Meditating is not thinking about life or enjoying nature. In reality, it is an ancient practice of self-knowledge, self-control and involves breathing and concentration techniques.
The most interesting thing, however, is that science has shown that this activity can bring countless benefits to the mind and health, proving what our ancestors already suspected: the mind and body are closely related.
Find out more about meditation in the following text
Meditation is nothing more than the practice of “stopping the mind” for a few moments and focusing the thought on something specific – like the breath itself or a mantra (a word or verse pronounced or sung over and over) – or on an activity – like to do the dishes. Every activity we do with mindfulness is considered mindfulness, that is, meditation.
In short, the essence of meditation is to be 100% focused on the present, without letting thoughts about the future, the past or anything other than what you are doing interfere with the “moment”.
Precisely because it is often associated with mantras, many people think of meditation as a religious practice, when, in fact, it is a way of relaxing and living the present fully.
The word meditation comes from the Latin “meditare” , which means something like “turning inwards, disconnecting from the outside world”. In other words, to meditate is to concentrate the mind on something specific, leaving all worries aside and living in the present.
There are several types of meditation and their practices vary widely. Some focus on mantras, others require you to take a certain postural position, however, all of them have as basic principles to calm the mind, promote reflection and relaxation, leading to contemplation.
For someone who has never tried to practice meditation, especially in today’s world where everything is fast, agitated and busy, the act of sitting with your eyes closed doing nothing for a while may seem somewhat pointless.
The reason why meditation can promote so many improvements in a person’s quality of life is still unknown to science, but its positive effects are already a consensus within the community.
No . There is a misconception that to meditate would be to “stop the mind” and “not to think about anything”. However, this conception is mistaken, as it is practically impossible not to think about anything.
Our mind thinks all the time, so we don’t always have complete control over what we think or stop thinking.
Want an example? Don’t think of a pink elephant coming down a slide of clouds. You certainly imagined, even for a few moments, a pink elephant coming down a slide of clouds.
Our brain cannot think in negative terms. When we tell someone not to think about something, the image is immediately created in the mind, and then we try to erase it in some way.
The same happens when we say “don’t think about anything”, an abstract concept, difficult to conceive and execute by our brain.
The mind is like a locomotive, connecting one thought after another and trying to stop thinking would be like trying to stop the locomotive abruptly at high speed. It is an impossible task. Therefore, contrary to what is imagined, it is necessary to gradually stop this train.
With that, we can say, finally, that the act of meditating is not thinking about anything. Through it we are able to decrease thoughts by focusing on a specific object, which we call meditation practice “anchor”.
In the same way that an anchor stabilizes the boat in the midst of a rough sea, the anchor in meditation stabilizes our mind in the midst of the chaos of thoughts.
This object can be anything you want, like your breath, the way you are sitting, God, a saint or a mantra. You must find what is best for you.
When we focus all of our attention on something specific, we leave other things aside. By focusing on your breathing, for example, you pay attention to how air enters and how it exits.
As you practice the exercise, thoughts appear. That bill to pay, that problem at work and the existential crisis or the validity of milk in the refrigerator are thoughts that will come, however, the secret is in recognizing that they appear and leaving them aside during the practice of meditation.
According to the doctor and psychologist Roberto Debski, “one way is to imagine that the thoughts that come are like clouds that pass in the sky. Watch them and let them go quietly. Do the same with the next, and with the next. Thus, you will learn not to cling to thoughts, just to assume the position of observer ”.
When looking at meditation and the history of mankind, one realizes that it has been widely used for spiritual and religious purposes by different cultures and religions.
Spirituality can be one of the functions of meditation and, as modern science has shown that practice has several health benefits, it gains one more function: to increase people’s quality of life.
To meditate is to practice self-knowledge, which, by itself, already represents a significant gain in quality of life, especially when we talk about psychological aspects.
However, the saying has proven to be true and the mind and body are closely related, as the practice of meditation improves the cardiovascular system, helps treat insomnia, promotes pain relief and improves immunity.
