Meditation is one of the proven alternative therapies that in recent years have been classified under mind-body medicine therapies. It continues to gain popularity as more and more health experts believe that the connection between mind and body is greater than modern medicine can explain. Meditation has been shown to help the immune system and improve brain activity, according to researchers. More and more doctors are prescribing meditation as a way to lower blood pressure, improve exercise performance, for people with angina, help people with asthma breathe easier, relieve insomnia, and generally relax the daily stresses of life. Many hospitals now offer meditation classes for their patients because of the health benefits. All promote physiological health and well-being.
Traditionally, meditation has been used for spiritual growth, but more recently it has become a valuable tool for managing stress and finding a place of peace, relaxation, and tranquility in a demanding and fast-paced world. The resulting benefits of meditation include: physical and emotional healing; relief from stress, fear, and grief; improved breathing; development of intuition; deep relaxation; exploration of higher realities; seeking inner guidance; release of creativity; manifestation of change; emotional clearing and balancing; and deepening of concentration and insight.
Meditation elicits many descriptive terms: stillness, silence, tranquility, peace, stillness and calm. All counteract stress and tension. Lama Surya Das in his book Awakening the Buddha Within says, “Meditation is not just something to do; it is a method of being and seeing – an unconditional way of living moment by moment. In other words, learning to live in this moment because this moment is all we have. Henry Winkler is quoted as saying, “The first responsibility of a human being is to shake hands with himself. Meditation is an opportunity to “shake hands” in a safe and simple way and to balance our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
Meditation takes many forms in today’s society. They all have one thing in common. They use concentration techniques to calm the mind and stop thinking. There are various practices such as chanting (Mantra), focusing on the body’s energy centers (Chakra Meditation), breathing, attention (Mahamudra), loving-kindness, formal sitting (Vipassana), expressive practices (Siddha Yoga), and walking to name a few of the styles. Try each style and see what works for you, or you may want to alternate between the techniques from time to time. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss Mahamudra and walking meditation.
Practical Steps to Start Meditating
1. Find a place where there are few outside distractions. A place where you feel emotionally comfortable, safe, and free from pressure and stress is the optimal place.
2. Wear loose clothing and sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
3. Plan to meditate in an area that is warm and comfortable. You may want to have a blanket or light cover as some people experience a cool sensation when they are not moving for a period of time.
4. Candles can be used to focus attention on the task at hand. If you use them, remember to be cautious and extinguish them before leaving the room.
5. Relaxation is a key component of meditation. Take a few moments to achieve a state of relaxation by breathing deeply through your nose, expanding your lungs and diaphragm. Hold your breath for a few seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this several times until you feel relaxed.
6. Calm and relaxing music can be helpful in inducing a state of calm and relaxation
7. If you are hungry, eat something, since it is not necessary to meditate with a completely empty stomach.
8. Leave your expectations aside and don’t worry about doing it right.