The first time I was invited to a meditation session as part of a yoga class in my late teens, I could not think of a more awkward group activity to join. In fact, I found out as I learned more about meditation that many of us think meditation involves groups of people chanting “oms” in unison. Although some people may prefer practicing this way, meditation can take many forms. It’s simply a way of stilling the mind through focused attention on breathing, and blocking out the distractions that bombard us daily.
People who practice meditation on a regular basis say the sense of calm they achieve through meditation fosters peace and clarity, allowing them to become intensely aware of themselves and the world around them. They can then observe what is going on around and within them without assigning judgment. Acceptance can be liberating and relaxing, allowing us to live in each moment.
Different types of meditation include transcendental, Zen, Taoist, mantra (remember those “oms?”), mindfulness, and Buddhist meditation. While traditions and practice may differ, the end objective is to quiet our minds, free our bodies of stress and negativity, and focus attention on the here and now. No matter which meditation practice we choose, it’s important that we learn how to breathe deeply and properly in order to slow our heart rates and increase the intake of oxygen into all the cells in our bodies. Once we learn how to breathe correctly, we can begin incorporating it into other parts of our days (i.e., sitting in traffic or a long meeting, or when a stressful moment arises) and start seeing immediate benefits.
Noemi Martinez, a registered yoga instructor at Sunstone Yoga and the wellness coordinator at the Continental residential building in Dallas, Texas, shares that, for many people, “it is extremely challenging to just sit or lay down and meditate. It’s not easy,” she says, and adds that, “The hardest part is having the discipline to actually give yourself the time to do it.”
Martinez agrees that it’s important for people find the type of practice that works for them, and notes that for her, Gong Meditation and a simple guided meditation led by someone, “always helps lift the weight off my shoulders.”
“In the end, it’s all about making the mind connect with your body and your body with your mind,” Martinez explains. “That’s where I find my meditation. That’s where I find my Zen.”
History and Benefits
Originally, meditation was used to help people reach spiritual enlightenment and growth, but now many people meditate simply in order to bring relaxation and calm into their otherwise chaotic lives. Science continues to discover the positive impacts meditation has on our health and longevity, leading more health professionals to recommend that we add it to our daily routine along with exercise, good sleep, and a healthy diet.
According to a benchmark meditation study, people who meditated for just 30 minutes daily for eight weeks experienced benefits in areas of the brain that govern memory, learning, emotion, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Other studies point to other benefits of meditation that include reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, preventing memory loss, lowering blood pressure, and helping people quit smoking. Meditation has also been shown to improve immunity, increase fertility, and help people achieve emotional balance.