Science has proven that meditation has several health benefits. Check out the main ones:
Improves the immune system
An article published in the scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine ( Psychosomatic Medicine ) reported a significant increase in the antibodies of the participants who practiced meditation for 8 weeks.
The conclusion is that even a short period of mindfulness meditation can have positive effects on the brain and immune function.
Helps fight insomnia
Helps deal with addictions
Meditation can be a great way to try to deal with addictions, as practice makes you confront the source of your thoughts and, consequently, your desires and impulses.
Thus, through practice, it is possible to develop a greater awareness of addictions and seek more effective ways to overcome them.
In an interview with Psichology Today , Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, explained about the benefits of meditation for stress reduction.
According to the researcher, known for using meditation in patients with cancer pain, stress is a response to the pressures placed on the body and the mind. It is as if it increases as you become more distressed and anxious because of a problem, such as chronic pain.
When a state of deep relaxation is achieved, the body produces more nitric oxide, a molecule that acts as an “antidote” against cortisol, the stress hormone, as relaxing meditation increases the production of endorphins (hormones that reduce stress) ) in addition to preventing the natural loss of neurons.
Thus, the activity also serves to reduce anxiety , fight depression, improve concentration, memory and the immune system, in addition to increasing self-esteem . These data are scientifically proven by the Behavioral Medicine Unit of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).
Reduces blood pressure
Blood pressure increases in times of tension and high stress. Since meditation helps to lessen these feelings, it can also help to lower blood pressure.
A study by the University of Wake Forest, USA, showed that just 4 days of meditation is enough to improve mood and cognition.
The research was based on the experience of 2 groups, one of 24 students who participated in 4 meditation sessions over 4 days and another of 25 students who heard an audiobook.
The participants were then evaluated in terms of mood, verbal fluency, visual coding and working memory. The results showed that meditation reduced fatigue and anxiety, and increased mindfulness.
Improves the relationship with physical pain
It is not as if meditating frees the practitioner from pain, but that the practice teaches you to live better with it and not be so negatively affected.
Meditation can even reduce the assessment of pain felt, being used as an integrative practice in the treatment of various types of chronic pain, with excellent results.
In addition, there are symptoms directly related to the emotional state, such as headaches caused by stress at work. Thus, it was found that, in general, the relaxation promoted by meditation can reduce pain by up to 50%, as many are psychosomatic, that is, they are associated with psychological, mental and emotional problems.
As we saw earlier, meditation is a practice common to many cultures. For that reason, there are several ways to meditate. We will describe some of them and you will be able to see that they can be religious or not.
They differ, essentially, due to the place where they were developed, at the time, the cultural, economic and social context. If you decide to start practicing, choose the one that makes you most comfortable with who you are. Check out:
Buddhism is probably the religion most directly associated with meditation, as it was the one that most brought up the subject in the West.
The practice of Buddhist meditation is inspired by Buddha, aiming to transform negative minds into positive ones, exploring feelings such as love, peace and compassion. Thus, when practicing Buddhist meditation, purification, focus on life and understanding of human desires are sought.
Within Buddhist meditation, we still have some strands. Understand:
Zazen literally means “sit zen”. As for the posture, you can sit in the full lotus position, half lotus, stool or chair. The most important thing is that the spine is erect.
The idea of zazen meditation is to focus on the air around you and your own breath, with body awareness and where you are. The practice can be done for up to 40 minutes in a row, but, for the more beginners, even 5 minutes of practice may be enough.
Vipassana (Insight Meditation)
Vipassana seeks to pay attention to the relationship between body and mind, eliminate suffering and understand things as they really are. It is one of the oldest meditation techniques in India, having been taught over 2,500 years ago as a remedy for universal ills.
Mindfulness, mindfulness or mindfulness consists of living only in the present moment, without worrying about the past or anxieties about the future.
In Buddhist philosophy and religion, this technique is considered a path to enlightenment. However, the practice was adopted by the West, gaining a more secular definition that aims to improve the quality of life and performance in personal goals.
Metta or Kindness is a type of meditation that focuses on goodness, benevolence and goodwill. It is performed with the person seated, with eyes closed and focusing on the feelings mentioned.
