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What Is Meditation?

This article was written by Robert Butera PhD
posted under Self-Help

Meditation can be defined in a literal manner as an exercise of focusing the mind on one thought, image, feeling, or concept. In the concentration-oriented meditation methods, the mind focuses on a word, a prayer, a visual image, a spiritual concept, or the breath. With the mindfulness type of meditation, you may simply set the mind in observer mode. Each of the literal definitions of meditation works toward a similar goal of quieting the mind.

Another version to this question could be, "What is meditation in terms of how it relates to daily life?" Suddenly, the literal translation of an activity extends into the relationship between the practice of meditation and life.

At this point a tension exists between two parties—meditation and life. Does practicing meditation by sitting still each day from five to thirty minutes improve your life? Or does engineering your life in the direction of simplicity make you capable of meditating? In other words: Which comes first (the chicken or the egg question)—meditation or a healthy lifestyle?

Let's start from the meditation point of view. If you are going to be disciplined enough to sit still for an average of twenty minutes a day, that means you have to make sure that you have the proper food, because you can't concentrate on meditation if you are hungry. You must be rested, or you will fall asleep five minutes into your meditation. If you haven't exercised, you will feel antsy during meditation practice. And, if you haven't cleared some free time with your family members, it will be very frustrating to meditate at home. At work, it is better to decrease any stress-based reactions to keep the mind steady for your evening meditation. Pretty much, just sitting to meditate causes you to balance every aspect of your life.

Let's see how meditation affects your life. OK, now you are meditating and realizing that even though your body is still, the mind races. Some days it races more than others. But each meditation session, you learn something new about yourself and you feel more relaxed, focused, and peaceful at the end of the session. Due to this peace of mind, you tend to make better food choices as well as seem more optimistic. You are even tempered and have avoided arguing over small details. At work, you are better at seeing the larger picture, so your stress level is down. And, you are sleeping better, which probably has something to do with a more stable nervous system. Seems as though meditation practice has altered your approach to life!

It is overwhelming that there is a strong connection between overall healthy lifestyle and meditation practice.

So meditation brings a wealth of health, if you will, to your life. But what meditation exercise should is best for you personally? My honest answer is for you to discover by trial and error the type of meditation that works best for you. What I want you to do is sell yourself on meditation by trying all the methods for a short period durations.

Exhaustive research from my days as a Yoga Therapy Ph.D. student produced a list of six meditation style categories. Each of the six methods summarizes one way that the mind can be focused. The only best method is the one that works best for you. The wish is for you to be a happier person and a better person because you were empowered to figure out a successful meditation practice. Thereafter, you may seek out a group for further inspiration and instruction.

A few tips for your meditation practice:

  • Find a relatively quiet location but learn how to not react to unexpected sounds.
  • Sit upright to avoid sleeping if sitting is possible.
  • If you feel any pain by your seated posture, please reposition your body so as to cause no harm.
  • Generally speaking, the eyes would remain closed during the exercise and the body in a motionless, seated posture.
  • Be careful to notice if you have any increase in negative or anxiety-related thoughts, especially if you are prone to depression or anxiety disorders.

The Six Types of Meditation are summarized below. Note that they are listed in no particular order; each method is effective for thousands of people—see which one quiets your mind:

  1. Breathing Meditation: Simply focus on the breath as it mysteriously keeps the body alive. Do not focus on the air itself as it enters and exits your lungs. Focus on the entire process of the breathing in terms of life force.

  2. Mantra Meditation: Repeat one word or a syllable in your mind that means something to you. Keep repeating the same word over and over; you may use the same word for years.

  3. Visualization: Focus on an image—but not on a series of images. For example, if you pick the sky, then just imagine the blue sky or a cloud. Focus on an image alone, as it would be more like a snapshot that stills the mind versus a movie sequence that distracts the mind.

  4. Intentionality, Prayer/Nature: Use a prayer in any form from your religious background and remain quiet in a listening mode after saying the prayer. If in nature, feel the universal "big picture" while contemplating nature.

  5. Contemplative Inquiry: Take an unanswerable question and reflect on this question. Exhaust your active mind's theories and then only sit with the question. A popular practice is to repeated ask the question, "Who am I?"

  6. Mindfulness: Observe your thoughts and feelings and notice your reactions to the same. Continue in a witness mode, just keep observing with the aim of reducing critical judgments.

It's now time to pick up Meditation for Your Life for more tips on how figure out the best meditation method for you!

Robert  Butera PhDRobert Butera PhD
Robert Butera, MDiv, PhD (Devon, PA) founded the YogaLife Institute in Pennsylvania, where he trains yoga and meditation teachers and comprehensive yoga therapists. Robert’s PhD at CA Institute of Integral Studies focused on Yoga...  Read more

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