What is meditation?
To some, this question often brings to mind images of half-naked, bearded men sitting crossed-legged on a rock on a mountain, or more recently, men and women sitting in lotus position in candle-lit rooms, with burning incense, chanting.
Seriously though, meditation is generally regarded a spiritual practice. However, in recent years, it has been found to offer many health benefits. Meditation is often used in the management of life-threatening illnesses and reducing stress, among others.
Meditation deals with our awareness. It helps us keep our minds still, free from the incessant mental chatter going on in our heads. It is said that the word “meditation” is derived from the Latin word, “meditari”, which means think, consider, contemplate.
From this understanding of meditation, we begin to appreciate that candles, incense, chanting and music are mere tools to help us relax and focus. They are aids to meditation. No voodoo or any spirits involved.
Meditation makes you more aware of the here and now. The present moment is all we have. The past is gone, and the future is just a promise. When we can free our minds from distractions, our bodies can become relaxed and we think more clearly.
This does not mean making our minds go blank, as some people think. It is impossible for our minds to be blank. On the contrary, meditation is meant to develop mindfulness. When we are mindful, our minds are not totally without thought. We are very aware of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, except that we do not allow them to control us.
When we experience these distractions, instead of allowing our minds to drift with those thoughts and get involved emotionally, we acknowledge the thoughts and gently return to the point of our focus. Some of the common points of focus include a lit candle, the tip of our nose, our breath and mantras that we recite.
How then does meditation benefit us?
1. It improves our general health. It is said that when our minds focus on a particular part of the body, the blood flow to that part increases. This causes cells to receive more oxygen and nutrients.
2. Our concentration improves. Meditation strengthens the mind. Many sports professionals include meditation as part of their preparation.
3. There is scientific proof that meditation helps us combat stress and stress-related disorders such as high-blood pressure and heart disease.
4. If practiced regularly, meditation will give us a sense of calm and control, peace of mind.
There are claims that meditation can enhance the immune system, help with arthritis, migraines and many other illnesses. We must exercise caution though and not treat meditation as an alternative to allopathic medicine especially when a serious disease is present. Always consult a physician before going off any medication.
Whether or not meditation can help with serious illness, we can certainly benefit from the calming and relaxing effects of practicing meditation regularly.