Meditation is an ancient art going back in time to a period before historical records were kept. Stone seals showing people seated in various meditation postures as old as 5000 BC have been found in the Indus valley. For all those millennia meditation has continued as a natural, living, vital science. Today, more than ever, meditation is practised throughout the world.
Meditation is a mental discipline which induces a state of profound relaxation, inner harmony and increased awareness. It creates a state of mind which is one of inner peace and heightened mental awareness. The practice of meditation makes this peaceful state of mind familiar and more accessible.
Various techniques can be used during meditation, all involve focussing the mind on a particular object or activity and disregarding distractions. While meditation is practised in some religions as a means of spiritual enlightenment, it is also widely used in a non-religious context to treat stress related conditions.
There is a mounting body of evidence that records and acknowledges the benefits of meditation. These includes:
A decrease in:
- tension and anxiety
- stress related problems such as high blood pressure, palpitations, insomnia, stuttering,and headaches
- drug addiction and dependence
- depression, irritability and other negative psychological states
An increase in:
- feelings of peacefulness, optimism and self worth
- creativity, efficiency, productivity and energy
- emotional expression and spontaneity
- open-mindedness, intuition and inspiration
- independence, self discipline and self identity
In addition there is evidence that meditation can improve memory, concentration and attention span. It helps us to develop patience and equanimity. Physiologically, meditation has been found to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system and help the body’s healing processes. During meditation the breath and brain waves slow, blood pressure and metabolic rates decrease and circulation and detoxification of the blood increase.
While the physical and metal benefits of meditation are great it was first and foremost a spiritual practice. Its ultimate purpose is to help us to know our spiritual nature and to bring us to a sense of wholeness, completeness and oneness with the divine.
State of Meditation
Meditation is a state of mind, where the mind becomes still. Meditation requires mental alertness, but without thought which brings a feeling of peacefulness and relaxation. The aim of practising meditation is to make this state of mind more readily available. The practice helps us to become familiar with a meditative state and we are able to enter that state more readily. We can then apply that state in difficult and stressful situations, finding that we can deal with them with less tension and aggression.
Meditation is different from a state of complete relaxation where we can drift off into sleep. Nor is meditation a state of contemplation, where we quietly review thoughts or explore something that is bothering us. However, all these states are closely related and meditation can bring a sense of peacefulness that helps us to sleep more easily and can also bring a clarity of thought that assists us in piercing to the heart of a problem.
Meditation helps to reduce tension and anxiety, and can reduce the physical effects of stress such as heart palpitations, insomnia, headaches. It can relieve depression and irritability. On the more positive side it can increase creativity, mental alertness and vitality. It can bring a sense of wholeness giving us more self confidence, self worth and optimism.
There are a number of techniques which assist in achieving a meditative state. Often different techniques are considered to be different types of meditation, but meditation is the state achieved not the technique to get there. Most meditation techniques rely on focussing on a single object and returning the mind to that object when it wanders. The object of attention can be the breath, a candle, a mantra (the sound of sacred names), a mandala ( a complex shape or drawing), parts of the body, or many other things.
Different meditation traditions focus on different things and sometimes the meditation technique and focus of attention can be associated with a certain religion or belief system. However meditation itself is not religious, nor do you have to have any particular beliefs to benefit from meditation. Meditation is associated with religious beliefs because in deep states of meditation it is possible to perceive ones true or original nature.
Different traditions also disagree on the stages and levels of meditation. In this introduction to meditation we are aiming solely to find a sense of relaxation and peacefulness which comes from stilling the mind. But be aware that it is possible to go further to gain insight into yourself and your true nature, and to achieve a sense of expansion and wholeness.
Chi Kung and Meditation
Chi Kung is a form of moving meditation. It is not necessary to meditate to do Chi Kung or vice versa. However Chi Kung and meditation complement each other. Chi Kung or any energy practice will energise and revitalise the body which will help to sustain a meditative state without drifting into sleep. Meditation will assist Chi Kung practitioners to achieve a quiet state of mind, where thoughts of movement, breath and chi are able to be left behind. Both Chi Kung and meditation assist in reaching a state of relaxed alertness.