Transforming Your Health with Meditation
Writren by KURA Guest Writer- Doris Lu-Anderson, PhD, E-RYT500, I-CAYT
What is Meditation?
We hear about people practicing meditation and how it helps them feel pleasant and calm, but what is meditation? Do we have to sit still and concentrate? Should I be thinking of nothing when I meditate?
Yoga practitioners frequently meditate. Yoga Sutras define three phases of meditation. Dharana is concentration or the initial period of settling down the mind on a single point of focus. Dhyana is meditation. This meditation phase is the continuous flow of attention, which is also a one-pointed focus. When we meditate, the mind focuses on the object for a more extended time without fluctuating or reacting to it. Samadhi is absorption. This is when the mind and the object of focus become one- people feel peace and calm (Devi, 2000) when we practice meditation, a yearning for peace and stillness blossoms.
We can also explain meditation from a general perspective. Meditation is the practice of bringing the mind to focus on one thing. It can be anything: a sound, a phrase, or an image. It can be secular or religious, depending on what resonates with you the most (Ornish & Ornish, 2019).
When people first attempt meditation, they may find it difficult because the more they try to relax and concentrate, think of nothing, the more difficult it is to calm the mind. When we practice meditation, we can soften our concentration without forcing it. During meditation practice, remain open to all your surroundings (e.g., sound, temperature, air), and the deepest parts of your mind. When your mind drifts away, bring your focus back to your main object (e.g., breath, word, prayer) without judgment or frustration. Simply let it be. Observe the pendulum’s process- the drifting mind gradually slowing down and settling down to the center. Dr. Ornish has suggested that the idea is to cultivate an attitude of “witnessing” or “observing” without always reacting. We are to observe what is arising and gently let it pass. We cultivate our minds instead of fighting to control our thoughts.” With the practice of meditation, our minds can become still.
The master yoga teacher, Nischala Joy Devi, provided another perspective — meditation is more than just a stress management technique. It offers an opportunity for total transformation — the ability to feel peace and blissful stillness. Meditation requires practice and provides many benefits. We can start from observing what triggers our anger. Anger is an enormously powerful emotional wave. Try to be the observer of this angry “wave”; step aside from the wave of anger and observe it without “riding it”. Watch the wave of anger pass by and eventually flatten in the distance. This angry wave can occur a few times per day and can last a long time. Monitoring and then slowing down your thoughts will help you to control the “emotional wave” and even avoid disturbing situations.
The Benefits of Meditation
Studies have shown that meditation contributes to cardiovascular health. For example, the 2017 American Heart Association Scientific Statement on meditation and cardiovascular risk suggested that meditation may be considered as a guideline-directed cardiovascular risk-reduction intervention (Levin, et al., 2017). Meditation could potentially increase physical and mental relaxation, leading to better results after a significant cardiovascular event. Levin et al. also indicated that practicing meditation can be a low cost and low risk for patients. Besides, meditation is easily accessible to everyone. People can meditate anytime and anywhere.
Moreover, Krittanawong et al. (2020) examined a large database of 60,000 participants and discovered that meditation is associated with a lower prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and disease. Also, Schneider et al. (2017) found that adding meditation to a cardiac rehab program is feasible and efficient in improving myocardial blood flow when compared to either meditation or Cardiac Rehab used alone. The benefits of meditation are significant and compelling.
Styles of Meditation
Many people consider quiet time as the hours we spend reading newspapers, watching TV, or listening to music. However, in these instances, our bodies may be still, but our minds remain active.
There are as many meditation techniques, just like different styles of dancing. Depending on one’s situation and the amount of energy, one can select a style of mediation that resonates with one.
Here are some different meditation styles:
- Breathing: There are various breathing methods to practice that help calm down the mind (e.g., alternate nostril breathing, natural breath)
- Chakra Meditation: Focusing on the chakra “the energy wheel” of the body with breathing or specific mantra sounds.
- Contemplative Prayer: It usually involves the silent repetition of sacred words or sentences, with focus and devotion.
