All About Meditation

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Meditation is slowly but surely gaining the status it always deserved especially in the trying times we live in.

Meditation, a practice that dates to several centuries is a simple yet profound gift that humanity could receive. It is the art of allowing you to connect to who you are, go deep within, allowing you to calm your mind, release the tension, stress and find balance as well as peace. With the growing hustle in our lives and situation where every person is stressed for most part of their day, adding small and easy meditative practices can help about being brilliant shifts in your mindset and lives.

Historical Routes

Meditation has been around in India for many thousands of years and dates back to 5000 to 3500 BCE. Meditation is a practice where a technique is used by an individual whether it is mindfulness or focusing attention on any particular object, activity or thought. This is done to get the focus and attention to achieve a clear and calm emotional stable state of mind. In fact, meditation as such is hard to define as there are varying practices between traditions and within them as well. Meditation has been practiced since time immemorial across religions and all of these have often had the same goal to show the path towards enlightenment and self-realization. The earliest records of meditation find its origins in the Hindu traditions of Vedantism. There are many popular forms of meditation including mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation, focused meditation, movement meditation, mantra meditation and transcendental meditation. Inidentally, the word meditation comes from ‘meditari’ that means to think / to exercise the mind and ‘mederi’ to heal in Latin. It is said that it was the great saint Gyaneshwara started teaching of meditation way back in the 14th century.

Mental Musings

Meditation is a complementary therapy of the mind and body that has been practiced for thousands of years. “Guided meditation is a technique where you are asked to focus on a specific imagery to aid relaxation. You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures. Usually this process can be aided through a teacher or a guide. Qi gong is the practice is part of traditional Chinese medicine and generally combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance and. Likewise a form of gentle Chinese martial art Tai chi, involves a series of self-paced movements in a slow and graceful manner while continuing to do deep breathing,” says Nutritionist and Lifestyle Educator Karishma Chawla. Dr. Amulya Seth, Consultant Physiatrist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad avers, “mediation is a habit to calm your mind and training it to focus. Mental and physical stress increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol that disrupts sleep, increases blood pressure, promotes depression and anxiety, and contributes to fatigue and cloudy thinking. Meditation helps control these. It also influences emotional health and helps in creating a more positive outlook towards life. It also improves sleep and attention span.” Guided meditations are a great way to start a practice. While listening to guided meditations, make sure to follow the instructions, as they are like rails that keep a train on its tracks, guiding you to your higher Self or deeper self as you may call it. Be open to the experience, without and preconceived notions or judgements. Remember it is actually a revelation of the unknown till you finally connect with your true self. If you find more calmness, relaxation, clarity of mind, and compassion towards others, then your meditation is doing its work. And may even notice random happiness throughout the day. A correct, long-term meditation practice will help you develop a feeling of detachment from desires; you begin to perceive yourself controlling them rather than allowing them to control you. In the words of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “there is no problem if you have your desires, but don’t let the desires have you. Meditation happens with the attitude ‘I want nothing, I do nothing, I am nothing.’”

Myriad Forms

Prāṇāyāma is the practice of breath control in yoga that synchronises the breath with movements of the asanas as well as distinct breathing exercises done independently and typically done after asanas. Vipassana is known to be the oldest of Buddhist meditation practice. It is a codified system of training one’s mind and entails a set of exercises that are dedicated towards making one more and more aware of his or her life experiences. Rakhee Mehta Founder, Magicrise says, “Vipassana is a gentle-yet-thorough technique of meditation. This is an inward journey that focuses on deep interconnection between the mind and body, which is realised through disciplined attention to the physical sensations. The principle of gaining focus through discipline is a very ancient practice and can be seen in varied traditional arts such as kungfu, tai chi, dance and the like in case of Vipasana the principle of silence is applied to silence the stir within and outside to reach a point of balance in our fast-paced lives.” Shwetha Bhatia, a registered dietitian with Indian Diabetic Association, bodybuilder and founder of Mind your fitness adds, “mantra meditation is the easiest form of meditation which can be easily practiced by anyone. It heals the body, mind and spirit. Yogic Gaze (trataka) involves using a normal candle is used but depending on your choice you can use some other object also. The candle is usually set at an arm’s distance of the level of the eyes. Then start gazing at it with open eyes. Chakra Meditation involves search and activation of the chakras of the body. Raja Yoga Meditation fills the heart of the practitioner with supreme joy, which is a great experience in itself. Zazen Meditation was done by the Buddha. It calms the body and mind and helps the practitioner to know the nature of existence. Nada Yoga is “union through sound” where sound one elevates at a spiritual level and undergoes inner transformation.”

