No longer frowned upon as esoteric humbug: in the past, meditation was often ridiculed and viewed with scepticism. Today, even medical practitioners are using meditation as a therapy-accompanying measure. Because it actually works.
Regular meditation is health promoting - both on a mental and physical level. It has been proven to reduce stress symptoms, decrease blood pressure and increase mental and physical well-being.
There are many variants -the most scientifically studied form is the so-called mindfulness meditation. A few years ago, scientists conducted research into the effects of a mindfulness-based meditation method called MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). They found evidence of certain cerebral changes after only eight weeks of practice. Participants reported that they were more stress-resistant and were better able to cope with chronic pain. Thus, mindfulness also has a salutary effect.
In addition, brain scans showed that the density of grey matter increased in the brain regions responsible for sympathy. More empathy, more benevolence. In these technologically orientated and fast-paced times, it is probably the most wonderful of all effects.
However, just as you cannot do a marathon after ten runs, meditation also requires regular practice.
Meditation is all about discipline.
A general misconception is that meditation is all about escaping reality. This is not the case. Rather, the idea is to be present in the moment, to see everything more clearly and objectively. Mindfulness meditation, one's own preconceived ideas and emotions are to be viewed from an outside perspective. This is easier said than done. But with enough practice, it can be done. Here is how to get started:
It starts with breathing.
Even and deep abdominal breathing is an effective method to bring about a state of inner rest and relaxation. Especially for meditation beginners, it is important to focus on the breathing.
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Choose a pleasant spot. It is often easier to develop a routine by always choosing the same location at the beginning. Use a meditation pillow - or simply a chair, a stool or the floor. The seat should not be too soft.
- Put your phone on silent and set a timer with a relaxing alarm sound to remind you of the end of the meditation session.
- Come up with a small start-up ritual: whether lighting a candle or setting the mood with stretching exercises to loosen up and have a better physical feeling.
- Assume a sitting position – a cross-legged seat, lotus seat or sit on your heels, there are a lot of possibilities – as long as you have a stable and comfortable seat. Pull your shoulders back and relax your jaw and facial muscles.
- Concentrate on your breathing. It is the centre of every form of meditation. Focus on inhaling and exhaling. Feel how the diaphragm lifts and lowers. Follow where the breath flows, and breathe deeper and deeper into the abdomen.
- Your thoughts will distract you almost incessantly at first, but in time you will notice that they will become quieter and breaks will occur. Monitor your thoughts, acknowledge them and just let them pass.
- Learning how to meditate takes time. Stay patient. Focus your attention on the things that are going well. Some will find it easier than others, but eventually you will notice that you are more relaxed in everyday life.
- This brings us back to the discipline: rather put in frequent and brief sessions than irregular and prolonged ones. Start with three to ten minutes daily. When the bell sounds, do not jump up immediately. Slowly ease back into your activities.
Switching off with your smartphone
Then there is an alternative approach: meditation apps. Meditation has established itself as an effective method to relax. At the same time, on average we glance at our mobile phones 88 times per day. So why not use the tool that determines our fast-paced lives to bring some moments of slowness into our busy everyday life? Online deceleration. On the train, on your coffee break or on the sofa. Sounds paradoxical, but it is actually quite effective.
Headspace is probably the most famous meditation app. Beautifully designed, the app offers hundreds of meditations and is narrated by Andy Puddicombe, former Buddhist monk and founder of Headspace.
Other examples of popular applications are Calm, 7Mind, Buddhify, Omvana or Stop, Breathe & Think.
You do not have to be religious or esoteric, in order to meditate. You just have to stick to the routine. Learning to do nothing - probably one of the most difficult challenges of our time. In our emotionally flooded, digital age, meditation lets us go inside ourselves. Start today.