Meditation, like other mindfulness techniques, has seen a recent boom in popularity. In a survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, the practice of mediation increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2017, with around thirty-five million of Americans having tried it at least once. Through increasing awareness and research of mindfulness, more and more users are trying it out. At first, it might be easy to regard meditation as a casual trend or popular activity. However, it has its roots in history and science, as well as benefits that span across physical, social and mental health. Today, we’ll go through the history of meditation, its benefits, and the ways you can personalize your lifestyle.
Through the lens of Buddhism, meditation has a long and complex history. In David McMahan’s chapter on How Meditation Works, he examines the role of Buddhist Contemplative Practices in modern-day use. McMahan suggests viewing mediation as a method of self-transformation rather than a “state” of mind. By utilizing common practices such as samatha and jhanas, one can cultivate self-awareness. Samatha encourages calm concentration and jhanas involve a state of absorption. Both of these techniques allow “mindful attention” to your breath and your thoughts. Through the context of Buddhism, we can view meditation as an experience instead of an isolated state of being. We can see the application of these techniques through today’s use of medicine and science.
In Dr. Sala Horowitz’s article on the Health Benefits of Meditation, survivors of cancer that received mindfulness training had significant improvements in mindfulness, depression, distress and emotional well-being. Regular meditation can reduce blood pressure, fatigue, stiffness and even pain sensitivity. It can aid with mental health as well, by providing an outlet to stress, and aiding memory. Outside of direct effects, people have reported using meditation as a way to manage time, connect with family, and even lose weight.
So, how does one start meditation? Sitting down and focusing on your breathing can seem like a strange concept, especially in a society that prioritizes filling your time with productive activities. There are several guided meditations available online for free. One of the most popular ones is the website Headspace, which teaches the essentials of mediation and mindfulness for beginners.
According to Headspace, the first step of meditation is to decide on a time and place that you would be comfortable sitting in for a period of time. The amount of time that you meditate depends on your personal schedule. Some guides allow you to start with as little as five minutes. Feel free to set your own pace. Once you’re comfortable, focus on cultivating your breathing and training your mind to focus in the present moment. When you notice your thoughts wandering, which is natural, try to bring them back onto the present moment and your breathing. It’s important to remember that the important qualities of mindfulness are awareness, compassion and non-judgement. Incorporating these traits into your practice may also beneficial.
Meditation has been increasing in practice and regularly among the population. Though it may seem like a growing trend, meditation has centuries of history . Buddhism prioritizes the importance of meditation as a form of self-transformation and this idea can be found though modern practices. It can have several benefits to your mind, body, and social life. Getting started doesn’t need to be stressful or time-consuming. As with all habits, make sure to take steps and pace yourself in a way that fits your individual needs.