Mind Matters

Meditation is best known for reducing stress and anxiety and there has been a study that has indicated that mindfulness and Zen like meditations can significantly reduce stress when practiced over three months. Another study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. Dr. Vivek Chandel, Wellness Manager, Fazlani Natures Nest says, “mindfulness meditation increases your psychological functioning and, in the process, improves your sense of wellbeing. Lovingkindness meditation enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy and hence is based on compassion. It also increases your sense of social connectedness. Meditation basically also improves memory and your ability to make decisions.” The cornerstone of The Art of Living programs is the healing breath, known as the Sudarshan Kriya. This unique breathing practice is a potent energizer where oxygen enters each of the cells and removes negative emotions from the body and releases tensions, frustrations and anger, clears anxiety, depression, and lethargy, gives relief to both the mind and body and with regular practice, one becomes calm and centered with a clearer mind. A sense of joy in the moment prevails and one is able to smile from the heart. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said, “in ancient times, meditation was used for enlightenment: to find the self. And meditation is a way to overcome problems as well overcome any unhappiness. Meditation is also a way to improve one’s abilities. The social ills of today, the stress and tension, it calls for one to meditate. The more responsibility you have in life, the greater is the need for meditation. People who have nothing to do may not need meditation as such. The busier you are, the less time you have, the greater desires you have, that much more you need meditation. It relieves you of stress and helps you better accomplish your tasks and ambition.”

Meditiation at FNN
Meditiation at FNN

Yogic Concentration

Shiv Yog meditation popularized by Dr. Avdhoot Shivanand a celebrated Himalayan Yogi, Spiritual Scientist and Social Reformer from India, is a deep state of physical, mental, and emotional relaxation which allows an individual to access the contents of one’s subtle bodies. “Through this process, one can fill all his subtle bodies with powerful cosmic energy. Every cell down to atomic and sub-atomic levels fills up with this cosmic energy resulting in raised frequencies. It is possible to experience raised frequencies through the body that ensues. A deep sense of calm, peace, and tranquility descends upon the person meditating. In this state it is likely that any trauma of the past could be recollected at the conscious level however on the state of deep calm, it is possible to witness the incidents without emotionally reacting to them. This is also how healing happens as the person is able to distance themselves from the situation and look at it impartially. One can unlock the key to happiness, joy, prosperity and perfect health through the sacred science of Shiv Yog,” says Dr. Prakash Kalmadi – Founder and Director at KARE Ayurveda and Yoga Retreat (KARE). Dr. Sukeshini Ramteke, Consultant Physiotherapist & Sport Physiotherapist, AXIS Hospital Mumbai adds, “as an individual becomes regular with practicing meditation, there is a visible increase in joy, peace, and enthusiasm. This happens because of the increased prana (life force energy) in the body. Meditation can reduce high blood pressure as well as the blood lactate level and reduce anxiety attacks. It can also help lower any tension-related pain and increase serotonin production that improves mood and behaviour, strengthens the immune system and increases energy levels. Meditation brings an alpha state into the brain that aids promotes healing while making the mind fresh and beautiful.”

Health Plus

According to research, meditation helps to activate the ‘natural-killer cells’ which kill bacteria and cancer cells. It reduces anxiety and stress, increases blood circulation and lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and sleep quality, helps in post-operative healing and cures chronic diseases like allergies and arthritis. “There is a lot spoken already spoken about meditation and its co-relation to anxiety and depression. Besides that, there are many more benefits of meditation such as being more present in this moment. One of the biggest loss we don’t realize it losing the moment have in front of us because we constantly thinking of the past or the future. Regular practice can train the monkey mind to be in the present. It also relaxes the nervous system and regulates cortisol (stress hormone) that can directly impact the immune system, sleep, fast aging and even lead us to chronic diseases,” says Certified Health Coach Nipa Asharam.

App Fix

Like with everything else, you can also use apps to help you meditate and can integrate into daily habits. Calm was a heavily-marketed mindfulness app that has a mix of spoken meditation sessions and calming music and nature sounds. Unlike other apps, you can also download meditations to listen to them offline. There are also dedicated sessions for children as well as stretches that will help you relax your body. Headspace has a very calming and very animated feel, starts you off with a personal ‘get-to-know-you’ quiz, but fairly limited in choice of responses. Simple habit app is a simple way to inculcate meditation in our lives. It has a clean interface with lots of options for sessions that is designed to suit most of your needs. Smiling mind is an app is a personalised meditation app that can help you practise mindfulness in various sectors of your life. Indian meditation apps include Sattva meditations and mantras, Isha chants, Chakra meditation, Yoga Nidra, Lets meditate and AOL- meditation among others. In addition, there is the Heartfulness App by Ramakrishna Mission which helps with not just meditation and relaxation but yoga and spirituality too. Meditation apps work for people who do not have the time to practice. These apps can be used home for at least an hours’ time. These however, are quick fixers but work temporarily. One can stay away from stress, boost efficiency by practicing meditation as a regular practice. This positive addiction makes will have long time impact of body mind and emotions.

