Meditation is good for your health. Whether it’s a religious practice  such as prayer or secular techniques like mindfulness, meditation calms the mind and does wonders for the body.

Meditation clears the mind and unravels emotions. People often meditate to gain a better understanding of the events surrounding them.  Peace and improved concentration are obvious benefits when one removes the mental chatter and un-clutters the mind.

Growing Popularity
Meditation’s growing popularity stem from a few factors. In an increasingly globalized world, eastern traditions seem to be attracting renewed attention. In addition, there are many new health studies attesting to the health benefits of meditation. For example, patients who meditated or prayed appear to have more success in surgery, both in terms of recovery times and effectiveness of the surgery itself. In a study of patients with skin disease psoriasis, published in 1998 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, those who used mindfulness meditation had an increased the healing rate from ultraviolet light therapy when compared to those who did not meditate.

Meditation can develop three mental function – sensory clarity, concentration and equanimity or inner peace. By focusing on the present, and eliminating the constant flow of mental images and inner talk that clutters the mind, meditation provides many benefits.

  • Increase focus – meditation can clear the mind of distractions, helping you focus on the immediate present. Developing a skill for heightened concentration can lead to increased efficiency in various aspects of your life.
  • Fight the effects of stress – meditation can be very relaxing to the body and mind. It can be a tool to break up difficult or lingering emotions, which can relieve stress.
  • Enhance the natural healing rate of the body – anxiety, fear, anger and other negative emotions affect hormone levels in the body, impacting the body’s immune system. By meditating, you increase alpha waves in the mind, which produces a state of calm Which can normalize the body’s hormones,  strengthening the body against illness.
  • Reduce depression and anxiety – through meditation, a person will learn how to dissolve negative thoughts. Depression, anxiety and other difficult emotions can be tackled and eliminated.
  • Nurture  positive behavior – meditation encourages self awareness and acceptance. In turn, one becomes more tolerant and forgiving of others.
  • Meditation improves the person’s overall performance – by making the mind and body healthier, an overall sense of wellness can be achieved. By clearing and focusing the mind, the body becomes healthier and stronger.

What to Expect
As you learn how to meditate, knowing what to expect will keep you from feeling  discouraged. Here’s a few things which may happen while meditating:

  • Seeing Visions – Some people experience visions during deep meditation. When the mind starts to relax, different visions will emerge. This is because the mind is starting to clear all the informational clutter inside.
  • Hearing Voices – Meditation involves acknowledging the voices already inside your head – the voice of your conscience . With attention, you may find voices become louder. Eventually, these voices will probably die down when you focus on them, but this doesn’t always happen immediately.
  • Uncovering Inner Fears – Meditation involves releasing whatever has been stored up in the mind. You may find that any pent up emotions come to the surface. You may find that you have visions about the loss of self or other difficult memories. This is all normal. Just keep practicing the techniques of meditation, and focus on clearing the mind, and these fears will eventually pass.

Tips for Beginners 

  • Deep breathing – Breathing is important in meditation. The person must be in a relaxed state before anything else can occur. By breathing deeply, the body slows down and relaxes.
  • Visualization – This is a technique which greatly helps in meditation. Visualizing involves seeing positive persons, thoughts or mantras in your mind, such as “I want everyone to be happy and at peace.” By focusing this way, the mind shifts into a more positive frame of mind that continues on.
  • Noting – In this technique, a person observes an aspect of experience, such as the breath. Take note when you are inhaling, and when exhaling note “gone” to signify the passing of that experience. Noting is a technique to bring the mind back to the present, so that it does not wander.
  • Positions – Generally, one should be still, with no movement during meditation. However, yoga is one form of meditation in which you assume certain positions.  This originated in India where different positions help achieve the balance of the body, mind, and soul. There are many forms of yoga and positions  become more difficult in advanced practices.

Meditation Technique
Here are a few steps to get you started.

  • Find a comfortable position – First find a quiet place where there will be no disturbances, then sit in a comfortable position where your legs will not cramp. Sit down, relax and close your eyes.
  • Start Your Timer – Some people find timing their meditation helpful. Beginners should start small, like 10 minutes per day. Find a timer that doesn’t have an annoying sound or feature, so that you are not distracted by this process. There are several iphone applications which could work well.
  • Practice rhythmic breathing – Another important step when learning how to meditate is controlling the way you breath: slowly, evenly, and deeply. By breathing this way, the tension in the body and in the mind will be released, making it easier to clear the mind of disturbances.
  • Start to note or visualize – When tension is gone and the body relaxed, start noting or visualizing. If the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment. Focus only on the positive image or thought or use the noting technique. As your mind calms down, it will be easier to enter a deep state of concentration.
  • End the session – When the timer chimes, you will know that it is the end of your meditation. End your meditation session gracefully, e.g. by slowly counting backwards from 10 to 1 then slowly opening your eyes.

Many people start meditation and quit when they find it difficult. This is like picking up a violin, and deciding that you aren’t musical because you don’t play like Nigel Kennedy. Be patient. The best way to begin is to find a meditation group or use books or CDs by established teachers such as Shinzen Young or Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Meditation may be hard in the beginning, as it can take time to learn the skills to quiet the mind and enter a state of heightened concentration. Just stick with it and after some practice, the benefits will soon outweigh all the work. Good luck!