Meditation held a stigma for many years of being something only practiced by monks, yogis, serious martial artists, or hippies. Today, meditation is embraced by millions of people of all beliefs, backgrounds, race and age. Some doctors “prescribe” meditation to their stressed-out patients. It can be done virtually anywhere that is quiet, without any investment in special equipment.
When we are in a normal waking state, we are usually in beta brainwave range. This is the fastest brainwave state. In this state, our brain is engaged in mental activities (problem solving, worry, etc.).
When we are relaxed or in meditation we are generally in an alpha brainwave state. These brainwaves are slightly slower than beta.
The theta brainwaves are slower still and experienced in a deeply relaxed or meditative state (in more advanced practitioners). In this state, the hormone LTP (long-term potentiation) is released, which allows greater problem solving and memorization. Creative ideas are easily formulated in this state.
Delta brainwaves have the slowest frequency, and are experienced in deep, dreamless sleep and by experienced meditators, helping them access their unconscious mind.
All brainwaves are present at all times, though one brainwave state may predominate, depending on the activity level of the individual.
There is some disagreement about which brainwave state is the best to be in during meditation, but there is generally a consensus that meditation is always beneficial to anyone who practices it.
So what are the benefits of meditation? Neuroscientists have found that during meditation, brain activity shifts away from the stress-prone right frontal cortex, to the calmer left frontal cortex. The effect is that it helps you feel calmer and happier, and that effect can last throughout the day.
Additionally, among other things, mediation has been found to help:
- Regulate blood pressure
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce tension
- Create relaxation
- Increase serotonin (which can help with depression and insomnia, and other issues)
- Enhance energy
- Assist in weight loss
- Create a sense of overall well-being
How does one begin to meditate?
You can try it on your own, join a group, or do guided meditations (my personal favorite).
If you want to try it on your own, begin by finding a comfortable place to sit in a quiet room (no distractions). If it is comfortable to do so, you may cross your legs, with your back straight (sitting in a chair or against a wall is helpful). Close your eyes and begin to breathe slowly and deeply. Focus on your breath and quiet your mind. You may find thoughts popping into your head, and that is normal. Be aware of the thought and then let it go, and go back to your breathing. You may feel like your mind is full of chatter each time you try to do this, but it does become easier over time. Start by doing just one minute sessions, and build up over time to whatever is comfortable for you.
You can also join a group to meditate with. MeetUp.com has lots of listings for a wide variety of gatherings, including spiritual and meditation groups. This could be a great way to get comfortable with this practice.
If you feel more comfortable doing a guided meditation, there are tons of resources available via CD’s or even on YouTube. This form of meditation can be a little easier for people who have difficulty turning of the mind chatter, but you will find that there are some guided meditations that you will love, and others that just annoy you. If you are able to hear samples before you purchase a CD, I would recommend doing so.
If you decide to try meditation, don’t worry about doing it right. Find what works for you, and make it a practice. The payoff will be worth it.
Photo credit: Clear Mind Meditation Techniques