You’ve likely seen meditation portrayed in movies and television as people sitting cross-legged with their heads down in silence. But what exactly are they really doing? Is this an accurate depiction? And what significance does this hold beyond religion and in terms of well-being?
This article will focus on the origins, types and importance of meditation.
History and Origin
The history of when meditation was first practiced is somewhat muddled, although it’s believed to have been first practiced by hunters and gatherers years before it became a religious practice. It’s thought that meditation actually had its earliest religious roots in Hinduism. Buddha, however, is arguably the largest proponent of meditation, as he began practicing it as part of the Buddhist religion around 500 B.C. While Buddha didn’t create or start meditation, Buddha’s teachings helped it spread across the Asian continent. As it spread, people discovered and developed different ways of perceiving meditation and practicing it. Meditation didn’t spread into Western civilization until thousands of years after it emerged in Asia. And it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that university professors and researchers truly began to study the meditation practice and understand its origins and benefits beyond religion.
According to ancient teachings, meditation is defined as a way to change how the mind works. Under these teachings, everyone is destined to make mistakes, some of it which is based on desire. And while people may say that they’re going to change something about their life, saying it is a lot different than doing it. That’s where meditation comes in: It’s designed to raise the mental awareness to change habits that are a part of your lifestyle. It helps you to truly think about things in your life that you need change and then mentally try to change it.
Meditation is intended to be liberating – a chance to rid your mind of the day’s problems to concentrate on change. It’s also said to be relaxing, as typically you’re practicing in complete silence for minutes at a time. In fact, some teachers teach you to begin meditating at 15 minutes, then gradually extending the meditation periods by five minutes each week until you’re at a point where you’re meditating for 45 minutes at a time. This is because your mind and concentration takes time to improve and get to the point where you can shut out most other thoughts. This ensures that you get times of true peace.
While there are many different varieties of meditation that are practiced today, the two main types are “Mindfulness of Breathing” and “Loving Kindness Meditation.” The first type mentioned here, not surprisingly, focuses on breathing, while the latter focuses more on quality of life.
In meditation, it’s important to find a quiet place to practice and then find a comfortable posture to sit in. Since you’re likely going to be sitting in the same position for eventually up to 45 minutes, it’s a good idea to sit comfortably, and perhaps even add comfort to your posture with a pillow. In “Mindfulness of Breathing” meditation, start by focusing completely on the in and outs of your breath. According to Buddhist teachings, this helps to enhance your concentration and achieve a mental peace and calm.
“Loving Kindness Meditation” should be done after you’ve mastered and have become comfortable with the “Mindfulness of Breathing” meditation. This is characterized by wishing both yourself and other people you know well as you meditate.
Other types of meditation are tranquility and insight. The former aims to train the mind to concentrate while the latter is designed to help a person realize and understand certain truths in life.
So how can meditation help benefit you? In Loving Kindness Meditation, positive change is encouraged to take place both in how you perceive yourself and how you perceive and feel towards others. This type of meditation teaches you to forgive yourself, to look at others differently and to nurture your feelings toward yourself and toward others. This can be a very powerful and uplifting practice as it certainly can lead to a higher quality of life. There’s many more benefits to meditation that piggyback off of the Buddhist way, which can be learned in the section directly below.
Yes, meditation can be powerful. But how? It’s because of the human mind – it’s arguably the most significant part of your body. Meditation simply teaches you how to focus your mental energy on positive things so that they can help you live more prosperously. Think of it like this: It’s often said that golf is a game that is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical and if you don’t have the ability to use your mind and concentrate at the task at hand, the physical attributes can only carry you so far. Not surprisingly, it should be noted that Tiger Woods is a practicing Buddhist and he’s currently No. 2 all-time on the PGA Tour win list.
Additionally, meditation is intended to encourage spiritual enlightenment, though many people practice it for its health benefits.
Benefits in Modern Life
Perhaps Buddha was on to something thousands of years ago when he began practicing meditation as part of the Buddhist religion. As we previously mentioned, many professors and researchers have done studies on the benefits of meditation. And the benefits are plentiful, based on some of the research and findings – both psychological and physiological. Here is a rundown of some of the benefits, according to a study by University of Florida
- A decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Better immune system: Findings have indicated that regular practice of meditation can not only help people fight colds and illness, but can also help slow or control the pain of serious diseases and illnesses.
- A lower rate of stress and anxiety. Findings have also found this can elevate the mood of those who regular practice it.
- An increase in intellect.
- Better emotional state: We’ve already covered how regular practice of meditation can lead to an elevation in mood, but in addition, meditation can also help forge better relationships with your family and friends, reduce irritability, increase your self-esteem and have you feeling younger, fresher and rejuvenated.
Based on some of these discoveries, it’s proof that not only is meditation good for the mind, but good for the body. And if not for the teachings of Buddha, none of this might have ever been discovered. In fact, some people are even beginning to meditate outside of the Buddhist religion for its benefits.