Learning & Resource Center Articles
The Importance of Practicing Daily Meditation
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM
For many of us the word meditation conjures up images of people sitting serenely on the floor, with hands neatly postured on the lap. Perhaps images of saffron robed monks, quiet and with eyes shut, springs into mind. Although some will argue there is a strict definition of what meditation is and isn't, there are many ways to achieve a meditative state- and not all of them require one to be seated, or even have the eyes shut for that matter.
Meditation is a process which engages the mind with the goal of transforming intrapersonal consciousness. It is more than sustained concentration, although that is an important element. Once in a profound, deep state of meditation, a person potentially enters into a state where mundane thoughts wither. The mind receives training to truly 'see things as they are.' This doesn't change the nature of physical reality, and certainly won't change the behavior of others, but practicing meditation has the power to favorably influence reactions and responses to outside events, as well as to personal 'inner events.'
Arriving at a thought-free, peaceful state is a tall order. There is no failure if thoughts arise and quickly pass. The mind tends to descend into restless mental action. In these cases it is important to not react negatively to these relentless thoughts, which will only generate more agitation. Simply let the mind flow, without judgement or force. Two common meditation techniques include concentrating on maintaining a steady, rhythmic breathing pattern or visualizing something pleasant.
Beginners can start with a goal of sitting comfortably for five minutes and gradually increase the amount of time spent in meditation. Experienced sitters may practice for an hour at a time, but even five to twenty minutes is sufficient. Forcing oneself to sit for prolonged periods of time can cause frustration and anxiety, which defeats the purpose of meditating in the first place. Remember to take into consideration the appropriate length of time for the mind, and the body, to engage in practice. Sticking to a manageable timetable helps condition and discipline the mind.
Walking meditation is a great practice for those prefer to indulge their senses. What differentiates it from an ordinary walk is the intention. These walks intentionally encourage the mind to remain constantly aware of itself. The gait of the walk is deliberate; no step is taken haphazardly. Concentration is focused on the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding area. Keeping silent is key. Talking is a distraction and will diminish the cultivation of awareness. If unwanted thoughts pop up, rely on the eyes, ear, and nose to take your consciousness to a quieter state of mind.
One interesting form of meditation involves the use of a candle. Sit comfortably with a candle placed in front of you. Simply stare at the dancing flame and observe its movements. If possible, try not to blink and let the eyes water. This tearing helps detoxify and rid the body of harmful substances. It is not necessary to do this part however. Focusing on the candle to the exclusion of all else is the main objective. Again, it is imperative to not attach emotion to any thoughts and simply observe the mind. This exercise only requires a few minutes, from two to 20 is fine.
The benefits to meditation include a reduction in stress levels. And with a reduction in daily stress comes a whole host of positive things. The immune system strengthens, sleep comes easily and deeply, cravings for addictive substances lessen and relationships improve. For some there is a change for the better in managing their personal emotions. As the mind becomes more refined through a daily meditation practice, becoming less emotionally reactive, and more reasonable, is a realistic possibility.
Another benefit is the opportunity to learn more about oneself. Sitting, walking, or staring, without distractions, can let a person experience latent thoughts or emotions. Without outside influences, the mind can freely examine itself. This process of self-discovery brings to light our strengths and weaknesses. This is why meditation is a life-long practice producing different results in each person.
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.