Vipasana

The retreats at Vipassana are for at least 10 days that include 10 hours of meditation daily cutting off from the outside world. Vipassana follows the age-old technique of focusing on your breath by staying in one position (lotus position preferably) as long as you can achieve concentration. Once the meditator has gained his concentration below his nostril area, he starts working on inner awareness of his breath. He starts moving his concentration to various parts of your body top to bottom and then the other way around. It begins first throughout the face, followed by neck, arms, upper body, legs. It is very important to follow a routine every day, at least one hour of meditation to achieve the benefits of it. Darshana Gupta, Freelance PR Consultant, meditation, yoga and dance enthusiast and an avid solo traveler says, “after going through two 10-day Vipassana meditation courses and now practising it regularly, I feel more in tune with nature. It helps to improve your health by reducing stress levels, more at peace and staying equanimous, compassionate towards others. There is higher awareness and getting angry is rare since you are aware of what is happening, and you have the capability to switch.

Do it Right

Tiesta Duggal, an internationally certified workshop leader and life coach opines, “while there are various meditative practices and spiritual ways to meditate and there are numerous institutions and meditation centres coming up around the globe to help people develop a better connect with themselves, to start with-Meditation can be as simple as taking a few minutes out of one’s busy schedule and taking a few deep breaths to allow their minds to calm down and restore. Today, science has increasing proofs about the benefits of meditation as during the process of meditation ones brain comes out of the flight and fight mode, the preservation mode to the rest and digest mode- leading to a more relaxed and peaceful state allowing body to function properly, stimulating gut health and thus overall allowing the body to function in a restorative state. Deep breathing 8-10 times, four times a day, playing some meditative chants, mantras and trying to focus on ones breath as the frequency and vibration of the music helps sooth the brain, spending time in the nature and allowing one to process their feelings, thoughts and emotions, sitting down to write ones emotions and feelings, doing pranayam and Om chanting, practicing guided meditations under a spiritual practice or teacher and practicing gratitude each day by writing a few things you are grateful for are some ways to meditate.”

Science of Meditation

It has been scientifically proved that meditation increases grey matter and even retain it as you grow older. It has also been scientifically proved to create more gama brain waves (we usually create more alpha brain waves). Gama brain waves are the ones associated with universal love, forgiveness, letting go so on and so forth. Monks create very high gama waves so our brain can be compared to them to see this clearly.  Studies indicate that mediation has both physical and mental impact. This includes resolving problems like irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety and even depression. There are some important aspects like depression, chronic pain and anxiety that are typically solved in any mindful meditation program, with effects similar to other existing medical treatments. Speak to your doctor before replacing pharmacological treatments. Dr. Shweta Gaonkar, Mercure Goa Devaaya Retreat avers, “meditation reduces depression chemicals in the brain. The stress hormone named Cortisol, adrenaline levels are reduced in the blood which are a factor of disturbed sleep and stress. People who meditate can produce more antibodies (immunity cells), than others. Mediation impacts neuronal plasticity and decreased activity of default mode network and activation of brain regions involved in cognitive and emotional control.” Dr. (HC) Shashi Kumar T N, Founder of Nirvana Yoga Shala and Osho Glimpse, Mysore avers, “backed by scientific research, meditative practices are known to be effective methods of relaxing. Regular meditation has shown to reduce anxiety attacks by lowering levels of blood lactate; prevent/reduce stress and stress-related muscle tension; lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels; boost the immune system functioning, manage chronic pain; increase exercise tolerance in heart patients and even reverse heart disease.

Tools & More

Tibetan bowls, candles, fragrances, music, beads, guided meditation apps and games, crystals and lights are some of the tools that aid meditation. Buddhist Mala also known as yoga beads, malas are prayer beads that are used for counting breaths and Japa. Zen Meditation Music is specifically composed in order to promote relaxing brainwaves and to calm the mind. Muse Meditation Assistant is a truly unique and wonderful mindfulness tool. It’s a modern and a little futuristic, but it is definitely a good piece of meditation equipment to buy. Muse works as a personal assistant. When you put the muse headband on and start the app it plays relaxing music designed to calm the mind. You can then focus on those sounds. It measures whether you are calm or stressed and uses that information to change the sounds it’s playing. When calm, you hear more intense sounds that remind you to relax. The Buddhist Gong is specifically designed to create frequencies that help us meditate by entering the brain into a meditative state. Crystals are some of the most beautiful objects helps in meditation and the varied kinds have different spiritual properties so choose wisely.

