When you think about meditating, what comes to mind? For most, it is sitting with your legs crossed, with both eyes closed while humming - or clearing your head while breathing deeply.
While it may be true that it often comprises of focused thinking and a quiet surrounding, the clearing of the mind may be a bit overstated. Dr. Judson Brewer, who is the director of innovation and research at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, stated that “It is about changing our relationships to our thoughts” and not about “stopping our thoughts or emptying the mind,” Brewer explains.
The Positive Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a methodology that dates back over 2000 years. Details of how it is performed may differ, but all have that one factor in common. “All the various practices train or cultivate attention and awareness.” states Miles Neale, the author of Gradual Awakening and a clinical instructor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Studies show that meditation helps to bolster concentration. A published journal study reported that 10 minutes of meditation can improve a person’s accuracy scores and reaction time when taking a computer-based attention test.
Meditation can prove to be helpful in stress-related situations. Another study found that meditation can improve the quality of life and ease symptoms in patients
diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
How is this done? Meditation helps to link the regions of the brain that activates relaxation responses throughout the body. This is in opposite to brain receptors that fuels stress and anxiety.
“In every moment of your life, your brain is bombarded with way more information than it can process”, says Michael Mrazek, the director of research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential. “Attention acts as a filter - like the gatekeeper of your mind - and so your direct your attention is the best predictor of your experiences,” explains Mrazek.
Weighing in the Risks
For individuals who may have gone through a dramatic drama, an intensive meditation session can lead to personal insights that may be troubling. Painful memories can occur. If a practitioner is unaware of this or is untrained to deal with these situations, he or she may consider this as being abnormal and avoid meditation altogether.
Meditation requires a gradual buildup with proper instruction. It is a journey towards mental healing. Just liking exercise, it requires a commitment for the long-term. However, if a person continues to experience difficulties and is seeking solutions, meditation may not provide the support they may be hoping for. It might be that a person will need help from a professional therapist to feel understood and heard.
How to Meditate Effectively?
How should a person get started? Opting for the openness and flexibility route can prove to be effective. Any claims from practitioners that their way is the only effective way to meditate are restricting another person’s options. A person who is practicing ineffective techniques could be doing more harm to themselves.
“Try a number of different practices and find one that resonates and connects with you personally,” advises Mrazek.There’s no “best” type of meditation, he adds. Finding the right technique for you requires exploration - and an open mind.
Valerie lives in New York. As a health advocate, she shares tips and steps on maximizing nutrition, weight, and fitness goals to help others embrace a healthier lifestyle. She blogs at Halfmile Fitness.