Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced practitioner, chances are you may experience some doubts from time to time or recognize moments where you lack some information about meditation. It’s okay; it means that you grow. And also, we’re here, and we’ve got a guide for you, so don’t you worry. In this Expansion Guide (delivered in short bits), we take you through a journey of conscious awareness and cover the why’s and how’s of meditation. There’s some science, too, so we sound more serious (okay, okay, it’s solid stuff, you’ll see).
Let’s start from the very beginning…
What is Meditation?
Personal growth is something everyone has heard about at least once in recent years (probably more if you haven't been hiding from social media or media in general on purpose). This notion had become revisited and redefined over time. Before we noticed it, it boomed into a massive trend that is now creating new market sectors, jobs, business, and content opportunities (yeah).
It's changing things on the global scale in more than one dimension, yet, as it often happens with massive changes, we're starting to miss out on the individual level. Even though, in this case, personal growth would seem to be something happening naturally to us as we mature and revisit our thought patterns over the years. Theoretically, we are taught the importance of intellectual reflection; however, we often fail to acknowledge the power of physical and spiritual reflection, which are equally (if not more) important. Without them, we accumulate unnecessary piles of information, physical and emotional blocks, and habits that simply don't serve us anymore.
Okay. We haven't said much novelty, did we. We all know we should put our shit together. But how can one do this? And where to start?
Let's answer the first question. And let's do it quickly so you don't get bored and scroll down to find some part of the text in bold that could suggest an easy answer.
There you go.
We know you've heard about it. But do you really know what it is and, even more so, HOW it is? (we never know so much that we cannot learn something new, so stick with us, we won't disappoint you, promise).
Alright, focus now a little bit, as we will dive deeper into this concept. Hope it'll clarify a thing or two.
Meditation is both the destination and the journey towards a greater sense of awareness, understanding, and acceptance. With these modes of perspective available, we equip ourselves to the best of our ability and can begin to witness the divine and experience the ever-expansive states of being.
It basically means that there's no "goal" in meditation or "endpoint." You can't be meditated. But you can (and we recommend it) meditate. It's a process in which you arrive at every moment. Isn't it lovely? Imagine you're going to get your favorite food, and you arrive at every moment of your journey there. So you're receiving a constant reward.
And so, just like your favorite food brings out the best of you and puts you in a great mood, meditation helps you polish and enhance the best traits of your mind (both conscious and subconscious), as well as improving your brain functionality.
Let’s bring a quote here:
Meditation should not be considered a simple activity that is performed with focused attention; this is concentration. When practicing concentration correctly, with a good “anchor” for attention, a specific state of mind takes place, in which logic relaxation happens, and there is a relative freedom from self-identification. Such states of mind are to be experienced and cannot be practiced; thus, meditation techniques (concentrations) are the means to reach this goal. Those who achieve such a state experience positive neurophysiological effects, which have been studied for decades, such as increased functionality and connectivity of the brain, and also increased gray matter volume in specific cortical areas, whether in the young or in the elderly. Meditation has, thus, a proven potential role to help one maintain a healthy cognition and should be included in daily life routines of everybody who wishes for it.
[Neurobiology of Meditation in: Danilo Forghieri Santaella, Handbook of Research on Evidence-Based Perspectives on the Psychophysiology of Yoga and Its Applications].
According to the most ancient meditation teachers, the creme de la creme of each of us is that we can reach the divine through ourselves. We're like a funnel to the light. Imagine you're a scoop of ice cream, and there's a cone at the bottom of which there's liquid chocolate awaiting you. So as the ice cream melts (or you eat it), the path toward the chocolate is becoming broader and more apparent, and finally, you're able to tap into it. Then you reach the ultimate chocolate-infused happiness, which you can share with others, aka the ever-expansive states of being. That's basically how it works.
As we mentioned, meditation is believed to be a very ancient practice.
The word 'meditation' comes from the Latin word meditatum, which means 'to reflect on something.' Despite the availability of certain ancient scriptures related to meditation, researchers are still unsure of the exact time when this practice started. Many archaeological findings suggest that our ancestors meditated when they began hunting. It is also believed that meditation began in Eastern countries primarily due to its association with Buddha. Buddha was a noble prince who chose to become a monk and lived in Southeast Asia over 2,600 years ago. Upset with the way suffering ruled the world and how people were engulfed in material gains and pleasures, he abandoned his luxurious life in the palace to search for the true meaning of life and peace. Buddhist practitioners perceive meditation, or mental training (note that it's used synonymously), to act as a familiarization process with one's own mental life, leading to positive, long-lasting changes in cognition and emotion.
Buddhism recognizes the power of meditation as a tool to help one understand the world in a greater way. Through meditation, one removes oneself from the chaos of the world around and allows oneself to experience a quiet space of peace and begin to experience life from a unique, clear, and unbothered perspective. Within this perspective exists the state of nirvana, among many other things (but that's not for today).
