buddhist tradition, the word meditation is equivalent to a word like sports in North America. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing, Plus, different meditation practices require different mental skills.
It can be tough for a beginner to sit for hours and think of nothing or have an empty mind. Generally, the easiest way to begin meditating is to focus on the breath. The most common approach to meditation is concentration.
CONCENTRATION MEDITATION. Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point; i.e, following the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong, or counting beads on a mala. Since focusing is so challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes, then work up to longer durations.
Here, simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, simply let them go. Your ability to concentrate improves via this process.
MINDFULNESS MEDITATION. Here, the practitioner observes wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or judge them, but to just be aware of each mental note as it arises.
Here, witness how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of your tendency to quickly judge an experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, an inner balance develops.
In some meditation schools, students practice a blend of concentration and mindfulness. Based on the teacher, many disciplines call for stillness to a greater or lesser degree.
OTHER MEDITATION TECHNIQUES. Other meditation techniques also exist. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. Moving meditation techniques include tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.
BENEFITS OF MEDITATION. While not always the goal, relaxation is often a result of meditation. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response” after conducting research on transcendental meditation (TM) practitioners. According to Benson, the relaxation response is an opposite, involuntary response that reduces sympathetic nervous system activity.
Studies on the relaxation response have reported the following short term benefits to the nervous system:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
- Lower heart rate
- Less perspiration
- Slower respiratory rate
- Less anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol levels
- More feelings of well-being
- Less stress
- Deeper relaxation
Contemporary researchers are now asking whether a consistent meditation practice yields longterm benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. YNote that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits. In Eastern philosophy, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present.
In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.
Simple Meditation Exercise For Beginners
- Sit or lie comfortably. Why not invest in a meditation chair or cushion? Close your eyes. It helps to use a cooling eye mask or restorative eye pillows if lying down.
- Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
- Focus on your breath and on how your body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, then try it for longer periods.