What is meditation?
What is meditation?
Meditation is a way of altering your state of mind. Which is really just a way too fancy way of saying becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surrounding environment on a moment-to-moment basis.
Meditation is a way to break out of autopilot mode and become aware of the habits and actions you carry out unconsciously, allowing you to become more aware of who you are and your place in the world. Meditation can help you cultivate more appreciation in the moment and help you create a sense of harmony and satisfaction.
What does meditation have to do with Mindfulness?
One of the best explanations of mindfulness I have read so far is by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.”
Meditation is a way to practice and tap into a state of mindfulness.
What does meditation have to do with Buddhism?
Everything and nothing at the same time. Mindfulness originates from ancient Buddhist practices and is deeply rooted in Buddhist tradition as it focuses primarily on developing insights into our true nature. The word “Buddha” literally means the enlightened one, in other words, the one who has awoken to their true nature.
So mindfulness and meditation have nothing to do with selling you a different belief system or ideology. It is simply a way of living consciously.
Why should I care?
The world has become overstimulating and work demands unrealistic: do this, purchase that, don’t forget this and make sure you do that!
It’s overwhelming and exhausting. No wonder rates of burn-out, adrenal fatigue, depression, anxiety (the list is endless) are increasing at an alarming rate. We are plugged in 24/7 with our devices and ourselves never being able to fully take a rest. Like seriously, I don’t remember the last time I actually turned my computer or my phone off, other than to restart it.
You don’t need incense, crystals, a meditation cushion, or a well-fitting new yoga outfit to meditate. The beauty is you can meditate wherever you are, whenever you want to. It’s kind of like a magic trick you have in your back pocket.
Why do I (Julia) like it?
For those of you who haven’t met me in person: I am type A, almost compulsive about my perfectionism and overthink like it’s a competitive sport. I am very critical and analytical- my thoughts are always two steps ahead of me and I live my life predominantly in the future.
Therefore, I have a hate-love relationship with meditation. I really struggle to sit down and do a 10-minute guided meditation without jumping up to complete something on my to-do list, getting lost in some train of thought or simply falling asleep (I snore sometimes by the way, which was pretty disruptive at a meditation retreat I went to).
But regardless of feeling like jumping up or falling asleep while I meditate, once I am in the habit of just doing one 10-minute guided meditation a day I genuinely feel an improvement in my quality of life. I actually feel like I am living more in the moment, which to me feels like I have all the time in the world. I don’t feel as rushed and scattered and feel more connected with the people and the world around me. The biggest difference I have experienced? I feel calmer and don’t feel as ashamed and guilty anymore. I can actually let go of (some) things that I would have previously replayed in my mind on repeat.
Through both journaling and meditating I feel like I am able to lead my life from a place of purpose and intuition rather than letting my fears, insecurities, expectations, and judgments steal the show.
How do I get started?
Practicing mindfulness is hard work- everyone who meditates will tell you that. Think about it, you’ve spent the same amount of years you’ve been alive building and practicing the habits and thought patterns that are now automatic and unconscious. So it requires effort and discipline to break out of that.
Practicing mindfulness is just as the name implies, a practice. As meditation has become so popular there is a nauseating amount of meditation tools out there. But when you break it down, meditation is super simple:
- Sit in a comfortable position, if you are sitting, have both feet on the ground.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath: how does it feel in your chest and body as you inhale and exhale? Where do you feel your breath the most?
- Every time you realise you are getting lost in your thoughts, just gently remind yourself to focus on your breath again.
You could set yourself a timer for 60 seconds and give it a try right now. And there you go- congratulations, you’ve meditated!
But, am I “doing this right?”
As mentioned above meditation takes practice and with anything that takes practice you start asking yourself “am I doing this right?”. Meditation isn’t this blissful Nirvana of complete stillness, with no thoughts arising at all. So if your mind is racing 100 miles an hour and you are finding it hard to sit still- great! You are aware of it!
And that’s all that really matters. Meditation is all about heightening your awareness, even if that’s being aware of how noisy the chatter in your mind really is. It’s about observing what is going on in your mind, body, and surroundings. I think of it like visiting a friend’s house for the first time and noticing all the little details of their home. Like seeing what book titles are on their bookshelf and feeling what wood the kitchen table is made out of. Meditation is kind of like playfully entering your own home to see what the interior design looks like.
Anytime I feel more aware of the thoughts running through my head and the feelings residing in my body and I am able to simply observe their presence without judgment, I consider it a job well done.
Are there any resources I could use?
Below are the resources I have found helpful, these are not sponsored whatsoever and based on my own opinion.
- Learn Meditation in 5 Minutes with Dan Harris (There’s a sales pitch for his meditation app in the end, but it’s a great intro video the first 4-minutes!)
- Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Science of Meditation: How to Change Your Brain, Mind and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
I’ve tried a lot of them, from Headspace to Calm, but my two favorites are:
- Stop, Breathe & Think (free with an optional 9.99/month subscription)
- 10% Happier(7-day free trial, then 7.99/month) I currently use 10% Happier and love it!
What does the research say?
The research about the positive benefits of meditation and how it changes your brain is overwhelming in itself. It seems like every industry has an interest in it’s application from Fortune 500 companies to the military. The two programmes used predominately in clinical settings seem to be Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) but you can pretty much get mindfulness-based everything nowadays. (If you’re in the UK and would like to find out more about MBCT check out the Oxford Mindfulness Centre)
Here are some the positive benefits of meditation found across the board:
- Reduce stress.
- Improve overall emotional well-being.
- Increase compassion.
- Improve sleep.
- Decrease irritability and aggression.
- Improve focus and attention.
- Decrease chronic pain.
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There is a lot of hype about meditation. But there is science to back the hype. Try not to get distracted by all the noise and myths, and simply try it out!
This post is part of the what is… Wednesday series. A free weekly series explaining various trending topics.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2014). Wherever you go, there you are:Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hachette Books.
Kabat-Zinn, J., & Richardson, S. (2016). Mindfulness for beginners: Reclaiming the present moment–and your life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
The Benefits of Meditation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2019, from https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits
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