- Contemplative Reading (Contemplation): It involves thinking deeply about the teachings and events in a sacred text.
- Gazing Meditation: Gazing at an object.
- Guided Meditation: The instructor provides scripts and reads aloud.
- Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation): Compassion meditation: A seated position with closed eyes generates thoughts in mind and feelings in the heart that reflect kindness and benevolence. Developing loving-kindness toward ourselves, others, and all beings.
- Mantra Meditation: A mantra is a syllable or word. Repeat the mantra silently or verbally repeat during the whole session.
- Mindful Meditation: An umbrella term for meditation styles that are used to create awareness and insight by practicing focusing your attention on observations, and accepting all that arises without judgment.
- Qigong (Chi Kung): A Chinese martial style that cultivates life energy with slow body movements and focused breathing.
- Sitting with God: A silent meditation which usually is preceded by contemplation or reading, which we focus our mind, heart, and soul on the presence of God.
- Sound Meditation or Sound Bath: Listen to calming ambient music such as the Native American flute, a crystal bowl, a Tibetan singing bowl, a therapeutic harp, or a mixture of various sound healing instruments. It helps to quiet and collect the mind.
- Sufi Meditation: The esoteric path within Islam. The practitioners of Sufism are called Sufis, and they have different types of meditations (e.g., Sufi mantra meditation, heartbeat meditation, Sufi walking, and Sufi whirling)
- Third Eye Meditation: Focusing the attention between the eyebrows.
- Yoga Nidra: Yogic sleep, which is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. iRest is a modern adaptation of Yoga Nidra.
- Walking meditation: Mindfully walking at a super slow pace. Engaging breath with each step. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is renowned for his walking meditation practice.
- Zazen (seated meditation) in Zen Meditation: Sitting on a cushion or seat and focusing on breathing, or just sitting without dwelling on anything in particular.
Apart from the styles listed above, some people use more active body movement, which regulates breathing to reach that meditated state. For example, the Vinyasa style of yoga uses one breath with one action to quiet down the min.
Make Meditation a Habit
Controlling our mind is not as simple as seeing a red light and stopping or seeing a green light and moving forward, at least not at first. Make meditation a good and steady habit. Create an environment conducive for practicing meditation and then set aside the required time. Make it a routine. Take baby steps by starting with a few minutes and then gradually increase to longer amounts of time. Eventually, practicing meditation will become as natural as walking, talking, and even breathing. There are mobile apps that help people develop meditation habits, which in turn can change your life.
Like Nischala Joy Devi said, “Meditation is not something that we do. We use techniques to get us to the point of meditation or stillness. Once we get to that point, we are no longer doing. We just are”.
Note: iRest is a meditation practice based on the ancient tradition of Yoga Nidra and adapted to suit modern living conditions. iRest was developed by Dr. Richard Miller, an American clinical psychologist and yogic scholar, who combines traditional yogic practice with Western psychology and neuroscience.
Devi, N. J. (2000). The healing path of yoga. Abundant Wellbeing.
Krittanawong, C., Kumar, A., Wang, Z., Narasimhan, B., Jneid, H., Virani, S. S., & Levine, G. N. (2020). Meditation and cardiovascular health in the US. The American Journal of Cardiology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2020.06.043
Levine, G., Lange, R. A., Bairey-Merz, N., Davidson, R. J., Jamerson, K., Mehta, P. K., Michos, E. D., Norris, K., Ray, I. B., Saban, K. L., Shah, T., Stein, R. Smith, S. C. Jr. on behalf of and the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology, Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing, & Council on Hypertension (2017). Meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6 (10). http://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.002218
Ornish, D., & Ornish, A. (2019). UnDo it. Ballantine Books.
Shneider, R., Bokhari, S., Rainforth, M., Salerno, J., King, C., & Nidich, S. (2017). Effects of meditation and cardiac rehabilitation on myocardial blood flow by quantitative positron emission tomography: A pilot trial in African American patients with coronary heart disease. Circulation. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circ.136.suppl_1.16768