Are you new to meditation? Like us, you probably have asked these questions: What exactly is meditation, and how can meditation benefit me? Can everyone meditate, and how to do it? In fact, the whole notion of meditation might even be daunting to some. In this post, we will address some of these questions to show you how easy it is to meditate, and also talk about the scientifically-proven health benefits that you can reap from this amazingly healing practice. Maybe by the end of the article, you would have discovered a newfound interest and passion.
What is meditation?
So what exactly is meditation? Basically, it is a state of thoughtlessness. Serious practitioners of meditation will tell you that you don't do meditation, it is a state of mind. Think of a time when you have experienced a breathtaking view, a sunrise for instance, in that moment when you are just focused on the beauty of the sunrise, you have arrived at thoughtlessness! That's the state of meditation.
"Monkey mind" is a term used to describe the typical human brain activity when it comes to attention, because we swing between reminiscing past memories, and planning for the future, hardly staying in one state of mind. Imagine a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other – meditation is being in the present, calming the pendulum to a state of equilibrium.
Yes, now that you knowing what meditation is, what are you supposed to do with the information, right? Below are some of the benefits of meditation.
It helps you to sleep better
Meditation reduces oxygen intake (by about 17%), lowers heart rates and increases brain waves
Potentially slows or reverses neurodegeneration
Meditation was used as an intervention tool in a study targeted on a group of elderly with mild cognitive impairment (at risk of diseases later on like Alzheimer's), 84% of the elderly had shown improvement in cognitive functions
According to a study, meditation was able to reduce physical pain by 27% and emotional pain by 44%. It should be noted here that past research has shown that morphine reduces physical pain by 22% and meditation surpasses that
Meditation is all about being in the present and stopping the swing of the pendulum in your mind. Stress occurs when you are worried about something that is not in the present, and therefore, meditation has the ability to anchor your mind and calm it
Improves test results
Meditation helps with concentration, and practicing it regularly trains the mind to be more focused. Studies have shown 4 months of regular meditation has helped kids aged 9-10 years old improve math results by 15%
There are plenty more benefits that comes with meditation that are supported by researchers and studies that will appear on the search engine. However, despite meditation being a widely studied subject that reaps positive results even with skeptical researchers, the science behind meditation is still on the fringes of the scientific community. So whether to believe these benefits is up to you. However, there's no harm trying, is there?
But I heard that meditation is a religious practice.
Yoga aficionados are very familiar with meditation as part of their practice as meditation becomes increasingly popular and mainstream. Although the word ‘meditation’ isn’t used widely, it plays a part in practically every religion to describe their contemplative practice.
Don’t be mistaken, meditation does not always have a religious element, it is a natural part of the human experience and is widely used as a therapy for promoting mental health and boosting the immune system.
Let us take down this barrier to your practice of meditation — meditation started out with religious associations, but it has grown into something more than that. It is for people who are looking for respite from their busy daily lives and to practice mindfulness, and it can also be for people who are looking to connect with their faith. To each their own.
In conclusion, meditation is for everyone. If you have tried it and it didn't work the first time, try again until it works. Meditation comes with practice. Don't feel defeated if you are unable to clear your mind during meditation, it is normal, Rome is not built in a day. We caught up with Auriel Lim, who has just embarked on including meditation sessions to her daily life. She shares —
"[There are] definitely difficulties! I usually listen to guided meditation, and I still face difficulties following instructions, I think mainly because my mind always wanders. I think I've gotten better at just letting go of the thoughts, but [there is] definitely still a lot of room for improvement. And to answer how I overcame them? I don't think I have. It's more like I have improved on being able to focus better."
If we have convinced you to at least try it once, you can try this simple body scan meditation at home recommended by Auriel.
Body Scan Meditation (from Stop, Breathe, Think)
Take a few deep breaths, paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out. Slowly scan your body from head to toe, bringing your attention to each area of your body:
- Start with the top of your head, moving to the sides of your head
- To your face, forehead, eyes, mouth and jaw
- And now to the neck and shoulders
- To your upper arms, forearms, wrists, and hands
- Take note of any sensations you may feel, without judging or trying to change anything.
- Now to the torso, the chest and upper back
- Be aware of your heartbeat and your breathing.
- Pay attention to your stomach and lower back.
- Notice any thoughts that may be running through your mind, and just let them go, bringing your attention back to your body.
- Notice your hips, thighs and knees.
- Down to the the shins, calves, ankles and feet.
- Become aware of your body as a whole, and feel how your whole body is connected.
Finally bring your attention back to your breath, and for a few moments feel your entire body expand and contract with each inhale and exhale.
Written by Ange Chua
Edited by Cynthea Lam
Ange Chua is an aspiring bird-watcher trying to fix her black thumbs. When she's not writing, you'd find her drinking tea out of teacups or reading in bed with her dog. She thinks her spirit animal is an alpaca.