The ancient practice of meditation is believed to have originated more than 5000 years ago, when hunters and gatherers were thought to achieve enlightenment by starting into the flames of their fires. A more modern history of meditation dates to 500B.C. when the Buddha spread his forms of meditation from India to other Asian countries. These teachings were passed on verbally until monks transcribed the principles shortly after his death. Buddha illustrated the formula for salvation being fourfold: rules of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge and liberation. Meditation is certainly a part of this path to redemption. Also included in the teachings were the foundations of the beliefs of modern Buddhism. Today, people of all religions enjoy the practice of meditation and experience great benefits from it, such as stress relief. There are hundreds of types of meditation found in various forms across many cultures. In the West, we think of meditation as falling into one of two categories:
Concentration Meditation — Choosing to focus on the breath, a mental image, a physical object, or a word or phrase.
When focusing on breathing, it is important to find a rhythm in your breaths. Use a counting system for inhaling and exhaling. For example, you can breathe in deeply, counting to four, and then exhale, counting to four. Soon your attention will be focused on each breath and you will begin to relax.
When focusing on a mental image, choose something that makes you feel relaxed, like lying on a beach with waves gently rolling up to your feet. Picture yourself on the beach and draw all of your attention to that soothing experience.
A word or a phrase, for example Hamsa, is thought of or spoken while meditating. To use Hamsa, it is common to break up the word while breathing in and out. While inhaling you say 'ham' and while exhaling you say 'sa.' By repeating this for several minutes and focusing on the words, you move into a more relaxed state.
An object, such as a water fountain, is the focus of your attention. Place all of your attention on the water that gently and continuously flows from a water fountain and begin to slow down your thoughts, leaving you in a state of calm.
Mindfulness Meditation — The point of focus is how you are feeling from moment to moment. It is the non-reactive monitoring of experience in the present moment. You gently observe what is going on in your mind, acknowledging all that passes through, without judgment.
Concentrative meditation is like a telephoto view of something and mindfulness meditation is a wide-angle view. Using a beach example, in concentrative meditation you focus on a grain of sand, while in mindfulness meditation you experience the entire beach. This detached awareness allows you to get closer to nature and to life.
Meditation means 'contemplation' and is considered an exercise of the mind. When meditating, the goal is to get beyond the 'thinking mind' into a defect, more relaxed state. It is also designed to increase self-awareness. You can moderate anywhere from 5-30 minutes one to two times per day in order to achieve an increased sense of serenity and relaxation. A benefit of meditation is physical and psychological stress relief. If practiced regularly, over time meditation allows you to feel generally more content and happy, less easily upset and less frustrated over daily problems. It is recommended that you meditate in a separated position, with your back straight and head aligned with your spine.
Whether choosing to use concentrative meditation, mindfulness meditation, or both, successfully managing daily stressors leaves you with a feeling of control over your life. You are then less likely to feel overwhelmed or in a prolonged state of feeling stressed. Meditation is an easy method to use for the great reward of stress relief.