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What is meditation?

and how can it help me?

Have you been thinking about trying meditation but are wondering exactly what it is? Would it surprise you that it can be difficult to explain exactly what meditation is? 

The Buddhist dictionary tells us that the Sanskrit word “bhavana” translates approximately to “mental development” but specifically refers to the development of tranquility and the development of insight and wisdom.  These are vaguely referred to in English as meditation.  The result has been that there are many different definitions, with each book explaining meditation differently.  Even teachers will define it differently.   Despite the difficulties with the definition, who isn’t looking for more tranquillity and wisdom in these busy and fast changing times.

Some people think it is connected to Buddhism, or involves sitting in the lotus position and chanting.  It is true that the Buddhists in India and Tibet refined and developed the practices of meditation and incorporated the lotus position and chanting into their practices but are not essential in the West.

What is meditation?

Essentially, meditation is a practice which uses a variety of techniques to calm the mind, relax the body and bring the emotions into balance. 

The techniques may include focussing on an object such as the breath or mindfulness to train attention and awareness.

The potential results include a mentally clear and emotionally calm stable state.

“A 2014 meta-analysis of 209 clinical research studies with a total of 12,145 participants concluded that mindfulness training showed large and clinically significant effects in treating anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness-training programmes have also consistently been found to reduce self-reported measures of perceived stress, anger, rumination, and physiological symptoms, while improving positive outlook, empathy, sense of cohesion, self-compassion and overall quality of life”. (1)

Meditation is a tradition that has been around for well over 2500 years and has been transported to many cultures and corners of our world.  Surely a discipline which has been alive for so long has to have a lot going for it.  It is far more than sitting cross-legged and chanting in a foreign language.  It is a skill that can be learnt easily.

The impact of a regular practice can be subtle at first but can have far reaching benefits for a person’s life.  It can be used to increase mental and emotional health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.  It can help with insomnia and is a valuable tool in pain management.

Stress, mental and emotional health can be significantly improved.  The techniques, as taught by Lifeflow, are designed to increase physical and mental relaxation.  This leads to a calm mental and emotional state and improved concentration which flows over into all aspects of a person’s life. Relationships in the home, workplace and community are improved.

By helping us be present to our experiences, it opens our awareness more fully to the surrounding environment.  You might recall experiencing this state when you were enjoying a walk in nature and noticing the detail of your surroundings ie bird calls, crunching leaves under you feet, wind on your skin, sun on your face and perhaps even smells in the air.  How much more enjoyment we can feel when we can do this at will instead of being immersed in our thoughts about yesterday or our concerns for tomorrow.

It is not necessary to spend long periods of time in meditation nor adopt difficult postures; regular brief times also give results.  Meditation can be practised while walking or following one’s normal routines.  For some people it can lead to a path which examines some of the deep questions about life.  Each person can take what they need from the practice.

Meditation is a natural and accessible way to appreciate the world around and within us.  It is a well-honed tool for being in touch with our inner and outer worlds in an instinctive, skilful and joyful way.  The only way you get to experience this is by doing it, so I encourage you to have a go.

(1)   The Mindfulness Initiative “Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace” October 2016