What is meditation?

Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind for relaxation, increased awareness or for spiritual purposes. Meditation can have beneficial health effects by decreasing the negative impact of chronic stress on the body and mind. Meditation can support physical and emotional well-being by reducing muscle tension and quieting the mind, reducing anxiety and stress.

Most kinds of meditation include these common elements:

  • A quiet place where you are less likely to be interrupted
  • A comfortable position
  • A focus of attention such as your breath, a word or phrase (sometimes called a mantra), or an object
  • An open and non-judgmental attitude toward the process, thoughts or anything else that gets in the way

What are some different types of meditation?

  • Mindfulness meditation stresses living in the present moment. The practice involves observing and being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judging them. You can practice mindfulness in any activity, such as doing the dishes.
  • Concentration meditation practices involve focusing on a single thing – perhaps your breath, an object you are staring at or a sound. When your mind wanders, gently and without judgment return to the object of your focus.
  • Mantra meditation uses a repeated word or phrase as a focus of attention. The mantra might be spoken out loud, or serve as a silent focus for thought. Transcendental Meditation® is a technique that uses mantras.
  • Guided meditation uses imagery - your imagination- to create images of things that relax you. Sometimes there is a teacher who leads you with cues to help you create an experience using all of your senses. During body scan meditation and progressive relaxation, you focus attention on different parts of your body to identify tension and release it, sometimes tensing muscles in order to become more aware of tension and to then release tension.
  • Some forms of meditation involve movement, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong. You can also meditate while walking.

What are the health benefits of meditation?

Meditation practice has been found to help conditions which are caused or exacerbated by stress. Meditation induces deep relaxation by reducing muscle tension, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Meditation helps quiet the mind and reduce emotional reactivity.

Research into the benefits of meditation is ongoing. Research has found evidence that treatment programs including regular meditation practice can help reduce depression; improve sleep, improve pain management, quit smoking, improve self-esteem, improve concentration, decrease menopausal symptoms, and reduce the severity of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

How long and how often do I need to meditate?

You can start with just a few minutes at a time. It is normal to be distracted during meditation. When you’re distracted by a noise or a thought, don’t judge the distraction and yourself for being distracted. Simply note the distraction and re-direct your focus to your breathing or whatever you were using as a focus. Meditation is not a skill, it is a practice. Working up to 10- or 15-minute sessions daily or a few times a week can be a reasonable goal to begin.

What about meditation and medical conditions should I discuss with my doctor?

Mediation is one of many positive lifestyle practices that can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Meditation isn’t a substitute for healthy living habits or for medical treatment you might need. Sometimes people need a more comprehensive treatment program to address their issues, such as managing chronic pain, depression or hypertension.

Certain health conditions might interfere with your ability to practice meditation. People with PTSD, for example, might benefit from the guided support of a therapist when learning meditation practice and to help them find the type that is best for them. If you have mobility issues, for example, meditation methods with movement might not be helpful, or there might be a version of the method that you can do while sitting down.

Meditation is considered to be safe for most people. Sometimes people experience strong emotions might even cry during meditation. If meditation causes an experience that is distressing to you, please talk to your doctor.

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