You must meditate thinking first of yourself, then of a friend, of a neutral person, of a person you don’t like, of the four together and of the universe as a whole.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of mankind. Meditation is part of that culture and can be practiced by anyone.
There are significant differences between Buddhism and Hinduism. The first is that Hinduism is a religion and, therefore, it is related to the existence of deities – there is a belief in the soul. While Buddhism is a philosophy, it believes that what survives death is the mind.
The differences occur, even, in the reason of the meditative practice. In Buddhism, the practice aims to clear the mind, soothe it and establish moments of peace and silence. In Hinduism, meditation seeks to achieve a higher state of mind, of transcendence.
Understand the main methods of Hindu meditation.
During practice, it is possible to use mantras to enter the meditative state more easily, as the vibration transmitted by the sound induces the state of relaxation.
They are like the “instrument of the mind”, being considered sacred sounds and originated in the Vedas (sacred scriptures of Hinduism).
These are Sanskrit phrases that must be sung repeatedly and have their own meaning, aiming to lead the practitioner to a certain mental state. According to Hindu tradition, a mantra must be repeated 108 times, as it is a sacred number in India.
Despite being linked to Hinduism, mantras are also widely used in Buddhism, as this philosophy is the “daughter” of the Indian religion. What changes is the purpose of using these sounds – in Buddhism they serve to calm the mind, in Hinduism they seek a closer connection with the gods.
There are several famous mantras. Check out some:
- Om namah shivaya;
- Om mani padme hum;
- Nam myoho rengue kyo;
- Om gam ganapataye namaha.
The technique of transcendental meditation was brought from India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. Unlike other techniques, transcendental meditation does not involve concentration or control of thoughts.
It should be practiced twice a day for 20 minutes, usually on an empty stomach. Therefore, it is usually performed in the morning, when the person wakes up, in the afternoon, before lunch, or in the evening, before dinner.
Usually, an instructor will provide an individual mantra for the practitioner, who should not share it with anyone. With it, it is possible to meditate daily. Practitioners argue that it takes about 3 or 4 days of practice to start feeling the results.
The technique gained a lot of popularity in the 1960s because of the Beatles, who had Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a time as a spiritual guru. The band even traveled with the guru to their meditation academy in the Himalayas.
However, the relationship eroded after Maharishi came to the knowledge that the band members were taking soft drugs inside the Meditation academy.
Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world and its culture has influenced several regions, especially with regard to wisdom and contemplation. For this reason, there are very famous meditative and religious practices that come from the region. Know more:
Taoism is a philosophical and religious tradition originating in China, which emphasizes life in harmony with Tao, a Chinese term that means “way”, “way” or “principle”.
From this philosophy, there are several types of Taoist meditation. Here are some of the main features:
- Respiratory meditation (Zhuanqi): in this type of meditation it is necessary to focus on breathing. It has similarities with mindfulness, of Buddhism, but the philosophy behind it, which speaks of the union between mind and energy, is different;
- Emptiness meditation: this type of meditation is practiced to empty the mind and recognize the true self;
- Nei Guan (Internal visualization): in this meditation, there is a great involvement of the imagination. It can be practiced standing up, with the knees slightly bent and hands at the side of the body. Due to the complexity of the practice, a teacher may be needed;
- Shouyi: the idea of this meditation is to focus on visualizing a ball of golden light in a specific place within your own body;
- Yuanyou: in this practice there are meditative “trips” to other countries and sacred places;
- Zuowang: Those who practice this meditation technique try to reach a state of deep trance, until they practically forget about themselves. For this reason, they call this technique “seated forgetfulness”.
Qigong (Chi Kung)
Qigong is a Chinese word that means “cultivation of energy”. This type of meditation is considered an exercise for the mind and body and has the main objective of improving health for martial arts training.
The practice was taught in secret in Chinese Buddhism and involves slow body movements, internal focus and regulated breathing.
There are thousands of different Qigong exercises cataloged with over 80 different types of breathing. Some are specific to martial arts and others for meditation and spiritual worship.
Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian meditation technique that aims to clear memories of pain, trauma, limiting beliefs and conditioning that affect life and the way the world is perceived.
