Meditation refers to the practice of mindfulness and a way of making the mind and body still and aware in the present moment. It involves focusing on and absorbing the present moment, and putting away all other thoughts.
In fact, any activity or practice that can put you in a state of awareness and absorbed in the present moment, taking you away from other thoughts of past and future stress, is a form of meditation (like music, art, even cooking, gardening, reading, etc.!!).
Health Benefits of Meditation
- calming the mind and anger management
- managing stress, anxiety and depression
- improving sleep
- stabilizing breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure
- improving memory, concentration, and performance
Meditation has been seen to improve management of many mental health conditions as well as chronic pain (including headaches), high BP and heart disease, digestion problems like acidity-dyspepsia and IBS, and sleep problems.
Place and Time
To include meditation in your daily routine, it maybe easier to start with a simple technique that can be practiced conveniently and regularly on a daily basis, with a sustained practice to obtain benefits. Meditation is best practiced in the morning, however if evening is more suitable to you, that is fine too.
Start with at least 10 minutes daily (one can increase the duration over a period of time depending on one’s progress, and time available). Find a quiet comfortable place where you will not be disturbed for these 10 minutes. Keep your mobile on silent mode (but you may set a gentle alarm for minimum 10 minutes or the chosen duration).
Sit in any comfortable posture with your back erect. Most recommended is sitting on the floor mat or bed in a stable cross-legged position (sukhasana), or in lotus position (padmasana) if you are a yoga practitioner. Alternately you can also sit on a chair (with your feet firmly resting on the floor or a foot support – not dangling). You can use a yoga chair, back cushion, or the wall/chair back for support if required, but keep your back straight at all times.
Your palms should rest on both knees facing up (some prefer the gyan mudra – joining thumb and index finger, as it represents mental strength and focus). Keep your face and chin level so that the eyes gaze straight. Once you are settled into your posture, gradually close your eyes.
Basic Meditation Practice Technique
Start by taking 4-5 deep breaths, by inhaling and exhaling steadily and deeply. Keep a gap of 2-3 seconds between each breath.
Body Scan Relaxation and Tension Release
Next, perform a body scan relaxation, where you sequentially take your focus and awareness to different parts of your body, consciously relax each part, and release any tension present. Focus on each of the mentioned parts below for a minimum of 10 seconds (longer if you like depending on the tension in that area, and the duration you have set for your practice). Relax each of these mentioned parts, and visualize the release of the tension from these areas.
Start with the top of your head (crown) and gradually shift focus to your forehead, then eyes, your cheeks and lower jaw. Relax all these parts sequentially.
Thereafter bring the focus to your front neck muscles first, and then the back of the neck, and let your neck relax. After this let the awareness shift to your shoulders, and droop them slightly especially if they are raised and tense. Then bring awareness to your arms, hand and fingers and release any tension from them.
Then let your awareness come to your chest and just observe its normal expansion and contraction with each breath. Follow this with shifting attention to your back which should be erect, but try to consciously remove any undue tension or feeling of stiffness, till you feel balanced and comfortable in the erect posture.
Next shift your attention to your belly and observe its natural movement with the breath. Bring the focus to your buttocks on which you are seated and relax this area. Then scan your legs, feet, and toes, and release any tension from them.
Finally visualize all the tension leaving your body and be mindful of the light and calm you feel. This entire practice of body scan relaxation takes between 2-5 minutes.
The remaining duration of the meditation practice should be spent in observing your breathing. Bring your attention to your breath, and simply observe and feel the air going in, and coming out through your nostrils in its natural flow. Do not attempt to consciously change your natural breath flow at this stage by either deep breathing or breath holding (if these happen unconsciously now and then, its fine, and just observe that).
It is natural for your mind to drift into thoughts at this stage. When you realize that, bring your attention back to the breath. There is no need to feel stressed, guilty or frustrated even if the mind drifts off often. Just bring the awareness and focus back to the breath every time thoughts come in. With increased practice, the duration of breath awareness and focus will increase, and the duration of thoughts and the mind wandering will decrease. Have patience, and trust in your practice.
Make sure the alarm you fix to end your meditation session, is extremely gentle, like low volume melodious music or a subtle ring. You can also use the drone of the tanpura (Indian music instrument) at a low volume, and set it to the duration of the meditation session you have planned.
As your alarm goes out (or the tanpura drone fades off), spend a few seconds in gratitude, acceptance, and hope – gratitude for whatever you have, acceptance of people, situations and yourself, and hope for being a better version of yourself each day with your sincere efforts. Then gradually open your eyes.
The above basic meditation technique is scientific, universally applicable, structured, and simple to understand and perform regularly and consistently. This practice can also be combined with the practice of breathing techniques like alternate nasal breathing (pranayama) and pursed lip breathing. These can be done during the initiation stage of meditation.
There are other techniques as well like transcendental meditation, and methods taught and advocated by particular religions and spiritual organizations.