We hear a lot about meditation lately, from all kinds of sources: television, medical shows, metaphysical shops, and even in controversies at schools about teaching it. So, what’s the big deal? What is it and how can we practice it with a daily schedule that often looks like we are three or four people? Are there really benefits to meditation, or is it something that people hype without reason? There are so many questions around meditation, but there is one thing I know for certain: taking just a few minutes a day to calm, center, and meditate is worth the time and energy.
What is Meditation?
Let’s start with what meditation is. Mirriam-Webster defines meditation as “the act or process of spending time in quiet thought, the act or process of meditating.”¹ While meditation can include spending time in quiet thought, it is also so much more. Calming your mind and body, taking an inventory of your physical being and adjusting to release tension or stress, and slowing your external senses to go deeper into yourself are other ways to describe meditation. Meditation is a deeply personal practice which can be honed to be just about anything you want it to be, from calming to energizing.
Meditation has many health benefits, both perceived and scientifically determined. In just a few minutes per day, you can reduce your stress, increase your concentration, and manage pain. With repeated meditation, you gain long term benefits, such as help regulating emotions and improving your mood while reducing depression. Scientists have noted that with regular meditation, in as few as five to ten minutes per day, anxiety is reduced while memory is increased. It can be the best time you spend on yourself all day.
So how do we start on the path to daily meditation? What if you are the type of person that has a hard time sitting down and just relaxing for even a minute? There are about as many ways to meditate as there are benefits to doing so. Depending on where you live, classes might be available through sources such as metaphysical shops, college courses, or even through the parks and recreation department in your area. Books, CDs, and even DVDs are also helpful and are a great starting point in your path to meditation.
Learning to Meditate On Your Own
If you are nervous about trying to meditate in a group, you can learn to meditate on your own with little monetary outlay. Find a quiet spot in your home where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. This can be anywhere from your bed first thing in the morning, a room you set aside for magickal purposes, or even during a bath. Close your eyes and let thoughts wander through your mind. Accept them for what they are and let them pass through unimpeded. Eventually, they will slow in their presentation. Breathe deeply and acknowledge any points in your body that are uncomfortable. Allow your breath to fill that spot and carry away the ache or tension. Once your body is relaxed, breathe in, allowing clean, cool air to fill you and hold you in the moment, filling you with calm energy to get through the rest of your day. Slowly come back to the conscious reality around you, feeling refreshed and alive.
Learning to meditate takes time, so don’t be discouraged if you spend the whole time dealing with thoughts running through your head. Sometimes you need to deal with your mind trying to keep you in the mental checklist phase of the day, before you can move into deeper meditative work. Keep trying, though. Some sessions will be easier than others, but as you keep meditating, your body will remember what you are trying to do and it will work with you.
Many people enjoy recorded guided meditations, or even live-spoken meditations. You can create your own guided meditation easily with a recording app on your phone, or purchase a prerecorded meditation on a CD or through a download source such as Amazon.com or iTunes. Prerecorded meditations can take you on a journey, or just assist you in remembering to breathe and work deeper into yourself. If one version doesn’t work for you, try something different until you find one that you are comfortable with that does work.
Create Your Own Guided Meditation
If you’d like to record your own, try this simple meditation. Use a calm, easy voice that will allow you to visualize the view and immerse yourself into the scene.
Bring your mind to center. Close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose and back out of your mouth. Focus on your breathing, breathing deeply and allowing your breath to carry away all your stress. Start in your toes. Wiggle them. Feel the stress leave as you work your way up your feet, into your ankles. Move them in circles, allowing any tension to leave you. Feel your calves and shins, releasing any stress as you relax. Release your knees and thighs, letting every bit of tension just melt away. Feel your hips, letting go of any hidden stress as you work your way up to your abdomen. Take a deep breath and push out any stresses from your back and belly, letting the earth below absorb them and fill you with clean energy. Feel your chest. Breathe deeply, feeling your lungs and pressing out any unwanted tensions. Let it flow down your arms and out your fingertips, leaving them soft and relaxed. Move your neck slightly, letting go of anything lingering there as you move up to your head and face. Let everything go slack and relaxed. Tighten your face and let it relax into a natural position. Take one more deep breath, pulling up energy from your toes all the way to the top of your head. Envision the energy as a golden light that fills your body, every crevasse, with calming energy. Blow out any last remnants of stress or tension, leaving the golden energy in place. Again, take a deep breath, pulling up healing energy to heal any parts of you that need attention. Hold that energy, releasing any dis-eases that remain. Sit in quiet harmony with the energy for as long as you like, breathing deeply and allowing your body to remember this relaxed state. When you are ready, come back to consciousness, realizing the temperature of the room around you, the light, and the furnishings. Hold the energy you’ve gathered, as well as the relaxed state you’ve found throughout your day.
Music for Meditation
There are a lot of music choices available for meditation these days. Your choice is merely a matter of what you enjoy and what works for you. Nature sounds, such as rain forests, thunderstorms, or oceanscapes call to many people. A simple drumming beat can assist you in journeying during your meditation, and that type of energy works for some people. Ethnic music, such as Celtic or Native American chanting is also a good choice. Check with your local metaphysical shop for options. Many times, they have CDs open that you can listen to a sample of, which will help you narrow down your choices. Services such as iTunes and Amazon will also let you listen to samples so you get an idea of what you are purchasing before you pay for it. In the end, the music that works for you may be something totally different than the usual stereotype, such as Beethoven or even Metallica. Meditation music is a very personal choice.
Meditation in Motion
My favorite type of meditation is actually what I call meditation in motion. There are certain things that I do that allow me a deeper meditation experience and a calmer sense of self, while having something to show for it in addition to reduced stress and better health. While admittedly, these methods won’t work for everyone, they are great for people that calm their mind while moving parts of their body. These tasks are always a repetitive motion, and one that I don’t need to think about to complete, such as crochet, knitting, and weaving. Painting, drawing, and singing also can take you into a deeply meditative state where you can relax and remove the stress from your life. Things with complex patterns that you need to follow aren’t good options, but if you have the pattern memorized, or there is no real pattern, creating art or textile goods are a great way to let your mind calm, and find that place within yourself where you can bring up the healing, relaxing energy to obtain a good, deep meditation. Things like crochet and knitting can be portable, making them a great option for stressful situations or traveling, when you might not be able to create a calming space for yourself. Immerse yourself in each stitch, stroke, or note, letting the conscious part of your brain work on the motions while the unconscious takes over, allowing you a calming experience with which you can refresh yourself.
No matter what form your meditation time takes, from meditation in motion to sitting in a quiet room concentrating on your breath, with practice, meditation can transform your life, reduce your stress, and create a whole new mindset for you. The key is keep trying and don’t give up!
¹ “Meditation.” Mirriam Webster. 15 January 2014 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditation