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We were born to worry – and run- as per Springsteen’s 1975’s hit song. So, we should not feel guilty for practicing something that is in our nature/ innate to us. However, worrying does not leave us unharmed, and it can even affect our physical and mental health.
One of the most common disorders Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects around 6.8 million American adults a year as per The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) latest estimates. What strike us when attempting to overcome anxiety first is usually anti-anxiety prescription drugs such as Prozac, Paxil or Xanax and the second option is often costly therapy sessions. Where the former have dire withdrawal symptoms on your mental and physical health and the latter is extremely expensive and can be very time consuming.
Meditation in its various forms, on the other hand, have proven their effectiveness when it comes to relieving anxiety and thoughts control. In this article, we will provide a thorough guide on the common meditation practices, purpose and benefits of meditation, and breathing and posture tips and techniques.
The earliest documentation of meditation discusses the Hindu traditions (Vedantism) and meditation forms of ancient India circa 1500 BCE. Following Ancient India, newer forms of meditation (Dhyana) have developed in China and India around 6th to 5th century BCE.
Roots to Buddhist meditation goes as far back as the 1st century BCE records in sutras of the Pali Canon, though the exact origin remains debatable among scholars. The records emphasizes a key combination to salvation through observance of the rules of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge, and liberation. These founding elements have paved the way of salvation, inspired enlightened wisdom directing to Zen.
Around 20 BCE, Philo of Alexandria, too, has composed a form of spiritual exercises including attention and concentration, he was then followed by Plotinus. Saint Augustine had tried experimenting with Plotinus’s methods of meditation but they proved no merit. Plotinus’s techniques have also failed to attract Christian followers.
Other various religious had early meditative practices, for instance, the Sufi Muslim’s Muraqaba meditation. Muraqaba is translated literally to “Watching over” in Arabic, circa 1630.
Other forms of Sufi meditation is Dhikr or remembrance of god through the repetition of words. Dhikr was systematized in Sufism in the 11th and 12th centuries Jewish meditation, too, has risen and changed by the Middle Ages, the practices were included in prayer, their 613 commandments or mizvot, and study. (Kabbalistic and philosophic practices/techniques). In Eastern Christian meditation, a practice of repetition of words or sentences in a particular physical posture is used. They can also include the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. On the contrary, Western Christian meditation highlights “Lectio Divina” or divine reading. Reading, pondering, praying and contemplating was progressed through Benedictine monks.
The main goal of meditation is to explore one’s mind and even go far beyond our basic thinking. Meditation aims to expose you to your essential nature, and allow you to recall a peaceful and blissful state whenever you need it.
Meditation is not something schools feed us as students, rather than a practice we learn ourselves in order to discipline our minds, relax our bodies and simply breathe.
We are seldom taught how to reach the very center of our consciousness however beneficial the technique may be for our well-being. Meditation allows us to rest our minds while maintaining a state of total/complete consciousness.
Meditation highly contribute to anxiety relief as well as decrease various mental disorders including but not limited to social anxiety, depression, panic attacks, attention deficit and eating or hyperactivity disorders. In fact, according to Madhav Goyal (2014), anxiety was the most common reason why people practice meditation.
Meditation has numerous health benefits including improved blood circulation, increased volumes in areas responsible for emotion regulation and self-control, lower blood cortisol levels and lower heart rate, increased cortical thickness in areas responsible for attention, less perspiration, less anxiety, slower respiratory rate, less stress, improved well-being and deep relaxation.
Practising meditation regularly also improves your ability to focus, multi-task, and even your ability to work think creatively and retain information.
According to this review by JAMA Internal Medicine, “Meditation programs can reduce the negative dimensions of psychological stress. Mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, show small improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain with moderate evidence and small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life with low evidence when compared with nonspecific active controls.”
Meditation does not only improve your health and overall well-being, it also gives your social life a major boost. While the practice itself empowers solidarity, meditation allows you to become more compassionate and socially connected to others, it increases emotional intelligence and decreases senses of loneliness.
Meditative practices helps us stay atop of our daily hectic lives. It allows us to take control, in whichever way we know. Meditation inspires us to become wiser, more patient to take on all of our problems and manage to solve them in any way we can. There’s no way to controlling our thoughts and minds completely, but with meditation, one learns to not let negative thoughts and emotions be in the driver’s seat?
How does meditation helps us overcome anxiety?
According to Cleveland Clinic, “Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adult Americans. They are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. Most anxiety disorders begin in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. They occur more often in women than in men.”
Simply put, meditative practices allow us to start breaking down negative thinking patterns, overthinking, constant worrying and stress. While there is no definite reason behind anxiety, studies show that it may be caused by a brain chemical imbalance, develop as a result of a certain trauma, or be inherited from parents much like eye color.
Sustaining a meditation routine will increase worry and stress tendencies, help you overcome mood disorders, and even reduce inflammation and pro-inflammatory genes.
There are several types of postures that vary in their effectiveness and physical strength requirements, such as the quarter lotus, the half lotus, the full lotus, the Burmese position, the seiza position and the chair position.
The basic points to cover while trying to maintain a perfect posture as a beginner are:
Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair with your back straightened. Try to maintain an erect position that will allow you to deeply concentrate on the flow of your breath. Keeping an elongated spine is an integral part of this practice.
