How Buddhist Meditation Can Improve Your Life
Meditation is a mental and physical activity that helps an individual separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings with the purpose of becoming fully aware. It is used within many religions and has increasingly been used in therapy to encourage good mental and physical health.
If you’ve ever had a pleasant sense of calm come over you when you have watched a sunset or felt the sea breeze on your face, with a noticeable feeling that your mind has become more clear, you have experienced the surface of what meditation can offer you.
Meditation in its simplest form means living in each moment as it unfolds, without judgement and thought - just being aware and at peace. It is a practise that takes dedication and patience but once you are able to meditate successfully the rewards are substantial.
Buddhist meditation is a practise that involves both your body and mind, for Buddhists both become moulded as a single entity. Meditation is the practise of taking control of the mind so that it becomes focused, with the aim of stopping the mind rushing with thoughts. Buddhist meditation promotes people to take their focus away from the world outside and to focus on your inward feelings.
There are several benefits to practising meditation which include emotional control; developing a stronger sense of compassion and a noted increase in brain structure, which helps with learning and memory. The brain has also been seen to develop by the thickening of certain areas of the cortex which can lower peoples’ sensitivity to pain. Meditation can also help improve cognition and sharpen an individual’s concentration, as well as helping people solve creative problems. Multi-tasking will also become easier due to meditation practises.
A huge problem for people that suffer with anxiety and/or depression is the rumination of bad thoughts. Meditation is an effective method in clearing the mind and this is why mindfulness techniques are used to help treat these issues.
The Three Trainings
For many people who want to explore a spiritual path meditation is the first thing they will think about. However in Buddhist tradition meditation is the second part of the three trainings for the traditional spiritual path, although there are many ways to reach spiritual awakening. The three trainings are generally the most basic and used method.
The first discipline is ethics, a fundamental element in spiritual development. Buddhism does not teach laws or commandments, for people who follow the religion, but they promote living in a way that does not cause harms to others or oneself.
Meditation is the second training, where participants clear and concentrate their mind; this helps with the third practise of the training: developing wisdom, to understand your experiences and true path in life.
Types of Meditation
There are many practises to meditation. These include concentrative, generative and reflective. These are come from modern meditation teachings which draw on Buddhist traditions.
This involves focusing on an object or element, like breathing, so that it becomes calmer and more concentrated.
This type of meditation means to develop your loving kindness, known as metta bhayna. The point of this meditation technique is to develop their sense of love and kindness through memory, imagination and awareness of the body’s sensations. This practise is aimed at helping you to develop your compassionate side.
This practise goes hand in hand with the other meditation processes. This practise means being aware of the balance between consciously guiding attention and being open and receptive to the experience that is unfolding.
Breathing methods are a fundamental practise in meditation, and can be the most difficult to master. The trick is to sit and concentrate on your breathing, without really thinking about it. The breathing should be natural, without alteration or worry about the ‘right’ way to do this. The aim is to follow the breathing and to ‘become one’ with it. It is essential not to think : “I am breathing”. The aim is not to separate yourself from what your body is doing but rather just be aware of it.
Some meditators will count breaths to help relax their mind whilst others will concentrate on a particular thing in their meditating space, like a Buddhist tealight holder or statue. Whilst others will chant mantras. The best way is to experiment with different methods to see which one works best for you.
Preparation and Posture
The classic meditation posture is the ‘the lotus position’. This position is when you sit cross-legged with the right foot on top of the left thigh, and the left foot over the right thigh. Others will kneel or sit cross legged on the floor. You should be able to support your body, whilst having both knees on the ground and your back straight, without having to strain.
If you think you could benefit from meditation, there are many ways to learn. From books, to online guides and lessons.
Image credits: Julian Garduno, Flickr. Available under Creative Commons.