What Is Meditation? Breaking Down The Concept, Practice & Types Of Meditation

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So what is meditation? Meditation comes in many different forms and is a technique used to focus the mind.

You could think of meditation as a bit of a workout for the mind. It can be done pretty much anywhere and at any time of the day. It’s usually practiced in a seated position with the eyes closed.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

  • What is a meditation?
  • What is meditation definition?
  • Meditation and religion
  • Starting a meditation practice
  • What types of meditation are there?
  • Experimenting to find your practice
  • How do you practice meditation?
woman sat meditating by a lake, contemplating what is meditation

What is meditation definition

According to www.verywellmind.com:

“Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. Meditation is also a consciousness-changing technique shown to have many benefits on psychological well-being.”

Meditation has grown in popularity in recent decades and while not easy it is a relatively simple technique of focusing the mind.

Meditation can be used to help with all kinds of issues from managing stress to making lifestyle changes.

Science and meditation

Approaches to meditation are thousands of years old, and approaches have tended to vary all around the world.

In recent decades there has been an increasing interest in meditation in the world of science.

While the practice of meditation looks like the practitioner isn’t doing much at all, on the inside, brainwaves reveal something altogether different.

person meditating with a mudra

Through imaging techniques like FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), science has revealed that meditation can have not only a positive effect on the brain but also on mental health.

Research studies in recent decades have discovered that those who have a regular meditation practice have noticeable differences in the structure of their brain.

This suggests that there are stronger connections between the neurons within the brain than in those of non-meditators, as well as denser tissue in some parts of the brain.

So which parts of the brain are affected by meditation? Research shows that meditation affects the areas of the brain that govern the senses as well as the parts that process emotions and help us concentrate.

This means that regular meditation can not only help with focus but also with how we respond to our sensory information and the way we react to our emotions.

While there is still a long way to go in fully understanding the effects of meditation, science has uncovered that it can promote better physiological and physiological health.

Mediation and religion?

While you definitely don’t have to be religious to meditate, meditation is a big part of some religions throughout the world. Meditation techniques have been practiced throughout many cultures for thousands of years.

Meditation can be found in the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Because of its ability to be practiced in a religious and non-religious context, it has become popular worldwide.

buddha statue with a pot of tea

Starting a meditation practice

Meditation comes in many different forms, and there is no right or wrong way to meditate.

Because there are so many different types of meditation, it can feel overwhelming when you’re starting out. Here are some tips on how to navigate the first steps to building a meditation practice.

1. Research

Do some research on different types and approaches to meditation. While there are tons of books on meditation out there seeking out some simple articles on the different approaches may be a better bet.

2. Seek out guidance

Whether this is from a specific meditation teacher or from a yoga teacher, having a conversation with someone who understands the practice will be helpful and, hopefully, they can recommend some practices for you.

3. Try and try again!

The only real way to find out what the right approach is for you is to give it a go. There are many free online meditations out there, so give some a try. It might be worth beginning with some of the shorter ones.

woman meditating with her child

What are the different types of meditation?

  • Contemplation meditation – This often focuses on a question or something poignant.
  • Body mediation – This focuses the mind on the physical sensations of the body.
  • Mantra meditation – Repeating a phrase or word either mentally or out loud is the focus of this approach.
  • Walking or running meditation – Using the movement of walking and placing all attention on the activity forms the basis of walking meditation.
  • Mindfulness meditation – Rooted in staying in the present moment by noticing what is there. It is about keeping the mind rooted in the now and not wandering through the past and the future. The basis is to be accepting of all that is in the present moment.
  • Visual meditation – This approach is based on something that you can see. A candle flame is often used as well as simply focusing on something easily within your gaze in front of you.
  • Body scanning meditation – This technique requires the practitioner to scan the body systematically for sensations.
  • Breathing meditation – The predominant breathing meditation is to simply watch the breath. This means that you are not required to manipulate the breath in any way but to simply watch it as it is.
  • Loving-kindness meditation – This type of meditation which is popular within the Buddhist tradition, requires the practitioner to focus on loving-kindness for themselves, loved ones, acquaintances, and even those they dislike.
man smiling and meditating

What are some of the benefits of meditation?

Some of the research into meditation has shown that there are both psychological and physiological benefits to regular meditation practice. While the physiological aspects are focused on less, they include decreased heart rate and respiration rate.

While the benefits of meditation are based on the individual, some have reported the following:

  • Improved insomnia
  • Increased emotional resilience and wellbeing
  • Improved symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Greater empathy for yourself and others
  • Improved concentration
  • Better stress management
  • Improved symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Increased problem solving ability

Experiment to find your routine

It’s likely to take some time before you find the right style of meditation for you, and you might even change your mind based on experience.

But what do you do when you’ve begun meditating and want to create a good habit out of it?

class of people in a meditation

1. Set the scene

Trying to meditate in a busy, noisy environment might not be the perfect compliment to your practice. Especially when beginning, try and remove distractions and find a quiet spot that is calm and comfortable.

This can be outdoors just as well as indoors.

2. Be consistent

Finding a suitable time each day is key to cultivating a consistent meditation practice.

Pick whichever time works for you – remember it doesn’t have to be a long period of time. Some people prefer practicing in the morning and others in the evening. You won’t know what works for you until you give it a try.

3. Ask for help

While this is a solitary practice, that doesn’t mean that you need to struggle alone. In fact, having some guidance can be a big help.

4. Guided meditation

Guided meditation can be a great place to start, and it can help you develop the ability to focus.

two people meditating in a field

5. Go easy on yourself

Start by practicing for short amounts of time. Five or ten minutes is an excellent place to start.

You can always work up to longer durations.

6. Bring it back

Your mind will wander. Don’t panic.

It’s not about having an empty mind but about learning to come back to your point of focus. Acknowledge your thoughts without entertaining them. Gently and continuously guide your attention back.

How to practice meditation

What is meditation? Well, you have to try it out to find out.

As we have seen, there are many different approaches to meditation, but some of the simplest are the best place to start.

Here is a basic meditation that is beginner-friendly.

woman meditating with headphones in
  • Find a calm, quiet spot where you won’t be distracted. This can be indoors or outdoors but try to turn off any devices that will distract you.
  • Be clear about how long the practice will last. As a beginner, five minutes is a good place to start, although anything up to ten minutes will be good.
  • Find a comfortable position to sit in. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is the norm, although sitting in a chair with your spine upright will work too.  Allow yourself a few minutes to get comfortable and fidget before you begin the meditation.
  • Start the meditation by focusing on your breathing. There is no need to manipulate the breath in any way; simply notice the sensation of breathing in and the sensation of breathing out.
  • As your mind wanders which it will, simply notice the thoughts that arise. Don’t worry about clearing your mind, just bring your attention back to the sensation of breath.
  • Try not to judge your thoughts or get caught up in them. Simply acknowledge the thought and move back to the breath.
  • Take your time coming out of the meditation. Try not to rush back into your day. Take a few slightly deeper breaths and begin to open your eyes before coming back into your day.

What next?

If this “what is meditation?” article has peaked your interest, then why not take some time to find out more by taking a look at Transcendental Meditation 101: How to, Origins, Benefits and More.

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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