If you’ve never tried meditation before, it’s probably because you have a preconceived opinion about what it is and what it can do for you. Regardless of those thoughts being conscious or subconscious, you shouldn’t feel too terrible about that. You’re not alone. Most people—including myself, for the better part of my life—don’t have a clear understanding of what meditation is and what its benefits are. Is it a magical thing that can solve all your problems? No, it’s not. But does it help? Absolutely. In this article, you’ll learn about the benefits and the science behind meditation and some simple ways you can start to meditate today.
What is Meditation?
Because there are many meditation types and each style has a different purpose and outcome, it’s challenging to understand its true meaning. Is it mindfulness or calming? Is it some type of contemplation? Or maybe it merely is a method of relaxation?
One thing is sure, though: meditation is not about changing yourself or becoming someone else. It’s not about removing feelings from within you or disconnecting yourself from the reaction to those feelings.
Although the result of meditation is one of self-betterment, its goal is not that. At least, it doesn’t start with that. As Andy Puddicombe, the creator of Headspace, says, it’s about getting a healthy sense of perspective. The goal is not to turn off your feelings but to observe them and, in time, understand them.
At this point, most people get turned off by meditation because the idea of getting a sense of perspective is, on the one hand, elusive, and on the other hand, annoying. The latter implies that we don’t have a healthy perspective on ourselves and our lives, which is a hard pill to swallow for most people, yours truly included.
That is why meditation benefits will elude most people because the mere function of meditation gets rejected right off the bat.
The second important point about meditation is that it’s not a band-aid. By that, I mean it cannot merely be applied against a super-specific problem and immediately alleviate the pain. Instead, meditation is a holistic approach, and it takes time and practice to produce results. It’s a slow process that requires consistency, and its effects will show up bit by bit everywhere in your life.
Very often, you’ll hear people say, “I just don’t have time for meditation. Besides, I tried it a few times, and it didn’t work.”
Exactly. You are correct. At the same time, that is precisely the reason why you should meditate. Is your mind spinning? It probably is. I know mine was about eight years ago when my wife was asking me to try it out. I was stubborn as a mule, but eventually, I gave it a shot, which truly transformed my life.
Who Invented Meditation?
Let’s take a quick step back in history to understand where meditation comes from.
In a book called On The Psychology of Meditation, Chilean-born psychiatrist Claudio Benjamin Naranjo wrote that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is.”
Not much had changed since he wrote that in the seventies; today, we are still having trouble encapsulating the concept of meditation into one all-inclusive definition.
Meditation is curiosity
The word meditation derives from the Latin word meditatum, which means to ponder. That explains why people often think about meditation and philosophy together. Philosophy comes from the Greek roots “philo,” which means love, and “sophos,” which means wisdom. So, philosophers want to understand how and why people do different things and how they do them, thus always looking for the meaning of life.
Therefore, people often interpret meditation as a type of self-philosophy. That is not exactly helpful for meditation because philosophy is also a complex and hard-to-understand concept.
Experts agree, though, that meditation appeared about 3000-5000 years ago simultaneously in several parts of our world. We have few records of meditation from those days. Most consist of drawings and statues depicting people with eyes closed in meditative positions similar to those we use today.
Written records of meditation date as far back as 1500 BC. They can be found in the Vedas, a series of religious texts from ancient India. The texts are written in Vedic Sanskrit and represent the oldest Hindu scriptures. A later text, the Upanishad, describes meditation as a way to remove ignorance and to acquire knowledge and oneness with the Absolute.
Between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, other forms of meditation were developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.
Much later, but still, in BC, other forms of meditation were practiced by Philo of Alexandria, the Desert Fathers of the Middle East, and Saint Augustine.
What Are the Different Types of Meditation?
Before jumping into what meditation does for you and how to meditate, let’s briefly look at six types of meditation practices. Having an early understanding of what they are will help you decide what you need depending on your life situation.
Spiritual meditation involves a deeper connection with a higher power. It appears a lot in religious contexts, and it may include elements of spoken, chanted, or silent prayer. This type of meditation attempts to take you on a journey into the depths of who you are.
You are observing, watching yourself without judgment, removing all the previous ideas about yourself. You are merely looking, understanding, accepting.
Although spiritual meditation sounds at first like it could be limited to a religious experience, it’s not. Instead, it truly is an exercise of deep self-reflection and coming to an acceptance with oneself.
This is the more classical meditation technique vastly used in the western world. It originated from the teachings of the Buddha, and it combines concentration with awareness while focusing heavily on being present.
