Written by my friend a qualified Yoga teacher
Meditation has become fashionable recently; from apps to weekend courses, it seems to be everywhere. As a yoga teacher with an in depth understanding of what meditation is, it has been really interesting to watch this phenomenon take hold. Despite it being trendy, it still seems to me that a lot of people think meditation is only for a certain kind of person; someone with dreadlocks, or maybe a long beard, who can sit in a full lotus position for hours at a time without a single thought in their head. Similarly, there is a misunderstanding that you need to be calm before you can learn to meditate.
I thought it would be helpful to explain some of the different kinds of meditation, and show that it is a great tool that everyone can benefit from.
Firstly, what is meditation?
Its definition is that Meditation is ‘A mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive ‘thinking’ mind – into a deeper state of relaxation.’
So, why should we want to get past our thoughts? Because most thoughts are either about the future or the past, it means they can lead us astray, and distract us from the present moment. Therefore, I like to think of meditation as a way of being completely in the present moment.
This is achieved in various ways. Often people experience it through guided meditation – as with an app, that tells you to visualise yourself in a certain place or scenario. This is great, as it really does help you find a state of calm and is the way a lot of people find meditation. However, guided meditation does not teach you to find a meditative state on your own; you will always need that voice telling you what to think.
This is why contemplative or single point focus meditation is preferable; as it puts you in the driver’s seat. Using either a mantra (a meaningless sound repeated over and over) a visual focus point, or the breath, the meditator focuses entirely on one thing, allowing other thoughts to fall away, and eventually finding a state of pure awareness. In my opinion, I would always choose the breath as the focus point.
The breath can never be in the past or the future, and therefore anchors you to the present moment. Also, where the breath goes, the mind follows. Therefore by focusing on slowing and smoothing out your breath, your mind cannot help but relax.
Although the benefits of meditation have been felt by its practitioners for years, science is now beginning to back it up. We now know that meditation allows you to control your brainwaves; which has great benefits. It is even said that an hour of meditation has similar benefits to that of five hours deep sleep.
During the day, you experience Beta brain-wave patterns; for driving, working and any engaging activity. The top end of this Beta range is reached during periods of stress or anxiety. The chemicals released from the brain when in this state are necessary for us to function, but prolonged, repeated or continual exposure has dire health effects. Beta is necessary – but small bursts are preferred. The problem today is that we are so over-stimulated, our brains are in Beta (stressed) far too often, which leads to adverse health effects. Alpha brain wave patterns are produced when you are relaxed, and your brain activity has slowed. You are most likely in an Alpha state when watching television, reading a book, or just before falling asleep. Theta brain waves are most commonly encountered within dreams, but are also related to moments of deep insight or revelation. The Delta state is the slowest brain wave pattern. It occurs in deep, or dreamless sleep. It is only in this state when the brain releases many beneficial hormones (such as Human Growth Hormone) which helps to heal the body. Children spend more time than adults in this Delta State. It is necessary for their bodies to grow and to handle great physical changes. As we age, we work longer, have more demands on our time, and usually sleep less. The result is that we spend far less time in this Delta state. Without reaching the Delta state, our body does not give itself the care it needs. This has the effect of speeding the aging process, and can lead to a decline in our health.
What scientists have realised recently, is that we also enter the Delta state while in Meditation. Meditating for ten or twenty minutes each day can hold endless benefits, and lead to greater longevity.
Now, time to bust some myths!
1.You have to quiet your mind in order to have a successful meditation practice.
No. I am of the belief that there is no ‘bad’ mediation. Meditation is not about the experience you have while meditating. I like to think of it like having a shower in the morning – I would never question whether to shower before I leave the house, I just do it, and it benefits me for the rest of the day. However, I don’t tell my friends about it later, or beat myself up about it not being an especially good one.
2. “running/biking/lifting weights/etc. is my meditation.”
A lot of people say they don’t meditate but will equate their favourite activity to meditation. Sure, those activities are all healthy, and have benefits, but none of them take your brain into the delta state and reduce levels of stress. In fact, your brain is at its most active during intense exercise, and furthermore, levels of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) are at their highest during physical activity.
3. I don’t have enough time to meditate.
There are busy, productive executives who have not missed a meditation in twenty-five years, and if you make meditation a priority, you will do it. If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. We encourage you not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you feel too sleepy.
I really hope this blog post has encouraged you to try an app, a youtube video, or even join a course local to where you live. You can even just sit leaned up on the side of your bed, set a timer, and focus on your breathing. Anyone that reads this is welcome to message me at www.facebook.com/yogawithilona with any questions.