Our minds are naturally designed to bounce from thought to thought. We're always thinking, problem solving, concentrating. There's always something that holds our attention. But how frequently do we centre our attention on remaining free from thought? How often do you bring your attention to your breath, listen to the birds sing, lie silently beside a flowing river and listen to the water flow past?
My favourite place to practice meditation is anywhere next to the water, on the grass, with sunshine and fresh air. Once I've positioned myself (straight back, hands and shoulders relaxed) I take a few moments to centre myself within my surroundings and become aware of where I am. From there, I allow my breath to become my point of focus. Breaths in and breaths out, how they feel as my chest rises and falls.
When a thought passes through my mind, which it will, I acknowledge that thought and allow it to keep passing through. An analogy I was taught to use is to imagine that you're sitting on top of a mountain with a river flowing below. Each thought that passes through your mind passes below on the river, you acknowledge it, accept it and let it flow past. How you choose to meditate is entirely up to you, as long as these activities are free from any other distraction, that is effective meditation.
Although meditation is often perceived as a spiritual practice, there are also a significant amount of health benefits assosciated with practicing meditation.
Numerous studies have shown that meditation can help improve our physical health by:
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Increasing serotonin, which in turn increases mood
- Enhances the immune system
- Helps chronic diseases such as arthritis
Mentally and emotionally, meditation can help improve your overall wellbeing. Some benefits include:
- Stress Reduction
- Increased Tolerance
- Decreased Anxiety
We're naturally emotional beings. An important element of meditation is being able to recognise and name our emotions. Rather than naturally responding to feelings and emotions by avoiding them, which ultimately perpetuates them, recognise the emotion, why it's there and validate it – there's always a reason for an emotion, and acknowledge it's influence on you. Don't become judgemental of yourself for feeling these emotions. If you're feeling pain or anger, find constructive ways to cope with this. Meditation allows you to observe without judgement.
When you first begin to meditate you will immediately become aware of how cluttered the mind is, attempting to maintain two or three thought processes at once. Find a point of focus, it doesn't matter what it is as long as you're able to allow yourself to focus entirely on the object and block out every other thought. When you get distracted by a thought, allow it to pass through, clear your mind and narrow your attention back to your point of focus. When you begin to meditate you may find that you spend a lot of time redirecting your focus, this is normal. You will eventually find that you're able to focus on your object for longer without getting distracted and reach a point of relaxation much faster.
I first began practicing meditation about 18 months ago, not long after I began studying at university. I still find myself getting distracted quite easily, but I am able to acknowledge the significant shift in my emotional and mental state after I've been meditating. I find myself to be more calm, less likely to become overwhelmed and more at peace with my situation and able to focus more on the task at hand.
Have you tried meditating before or do you practice regularly? Where do you find to be the best place to practice meditation?