Do not worry about the position of your legs. Many beginners remain concerned with the “perfect” leg position, similar to the one they see in photos. However, what matters most is to keep them comfortable whichever way you can, whether you like to extend them or cross them.
Just like your leg position,there’s no textbook preference, so, don’t bother with worrying about your hands. It’s important to keep them in a comfortable position. A lot of people like to keep their hands rested on their laps or at their sides.
Relax your shoulders and establish a strong back while maintaining an open front body. You can push your shoulders back slightly if it’s more comfortable that way.
Keeping your eyes opened or closed is a personal preference. So feel free to open or close them whenever you like. Try to keep your chin tilted as if you’re looking downward as to facilitate breathing and helps you keep an open chest.
Focus on inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Don’t breathe with your mouth. Make sure your facial muscles are all relaxed and direct your energy and attention to each breath you take. Avoid getting caught up in surrounding distractions like the color of the wall paint or the lining of the floor tiles.
Allow yourself to relax and surrender to the flow of your breath. Concentrating on your breathing can be quite fun. Some people prefer to observe their nosal movement, or their lungs’ contraction and expansion, others like to listen to the sound of each breath. There is no perfect way to doing it, much like meditation itself, just focus on remaining as comfortable as you can be.
Bring your attention back after every passing thought. A common mistake that first-timers and beginners often make is confusing having any “passing thought” with failing in the meditation session. It’s highly likely that your mind will wander during meditation, at that point it is vital to re-focus and shift your attention back to your breath. An great method that I’ve personally found beneficial is to label whatever thoughts you have simply as “a minor thought” that in no way affects your current solitude or disrupts your meditative state.
Firstly, start small.
Don’t force yourself into 45 or 60-minute meditation sessions. Meditation is very flexible and you can observe results quite easily. Begin with 3-5 minutes of meditation where you only focus on your breathe. Even if you find 3 minutes excessive, you can start with as little as counting three consecutive breaths.
Secondly, sit where you’re most comfortable.
It’s vital that you dedicate a comfortable spot around the house where you can easily relax and lie comfortably for a while. You can always invest in a cushion or a meditation chair if you opt for extra comfortable seating options.
Thirdly, regulate your meditation time for practice.
Select a timing that best suits your daily schedule. Regulating the hour will help you keep a nice momentum. Begin with a small duration and gradually work your way upward.
Fourthly, find your posture.
As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no key position, just a bunch of essentials to follow for successful sessions and effective results. New meditators are always advised to find their own perfect posture were they can focus and sit or lie comfortably for long periods of time.
Fifthly, lose all constraints and focus on your flow of breaths.
Now that you’ve set the perfect atmosphere for your meditation session, it’s time to concentrate all of your efforts on being present and committing to the moment. No matter how many times your mind wanders, always try to shift the focus back to each inhale and exhale you take.
Focused meditation allows us to nourish our concentration and sustain our attention on subjects or matters we choose. The most common technique is focusing on the flow of breaths, the movement of your rib cages as you breath or even the movement of your nostrils.
Much like mindfulness, witnessing empowers our mental health and deepens our perspective which allows us to find inner peace. It allows us to simply surrender to the power of an observing thought, a certain feeling or a magnificent experience without negative attachments.
Contemplative prayer is considered “the simplest expression” of the essence of prayer. It’s a sincere form of communication that requires no or minimal usage of words. Religions have various contemplative practices that include praying, chanting, turning or fasting. Prayers seek God’s presence and attempt to nourish their souls and vision with this celebrated union with Him. this technique enables us to deepen our beliefs and truly connect with life’s source or God.
Zazen is the heart and soul of Zen Buddhism. It emphasizes concentration on the present moment, establishing a state of awareness and an ability to let go of whatever is holding you down. Zazen often include methods to focus such as counting each breath. Concentration to find your real self, and thus, find your inner peace. To start if off, find a good space, use a cushion or pillow if it helps, stick to comfortable posture (options vary) straighten your back and relax your shoulders.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best options for beginners. According to Medical News Today, practicing mindfulness meditation can show improvement in anxiety, depression, and pain. This meditation practice is very flexible and you don’t have to opt for more than 10-15 minutes as a beginner. Even as little as 3-5 minutes per day can help you have a clearer mind. Mindfulness focuses on you breathing flow and allow you to overcome distractions.
Contemplation is usually takes prolonged thinking and great devotion to a certain matter. This is why this method is usually involved in religious prayers. Contemplation is an integral element in any Christian form of prayer.
A method of meditation that involved using tools such as sounds, lights, or electromagnetic fields. It works by stimulating the brain to follow the given frequency. You might have stumbled upon this mechanism while reading about sleep induction or relaxation and focus meditation.
All in all, meditation helps us become better versions of ourselves by exploring our souls and discovering our true spirits. Contrary to popular beliefs, committing to daily meditation practices is quite feasible and your session, however little time you dedicate to it even if under 20 minutes, will still how great results.
Meditation is more than just sitting silently. It acquires giving in with all of your senses to a particular thought, for instance breathing, focusing on redirecting back your mind if it wanders and empowering your stillness these fundamental principles of meditation will help you take control of negative thoughts and reduce anxiety. As the Author of Awakening Inner Guru and Mindfulness: Living in the Moment Living in the Breath, Amit Ray, put it: “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
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