Importance & Benefits of Meditation
A variety of cultures make use of meditation techniques. Enabling the possibility to let go of anything that isn't serving you and just being able to look within yourself to observe stillness while contributing to better overall health is instead an appealing perspective. Removing distractions can help you learn how to take everything in stride. With inner peace comes a better connection with emotions. With a better connection to emotions comes a more precise way of thinking. A more precise way of thinking enables the ability to concentrate better on things and avoid sweating the small stuff.
One of the principal reasons for this uprise of meditation practice is its counteracting effects on stress. The world we live in is so fast-paced and packed with information that our brains end up being over-stimulated, which is one of the main contributors to environmental stress that we all experience. Meditation, by allowing a person to focus on one thing at a time (e.g., your breath, mantra, or the guided story) – which is a point of the practice – lessens the chances of becoming overwhelmed by too many things and provides our minds much needed time to reset and recover. Less pressure and tension are beneficial not only to the mind but also to the body. And the less stress you subject your body to, the less likely you are at risk for stress-borne diseases.
Whether as a part of your morning/evening routine, or moments before an important decision, meditation serves as a form of self-discipline and conditioning. A direct and independent opportunity to access the incredible capabilities of your mind, body, and spirit. A substance-free method to regulate your hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol (stress), serotonin (mood), melatonin (sleep), epinephrine (respiration), and more.
Before exploring a few different approaches to meditation, let's briefly overview some scientific understanding of this practice and its benefits. Also, don't hesitate to open this link in the next tab if you wish for more & deeper.
The practice of meditation physically alters your brain. It positively affects the size of 3 different areas: (1) increasing the size of the Left Hippocampus (ability to learn and to retain information), (2) increasing the size of the Posterior Cingulate Cortex (ability to control how your mind wanders and more explicitly supporting your levels of focus),
(3) decreases the cell volume of Amygdala, which in turn shifts away from the energy spent for fear, stress, and anxiety.
Meditation stimulates growth in the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, an area essential to your management of willpower.
A group of Buddhists, chosen for being long-term practitioners of meditation, were studied in contrast to a control group of student volunteers. Results from brain scans in the 2004 Davidson study showed the Buddhist produced thirty times more than the normal levels of gamma waves required for one’s optimal cognitive function, particularly in processing information, planning, learning, and retaining information.
In 2013, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge of Harvard Medical School conducted a study on the effect of meditation on the aging process of human beings. She compared the length of the telomere, the markers of accelerated aging in the human body, of experienced practitioners and non-meditators. Results showed a significant difference concluding that meditation practitioners degenerate and age slower than non-meditators.
Sometimes slowing down and even stopping for a moment before making an important decision doesn't seem to be an option. Yet, waiting for those limited vacation days or near-death experiences (the trendy way to reset your life) to recognize and savor your precious moments of existence also doesn't sound like an attractive way to spend your life.
Meditation is a low-cost, calming, efficiency-driving, performance-enhancing activity that enables us to cultivate the skill of staying present in everything we do and every moment we live in. We will be bold and risk saying that you could strip your life off all your practices, but this one could very well become the one-act to foster greater self-respect and the ability for self-restoration (ultimate forces of life).
The top 10 reasons for not practicing meditation are:
- I don’t have time
- I don’t know how
- I don’t know what for actually
- I don’t have the right place
- It’s frustrating
- Just nope
- Doesn’t work
- Haven’t tried
- Getting lost in thoughts
- Tried but can’t stay committed
Now think of the moments when you get lost in the hyperstimulated traffic of your mind, and you struggle to escape the speeding loop of thoughts. Not the nicest, right? We know your concerns are valid, and we don't underestimate them. Still, we will dare to suggest that, only perhaps, regaining the peace and clarity of mind are overall worth overcoming the initial struggles and giving meditation a solid try. What do you say?
A helpful tip is to fully prepare for the practice by sleeping and resting adequately. The opportunity to face your fears in a gentle and timely manner is not to be taken lightly and is the only chance for the seed of enlightenment to sprout. For more tips on how to face these challenges, check out this article by Rajiv Dhar.
Also, if we were to give you one piece of advice that works instantly, it'd be that the best way to do something is to do it. So, before you start questioning, just sit down and meditate. Yes, right now. Watch out; doubts are coming. Push them away. Just sit down. We'll see you in 10.
How Meditation Affects Your Lives and Others (hint: it does)
“There’s an obvious contagious effect with your emotional and cognitive experiences; we’re constantly affected by others and their emotional states,”
Regular practice of meditation helps you live a life filled with gratitude and loving-kindness so that even when others keep taking from you, you are still overflowing and attract experiences that uplift you and your surroundings. By tuning in to your inner wavelengths, you allow this positive energy to radiate, and you will likely also attract the good side of others too. That's the rule of attraction: you attract the energy that you offer. Fundamental interactions such as morning greetings, unexpected exchanges of thoughts throughout the day, or vulnerable expressions to your loved ones can subsequently be affected for the better. With time, you can develop a presence that carries a foundation that grounds everyone around.
