by Dr Reetu Verma
Meditation was first written about 5000 years ago in India. It is an integral part of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and in the past few decades has gained scientific backing and popularity as a tool to ease stress, anxiety and calm the mind.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice of focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, mantra or activity to bring our attention and awareness to the present moment in order to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm, and stable state.
A recurring question that I get in my talks and from clients is ‘I just cannot empty my mind, I cannot control my thoughts.’ Further, many think that meditation is when you have to completely empty your mind and go into space. To me that is the ultimate aim, to get into the gap between the thoughts, into the space of nothingness. It takes many years of practice to get to that emptiness, so keep practicing if that is your aim.
For most of us who are new to the practice, I suggest a shift in the way you look at meditation – Think of meditation as not about you controlling your thoughts, but about you not being controlled by your thoughts.
My 3 Steps to Meditate
Observe – be a witness to your own thoughts (stop trying to get rid of them) without any judgment.
Contemplate – are these thoughts really true? (this requires a heightened level of awareness).
Reflect – are these thoughts really empowering you? Get a healthy sense of perceptive remembering that it is the thoughts that create our feelings and emotions.
Why Should We Practice Meditation?
When we live in the past, we can experience depression, when we live in the future, we can experience anxiety. Meditation can help us to be fully present and experience life as it is happening. Scientific studies have shown that practicing meditation helps to center and ground us, reduce our stress, anxiety, depression, and improve our overall sense of wellbeing.
Types of Meditation
There are different ways to practice meditation, and you can try what appeals to you to find what feels comfortable and helpful for you. Some examples are as follows:
Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you simply pay attention to the present moment. Accepting it as it is and allowing your thoughts and feelings to come and go without judgment. Mindfulness is not about controlling thoughts and feelings but rather about letting them go. Mindfulness practice involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Mantras are powerful sounds and tones you listen to or repeat to help change your vibrations and quiet your mind. Mantra meditation can be done anywhere and at any time. Chanting mantras with concentration help to focus the mind through synchronizing the body, mind, and breath.
Spiritual meditation involves prayers, silence, and self-control, and aims to build a deeper connection to the Divine.
Movement meditation is the act of being present, aware, and connected to your physical movements. eg) whilst dancing, swimming, walking, yoga, etc…
Visualization is similar to guided imagery, where we imagine a happy, peaceful, safe scene of ourselves in a place of love and beauty, eg) a soothing natural landscape or being enveloped in loving safe arms and imagine letting go of our negative emotions, thoughts and feelings and bringing in love, peace, and joy.
Loving-Kindness Meditation or Metta is a silent wish or prayer put out into the universe for others to be happy. It involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras such as “May you be happy”, “May you be well”. This is practiced towards strangers, those we love and care about and those who we may not generally have good feelings about.
As Loving-Kindness Meditation is about sending good wishes to others, Compassion or “Karuna” meditation is practicing loving compassion and acceptance towards ourselves and a wish for all beings to be free from suffering. Karuna means compassion in Sanskrit. Practicing compassion and love for others becomes easier and more meaningful when we first embrace self-compassion as we cannot give away what we have not got.
Like anything else, meditating is like learning any other skill, it takes practice. Just like you build muscles by doing reps, it takes consistent practice to be a master of your own thoughts and not let them control you.