Mindfulness is a heightened awareness of what is going on in the present moment. You are free from the shackles of your past or the unknown of the future. It’s exploration and experimenting; it requires you to suspend your judgment for a moment and truly appreciate the mere existence of that moment. This practice aims to wake up and strengthen your mental, emotional, and, through association, physical processes.
When you think about meditation, you probably picture a person sitting with crossed legs and eyes closed. That is a more traditional meditation position, but movement meditation implies the body’s movement while meditating. This technique is related to other body movement practices such as yoga and tai-chi.
This type of meditation takes away the stillness of the body and the focusing on the breath. Instead, it introduces slow movements in a mindful state. The synergy between the body and mind gets heightened.
Once again, you are not forcing or stretching; you move and observe. You notice your body and focus on what it does, how it moves, and the way it turns and shifts.
During movement meditation, your body is no longer just going through the motion. Instead, it is actively observed by your mind and becomes the focus of that moving moment.
Focused meditation aims to cure us of a twenty-first-century disease: multi-tasking. Here, you concentrate exclusively on one thing and train your mind to avoid trying to do more than one thing at a time.
Unlike mindfulness meditation, where you try to empty your mind of all thoughts and focus exclusively on the moment in time, during focused meditation, the concentration is on an object or sensation.
Here, all your sensory mechanisms are the key. You will use sounds, tastes, smells, and touching to bring your focus to one thing and one thing only.
The basis of this method brings us back to the roots of mind over body. Reiki practitioner Ariel Van Alstyne describes the practice as a “method of picturing positive images, ideas, symbols, or using affirmations and mantras to help calm the mind while the body is in a relaxed state.”
The main difference between traditional meditation and visualization meditation is that the latter is more active. In regular meditation, you clear the mind and allow it to observe the moment without judgment. In visualization meditation, you excite the mind with imagery and ideas; you fire up your creativity and use it as a conduit for calm and relaxation.
So, if in traditional meditation you let the mind guide you, in visualization meditation, you are actively guiding the mind toward a particular direction with the goal of producing a certain mindset or feeling.
Chanting meditation is probably one of the more uncomfortable types of meditation for a beginner. That’s because, in traditional meditation, you expect silence and stillness, which is a place of comfort. In chanting meditation, you add sounds, making it harder to practice and making you feel a little strange at the start.
But there is scientific research showing that chanting mantras, such as “om” or “aum” while in a deep meditative state, creates powerful vibrations within the body. Their effects are then felt throughout in the form of calmness and stress reduction.
I will not lie to you, it is a strange feeling when you first try it, and it will take more than one try to get anything out of it. But I promise that in the long-run, it will provide undeniable benefits to your life.
How Does Meditation Help?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode, representing 7.1% of all US adults.
Harvard researchers conducted several studies to understand and fully highlight the benefits of meditation in the long-run, especially as it relates to depression, anxiety, and stress.
Here are the summarized findings from these and other studies that show what meditation can do for you when you practice it consistently throughout your life.
Stress seems to be at an all-time-high no matter where you are, and everyone is concerned with reducing stress. When we are stressed, the level of cortisol in our body increases, causing inflammation. This process left unchecked for long periods will lead to more severe effects such as high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Research has shown that consistent mindfulness meditation reduces the effects of stress and alleviates its direct psychosomatic effects, such as digestive problems, heart palpitations, and headaches.
A study from 2014 on the effects of transcendental meditation on anxiety has shown a high correlation between the people who practiced the technique and decreased overall anxiety
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that is useful at times. However, for people who experience disproportionately high levels of anxiety all the time, stress can morph into a severe medical condition that can prevent them from functioning. Although meditation doesn’t solve the cause of anxiety, it alleviates its effects, thus allowing you the time and awareness to identify and understand its root cause.
Emotionally healthy people are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. That means that they can respond to life’s challenges without crumbling under the weight of their emotions. People who are emotionally unhealthy are deeply affected by those emotions, and their minds begin to shift in terms of their self-image, self-confidence, or self-respect.
Meditation improves emotional health by teaching you how to let those emotions pass through you without judgment or suppression. It helps you understand those emotions and connect them to the effects on your body and mind. Over time, you learn how to change your responses and behaviors and become more emotionally healthy.
Self-awareness is a prerequisite to a slew of elements of personal development. That’s because if you don’t know where you are today, how can you decide where you want to be tomorrow? Self-awareness means knowing yourself deeply and intimately; it means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, uncovering your system of values and beliefs, and figuring out how all of them drive your behavior and attitude.
