Meditation for a Calmer State of Mind
Kelly Izdihar Crosby
Our minds contain a flowing stream of constant thoughts. Like a stream, thoughts can flow smoothly or crash against rocky shores. Modern life demands much of our mental energy. Balancing our daily obligations combined with a bombardment of social media can make anyone feel mentally exhausted. So, when our minds are full of unending chatter, meditation can help us calm the storm.
At the mention of the word meditation, you may imagine images of people sitting cross-legged with palms upward and gentle smiling faces. These serene and relaxed practitioners seem to have managed the impossible: a chatter-free mind. But don’t worry, for meditation is not just for spiritual gurus. By calming the mind, you can feel more relaxed and ready to tackle your daily challenges.
Meditative practices are found in many different cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions. Because the techniques used to practice it vary, meditation has a variety of definitions. A general definition of meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. Meditative techniques fall under two categories: focused meditation and open-monitoring meditation, also known as mindfulness.
There are dozens of meditation practices to explore, but for now, we’ll focus on eight popular practices:
Focused meditation involves directing your attention to a particular sound, object, or feeling. Some or all of your five senses must be involved. During focused meditation, you remain aware of the present moment by engaging your senses to quiet your inner monologue. This type of meditation can include paying attention to your breath, counting your breaths, or focusing on a positive emotion. Other examples include staring at a candle, listening to a gong, or repeating certain words.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on one thing for an extended period of time. It is the conscious awareness of the present moment. Our minds constantly race with intrusive thoughts, and mindfulness can help us get back into the present.
One example of this is a mindfulness exercise called “Anxiety 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” To cope with feelings of anxiety or panic, start by taking deep, slow breaths. Then think of five items you can see in your surrounding area, four things you can touch, three sounds you can hear, two scents you can smell, and one flavor you can taste.
Spiritual meditation focuses on deepening your connection with God. Prayer is an excellent way to focus on the mercy and presence of the divine, and listening and reflecting on the word of God can be a meditative process. In a study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, Ashraf Ghiasi and Afsaneh Keramat found “a positive effect of listening to Holy Quran recitation in reducing anxiety in various settings.”
Movement meditation uses movement to ground your mind and body in the present moment. In movement meditation, deep rhythmic breathing and gentle movements help cultivate a peaceful state of mind. Meditation combined with yoga is an example of movement meditation. Going for a walk or gardening are also ways to practice movement meditation to keep the mind and body at peace.
If you have a vivid imagination, visualization meditation may interest you. In this type of meditation, you are encouraged to imagine a scene as clearly as possible. Visualization prompts include imagining yourself in a peaceful place or having an inner light shining in your heart. Another visualization exercise can be to imagine yourself reaching a specific goal and envisioning what that may look like.
According to an article written by Holly J. Bertone, CNHP, PMP, and Crystal Hoshaw for Healthline, “Loving-kindness meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others.” The original name for this practice is metta in Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhist scripture. It is also called maitri in Sanskrit. Both words have many meanings, including benevolence, friendliness, fellowship, amity, and positive energy.
Loving-kindness meditation can be used to increase positive emotions or as a technique to deal with resentment or anger. Such an exercise could include deep breathing and repeating motivational phrases such as “I will be kinder to myself and others” or “I will accept myself as I am and life as it is.”
Mantra meditation uses a repetitive word or phrase to clear the mind. It is used to help you become more attuned to your environment. The most common mantra phrase is “om,” but the phrases can be in any language. For example, you can repeat “I am at peace” or “I am full of love.”
In an article for VeryWellMind, Elizabeth Scott, PhD, says, “By mentally scanning yourself, you bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any aches, pains, tension, or general discomfort. The goal is not to relieve the pain completely, but to get to know and learn from it so you can better manage it.” Body scan meditations are often recommended for those who have never done meditation. They are good for lowering anxiety, increasing focus, and improving sleep quality.
To do this exercise, you’ll need to get comfortable. Close your eyes and focus solely on your breath. Gently inhale and exhale. Then bring your attention to a specific area of your body. Notice any sensations you feel in that area. Then imagine yourself releasing your tension with each healing breath. Move on to the next body part and continue until you have traveled across your whole body. Open your eyes and bring your focus back to your surroundings.
Meditation can provide many psychological health benefits, such as stress reduction, concentration, relaxation, and improved emotional well-being. According to an article on meditation from Mayo Clinic, “when combined with conventional medicine, meditation may improve physical health. For example, some research suggests meditation can help manage symptoms of conditions such as: chronic pain, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, and digestive problems.”
One of the biggest benefits of meditation is stress reduction. Mental and physical stress release a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause high blood pressure, weight gain, high blood sugar, and muscle weakness in the upper arms and thighs. Mindfulness can reduce the inflammation response caused by stress.
Meditation can also lead to higher self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life. Most meditation exercises ask us not to judge ourselves or our thoughts too harshly. Meditation encourages us to cultivate loving-kindness in ourselves and the world, leading to feelings of contentment and compassion. It strengthens our self-awareness and teaches us how to identify helpful thoughts and self-defeating thoughts.
However, as positive as meditation sounds, there can be negative side effects. If you are dealing with anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, consult your doctor or therapist before beginning meditation. During meditation, you are facing your emotions, some of which can be very intense or painful. Such deep inner exploration can trigger negative feelings or bring back traumatic experiences. Yoga teachers, psychologists, therapists, and meditation practitioners should make their clients and students aware of both the potential benefits and risks involved in meditation.
How does one get started with meditation, and how do you choose the right technique? The best way is to start short and simple. Take a seat in a quiet area. You can close your eyes or keep them open; it is your choice. At the beginning, dedicate no more than five minutes to your exercise.
Notice your breathing as it flows in and out of your body. Your mind will undoubtedly wander, and when it does, bring your attention back to your breathing. Be kind to your mind, and do not judge yourself for your wandering thoughts. End the session by slowly coming back to awareness of your surroundings. Do not worry if you are doing it right or wrong. Hopefully, you are on the road to creating a good habit that will bring you many benefits in the future.
Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.