What is Meditation? And Why is it Important?
Simply put, meditation is the quieting of the mind that allows the body deep, cleansing rest. When the body is allowed to slip into this state of rest, amazing things begin to happen. Stress releases. Cells rebuild. Energy moves. Healing occurs. Even five minutes a day can have a tremendous impact on your health and wellbeing. These days most of us live in a perpetual state of stress, yet we don't quite understand how this is physically impacting our health. How are our thoughts and day-to-day stressors creating such tangible effects in our bodies? And how can meditation reverse this?
When we're under stress, our brains believe there is real and imminent danger to address. So it begins to sound the alarms by releasing hormones that warn the body to prepare for a predator. This is the "fight or flight" response that most of us remember from high school science class. It is a remnant of our evolution when it was important for the body to have a quick way to respond to an actual predator.
Although we're not running from lions these days, the function still clicks on when we feel threatened. This could be when the boss you hate walks in the room, when you get in a fight with your spouse, or when you're white-knuckling your steering wheel in five o'clock traffic. The brain reads the distressed thoughts and translates that into a hormonal release to communicate to the rest of the body.
When the cells of the body receive this message, they know that it's time to buckle down and get ready for what comes next. That could be a full-speed sprint out of the situation (flight) or the use of strength and energy reserves for a showdown (fight). Either way it is not time for any other function. It's not time to heal. It's not time to rebuild. It's not time to grow.
You can see how this would be a problem over time. If the body is constantly being triggered in this way, then the cells don't have time to perform their primary functions, and they begin to deteriorate. This is the beginning of disease in the body.
This is why meditation is so important. We have to give ourselves a break from that stress in order for our body to function properly. For most people, it's not just about allowing the cells a chance to do their actual jobs, it's now also about giving the body a chance to recover from the damage the stress has caused.
When we meditate, our brain waves change from the high beta of stress to the more calming frequencies of delta and theta. Scientists have measured the effects of these slower frequencies and found that tremendous healing and regeneration occurs when we allow our brain a break from the agitation of beta. We also begin to fire new neurons that create pathways that previously didn't exist. These are the pathways that lead to a greater sense of peace, heightened creativity and a calmer sense of being. We are literally re-wiring our brains each time we sit in meditation.
As for technique, there are a plethora of ways to meditate. Since meditation is about quieting the mind, it helps to give the mind something to focus on while you allow the effects of the meditation to happen in your body. This focus can be on your breath, easily and effortlessly observing it come in and out of your body. Or on a mantra, which is just a phrase that you repeat silently in the mind. "I am" is an easy mantra that has a beautiful benefit for the body and mind.
It's also important that you are physically comfortable and well-supported, especially in a beginner practice. I recommend that you meditate sitting up, whether that is on the floor or in a chair, with hands either palms-up or palms-down in your lap. Although it is quite possible to meditate lying down, it is far too easy to slip into sleep, especially considering the lowered brain waves and that your body normally associates lying down with sleep.
Keep it as simple as possible. You could get absolutely lost searching "types of meditation" on the internet and talk yourself right out of giving it a go. The most important thing about meditation is that you do it. The best meditation is any meditation. And the right way to meditate is to just do it. I encourage my students to start with as little as 5-15 minutes a day and to just observe the way they feel afterwards. Most report a deeper sense of calm almost immediately.
If you still have questions, I teach one-on-one and group meditation classes in-person or remotely and can provide coaching and support as you get your practice started. You can also find local resources at a meditation or yoga center near you. I will be posting a subsequent article about my favorite guided meditations and online resources, so watch for that.
Meditation is by far the greatest gift I have ever given myself, and I cannot imagine my life without it. My own meditation journey began just two short years ago, and I have seen miracle after miracle in my life since. I am in better mental, emotional and physical health than I have ever been in my 33 years, and I enjoy a rich spiritual practice that leaves me full and contented.
We all have at least a handful of minutes each day that we can offer back to ourselves in love and compassion. No one is too busy to sit still for 5 minutes and just breathe.
Your life is speaking to you, and your body, heart and soul are calling for your attention. You deserve to live a more peaceful, healthy life, and if you are reading this right now, then you are already being called. Will you answer?