We are at a point where our world is more fast paced than at any other point in history. We are always connected, whether it be to our phones, laptops, television, or gaming consoles. Our attention spans have reduced as our stressors have increased. How can we change it? We know that unplugging is almost impossible. We rely on those connections for work, health, and social life. So, what can we do?
Does Meditation Work?
When I was in high school, I started martial arts. The teacher we had tried to impress upon us the importance of meditating. We’re told that Asian cultures used it for centuries and it can help with keeping you calm and focused. Like most students, I followed my teacher’s instructions and tried meditating on my own. But I always wondered, “Does meditation work?”
I never felt grounded in what I was being taught, so I started researching meditation methods. The first one I came across was Transcendental Meditation , this website is the modern version of this older technique.
The premise is you sit in silence, focusing on a word or mantra ,while you meditate. That combined with specific breathing patterns helps elevate your soul and mind. Honestly, for me, it became a bigger distraction. And again, I asked myself, “Does meditation work?”
My teacher showed me breathing techniques to help with focusing. His method was to focus your mind on the inhalation and exhalation of long breaths. Counting them as you did. The principle was you focus on the counting and breathing so you wouldn’t focus on the outside world.
This made sense to me, so I gave it a try. My end result was that I kept falling asleep.
Over time, I got into a pattern where I could meditate for a little bit and started to notice that I felt a little more… centered. Just a few minutes would allow me to slow my heart rate, take better and deeper breaths, and by the end, just feel generally more relaxed. And so I was okay with that. Over all, I didn’t feel like I was doing something right because my experiences were so different from ones I had read about. So I stopped meditating.
The Nine Types of Meditation
A simple search online will turn up a host of information but the one common theme is that there are roughly nine types of meditation. According to Healthline.com, these are the nine most common types of meditation.
- Mindfulness Meditation – Buddhist beginnings, most popular. It teaches you to pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. Observe, note any patterns, and move on
- Spiritual Meditation – Hinduism, Daoism, and Christian, in usage. More akin to prayer. You sit in silence looking for a deeper connection to the higher power. Can often involve usage of incense
- Focused Meditation – Focuses on the use of the five senses to achieve meditation. You can use your sense of hearing by listening to chants or a playing gong sounds. You can focus on touch by counting Mala beads or doing the rosary. Harder for beginners but can work in allowing a deeper focus on your.
- Movement Meditation – An active form of meditation. Yoga, Tai Chi, walking, or gardening can be types of movement meditation. Good for those that find peace in motion and allows your mind to wander more.
- Mantra Meditation – More popular with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Uses a repetition of sound or words to clear the mind, whether spoken aloud or quietly. So, it’s a bit more akin to transcendental meditation (see below).
- Transcendental Meditation – Similar in style to Mantra Meditation. This style allows the practitioner to use a more customizable word or phrase, for their meditation. Give more structure to those that consider themselves more serious about meditation.
- Progressive Relaxation – Sometimes called body scan meditation and designed to reduce tension in the body. Some forms of this style have you tensing and releasing each muscle in a specific sequence. Can also imagine a gentle wave flowing through your body and guided to specifics areas. Works great as a way to unwind before bed.
- Loving or kindness Meditation – This style involves the person opening their mind to receive love from others and then sending a series of good thoughts to friends, loved ones, and all living beings.
- Visual Meditation – This style is more of a guided process. You very vividly picture a scene to help you enter into a deep state of relaxation. It unfolds like a real journey, as you progress you push for more focus, going deeper.
As you can see, there are many types of meditation that you can try. What I learned wasn’t exactly right for me. Of the nine above, I do use Progressive Relaxation when my anxiety is high before bed. This sometimes can help me unwind enough to sleep.
How Meditation Worked For Me
Like I said, I gave up on meditation for many years. Being left with feelings that I was doing it wrong only made it worse. One day, I found something that would alter how I meditated.
I was reading some books on philosophy and various religions when I came across some teachings of modern witches. Many of them spoke of the Visual/Guided Meditation and its usefulness. The author, also, spoke of their frustrations in trying those meditations. They decided they needed to come up with a way to meditate that worked for them.
Now you may be curious, if all these other styles didn’t work, why did I think this one would? I asked myself the same question but I read on.
The answer is simple, they took a more natural approach. They realized that what was holding them back was the rigors that went along with each style of meditation. You had to breathe a certain way, think about specific words, force yourself to visualize things, or be active when you needed to get away.
They scraped the “dogma” for simple basics. They found you only needed to close your eyes, and breathe normally. That’s it. Simple, right?
You might be wondering about all the thoughts that fill your mind when you close your eyes. Their style was not to dwell on them. Let them scroll but don’t focus on them.
The difference was that they looked at their mind and thoughts, while meditating, as more like a movie you are only half watching. It’s playing in the background, you may glance up to see what’s going on but then you don’t pay it much more attention. Let the thoughts come and go.
I figured, what do I have to lose and tried it again. The years of being told how to meditate is hard to get past. I had to remind myself not to focus on an intent or word. Not to hold on to an image that popped up in my mind, acknowledge it was there and let it flow on. It has taken time to re-learn how to meditate, but it has been much more beneficial for me. I don’t stress if I happen to doze off while meditating, it means that I was really relaxed. Isn’t that what meditating is all about?
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation creates a habit, it allows our mind to focus and redirect thoughts. Studies are being conducted all the time on the effectiveness of meditation. We are seeing it become a part of alternative therapies for many conditions. People are using it to control stress, anxiety, and pain, to name a few.
Mental and physical stress causes our bodies to release cortisol, a stress hormone. This can cause an increased release of inflammatory chemicals called Cytokines. These chemicals cause sleep disruption, depression, anxiety, increased blood pressure and can cause fatigue. Healthline.com has a good list of benefits of meditation. Check these few out.
- A study with 1300 adults with high levels of anxiety found that meditation helped decrease anxiety.
- In a study on review of treatment methods, it was found that more than 3500 adults who meditated had improved their symptoms of depression.
- A study of 153 adults who used a mindfulness meditation app for two weeks had reduced feelings of loneliness and increased social contact, in comparison to those in a control group.
- Meditation can help in learning how to relax your body, ease tension, and aid in putting you into a more peaceful state that can allow you to fall asleep easier.
Does Meditation Work?
The verdict is still out on the full range of medical benefits of meditation. Anecdotal evidence shows that there are benefits including meditation moments throughout their day. There is evidence showing meditation can help in focusing your mind, slowing down your breathing, and in relaxation. But YMMV when it comes to this ancient practice.
Modern science has not endorsed meditation as a treatment for most illnesses. Remember to see your doctor before trying any new or untested treatment for any illness you may have. But if you are looking for a way to help relax or focus your mind, meditation may be your answer. Whether it be yoga, mindfulness meditation, guided visualization, or a few moments break in your day, the benefits could be surprising.