These unique traits don't necessarily need to be associated with the heroines or saints – as we often paint them out to be, they can become a part of your everyday life.
When you live at peace, you emit the energy that people around you will surely notice and want to adapt. Through meditation, you can become the beacon of light for the people (and other living creatures) in your life.
Where, When and How?
You might wonder now how to begin, what to wear, when to start and where to meditate. It is only natural to prepare if you are trying something for the first time.
There are no rules on picking where to meditate; however, you probably might want to find a quiet and private space where no one will bother you for the time of your practice. As a beginner, attending a meditation class in a retreat center probably resolves the "where to meditate" dilemma. However, there are times when going to class may be impossible, so it is helpful to designate a specific spot in the house or find a quiet, convenient place where you can regularly practice without distractions. At home, keeping a "meditation zone" or an area where you practice will fill that place with spiritual vibrations (or just make it unique, for that matter). A corner in a room, the bedroom, closet, or den can be used – up to you. Ensure that you are far from noisy traffic if meditating outside. The environment should be quiet and relaxing, the area well-ventilated, and the temperature not too hot or too cold. Playing meditation music and avoiding distracting noises is recommended.
A clean carpet, mat, chair, or small cushion can be used to sit on. You may opt to face an altar or face the direction where the sun rises. But you can also face a plain wall, and that will work too. Remember, it's not so much about how but if. So doing the practice is what really matters. You can't go wrong here.
Traditionally the ideal time for meditation is just before sunrise or after sunset. According to the older schools, around 3 or 4 am. Indian writings and scriptures refer to this period as the Hour of God or Brahma Muhurta. It is believed that any spiritual activity bears a more remarkable effect during this time. If waking up that early for meditation seems next to impossible, any time before seven should do. However, to tell you a secret: any time you find suitable for yourself in the day will do and work well.
Morning meditation is enjoyable because the sun's rise gives warmth and energy and the chance to enhance oneself before being affected by all surroundings.
The next auspicious time to meditate is in the evening, when the day starts to wrap itself up. Completing today's work, one begins to unwind and ease from the workings of the world. Meditation has better effects when an individual starts to relax and provides space for clarity.
But, as we said, the best time to meditate for modern practitioners is the time that fits their schedule perfectly. Those who intend to regularly meditate should find a period when they can just let everything be at ease. Convenience is key. Practitioners have different approaches in determining the best time when to meditate.
Ultimately, the best time to meditate is when one can find peace amidst the demands of those around us. The perfect opportunity for growth arises in a small slice of time, done mindfully at one’s own slice of space.
As the concept of meditation has continued to grow and evolve, many styles of this practice have developed. Some types of meditation practiced today include:
- Mantra meditation – it’s based on one word or a sentence (mantra) that creates higher vibration when repeated throughout the practice. Can be repeated in your mind, out loud or sung.
- Breathing meditation – it uses your breath as a tool to calm your mind and tune into the vibration of your inner wavelength. It’s the simplest, yet very effective method that anyone can practice.
- Loving-kindness meditation is used to help an individual develop a greater sense of love, kindness, compassion, self-respect, and respect for everyone else.
- Mindfulness meditation is used to help develop a greater awareness of self and experience, including what it is like to inhabit a physical body and our thoughts, like a body scan.
- Visualization can be used for various things, ranging from helping someone experience greater healing, engage in particular emotions, or prepare for specific situations.
- Vedic meditation – also referred to as Transcendental Meditation; it requires an experienced teacher who picks an unique mantra for you and guides you throughout the practice.
Some Buddhists also engage in Zen meditation, a calming meditation intended to provoke a very peaceful and relaxed state of mind.
All of the above, however, can be divided into two more general categories: Quiet and Guided Meditation.
One of our favorite Zen teachers is Adyashanti, and his guided meditations are a great resource to try out the second type of practice. Here is a free one called "The Three Centers Meditation." Adyashanti teaches us to explore the three centers of our being: the head, the heart, and the gut. He describes the open, sky-like quality of awareness of the head, the intimate quality of the heart, and the dark, mysterious quality of awareness in the belly. By relaxing our attention, we can join with meditation and allow ourselves to experience it just as it is."
Most importantly: remember there is no right or wrong answer in meditation practice, do whatever feels right for you at any time that suits you.
In the next part of this expansion adventure, we'll talk about the Inner journey of Understanding yourself. Let us know in the comments if you have any suggestions on additional content/ creators that might nourish this living document further.