What is meditation?

Meditation is a practice in which an individual focuses their thoughts inward to increase inner calmness, concentration and emotional balance. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased.  Meditation may involve using techniques such as focusing the mind or on a thought or breath, with the majority of practices beginning by sitting or lying in a comfortable position to train attention and awareness, helping to anchor you to the present moment. Typically, meditators spend a focused amount of time, anywhere from a few minutes to one hour or more in which you are tuned in to this inner focus. 

What are the different types of meditation?

There are many different types of meditation, and some examples of meditation include:  

  • Breath-awareness meditation – Observing the natural rhythm of your breathing. Feeling the air enter your nose, the rise and fall of your stomach.
  • Loving-kindness meditation – involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, warmth and connection towards others and yourself by silently repeating a series of mantra.
  • Mantra-based meditation – Repeating words like So Hum repetitively, can help you find calm and focus. You can choose from a number of Sanskrit mantras like the Gayatri Mantra, which has meaning in its words and sounds, or you can even make up your own. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just how you feel about your choice.
  • Visualization meditation – Another meditation technique is to picture an idyllic being or setting in your mind. Focus on the picture and let your imagination run free.
  • Guided meditation – guidance through meditation with a trained practitioner
  • Focused Meditation – (on an object for example)
  • Candle flame – If you have trouble focusing, you can light a candle and stare at it to help hold your attention.

By Witnessing the types of thoughts that flow by while meditating, without attaching to them, you can calm the mental chatter that Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” They say our thoughts can be like wild monkeys that jump from branch to branch. Those monkeys lead us on a tangent through an uncontrollable past and future as we follow them through the jungle of chaotic activity that can be our waking state of mind. When we give the mind something to focus on—like a guided meditation, the breath, or a mantra—we become aware of an inner world of stillness, love, and peace.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Studies on the relaxation response from practices like meditation have documented the following short-term health benefits in relation to the nervous system: 

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Decreased stress
  • Deeper relaxation

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits and have noted positive effects on the brain and immune function among meditators. Yet it’s worth noting that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits as such but to simply be present.

In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. 

Following is a seated meditation that can be practiced during whatever time you have available.

  • Close your eyes and take one full minute to settle in by taking a few deep, breaths.
  • Start to repeat the mantra So Hum to yourself silently, slowly synching the rhythm of your breath to the mantra.
  • As you inhale, silently repeat the word “So“.
  • As you exhale, silently repeat the word “Hum“.
  • Continue breathing slowly and aligning your mantra to your breath, being careful not to rush your breath if you notice your mantra speeding up.
  • Each time you notice your mind wander, simply draw your attention back to the mantra So Hum.
  • When your time is up, gently let go of the mantra, taking a moment to sit quietly before opening your eyes.

What is Mindfulness?

Many of us operate on autopilot, completing familiar tasks day in and day out.  When participating in, normal daily activity often your mind wanders as you are thinking of the next thing on your to-do list.  It can be difficult for the human mind to stay in the present moment. In fact, a recent study at Harvard found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. This kind of mindlessness is normal, as the mind spends its time focused on the past (in regret mode), the future (in worry mode), and considering should have’s and what if’s. The study also found that allowing the brain to run on autopilot like this can make people unhappy. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” the researchers said. Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to juggle too many things at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.  This lack of awareness prevents us from listening to our bodies when they are at a point of needing increased nutrition, rest, exercise or hydration and much more.

ANTA Member 4148ness refers to a state of being fully present, having awareness in where we are, and what we are doing in the here and now.  Paying attention to thoughts, feelings, behaviours and everything in between. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, wherever you are, whoever you are and whatever you are doing by just showing up and being fully engaged in the right here, right now.  This means freeing yourself of both the past and the future, freeing yourself of judgment of right or wrong, the what if’s and maybe’s. Freeing yourself of thoughts of self – being good enough or not good enough, being totally present without distraction.  Awareness through observation of your direct experience via thoughts, sensations, feelings and emotions, being fully aware of your surroundings and the effect you have on those around you. 

How to practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be practiced both informally (at any time/place) and formally (during seated meditation). Where meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time, mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day.  When practicing try engaging all five senses, eg when showering next, take notice of the temperature of the water, how it makes your skin feel, notice the smell of the shower gel or soap you are using, does it lather up or just slide over your skin? 

Some Mindfulness Basics include:

  • Setting aside consistent time and a quiet space
  • Observing the present moment as it is. 
  • Let go of Judgements, when judgement arises, make a mental note ‘thinking’ and let that negative thought or feeling pass.
  • It is natural that our minds will wander during practice, being carried away in thought.  Being mindful is bringing our attention back again and again to the present moment.
  • Remember to be kind to yourself, when your thoughts interrupt, which they naturally will do, recognise that your thoughts have wandered and gently bring them back to the present moment.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simple to practice and if practiced consistently gives the practicing individual several health benefits including: 

  • The release of ‘happy’ brain chemicals
  • May lower blood pressure
  • May improve digestion
  • Relaxes tension around pain
  • Growing research has shown that when you train your brain to be mindful you are remodelling the physical structure of your brain. 
  • By gaining a greater sense of presence, mindfulness can promote calmness, increase productivity, and put you in a much healthier headspace by promoting personal happiness.

When we pay attention, then change becomes possible.

Being mindful enables us to strengthen relationships. Listening to someone, to be fully engaged in their words, voice, and feelings—listening without judgement, or waiting for it to be your turn to talk. Mindful listening improves our relationships because listening with patience, trust, acceptance, and an open mind strengthens our ability to communicate. Compassionate communication coupled with more conscious control over our emotions can be monumental to both personal growth and relationships.

Mindfully responding to life’s stressors, instead of reacting habitually, is another benefit of this practice.   Instead of reacting with the same knee-jerk reaction during confrontation means that we can stop taking things personally and become more aware and compassionate of the other person.

Merging the two practices

Mindfulness and meditation practice enhance the effectiveness of the other. Mindfulness supports and enriches meditation, while meditation nurtures and expands mindfulness. Where mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation goes hand in hand with creating a happy life—no matter what terminology you use! There are hundreds of resources online that have a huge supply of guided meditations and music to help soothe your soul. Try perusing Google Play, iTunes or SoundCloud to decide which one will suit your needs best.

Liza Brunell

Adv Dip Health Science Naturopathy, Nutrition
ANTA Member 4148