What is Meditation? Is It Scientifically Proven?

Meditation is an ancient and powerful practice that can transform and uplift us in our body, mind and soul.  Meditation is not as complex as some made it out to be.  It can be as simple as sitting still on your own for five minutes every morning or minding your own business during that short walk to the bus stop.  It can be that simple.

Interestingly this simple practice has been receiving much endorsement from power figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Ellen Degeneres and Paul McCartney. 

What’s so great about meditation?

What is Meditation About

Meditation is about developing our awareness through mindful practice.  It is a process of helping our mind find stillness amid chaos and it is a conscious effort to develop self-awareness that will eventually lead to self-mastery.

Regular practise of meditation can lead to mental clarity, calmness and even physical healing.  It is a subtle yet powerful way of helping us experience all our faculties as a whole person.

Anyone who has lived long enough will understand that in life we seldom get to control our external environment.  Look at the Coronavirus pandemic, who would have thought that this invisible disease can bring the world to a halt?

The only domain that we have influence over is ourselves, our reactions and actions.  The world becomes a better place when we can react to it with less judgment and more self-awareness.  For this to happen, we must first cultivate ourselves, and there is no better way to do this than with meditation.

What can meditation do? 

Through meditation, we stop ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.  It is also through this introspective practice that we can understand how our subconscious conditionings that are impeding us from processing further in life.

During meditation, we take a pause and focused on the present, allowing ourselves to take a moment to be aware of our entire being through quiet focus.

We learned to be content in the current moment despite our external conditions or material status.  It is from this place of balance that we can access the wisdom, creativity, and potential that already exist within us.

Meditation trains the mind to prolong its state of peace and non-judgement.  By constantly bringing our wandering mind back into focus during meditation, we are training our mind to stay focused and appreciate the moment for what it is without being tainted by past experiences.

What Meditation Is Not 

Meditation is not a religious practice 

While meditation is commonly practised in many religions, it can also be practised outside the religious context.  There are many scientifically proven benefits that we can reap from meditating even without involving religious text.

Meditation is not controlling the mind 

One of the main intentions of meditation is to train our mind to work through our lifetime of experiences, knowledge, pain, happiness, memories and emotions without judgement.  It is not about controlling the mind or numbing our feelings, on the contrary, it is about facing our thoughts and emotions with a clear understanding that worrying or ruminating will not improve them.

The Science Behind Meditation

In recent years, science has begun to prove the benefits of meditating.  Yes, it is not a myth, it is scientifically proven!

In a study by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, it was found  that meditation can reduce psychological conditions that relate to stress, anxiety, and depression.  It also increases mental resilience and performance under stress. 

In another research by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), it was also noted that meditation can impact our brain mechanism positively.  It can improve the cortical thickness in our brain and heighten cognitive abilities, all of which are essential benefits to fighting Alzheimer’s disease.

NCCIH also noted that meditation is effective for lowering blood pressure, reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis.

Benefits of Meditation 

Countless studies have proven the long list of benefits that are linked to meditation.  Here are some that are noteworthy:

  • Aligns the physical, cerebral, emotional and energetic faculties
  • Balances the Chakra System
  • Lowers stress level
  • Treats anxiety
  • Heightens cognitive abilities
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves immune system
  • Reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Reduces flare-ups of ulcerative colitis
  • Heightens awareness of self and the environment
  • Controls impulsive behaviour
  • Improves emotional control
  • Improves relationships

Tips for Meditation

Get into the Right Posture

There are many different meditation postures, but a sitting posture is one that is most recommended for beginners.  One option is to sit in a cross-legged position, spine straight and chin slightly dipped.  If this quarter lotus pose is too easy for you, try the full lotus position for a deeper practise!

Alternatively, sitting on a comfortable chair with a straight spine and both feet on the ground is an ideal position too.

These sitting positions allow us to feel the flow of energy that comes through the top of our crown, and to the base of the spine.  By lifting the body and lengthening the spine, we allow the energy to flow through the main energy centres that are lined up along our spine. 

Where are your hands supposed to go during meditation?  

For beginners, try resting your hands on your lap in a way that is most comfortable for you.  Whichever way you place your hands and legs, try to create a closed circuit so that energy can flow through you without disruption.

It is also common to see practitioners using the Gyan mudra to improve concentration and sharpen memory during meditation.  Mudra refers to symbolic gestures or poses used during meditation or yoga to direct the flow of energy within the body. 

To perform the Gyan mudra, allow your index fingertip to gently touch the tip of your thumb while holding your other three fingers straight.

Set Up A Space for The Practice

There is no need for extensive setups but finding the right spot and right ambience can certainly improve the practise.  Some meditators will even go to great lengths to create a ‘sacred space’.  This can mean clearing out a part of your room and dedicating it as your quiet corner for meditation or simply designating a spot in your study room for the daily practice.

If you are new to meditation, start your practice in a quiet and uncluttered place that ensures undisrupted comfort.  It should be a place where you can spend 5 to 15 minutes without being interrupted by ringing phone calls or busy human traffic.      

Train Your Monkey Mind

Even the most seasoned meditators will drift into random thoughts during meditation, don’t beat yourself up if that happens.  In fact, acknowledging that this happens is a crucial step in your practice. 

Remember that your thoughts are not your enemies, do not get annoyed when they show up during your meditation.  The trick here is to acknowledge their existence and let them go.  Once you acknowledge that they are there, then shift your attention back to your breath.

There is no need to ruminate on the passing thoughts or figure out why they are there, acknowledge their existence with no judgement.  After enough practise, you will discover that it will get easier to stay focused without ruminating. 

Keep It Consistency

There is no fast track to learn how to meditate.  The only way you can derive benefits is consistent practice.  Start with short practises that last 5 to 15 minutes and increase the duration over time.  

Some meditators find it effective to schedule their practise on a specific time slot every day and at the same place.  Much like cultivating a workout routine or eating habit, setting a daily schedule for meditation can help to ensure consistency and longevity of the practice.

 

Step by Step to Get Started

Here is a simple step-by-step guide that will ease you into your first practise.

Step 1   

Set aside a time and quiet space that is suitable for the practice 

Step 2   

Find a comfortable sitting position, use a chair if needed 

Step 3   

Close your eyes and take your time to ease into your seat 

Step 4   

Start taking a few long and deep breath in and out 

Step 5   

Slowly begin to trace your inhale breath and exhale breath

Do this for the entire duration of your meditation 

Step 6   

When random thoughts arise, acknowledge them, then go back to your breath

Repeat this process throughout the meditation 

Step 7 

At the end of the meditation, observe how you feel in your body, mind and emotion 

Make changes to your practise accordingly

Time to Get Started

Meditation can be a different experience for everyone.  Don’t try to benchmark your practice against others, it is not a competition! 

Be objective about why you want to meditate and start with easy breath meditation that can soothe you and lead you into a place of peace.  When you can cultivate peace from within, many more possibilities will be opened for you to deepen your practice.  There is no need to force, just flow.

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