Meditation is the practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, enhance personal and spiritual growth. People who meditate regularly experience less anxiety and depression, more enjoyment and appreciation of life, and improved relationships with others.
Meditation produces a state of deep relaxation, sense of balance, & peace. Out of this experience of emotional stability, one may gain greater insight and understanding about one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. This insight in turn offers the possibility to feel more confident and in control of ones life. Meditation facilitates a greater sense of calmness, empathy, and acceptance of self and others.
Meditation can be used with other forms of medical treatment and is an important complementary therapy for both the treatment and prevention of many stress-related conditions. Regular meditation can reduce the number of symptoms experienced by patients with a wide range of illnesses and disorders including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance dependence and abuse, ulcers, colitis, chronic pain, psoriasis, and dysthymic disorder. It is considered to be a valuable adjunctive therapy for moderate hypertension (high blood pressure), prevention of cardiac arrest (heart attack), prevention of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries), arthritis (including fibromyalgia), cancer, insomnia, migraine, and prevention of stroke.
Meditation may also be a valuable complementary therapy for allergies and asthma because of the role stress plays in these conditions. Meditative practices have been reported to improve function or reduce symptoms in patients with some neurological disorders as well. These include people with Parkinson’s disease, people who experience fatigue with multiple sclerosis, and people with epilepsy who are resistant to standard treatment.
Meditation techniques have been practiced for thousands of years. Originally, they were intended to develop spiritual understanding, awareness, and direct experience of ultimate reality. The many different religious traditions in the world have given rise to a rich variety of meditative practices. These include the contemplative practices of Christian religious orders, the Buddhist practice of sitting meditation, and the whirling movements of the Sufi dervishes. Although meditation is an important spiritual practice in many religious and spiritual traditions, it can be practiced by anyone regardless of their religious or cultural background to relieve stress and pain.
Sitting meditation is generally done in an upright seated position, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. The spine is straight yet relaxed, sometimes the eyes are closed. Other times the eyes are open and gazing softly into the distance or at an object. Depending on the type of meditation, the meditator may be concentrating on the movement of the breath, counting the breath, silently repeating a sound, chanting, visualizing an image, focusing awareness on the center of the body, opening to all sensory experiences including thoughts, or performing stylized ritual movements with the hands.
Mindfulness meditation practices involve becoming aware of the entire field of attention. The meditator is instructed to be aware of all thoughts, feelings, perceptions or sensations as they arise in each moment. It`s practices are enhanced by the meditator’s ability to focus and quiet the mind. Mindfulness meditation comes out of traditional Buddhist meditation practices. The meditator sits with eyes closed, focusing the attention on the sensations and movement of the breath for approximately 45-60 minutes at a time, at least once a day. Wandering thoughts or distracting feelings are simply noticed without resisting or reacting to them. The essence of mindfulness meditation is not what one focuses on but rather the quality of awareness the meditator brings to each moment. It is this investigative, discerning observation of whatever comes up in the present moment that differentiates it most from other forms of meditation. The goal of mindfulness is for you to be more aware, more in touch with life and whatever is happening in your own body and mind at the time it is happening, the present moment, the “now”.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) originated in the Vedic tradition of India and was introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM has been taught to somewhere between two and four million people. It is one of the most widely practiced forms of meditation in the West. TM has been studied many times and these studies have produced much of the information about the physiology of meditation. In TM, the meditator sits with closed eyes and concentrates on a single syllable or word (mantra) for 20 minutes at a time, twice a day. When thoughts or feelings arise, the attention is brought back to the mantra. During TM, ordinary waking mental activity is said to settle down, until even the subtlest thought is transcended and a completely unified wholeness of awareness is experienced. In this silent state of pure wakefulness, consciousness is fully awake to itself alone. Supporters believe that TM practices are more beneficial than other meditation practices.
Movement meditation can be spontaneous free-form or involve highly structured, choreographed, repetitive patterns. Movement meditation is particularly helpful for those people who find it difficult to remain still. With this type of meditation, you engage in a repetitive activity, or one where you can get ‘in the zone’ and experience ‘flow.’ Again, this quiets the mind, and allows your brain to shift. Activities like yoga, gardening, or creating artwork can all be effective forms of meditation.
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