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Meditation is a form of management or training of the mind, more specifically what we call the Default Mode Network (or ‘monkey-mind’). In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, one of the key sutras or statements is ‘the cessation of the fluctuations, or whirlings, of the mind.’ It isn’t about getting rid of thoughts but gaining control of them and their ‘fluctuations’ and releasing attachment to them - the kind of attachment which can have a negative impact on us. Studies suggest that meditation reduces activity in key areas of the brain (e.g. the amygdala) which are in part responsible for this monkey-mind and cause increased activity in areas responsible for processing and regulation of our thoughts (e.g. the prefrontal cortex). 1
One of the main purposes of meditation is about being present as opposed to forcing or making it happen. In one sense, it is a practice or tool focused on getting to know yourself and your thoughts and how you think in a deeper way, thus increasing awareness.
Among its many benefits are: focus, productivity and effectiveness, stress reduction, lower levels of burnout, reduced symptoms of anxiety, reduced symptoms of depression, boosted mood, improved memory, potentially reducing age-related memory loss, and increased levels of kindness and compassion towards self and others.
There are wide and deep forms of meditation, those we can access easily in our day-to-day lives and those which may be encountered through ancient spiritual traditions. 2 This ensures that meditation is accessible to everyone in one form or another. Focusing on the wider approaches and applications here, some of which are outlined in brief form below. Two broad categories and ways of accessing meditation are guided and self-led. Guided meditations come in a variety of forms - in person classes, on meditation-specific retreats, online audio sessions, phone apps and more. Self-led can be set up as best suits the individual.
How to begin a meditation practice
Find or create a space that will be comfortable, reasonably quiet and without interruption. Carve a little time - it doesn’t need to be more than 5-20 mins. Sit on the ground or a chair, supported by a cushion, perhaps against the wall (you can always lie down if that’s more comfortable). Wear comfortable clothing. Maybe begin with a guided meditation if you feel that would be of help - there are many apps and online resources available (e.g. Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm). Try and begin in as neutral a state as you can (even though this can be hard). Tuning in to your breath can be a good place to begin. Don’t be hard on yourself if it feels challenging to begin with - like most things in life, meditation takes time and practice.
8 Types of meditation
(both for guided or self-led)
Please note that there may be other names for these types of meditation.
- Focal Point Meditation - using the breath, a candle, sound/music, an object or another form of focal point to direct the attention and calm the flitting of thoughts.
- Mindfulness Meditation - focusing on the present moment with careful attention, being aware of thoughts passing through without letting the wandering mind take over.
- Mantra Meditation - this involves using a phrase or word to focus the attention on and repeating it quietly out loud or in your head.
- Visualisation - similar to the above types, this invites you to focus on an image or a scene or story unfolding, so a mental image becomes the focal point. You can observe what feelings and sensations arise as you visualise.
- Moving Meditation (incl. Walking) - using movement as your main focal point, this could be through yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or it could be another form of gentle movement including steady paced walking. This is especially useful for times when it is challenging to stay still or if you’ve been sitting or static for a long period of time.
- Loving Kindness - while focusing on the breath, this involves welcoming compassion and kindness to yourself and directing it out into the world and to others as well. More specifically, you think of someone close to you and direct love towards them and then begin to do the same for those you feel more indifferently to and then to those you have negative feelings towards. It helps develop compassion and kindness to all.
- Body Scan - moving through each part of the body (usually from head to feet or feet to head) and noting or scanning each area. This brings focus and presence to the body and links body and mind together. This is sometimes referred to as progressive relaxation.
- Resting Awareness - this doesn’t involve a focal point but rather simply letting thoughts enter into the mind and then pass through without dwelling on them. This is closest to pure meditation.
MATERIALS FOR REFERENCE
The Science of Meditation by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson
The Little Book of Meditations by Gilly Pickup
‘The Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation’ (Headspace) - https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits
Mental Health & Wellness Training Manual by Yoga Medicine (incl. Tiffany Cruikshank, Diane Malaspina and Valerie Knopik)
1 ‘7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain’, Alice G Walton, Forbes (online) https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/#57dc77fc1465
‘Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity’, Judson A. Brewer, Patrick D. Worhunsky, Jeremy R. Gray, Yi-Yuan Tang, Jochen Weber, Hedy Kober, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2011, 108 (50) 20254-20259; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1112029108
2 The Science of Meditation: How to Change Your Brain, Mind and Body, Daniel Goleman and Richard J.Davidson (Penguin, 2017) p.
Jude Evans Yoga & Movement Teacher, Warwick Sport
Jude has a background in theatre, movement, and dance. She is passionate about bringing movement, yoga and creative practices to a wide range of people.
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