Updated: May 17, 2020
There are many different forms of meditation, but the most general definition is that it involves a practice of attempting to focus, concentrate, and train to clear the mind, calm the emotions, or altered or higher states of consciousness. Various forms of meditation have existed since prehistoric time and for this reason, there are many different schools of thoughts, techniques, and beliefs about meditation. Some techniques involve focusing on the breath, directing what is referred to as qi or "life force" through the body, or reflecting on the true nature of reality or compassion
One of the simplest forms of meditation involves mindfulness meditation, which involves becoming aware of one’s thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions as they arise in the present moment. This practice involves self-observation without judgement. You can attempt this throughout your day or try to fit in structured time to quiet the mind and observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
To start, you will need a quiet place where you can spend 15-20 minutes without interruptions. If this isn't possible, don’t worry. Any amount of time spent engaged in meditation can be helpful. Additionally, if you don’t have a completely quiet space or hear noises around you or from the outside, you can incorporate this as part of the meditation.
Sit cross-legged on the floor or comfortably on a chair. Try to sit with your spine and back as straight as possible. Begin by consciously relaxing the muscles in your jaw, shoulders, and stomach. Then, begin by settling into your space and bringing awareness to your breath while you breathe naturally. As you bring awareness to your breath, your breath may become deeper and more relaxed. Begin to observe the thoughts that arise within your mind, as well as any physical sensations or emotions associated with certain thoughts. Become aware how thoughts arise and fade away almost as if you are watching clouds roll by or different images on a movie screen, allowing them to come and go. With this awareness and mindfulness of your thoughts, you may become aware of value judgments you place on people, places, things, or events. Also, begin to notice resistance or clinging to certain images, thoughts, or emotions. After you meditate, you may want to write down thoughts or insights that were noteworthy.
There are also other forms of meditation, known as concentration meditation, which involves focusing on a single point, such as an object, mantra, candle flame, or mala beads. Insight meditation and Vipassana meditation are other forms of meditation that aim to cultivate direct insight into the nature of reality. There are also other meditative techniques, such as qi gong, tai chi, and yoga, which involve linking movement, posture, and breath. Regardless of which type of meditation technique you explore, observe what seems to have the most healing impact on you. Even simply closing your eyes for a few minutes at your desk and breathing deeply can help you regain clarity and a sense of calm.
Research also point to various benefits associated with practicing meditation. According to 2017 article in Healthline, some benefits of meditation include stress and anxiety reduction, improved emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, reduced feelings of loneliness, increased attention span, improved clarity of thinking and memory, increased feelings of compassion towards oneself and others, improved sleep, reduction in cravings related to addiction, improved ability to manage pain, and decreased blood pressure. Other benefits include improved decision-making abilities, reduction in negative emotions, and increased creativity and patience. Research has even indicated the meditation can help reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
However, there are also some risks associated with meditation. Contact your healthcare or mental health provider to discuss the benefits and risks associated with meditation. For some individuals with a history of trauma, hallucinations, psychosis, or dissociative symptoms, as well as significant health issues, meditation may worsen or trigger symptoms. In some cases, meditation has been known to induce anxiety, headaches, or panic attacks. Meditation can also bring up repressed thoughts or feelings, such as anger, jealousy, or fear, which may be unpleasant. Meditation is also not a substitute for traditional medical, therapy, or psychological treatment.
On a more personal note, as someone who has practiced meditation and found it to be profoundly transformative and life-changing. However, I also understand and respect that everyone may have their own unique experience.
While growing up during adolescence, like many others my age, I was having a difficult time finding my identity, regulating emotions, and coping in the world. I remember the first time when I sat down to meditate, it was the first time I had the realization that I had the freedom to watch and even choose my thoughts and emotions, rather than be at the mercy of my emotions and thoughts. I learned to embrace the silence and spaciousness between thoughts, desires, and feelings and discovered a new inward feeling of freedom, vitality, and creativity. I became less dependent on others for external validation and more self-accepting, confident, and compassionate. Growing up in a world that emphasizes appearances, success, competition, and achievement, the practie of meditation gave me a tool to slow down and begin to question some of these values and make choices more congruent with my own unique set of values. With this, it became easier to break negative patterns and develop a greater understanding and deeper relationship with myself.