The whole idea of meditation can be intimidating.
If you’ve never done it before, you may think you need to “learn how” or “do it properly” to experience the benefit. This very thinking stops innumerable people from even beginning, and it just isn’t true.
Simply taking 10 or 20 minutes to sit quietly without distractions is highly beneficial for your health and state of mind. Taking this time out of our busy schedules may seem counterintuitive in a culture that worships multitasking, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Balance Equals Health
In Eastern medicine, balance in all aspects of our lives keeps us healthy and prevents disease. In times past, this balanced living was the norm, and people understood the importance of doing things in moderation—from eating and physical activity to social and spiritual pursuits. When things in life become too deficient or excessive, it throws the system out of whack, and that’s when sickness tends to creep in.
When this happens, Eastern medicine has various tools to help bring the body back to a state of equilibrium, such as acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, gua sha, and tui na (Chinese medical massage). But ultimately, living a balanced life is the key to staying healthy.
Losing Our Equilibrium
Today, many of us live unbalanced lives in an increasingly unstable world. Finding the equilibrium that our ancestors enjoyed becomes more difficult as our lives become more complex. Compared to even a generation or two ago, we work more and have less social connection, cities are growing as nature dwindles, and people struggle to meet their basic needs as we get further and further from the balance essential to our health and well-being.
So what can we do? We can’t change the world around us, but we can change our reaction to it. The nature of equilibrium is that it’s calm. Rather than wild fluctuations or extreme tilts, it’s a state of balance.
One of the ways that we can get back to that balance–that equilibrium that keeps us aligned and happy—is to slow down, sit, and listen to our body. Tune into yourself. This is often a first step toward calming the mind and reaching a tranquil meditative state.
If you’re one of those people who can’t imagine sitting still and trying to quiet your mind, you may need to begin by doing something gentle but engaging, a kind of moving meditation.
While not always considered meditation, there are a variety of ways you can relax the mind and ease the body.
For some, walking is a wonderful, healing type of meditation. For others, painting, cooking, or gardening is a way for them to unwind their mind. I like to define meditation as being in a state of complete harmony and flow, although others define it more in terms of the tranquility one reaches through meditative practice.
While moving forms of meditation can ease the mind, many people believe a deeper form of tranquility is only possible when mind and body are both still and our consciousness is no longer preoccupied with normal human activities, but rather open to a new experience of itself.
Many meditators describe meditation as a state of profound stillness where the mind ceases its normal mode of thought and seems to access a different state of awareness. People often describe meditation as being completely connected to the universe in a state of bliss where time disappears.
Meditation is typically done in a sitting position, often with the legs crossed. There are many different meditation poses associated with different spiritual traditions. Perhaps the most well-known of these is sitting in full lotus, the legs folded on top of each other, with the hands conjoined in the lap making a circle, or separated with each arm resting on the knee and the palms up.
Some meditation practices use mantras to give the mind a focus so it can drown out all other thoughts. Others direct the attention to your breath, or a specific set of ideas or thoughts. In all of these practices, however, the goal is to quiet the mind. Those who meditate regularly say that this experience changes their awareness throughout their normal life, making them more self-aware, kind, calm, and in control of themselves.
Your mind will inevitably wander as you meditate, especially in the beginning. If you’ve never meditated and are normally a busy thinker, your mind will be all over the place. This is called monkey mind by some Buddhists.
Try not to be hard on yourself. There are days when you will do nothing but bring your mind back to your breath over and over again. But with time, you will find that you will have to do this less and less. Eventually (and this may take days or weeks), your mind will settle into a peaceful quiet, allowing you to connect to yourself in a way you may not have done before, which is a beautiful thing indeed.
Meditation is one of the simplest, most accessible healing tools at our disposal. Taking 10 to 20 minutes a day to simply sit quietly has profound effects on our health and psyche. Many cultures have known this for centuries and the prayer practiced by many monastic Christians can sometimes be considered a form of meditation.
In a time when our world seems more uncertain and chaotic than ever, meditating can bring us back to our truest heart.
How Meditation Can Help Us
Some of the earliest written records of meditation are from India, dating back to around 1500 BC. Many of meditation’s original intended purposes were to deepen our connection to ourselves and as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Science is now discovering just how many benefits meditation has for our health and well-being. It is becoming a well-accepted adjunct treatment for many physical, mental, and spiritual ailments.
One of the best things about meditation is that you don’t need any equipment and can do it anywhere at any time. This alone makes it accessible to everyone on the planet, so there is no reason why all of us can’t be reaping meditation’s benefits for body and mind.
Benefits of Meditation
- You can choose a meditation technique or practice that resonates with you.
- You can do it in the privacy of your own home.
- You do not need any special gear or equipment.
- The positive effects of meditation can be felt by doing it for as little as a few minutes a day.
- You can use your creativity to design a beautiful space that inspires you and supports your meditation practice.
- The beneficial effects will ripple out into all aspects of your life and will be felt by the people around you.
- With time, you will be able to handle stress and other difficult situations with more equanimity
- Your memory, concentration, and mood will be improved.
- You will have a better quality of sleep.
- Science has shown that meditation reduces stress.
- Meditation improves anxiety and depression.
- Regular meditation increases neuroplasticity in the brain.
- Meditation is proven to promote mental health and well-being.
- The power of this healing tool is entirely in your hands.
Emma Suttie is an acupuncture physician and founder of Chinese Medicine Living—a website dedicated to sharing how to use traditional wisdom to live a healthy lifestyle in the modern world. She is a lover of the natural world, martial arts, and a good cup of tea.