In Hawaiian, “Ho’o” means “cause” and “ponopono” means “perfection”. When united, they can be translated as “correction of error” and, in a religious sense, as “the quest to become one again with divinity”.
The technique works through a prayer with the repetition of 4 key phrases:
- I love you;
- Forgive me;
- I’m sorry;
- I am grateful.
Unlike Eastern traditions, which seek to transcend the mind and attain enlightenment, in Christian meditation, the goal is moral purification and a profound understanding of the Bible.
In Christian meditation, many use the word “Maranata” as an anchor, which means “come Lord”.
Some forms of Christian meditation are:
- Contemplative prayer : silently repeating sacred words or phrases, with focus and dedication;
- Contemplative reading : read and think deeply about the teachings and events described in the bible;
- Sitting with God : meditate silently, concentrating the whole mind, heart and soul in the presence of God.
Guided meditation is probably the easiest way to start meditating. It consists of a group of audios that will guide you during the practice, telling you what to think, how to think, where to focus your concentration, etc.
It can come in the form of audio (computer files, CD or podcast) or in the form of videos as well, belonging to any of the categories below:
- Traditional meditations: in these audios, there is the voice of a teacher who guides the path of your attention, in order to take you to a state of meditation. The moments of silence are greater than the moments when the teacher speaks and, often, there is the presence of music. The aim is to develop and deepen the practice of meditation;
- Guided imagination : in these audios, we try to make use of the imagination and the power of visualization of the brain. The teacher guides you to imagine an object, entity, scenario or trip. The goal is usually healing and relaxation;
- Relaxation and body exams : these audios help you to deeply relax your mind and the rest of your body. It is usually accompanied by soft instrumental music and sounds of nature;
- Affirmations : together with relaxation and guided imagination, this meditative practice seeks to print messages in your mind, building scenarios and situations with specific purposes.
Sleeping meditation is especially useful for people who suffer from insomnia. However, more conservative practitioners say it is not a good idea to relate the acts of meditating and sleeping.
That’s because meditation is a moment of silence, relaxation and reflection, which serves to make you more active and present in the moment. Therefore, sleeping right afterwards can make you relate it to rest and lack of reflection.
What you should not do is meditate and sleep immediately afterwards, remembering that the practice, done at any time, generates results in the quality of sleep, as it helps in relaxation and, as a consequence, it is easier to have a peaceful and adequate night.
Music is an instrument that can be used in meditation. Some people argue that practicing with the aid of music is even desirable, as it is a tool that can have several relaxation benefits.
However, there are caveats. It is important that it does not become a distraction, but that it is part of a larger goal. Usually, then, slower songs without lyrics (instrumental) or with sounds from nature are used.
It is the same logic as using the mantra. The music, as well as the rhythmically repeated verses, help to focus attention on a specific point and to calm the mind.
In addition to the practice of meditation, there are several proven benefits of music in general. It activates several areas of the brain, such as memory, and can have a major impact on patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, for example.
Meditation practitioners advocate that it be practiced daily. Frequency is a way to improve your quality of life and your relationship with yourself, so to take up the activity on a daily basis, it is important to have discipline.
To do this, choose a time that suits your routine. It can be in the morning, when you wake up, or when you get home after work. The important thing is to practice.
To meditate, you need to be aware of some aspects that range from posture to the way you breathe. Check out:
To meditate, you need to be comfortable and there are some specific postures that help you stay focused. Check out the main positions:
The lotus position is considered the best to practice sitting meditation. In it, you should keep your legs crossed so that both feet are on your thighs, just above your knees.
The back should be straight and aligned. You must not support them on any surface. One of the benefits of this position is the adjustment of the spine.
As for the hands, they can be on the knees or making the symbols. It all depends on your goal with practice.
If you are unable and feel pain while maintaining the position, do not force yourself, as it is important to appreciate comfort. A good alternative, if you can’t, is to do the half-lotus position.
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The half-lotus position is practically the same as the full lotus, with the difference that you cross your legs with one foot on top of the other.
