Meditation, the Oxford Dictionaries defines meditation as "Think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation."
For many of us the idea of focusing our mind seems impossible, but I want you to think of it like any other exercise; with practice you get stronger and better. In the words of Dr. Hedy Kober, a neuroscientis. "It did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body -- it made it both stronger and more flexible,".
Before we look at why we meditate, let's look at how.
How to meditate:
In the beginning I recommend finding a quiet place to meditate. As you get better at it you will find the ability to meditate in the midst of chaos and be able to use it as a tool to center yourself, but for now pick a quiet place and avoid distractions.
Close your eyes; this helps with distractions
Breathe naturally. Breathing exercises are another component of meditation, but to start off with focus on just learning to still your mind. As you breathe normally observe your breathe. Observe the sound and the feel and feel yourself relax. As you become more experienced you can add in deep breathing practice.
Once you are settled in you have options of how you want to meditate.
I often meditate prayerfully and may think of a scripture verse as I ask God to show me his heart regarding it and me. Sometimes I simply ask God to show me what to focus on; do I need to adjust an attitude, talk to someone later etc. As I relax more I begin to let my mind calm down and feel my body release tension.
You can focus on your body, recognizing areas of tension.
You can focus on your breathe paying attention to how it feels and sounds. When your mind wanders this is a great way to bring your mind back into focus and off of the world around you.
You can focus on your emotions
These are just a few ways to get you started. I encourage you to do some research and find a method that works for you. Keep in mind even 1 minute of meditation has benefits.
Why should we meditate?
The body of evidence on the importance of meditation is growing rapidly within the medical community and mental health communities and we are all starting to pay attention and you, the every day average Joe or Jane can do it! Here is some of what science is finding:
lower blood pressure
improved blood circulation
lower heart rate
slower respiratory rate
lower blood cortisol levels
more feelings of well-being
decreased heart rate and strength of contraction of the heart muscle
less oxygen demand, lessening workload on the heart
decreased rate of breathing
increased lung capacity
increased hemoglobin (ability of blood to carry oxygen)
feelings of calm and tranquility
healthy immune system
May help with addiction, eating disorders, cognitive function and more!
These seem like excellent reasons to meditate! Remember health is not just what you eat and how you move, but how you think and act or react as well.
Here is a great scientific look at meditation from Huffington Post.
A note to the Christian Community: Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Many Christians avoid practices such as meditation for fear that they are guilty of participating in other religions. But let's take a look at what the bible says about meditation:
Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 119:15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
Psalm 49:3 My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
Psalm 119:148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
These are just a few of the verses on meditation. You may want to look up the word "meditation" in your bible, to give you some things to start meditating on!
In other words, meditation is not a new concept. You may be hesitant to meditate because it has become a New Age practice and known through Transcendental Meditation, which is steeped in Hindu philosophy, but before it was attached to Hinduism meditation was steeped in Judaeo/Christian philosophy. To read more about Christians and Meditation I recommend this article by allaboutgod.com, giving some great insight. Holistic health professionals are advocating meditation/prayer for your overall health. If you uncomfortable with the word "meditation" than re-frame it as "mindful prayer time", where you are learning to listen as well as speak.
Photo by Lisa Wright Burbach