Only then can you set up your vision and create goals for yourself. Meditation improves your ability to reflect and question yourself. It doesn’t do so from a judgmental position but a place of curiosity. You are a book, but often enough, you are not an open book, despite what you think. Meditation will assist you in opening that book and reaching those hard-to-read pages.
When I first started meditation, I could barely do five minutes. After one minute, I’d become all jittery, and my thoughts scattered all over the place. That’s when I realized that I have an attention or focus problem. I thought I was in control of my mind, but when I took all the inputs away and removed all outlets for output, it became clear. When I was alone with my mind, my mind didn’t want to stay still.
Meditation helps you focus on one thing at a time. It teaches your mind to regroup, which is a critical skill to have, especially when you need to solve a problem or finish a complicated task. By practicing meditation regularly, you will learn how to ignore distractions and focus your energy on the situation at hand.
Focus on the present
There’s a very special subset of attention span, which has to do with the past, present, and future. We are all here today because of our history, and what happened in our past shaped who we are, how we think, and what we do. On the other hand, we always maintain a hopeful eye on the future, expecting it to adapt in a way that will make us happier.
Although there’s no inherent issue with those thoughts, focusing too much on your past or future takes your mind away from the only time when you can act, which is today. When your mind shifts too much to analyzing history or basking in its imperfection, you cast shadows on the present.
Similarly, constant daydreaming robs you from taking action today toward accomplishing those dreams.
Meditation will help you enhance your attention and focus on the present moment. Only when you are entirely into the present can you behave and act according to the plan and move forward.
As life’s turmoil washes over us, we often forget to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves. When you can start every journey with a kind gesture, you pave your life and others’ lives with light rather than darkness—with care rather than indifference.
Meditation helps us open that kindness valve and let it spill. There’s kindness in all of us, but we often forget about it because life’s endless chaos bogs us down. Through meditation, you will learn how to channel positive thoughts and be more kind to yourself and those around you.
Addiction is a complicated subject, and some addictions require superior medical intervention to correct. At the core, addiction is a dependency that spawned from a momentary lack of control and now has turned into a control mechanism itself.
Because meditation helps improve your self-awareness and self-image, in time, it also contributes to improving your self-control and self-discipline.
Overeating, smoking, and alcohol are some of the addictions that can be tamed through meditation. Although meditation in itself might not entirely rid you of these bad habits, it will make the process of transition much more manageable by offering an alternative outlet for your thoughts.
I’ve talked on many occasions about the importance of having an evening routine conducive to deep and restful sleep. A short meditation session before bed can do wonders on that front. When you eliminate all inputs before bed and allow your mind to rest, you open up space for a more restful night.
Just like with other items above, meditation in itself cannot solve insomnia induced by severe medical conditions. But for those who suffer from lack of sleep or low quality of sleep, meditation has shown an improvement.
A study from 2020 proved scientifically that mindfulness meditation and exercise improve sleep quality.
Decrease blood pressure
High blood pressure is a severe medical condition that can often result in a shorter lifespan if not treated properly. Besides the traditional medical treatments, practicing meditation also leads to improvements to this condition. A lot of it can be attributed to how meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety, which affects blood pressure.
Plus, a study has found that people who practice meditation for more than eight weeks had higher nitric oxide levels in their bodies. Nitric oxide is a molecule that helps relax and widen blood vessels, thus keeping blood pressure under control.
Meditation Will Improve Your Life
Can this more than 3000 years old practice do miracles? Not really. I don’t believe in miracles. What I do believe in is the consistent application of proven methods that lead to improvement. Stack them together for long periods, and positive results will begin to show.
Soon, those results will stick for good.
Meditation is acceptance
Meditation falls into that category of activities that have a benefit when used correctly and often. It’s also a practice that melds well with other personal betterment methods such as exercise and maintaining healthy nutrition.
In other words, meditation is another tool in your arsenal and needs to be used deliberately and consistently as a part of your overall wellness overhaul. In time, it can become an integral part of your lifestyle.
If you’ve never meditated before, I urge you to try it out.
I hope I was able to pique your interest. In a future article, I will provide you with a few ways to start meditating. But don’t wait for now. Look for meditating apps or meditating videos on YouTube, and you’ll be able to get started.
Good luck on your mindfulness journey!
Other Meditation Resources
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What has prevented or is preventing you from practicing meditation?
- If you did practice it, what meditation benefits have you felt the most?
- Was there anything that you struggled with as you were trying to introduce meditation into your life?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!