As in the full lotus, the spine must be straight, and the hands can rest on the thighs or knees.
Legs crossed in front
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For those who are unable to perform either the full lotus or the half-lotus, it is possible to simply sit with their legs crossed. Again, the spine must be upright, without support and the hands can assume any position.
On your knees
It is possible to do meditation also on your knees. In this case, you have two options:
- Support yourself on your heels;
- Get on your feet.
Both types of support are correct, so choose the one that makes you most comfortable. The spine, again, should be aligned, and the hands, for support, should be placed on the knees.
On the chair
For those who are unable to bend down, it is possible to meditate in the chair. To do this, sit on the furniture and keep your spine upright, with your hands on your knees.
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It is also possible to meditate lying down. However, it is necessary to try not to sleep during the practice, precisely to avoid associating meditation with sleep.
The body must be stretched and with the back resting on the floor (belly up). The feet should be slightly apart and the hands extended at the side of the body, also apart.
Breathing in meditative practice should be calm and at a regular pace, as this, combined with immobile posture, helps the mind to calm down more easily.
To decrease your breathing and find that regular rhythm, it is necessary to observe and focus on the task and the body.
Generally, the best thing to do is to inhale the air through the nose and release it through the mouth, in a diaphragmatic breath, that is, in which the breath moves the belly and not the chest, helping to oxygenate the brain more.
If you have difficulty performing diaphragmatic breathing, place your hand on your belly and note: if it moves up and down, then you are breathing correctly.
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To start meditating is easy: just choose a position, sit down and start practicing. There’s no other way. You will only improve in practice by practicing.
An important tip is to start slowly. Do not start by trying to meditate for 40 minutes at a time. Everything has its time. Then allocate 5 minutes a day and gradually increase the period.
In the beginning, you may have difficulties with the notion of time. Avoid opening your eyes to see if the 5 minutes have passed, as this will cause distraction and hinder the practice.
Use a timer or app that gives a gentle signal when the time for meditation is over, so you won’t be worried and the practice will flow naturally.
The important thing is to pay attention to comfort, the appropriate (and calm) environment and frequency.
In order to meditate you need to recite a mantra
Myth! Many people believe that a mantra is like a motto. This is not necessarily true. In reality, the word “mantra” itself has a completely different meaning.
“Man” means “mind” and “tra” means “instrument”. Therefore, a mantra is an “instrument of the mind”. In this way, mantras are used in meditation as a tool to help your mind enter a meditative state.
In addition, there are several types of meditation and many of them do not use mantras. Instead, they use sounds and even breathing as a tool for concentration.
You need to be in the lotus position to meditate
Myth! The lotus position can be used to meditate, but it is not a rule. It is possible to meditate in the full lotus position, half lotus, sitting on a chair and even lying down! What matters in meditation is to calm the mind.
You have to have a definite purpose to meditate
Myth! You do not necessarily need to have a specific goal to meditate. There are techniques that have a specific purpose, such as improving sleep or concentration, but you may as well start simply to find out whether or not the practice benefits you.
Meditation brings health benefits
Truth! Meditation has been shown to help activate the immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and can be beneficial in dealing with addictions such as alcohol or cigarettes.
Meditation can physically alter the brain
Truth! The brains of meditation practitioners have significant differences from those who do not meditate.
Studies done in this regard show that the brain of a person who has never practiced meditation, after 8 weeks of meditative practice, shows changes in the volume of gray matter and greater connectivity between brain regions.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School, for example, studied the effect of mindfulness on participants who never practiced meditation and found that the practice shows signs of decreased amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for fight or flight impulses) and thickening of the prefrontal cortex , an area that deals with concentration and awareness.
The brain activity of people who have been meditating for years has also been analyzed to see the long-term effects of the practice. What has been found is that the brain of these people, when they are not meditating, looks very much like that of a non-practitioner when they are meditating, indicating that whoever meditates has the organ significantly altered by practice.
Meditation can bring several benefits to everyday life, such as improving mood, attention and even reducing psychosomatic pain, and anyone can start in practice with ease.
Do you practice meditation? Tell us in the comments how it improves your life!