The Importance of Meditation
With all the craziness going on in the world lately, I thought it would be nice to focus on something that not only feels good but also increases our mental and emotional health. By taking just a few minutes a day, you can help to alleviate some of the free-floating anxiety and stress that seems to permeate the air and restore your life to calm balance.
Meditation is an exceptionally important daily activity because it goes hand-in-hand with mental health and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, many people find meditation difficult because of the misconception that meditation is about clearing the mind of all thoughts. It’s quite impossible to sit there and induce your mind to be blank. If you’re skeptical, go and give it a try. Also, I find meditating on nothing to be pointless.
Meditation is about learning to work with your flow of thoughts, manifest more mindfulness, and increase awareness about yourself and the world around you. Although an in-person teacher is the best way to go if you want to learn the profound tenets of meditation, I am giving you the basics to get you started. When discussing mental health with peers, meditation and all its benefits is something I routinely endorse when explaining how to deal with certain emotions and situations.
Different Styles of Meditation
For the best styles and historical precedent, I turn my attention toward the meditative practices of Buddhism. What I appreciate about Buddhist meditations is that they are a-religious in nature because Buddhists don’t believe in a deity, so anyone of any faith can benefit from meditation without feeling like they are breaking some religious ordinance.
Below I’ve listed some different forms of meditation, what they are used for, and how to perform the exercise properly. Explore these methods and adjust them to what works best for you.
Mindfulness meditation is likely the most common form of meditation you’re familiar with. This is also one of my favorites to use on a daily basis because it’s incredibly easy to practice once you get the hang of it. Mindfulness meditation aims to bring about feelings of calmness, balance, and peace. Daily practice makes it easy for the practitioner to fall into a strong meditative rhythm that opens the mind and brings clarity to internal conflicts and struggles.
The basic steps of most meditations start with the following—
The Steps to Meditation
Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down. There are times when I want to sit in a chair or on the floor, and other times when laying in a bed or on my couch feels like the best place. If you want to kick it up a notch, you can do this outside if you can find a place secluded enough to give yourself privacy. If you’re sitting instead of lying down, try to keep your back straight. Find the proper balance of what works best for you and go with that.
Pay attention to your breathing. Some people think you need to fixate on each breath, but I see it more as an anchor to come back to if you find yourself lost in your thoughts. Try your best not to manipulate your breathing—take normal breaths and just focus on how your whole body feels. To help you concentrate, try saying “in” when you inhale and “out” as you exhale. Do this until your body is sufficiently relaxed enough. Notice how your muscles release their tension the longer you focus on your breathing.
Observe the thoughts in your head as if they are wisps of air around you. Be gentle with yourself in your awareness. It’s common to get carried away with a thought, so when you realize this is happening, go back to observing your breath going in and out. With consistent meditation, you should begin to develop a close friendship with yourself. When a thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it without engaging and then let it go. The premise is to allow your subconscious to work through cleaning all the thoughts that run in an endless loop.
Awareness meditation is yet another invaluable tool that helps you find insight into your inner self. It’s best to use this method of meditation once you have a strong understanding and foundation of mindfulness meditation. Once you’re able to be mindful and avoid the distractions of unwanted thoughts, awareness meditation enables you to work on internal conflicts and dissonance.
In a way, awareness meditation could take on the imaginary form of a body scan where you work from your feet to your head thinking about each part of your body and how it feels. Point out to yourself how those body parts physically feel. Are they pressing against anything? Can you feel your clothes touching your skin? Take note of any discomfort and focus on why you may feel the discomfort.
Additionally, this exercise is a great way to focus on internal struggles you might have. Setting the foundation with mindfulness and then exploring yourself with awareness meditation will help to calm you and open your mind. Approach yourself with impartiality and acceptance. This will allow you to be open and expressive about your emotions.
Loving Kindness Meditation
This meditative style is bursting with positivity, and I’ve never felt anything but inner peace while going through this exercise. If you don’t—you’re doing it wrong. The foundation of this meditative style is two-fold: loving yourself and loving others. It’s best to begin a session with mindfulness meditation, so you are calm and able to focus on your intentions.
The first step is to begin by channeling love and well-wishes to yourself. Just like RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anyone else?”. Start with yourself so that you begin to build a strong foundation of self-love. If you’ve had a rough day, this exercise is particularly helpful with focusing on the positives and celebrating yourself for all the wonderful things that are you.
When it comes to loving others, direct your loving focus to someone you care about. Maybe this is your spouse, child, or pet. Think about all the things that make you love them. If they are going through a rough time, think positively about how well they are doing just by getting up every day. The main point and focus should be to fill yourself with love and then share that love with others.
Once you have gone through the two previous exercises, pick someone you have no strong feelings for—positive or negative. Maybe this is a friendly neighbor or someone who works at your favorite coffee shop. Send them as much love and kindness as you did for yourself and your family.
Finally, pick someone who you don’t like or would even consider an enemy. It’s difficult, but with time you learn to send love and kindness in their direction as well. Sometimes it feels like we are betraying ourselves by wishing someone who we don’t like well, but wishing them ill only hurts us in the end. Likewise, manifesting any opposing thoughts or energy toward someone else will only cause damage to ourselves.
What I like most about this method is the message of love and kindness experiencing no limitations. As we focus loving and kind energy on ourselves and out to everything else, we realize that the borders of what makes us different fade away to nothingness. It’s an incredibly powerful form of meditation, especially if you are feeling isolated and without love.
Focusing all your attention on one specific question, emotion, or motivation is the basis for contemplative meditation. Buddhists propose some practice questions to work on contemplative or focused meditation to include philosophical thoughts such as why we are here, what we should be doing with our time, and whether we should focus on immaterial versus material gain.
Much like awareness and mindfulness meditation, you should start this exercise by focusing your mind on your breathing and letting thoughts come and go until you’re relaxed enough to contemplate complex ideas in an effort to gain a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you. The next time you have nothing to do and find yourself mindlessly scrolling on social media, take half an hour to meditate on a focused subject. I regularly use this method when ruminating on tough subjects for my books and other writing projects.
As you can see, there are many different types of mediation, and it’s always easy to come up with a method that works best for you. Play around with the ones I’ve listed here, and find the one that brings you the greatest amount of relaxation, calmness, and focus. Remember to be patient with yourself as the first couple of sessions of meditation might make you feel a bit funny—this will pass with time and experience. If it isn't easy for you to let your mind wander, please stay patient and keep trying. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.