Meditation is a mental exercise practiced by millions of people all around the world every single day. Where it came from, what its origins are, and who created it is unknown. It became very popular in western culture during the mid-20th century but the first practices of meditation date back to 1500 BCE. Many forms can be linked to ancient religious traditions but the most formal and spiritual form is closely associated with Buddhism. It’s an exercise for the mind and brain; it requires a deep amount of concentration, awareness, and the mind-body connection. The ability to meditate is considered a skill, someone who has never meditated or who is just starting out may find it difficult – it requires you to use your brain in a way it’s never been used before.
Because of its ancient history, it’s hard to know exactly how many forms exist. However, there are two types of meditation that continue to be actively researched in modern science: mindfulness meditation and concentration meditation.
Mindfulness is the ability to recognize and observe thoughts that come and go out of our minds and to be present and engaged with whatever is happening at the moment. It brings us back to the present moment if we stray, and it allows us to become aware of our current emotions, thoughts, and sensations rather than possibly becoming overwhelmed with uncontrollable external factors.
This type of meditation involves maintaining a focus on one specific thing. Some of these things may include a saying/mantra, breathing, or a candle flame. The goal is to direct focus entirely on the item chosen and refocusing our mind if or when it begins to wander. Because our brain is always working at a pace of – what feels like – a mile a minute, beginners may find it difficult to remain focused or acknowledge a wandering mind, most start off practicing this form of meditation in short durations.
Meditation does not come naturally to most people and requires practice. The ability to quiet your mind, and to be aware of how your mind and body are connected is thought to provide one with an extensive list of benefits. Some known benefits of meditation include: improving symptoms of anxiety, promoting generalized feelings of calmness and relaxation, releasing tension in the body, and lowering blood pressure.
There is no “right” or “perfect” way to meditate. Every person who teaches meditation has a different idea about how often/frequently it should be done, essentially, it depends entirely on what works best for each individual. Once you have the hang of it, some forms of meditation can be used anywhere and at any time (e.g. in the line at the grocery store, at the office, before bed or right when waking up, while driving). Meditation is typically done individually but guided meditation classes may also be helpful for beginners.