Updated: Mar 16
The healing benefits of meditation are numerous, with more people every day using the practice to reduce stress, promote wellbeing and offset the impact that our technology-driven culture has on our mental, emotional, and physical health.
Research over the past two decades has demonstrated that meditation yields beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Recent neuroimaging studies are now able to show just how these amazing benefits take place. They demonstrate that regular meditation encourages neural plasticity, promoting changes in brain areas and neural networks that enable these positive effects (1). In this article we'll talk about the fundamental principles of mindfulness meditation, the different types of practices that you can engage with, how you can start meditating at home, and we will also provide you with links to different guided meditations for you to try.
What is Meditation, and Why Does it Matter?
Meditation is about building new habits and is, in its essence, a training for the mind. This training can help you to learn to decelerate the busy mind, reduce negativity, and soothe the mind and body, providing a sense of balance that continues long after the meditation practice itself has finished. Mindfulness employs the vipassana meditation technique, which can be translated as “insight” or “to see things as they really are” (2). In Vipassana meditation to aim is to move away from trying to control the experience but instead just be a witness to your inner self. There is no goalgoal in meditation. The philosophy is that the practice is used to create some stillness and to foster your awareness of the events of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Meditation is about being open to the experience as it unfolds with a sense of acceptance simply because what is happening is already happening.
There are several different ways to practice mindfulness meditation, which are outlined below. Generally, meditation entails using the breath as an anchor while opening to the awareness of body and mind. You use the breath as a focus. When the mind wanders, which it will, you simply notice where it has gone, and then bring it back to the anchor: the breath. No special props, oils, candles, beads, or clothing needed. To begin, all you need is a place to practice where you will feel comfortable and an open and non-judgmental mind.
How long do I need to meditate?
Like anything, practice makes perfect, and the more often you can meditate, the greater the results will be. Although the benefits of meditation can be felt immediately after the first session, to really notice the impact on your emotional, physical and psychological health, it is recommended that you adopt a regular meditation practice. This doesn’t have to be every day, but the many benefits are associated with consistency in practice. most research shows that it is the regular practice of meditation that positively impacts the brain with neuroimaging studies showing that these changes occur within as little as 8 weeks (2). As much as a daily meditation will help you carve out the habit of practicing, some studies have found that meditating three to four times per week can also have big benefits.
Remember, meditation is about building new habits and the habit begins with the mediation. This is easier to achieve if you work it into your routine, think it out ahead of time when will be the best time for you. Maybe first thing in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up, during your lunch break, or to wind down before bedtime.
Consistency and intention are key to any meditation practice, regardless of length. You may sit for 1 hour but probably won’t notice any positive results if you’re not sitting purposely, intentionally bringing your attention back to your anchor when it has wandered. Furthermore, its better to meditate for just 10 minutes a day, every day than to randomly sit for long periods. In fact, several studies have shown that meditating for just 10 minutes a day was enough to see significant results. A study carried out by the University of Waterloo in Canada discovered that consistently meditating daily for just 10 minutes, focusing on the breath helped to improve meditators concentration throughout the day. This is an important improvement when we consider that the point of meditation is to begin to live mindfully.
There are some common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation. Mainly that Meditation is about:
· Having a blank mind
· Controlling thoughts or emotions
· Relaxation or reaching a state of Zen
Although it's likely that you will find meditation quite relaxing, relaxation is not the destination. There may be times when you meditate that you feel anxious, bored, restless or tired, this too is part of the process and being able to stay with all experiences is what helps to train to mind.
Meditation is also not a quick fix. Meditation is not about trying to get somewhere or achieve a specific state of mind. It is about exploring, seeing what comes up and getting closer to the workings of your mind: sensations, (the body seated on the cushion or smells around you), the emotions, (what we like, dislike, crave or want to get rid of) and thoughts (should I have eggs and chips for dinner or lasagna). The idea of mindfulness meditation is to shelve any judgment and be open to curiosity about how your mind works, handling your experience with kindness.
How to practice Meditation
First it is important to point of how to practice mediation. The goal of meditation is not to control of get rid of any mental activity. Whatever distractions arise, weather internal or external, we don’t want to change, reject, or try to modify them. When they occur, briefly draw your mind to them. What is it? A thought, an emotion, a sensation, a fantasy or even a sound? It can be anything at all. Is it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? Notice it, acknowledge it, then let it go. Bring your attention back to the breath until the next distraction emerges and repeat the process. This is about coming closer to and getting to know the mind. Focus on the breathing. Notice your thoughts