Is meditation actually beneficial? — What can it do for you?
I started a recent journey trying to answer these questions for myself. During the last 12 months, I have learned many lessons about meditation and self-awareness that I will share in this article.
Growing up as an Asian-American, meditation was often something that was suggested to me whenever I was frustrated with something or in an angry mood. “You should try meditating,” became a frequent suggestion from older family members and friends. The suggestion without any practical guidance on how to meditate made the advice useless. Another occasion was when the advice for meditation included simple instructions like sit down with your back straight and try to clear your mind. Actually being able to meditate with just those instructions is almost impossible. If you ever tried to clear your mind by trying not to think, you will know what I am talking about.
It recently became clear to me that the issue with my prior learning of meditation was not because I was incapable of it, rather the instructions were not enough.
Much like many things in life, when something does not work it is because the approach was wrong. I also learned that there are several kinds of meditation in which there are different ways to achieve the same end-goal of inner calm and mindfulness. I will go into detail a little later regarding the different kinds of meditation and my experience with Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Meditation is not about trying to do anything, it is about letting go. The goal of meditation is to release tension that has been built-up mentally and physically through the rigors of life. Through the release of tension, one can start seeing life with a new perspective that is not weighed down.
Clarity of mind and a sense of awakened awareness are a result of a re-alignment of mental and physical energy.
Even without believing in spiritual energy, I can tell you that meditation has been backed by science to improve cardiovascular issues and hypertension.
Watch this short video to learn more about the benefits:
“What Happens To Your Brain When You Meditate” from Tech Insider
Robert Wright, author of “Why Buddhism Is True”, speaks about the effects of meditation
How does meditation work?
To answer that, it is important to describe some key aspects of what happens during meditation.
1- Closing your eyes removes visual stimulation and helps the mind stop processing information.
2- Naturally your conscious mind will populate with thoughts. You can think of your mind as an ocean and the surface of the ocean is making waves. Your various thoughts are the waves in the ocean.
3- Breathing will initially be deep. As your body begins to enter a state of restful alertness, the breathing will become shallow and you will feel your body relax.
4- Despite the fact your thoughts are active, the mind and body are at rest. The body will start being heavy and release tension.
5- Your brainwaves will actually start entering into a state similar to sleep. During this state, the body starts its healing process of reducing stress.
6- Practicing meditation often will reinforce pathways in the brain to be able to achieve the restful alertness easier.
Watch this video for more information about how meditation works -
Even just five minutes of meditation can be beneficial for you. For those of you that have busy schedules, getting a quick meditation session can be as effective as a power nap for an energy boost for more focus.
Think of it as an investment in your emotional health to set aside 5-minutes to meditate everyday.
Let’s try a 5-minute guided meditation session to see the effect of meditation for ourselves.
Listen to the following clip and follow the instructions.
Deep Breathing Technique
When I first started, I had a hard time reaching this state of restful alertness. I felt like I could not let go of the thoughts constantly racing through my mind. It wasn’t until I started using simple breathing exercises that I started making progress with meditation.
By inhaling deep breaths and filling my lungs with oxygen and then slowly exhaling for a few minutes, I already began feeling signs of relaxation. This gave me the initial boost of confidence I needed to trust that this technique works. I then began meditating by closing the eyes and doing deep breathing for a few minutes. By focusing on my breath and nothing else, my body was able to relax.
I later learned that deep breathing is also useful for moments in which I was not able to meditate and needed a moment of clarity, especially during stressful situations with high levels of anxiety.
Using my breath as a point of focus was very powerful as I began practicing meditation everyday for a few months. Unfortunately, after a while I discovered that despite the fact I was focusing on my breath, there were often invading thoughts that disturbed my focus. I was bombarded with thoughts from the day and all the things that I still have to do for work. It became more and more difficult to try to meditate as I became busier with work and had a hard time relaxing even during meditation. Eventually I couldn’t keep up with the habit of meditation, though I still used deep breathing as a way to counteract stress and anxiety everyday.
Recently, I learned that there were many different styles and forms of meditation often with a cultural or religious component to it. The different styles of meditation can be separated into 3 categories:
Focused style of meditation refers to using your breath or an object to as a point of focus to meditate. Some use candles, incense, beads, or a mantra to focus in order to achieve the restful state. As I mentioned earlier, this form of meditation is very difficult as it requires focus and concentration. This extra effort needed to focus makes this form of meditation difficult to maintain as a daily habit.
Open monitoring is also referred to as mindful meditation, in which thoughts are allowed to flow during meditation. When clearing the mind from thoughts, thoughts are nudged aside softly and acknowledged. This form of meditation is able to be performed when there is a level of discipline to not dwell on the thoughts.
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn Transcendental Meditation and it is by far the easiest form of meditation to practice. This form of meditation is intentionally taught to be effortless and simple. It uses a mantra as an anchor to “transcend” into a relaxed state.
Visit this link for more information between the difference between the three categories — https://www.tm.org/meditation-techniques
Transcendental meditation is unique because of the lack of effort needed to achieve this state of relaxation. This is powerful because the ease of this form of meditation means that it is possible for many to practice and receive the benefits.
This picture is often used to describe how Transcendental Meditation works. When representing your mind as an ocean, the top layer with waves would be the conscious mind and the bottom as the unconscious mind. The top layer represents the chaotic part of your mind that are similar to waves that crash down on the surface. The deeper part of the ocean is much calmer and settled. This is the unconscious mind that is at rest during meditation.
According to Transcendental Meditation, reaching the unconscious mind creates awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone. The amazing thing is that reaching the unconscious mind does not require belief in a specific religion or philosophy in order to obtain the positive effects.
There are numerous studies now published that show the positive effects TM have on physical and mental health, as well as relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. The mindfulness and energy obtained by a daily routine of two 20-minute meditation sessions provide a long-term benefit in overall well-being.
I have now practiced TM for over a month and I can already start seeing the results. While shuffling between the responsibilities as a serial social entrepreneur, full-time college student, and intern, I have seen directly how this type of meditation has been able to benefit me.
I hope with this information, you are now better equipped to learn meditation. Please take some time in your day and invest in your well-being. It begins with a small meditation session, and you will be a step closer to that inner peace that you have been looking for.