In Conclusion

Meditation has known to improve sleep patterns as well and a recent India wide study has indicated that people in their 60s could sleep as well as the people in the 40s. This goes to show that meditation can have a positive impact on physical as well as mental wellbeing. New age modern and fast lifestyles have much stress and day to day tension that can be remedied with simple and active mediation. Active mediation helps one make anything become meditative. Walking, reading, cooking, bathing or even just watching your breathing is a form of meditation. The art of extending awareness and breathing can create meditation with in you. Meditation begins by being separate from the mind, by being a witness and therein lies its true power. It not just relaxes and rejuvenates your mind but also helps you heal yourself. That is certainly reason for you to start meditating. After all your health is in your hands and meditation is the path to achieve it and more.

Celeb Speak

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ~ “Meditation is the art of doing nothing and letting go.”

Dalai Lama ~ If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.

Sadhguru ~ “You cannot do meditation but you can become meditative. Meditation is a certain quality. It is not a certain act.”

Eva Mendes ~ “Meditation really helps create not only a sense of balance… but serenity and kind of a calm state of mind.”

Ellen DeGeneres ~ “It feels good. Kinda like when you have to shut your computer down, just sometimes when it goes crazy, you just shut it down and when you turn it on, it’s okay again. That’s what meditation is to me.

Hugh Jackman ~ “Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest. It’s better than the best sleep you’ve ever had. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.”

Deepika Padukone ~ “I meditate. I breathe out what I can’t control and focus on the positives.”

Rajinikant ~ “Meditation is the key to energy.”

Kinds of Meditation

  • Vipassana meditation
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Sudharshan Kriya from AOL
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Shambhavi maha mudra kriya by ISHA
  • Buddhist form of meditation
  • ZEN form of meditation
  • Chakra meditation

Do it Right

  • Meditation is not about having no thoughts – so don’t try to make that your objective; it is training the monkey mind to be present with what is in front of us.
  • Meditation does not mean that you need to sit in one place. In fact, you need to be in a meditative experience through the day with whatever activity you are doing.
  • Meditation is not a religious activity. It is a mindful activity so do not confuse the two and keep it simple.
  • Do not expect immediate results; your mind will deviate; and it is normal. The point is daily practice and then seeing its benefits in everyday life’s routine.
  • Do not get anxious or start reacting when you are not able to focus on your breath. It happens a lot that while meditating for a certain time that you are unable to focus as your mind is wandering and body is restless. Just keep moving on by focusing on your breath time and again.

Meditation Apps

Calm: one of the most popular of all meditation apps, Calm also has specific programs to tackle issues like anxiety, lack of sleep, and stress. On the Apple Store

UnPlug: This app has over 700 meditation videos ranging from one minute to one hour. Many options of customisation are available and sessions are filmed live. On Apple Store and Google Play

Headspace: if you want to improve focus and get temporary relief from daily activities, Headspace can help. With quirky illustrations there are also sessions that can help you sleep well through the night. On Apple Store and Google Play

10% Happier: Like the New York Times best-selling book by the same name, this has a free version and a premium one that has a library of 500 plus guided meditation videos. On Apple Store and Google Play

Insight Timer: This is an entirely free App that has over 30000 pre-recorded guided meditation sessions, an in-app progress keeper and guided sessions led by well-known yogis and mental experts. On Apple Store and Google Play

Relax Now: this app is a tool to help your body relax as it has recordings from a certified hypnotherapist, David Ridgeway D. Hypn. This is a free app and you have options that can energize or calm you with a range of custom background music options. On Apple Store and Google Play

Pzizz: An app that can primarily help users sleep, there is music, voiceovers and sound effects that can help you go to a Zen like mode. If you are looking to get more work done check out the focuscapes section as well as a cooldown section to get back into your space. On Apple Store and Google Play

The Mindfulness App: if you are aware of the basics of meditation and are not looking for guided exercises, this app can help. You can also create a custom session with flexible time periods. On Apple Store and Google Play

Aura: If you are looking to self-reflect based on the mood you are in, this is the app for you. You can track your meditation time, moods and set reminders to practice mindfulness to improve your moods. On Apple Store and Google Play

Simple Habit: Focused on daily stress relief this app has five-minute sessions that you can do on the go. There are motivational guides and bedtime stories also on the app. On Apple Store and Google Play.

COVID-19 & Meditation

In the current times of the COVID-10 Pandemic there could not be a better way to keep your sanity in check than meditation. With social distancing and quarantining becoming the new norm, we live in a changed world where things are completely different from what was normal earlier. And this is where you can keep your mental health in perfect condition by meditating. A simple way to do this is to close your eyes and calm your mind – do this anywhere and anytime. You can focus on your breath or on any object and relax your mind. This is when you have much free time so start with small steps and take charge of your life – you are bound to come out of this stronger and happier.

This story first appeared in Healthcare India’s May 2020 issue as the cover story here:

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