Meditation 101: 9 easy steps to bliss
Those who meditate are thrice less likely to have heart diseases, depression, and stress. Here are 9 steps to find inner peace and beat the stress.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an ancient eastern practice aimed to increase self-awareness and balance one's inner and outer life.
The Indians and Chinese have spiritual texts dating back to more than 3000 years, where they've shared hundreds of methods to meditate and reach a higher state of consciousness. Science is now catching up with the wisdom of this practice and the profound impact it has on health and overall well-being.
Health benefits of meditation
- Increases immunity
- Increases blood flow and slows down the heart rate
- Helps decrease chances of heart attack
- Reduces stress
- Increases cognitive skills
- Improves memory
- Fights depression and anxiety
- Reduces chances of accidents and road rage
- Restores the digestive system and aids better absorption of nutrients
- Diminishes migraine headaches
- Relieves insomnia
- Aids neural communication
- Decreases chances of degenerative (age-related) diseases
- Decreases muscle tension
- Reduces premenstrual symptoms (including cramps and mood swings)
- Assists rehab and de-addiction
The science of meditation
Research done on brain chemicals reveal that those who meditate have higher levels of dopamine and serotonin—neurotransmitters responsible for overall mental health. Low levels of dopamine and serotonin cause depression, anxiety and a host of other mental illnesses.
Tests run (with electrodes placed on the scalp) to capture brain waves suggest that those who meditate as little as twenty minutes daily show higher alpha-waves activity. Alpha waves are linked to a deep state of relaxation when the brain isn't focused on intentional and goal-oriented tasks. At the same time, this state is not like sleep, neither does it mean the mind is void. It suggests a relaxed, wakeful state.
Apart from these, thousands of medical experts agree to the changes body processes go through as a result of meditation.
How to meditate
If you are new to meditation, you can follow these simple steps to ease into a deeply satisfying daily routine.
1. Find a comfortable place where you are unlikely to be disturbed by noise or other interruptions.
2. For the first session, slot at least fifteen minutes where you don't have to worry about other commitments.
3. Settle yourself into a comfortable sitting position. People prefer the lotus pose, but this isn't the priority. Feeling comfortable is.
4. Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths and allow your attention to focus on your body sensations.
5. What do you hear around you? Do you feel hot or cold? Is there a muscle tightness or stretch anywhere? Is there a place you feel any pain? This awareness brings you to the present and be within your body, rather than be lost in your thoughts.
6. Slowly bring your attention to your breath. Focus on the air that rushes in with every inhalation, follow it through to your navel, and feel the air leave your nostrils.
7. After a couple of minutes, your mind is likely to wonder what's going on.
8. Gently bring your attention back to your breath. Have a calm, gentle awareness of how your system takes care of itself.
9. Do not control your breath. Don't try to make it better or deeper. Just be with your natural flow. (During the course of a day, you do not breathe for your body. It handles it for you. When you sit to meditate, you simply acknowledge this process.) Read a little secret below before the last step is revealed.
Here's the secret
Has there been a single moment where your mind isn't thinking about something or the other? The answer, I bet, is no. Even when you aren't focusing on a specific task, unconsciously, there are memories, images from the past, old songs, unfinished arguments, emotions running in the backdrop. Nonstop.
The western mind cannot comprehend that we are more than just the thoughts. Descarte's famous quote "I think, therefore I am." is considered a profound statement of self-inquiry. What the eastern philosophers and mystics discovered thousands of years ago is that to be able to know one thinks, there needs to be a consciousness beyond it. During meditation, they found a space, a center within, where they can observe their thoughts. All great artists and creators are aware of this space within. They refer to as being in touch with the "flow." A state of relaxed, wakefulness from which creativity and original ideas spring.
This doesn't mean they didn't value rationale or objective thoughts. In fact, through meditation, your normal cognitive skills, creativity, and clarity heighten. But you remain the master of your thoughts, not the other way around.
The final step
The eastern experts compare the human mind to a restless monkey. It cannot stay still without jumping from one thought to another. When you sit to meditate, you will find yourself getting carried away by your thoughts. Become aware of it and bring your focus back to the present—to your breath.
As you focus your attention on your breath, you will find your mind wandering. A thought will arise, so will emotions, body sensations, memories, images, songs you've heard before, etc.
The trick is to let them rise and let them be, but not to identify with them. Every time something arises, you simply watch it. Thoughts like these are most common in the first session:
"Did I shut the stove?"
"Is that a cat I hear?"
"This is so silly, what am I doing?"
"Ah. I should have told him what I really felt."
"My back feels funny."
"I hope no one is watching."
Let these thoughts have their say, you simply let them pass. Slowly, as you begin watching your thoughts, you will discover a silence, a calm, a "gap" between your thoughts. This first dip beyond your thoughts is called "satori" in the east.
Inhaaaleee, exhaaale, peace out
The main aim of meditation is to create a space within wherein you are not affected by every thought that occurs in your mind. Yogis (practitioners of yoga) call it "witnessing your thoughts." This might sound hocus-pocus or silly. But give it a try, anyways. Within a few days, you will find yourself more relaxed and less affected by your everyday thoughts and emotions.
A few other tips:
- Take it easy. This isn't a chore. It's fun
- Meditate outdoors. Nature can quickly put you in touch with inner stillness
- Use meditative music to help you calm down and ease into the state
- Try yoga, if you enjoy working with your body
- Laugh a couple of times a day. Create a reason, if you don't find one
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