Consider meditation. What comes to mind? Do you see images of wise men in loincloths sitting cross-legged? Are they in the Himalayas meditating for hours, with minds completely devoid of thought? Even if your image is not that exotic, you may still wonder, what is meditation and what are its benefits? And what is the best meditation for you? Or, what is the difference between meditation and this “mindfulness” word we are hearing so much about?
Meditation — from the Latin root word “meditatum,” which means to ponder or contemplate — is a practice of mental training to help focus attention, slow down the frequency of thoughts and relax the body. Traditionally, practitioners (mostly, though not exclusively, in Eastern cultures) use meditation for spiritual insight and to invoke a higher power.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that has taken off in the U.S. because it is distinctly secular and is where much of the current scientific studies about the benefits of meditation are centered. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert elder in the mindfulness arena, defines mindfulness as “…paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
Sharon Salzberg, another mindfulness heavyweight, adds that, “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.”
All meditation has myriad benefits, from stress relief to lowering blood pressure to improving attention span and emotional regulation. The list continues. One study cited in The Sport Journal even says that mindfulness meditation can help sports performance. You don’t need science to tell you the potential benefits of setting aside time in your busy day, consciously breathing and gaining some perspective on your thoughts.
There are many different forms of meditation — things like focused attention (a good place to start is to focus on the breath), loving-kindness, mantra and more. Yoga, tai chi and walking are all forms of moving meditation. With so many different avenues of meditation, how do you know which type of meditation is best for you? The best thing to do is research and try the different types until you find one that suits you best. There are also plenty of resources, such as books or smartphone apps available to help guide you through short meditations in the morning, middle of the day or before going to bed.
If you have been on the fence about trying meditation, take the plunge. At the very least, it can help you feel a sense of calm and peace. At its highest form, it can put you in touch with a deeper part of yourself and can become a powerful part of your self-care and spiritual practices.
A Simple Meditation
- Sit with your spine erect but not rigid.
- Take a few breaths.
- Place your attention on your lower belly under your navel.
- On the inhale, feel your belly rise.
- On the exhale, feel your belly fall.
- Keep your attention on the sensation of the rise and fall of your lower belly.
- When your attention/mind wanders, return to the focus on your breath.
- Do this for three to five minutes or however long feels good to you. Join one of the weekend programs. They’re fun, educational and free with your admission.