If you’re wondering how to meditate, there’s a good chance it’s because you’ve heard all sorts of things about how good it can be for you.
People love to suggest meditation for a variety of reasons: to reduce stress and anxiety, to ease depression, to put you to sleep, to make you feel more present, to magically transform you into a better, more grounded human being.
The claims go on and on. And while the benefits of meditation have been greatly exaggerated in a lot of ways, plenty of people find it to be a worthwhile practice and we agree.
With everything going on in the world, it’s a solid time to explore meditation and whether it might be useful for you too.
Meditation may seem simple—and in many ways, it is—but people are often unsure where to start and whether they’re doing it correctly.
Here are answers to some of most common meditation questions.
1. What is meditation, exactly?
First things first, there are many different kinds of meditation.
Meditation is generally used as a broad umbrella term that covers a wide array of contemplative practices, many of which are drawn from Buddhist traditions but have often been adapted and secularized for application in Western society.
With that in mind, the questions of what meditation is and how to meditate aren’t exactly straightforward ones.
It’s kind of like asking how to play sports.
Just like there are many types of sports, there are many types of meditation.
And just like different sports share important things in common (like competition and physical activity), meditation has core tenets too.
I define meditation as any practice that cultivates inward investigation.
In this article, we’re going to focus mostly on mindfulness meditation.
Why? A few reasons. For one, mindfulness is at the heart of many different types of meditation.
Plus, it’s very accessible to beginners and has the most convincing body of evidence regarding its mental health benefits (more on that later).
It’s also a very popular form of meditation, especially in recent years.
Chances are, if you’re interested in developing a meditation practice to support your mental health, the type of meditation you’re thinking of is mindfulness meditation.
Like meditation, there’s no single universal definition of mindfulness, but experts generally agree on the gist: focusing on the present moment with openness and without judgment.
If you check in on your mind at any point during the day, you’ll probably notice you’re thinking about the past or thinking about the future, or you’re generally planning, obsessing and worrying.
Mindfulness is getting in the practice of pulling our minds away from these places to come back to the present moment.
And so, mindfulness meditation is the formal practice of cultivating mindfulness.
If all that sounds like a little abstract for you, consider that you’ve probably meditated—or at least felt meditative—at some point in your life.
Any activity that allows you to be fully present without worrying about the future or the past is a doorway into meditation.
2. What are the benefits of meditation?
Here’s where things get a little tricky.
The proven scientific benefits of mindfulness meditation are hard to sum up.
There are three conditions with a strong and convincing body of evidence to support the effects of meditation: depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Meaning, a not insignificant amount of meta-reviews and meta-analyses have found that mindfulness meditation can moderately help with symptoms associated with these conditions (or in the case of chronic pain, how people cope with symptoms, at least).
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