“An angry mind cannot conquer its own anger; fear cannot quench fear. Instead, a technique is required that goes beyond the domain where fear, anger, and all other forms of mental ama hold sway. This technique is meditation. If properly taught and used, meditation allow a person to become unstuck from the ama in his thoughts and emotions. …When you examine the background static of worry, resentment, wishful thinking, fantasy, unfulfilled hopes, and vague dreams in your head, it becomes clear that the internal dialogue going on inside is literally controlling us.”
– Dr. Deepak Chopra (2000, p. 158)
When most people think of meditation they imagine a monk sitting Indian style in a temple and going “Uhmmm…” over and over again. And so when most people imagine this scene, it’s understandably hard for them to find it appealing or see how such a practice could have any benefits in their own life. Yet more and more people are discovering the art of meditation and relaxation, and swearing on the improvements it has brought to their lives. Once you better understand the principles behind the practice of meditation, you may find that it can be an effective tool to release stress and overcome adversity in your own life.
What is meditation?
“Isaac was out walking in order to meditate in the field at about
the falling of evening . . .” – Genesis 24:63
The dictionary definition of meditation is to contemplate; to consider thoughtfully. Most people today think of meditation as the art of quieting the mind by focusing on a single object or reflecting upon a specific set of thoughts. The goal of these exercises is to bring relaxation and reduce stress by breaking the cycle of normal hyperactive thought patterns in the brain that result from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Meditation can be practiced in a number of different variations that can be fine-tuned to try and address a specific purpose. Generally meditation involves A) Getting into a comfortable position (any position), and then B) Trying to focus on a specific thought for a set amount of time while preventing your mind from wandering to other things. Focused breathing techniques are commonly incorporated into meditation.
Who should meditate?
Meditation therapy and relaxation techniques are commonly prescribed for people with depression, panic or anxiety disorders, ongoing stress, or for general health maintenance, brain alertness and cardiovascular health.
How meditation works
Meditation may work to alleviate stress and improve mental health in several ways. For one, when done properly, it can be relaxing. Taking a break of calm and quiet at a certain point throughout the day can be refreshing, and many experienced mediators claim that 20-30 minutes of meditation can leave them feeling as rejuvenated as they do after a good night’s sleep. In the same way that focused breathing can tap into the body’s stress response system and alter
reactive stress cycles, meditation can work to interrupt patterns of stress and rumination that occur in the mind. It can be akin to hitting the reset button on your brain. “By eliminating all distractions save the sound of your breath, meditation transforms the body’s fight-or-flight response to relaxation,” says Dr. Jay Winner, author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life. (Boone, 2012)
Meditation requires that people think about their thinking. Most of us rush through life reacting and responding to stress, but very seldom do we take the time to sit down and consciously focus our thoughts. Meditation calls upon us to get control over our ruminations and direct our mind in a certain way. Throughout this process a person can attain better emotional awareness. Especially through fighting off the intrusive thoughts that get in the way of meditation, one becomes more aware of the underlying sources of stress
in their lives and how this drives their emotional reactions.
Meditation is also a form of mental training. It’s a process of working to become aware of and consciously direct one’s thoughts, and perfecting this skill through practice can lead to very real effects on cognition. In the same way that exercise can tone your stomach into a six pack, mental training such as meditation and relaxation techniques can fine-tune the brain and alter your
emotional style, or the “consistent way of responding to the experiences in our lives.” (Davidson & Begley, 2012) In fact, brain scans reveal that experienced meditators can direct their mind and engage in many brain-control tasks far better than non-meditators. This has many useful purposes, such as allowing
us to better interrupt destructive thinking whenever we become consumed by it.
Meditation requires practice in order for it to work. It’s not as simple as sitting down in a quiet room for 20 minutes. Most people will find it exceedingly difficult in the beginning to keep their mind focused and on task. But for those who stay persistent and engage in it regularly, it’s a skill that yields numerous dividends.