What is meditation ?
Meditation is a mind-training practice that promotes mental well-being. In this card, you will discover what meditation, its main principles, its history, the different types of meditation, its benefits, some practical advice, and finally the opinion of a specialist.
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From the Latin “Meditare” which means “to contemplate”, meditation is a practice of training the mind to free itself from negative and harmful thoughts. Obviously, many thoughts are useful for managing one’s life or solving practical problems. But the mental mechanisms are such that they constantly produce often deleterious thoughts. The purpose of meditation is therefore to ensure that these thoughts no longer have control over us, and to free us from our negative ruminations that prevent us from moving forward in our lives.
To meditate is therefore to use certain techniques of concentration and relaxation in order to concentrate on oneself and thus, to silence one’s inner hubbub. It is a parenthesis in our daily stressful noisy at the infernal pace and too fast: it is able to ask, stop and observe what happens in us …
The main principles
The practice of meditation is above all to train oneself to maintain one’s attention and to prevent one’s mind from being carried away by the thoughts that constantly arise. That said, it is not a war activity where you have to fight against thoughts. Instead, the “soft will” is used. It is an activity of letting go where we accept that thoughts scroll, like clouds or the horses of a carousel, without being captivated by them.
Meditation is also a spiritual practice, indeed, many people say that meditation is above all to be truly in touch with oneself and ultimately with “the whole universe”.
The different types of meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the approach used in stress reduction workshops designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. There are also groups formed around experienced practitioners, mostly inspired by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who adapted the teachings of Chinese zen (more flexible than zazen) to the West. The program of meetings may vary from one group to another.
Transcendental Meditation (MT)
Based on the Vedic tradition of India, the technique (with mantra) of transcendental meditation was adapted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was heavily popularized by the Beatles in the late 1960s. Learning is done in 4 consecutive days, for a substantial fee.
Traditional Buddhist practice, kept alive especially in Burma and disseminated in the West by SN Goenka and his followers. Vipassana is an ascetic practice (based on continuous observation of breathing and body sensations), in a very structured context. To get started, you must first register for a 10-day retreat. Subsequently, other retreats are offered (3, 10 or 30 days). There are no weekly practice groups.
Strict practice of Zen (fusion of Buddhism and Taoism) as it developed in Japan within the lines of masters. The zazen practice in a fairly ritualized context: the relationship with the teacher is important. Because of the discipline required, it is not suitable for everyone. The various centers offer both weekly meetings and retreats (called sesshins).
The benefits of meditation
Increase the occurrence of positive sensations
More “positive” feelings. When one feels positive feelings (joy, curiosity, enthusiasm, pride, etc.), electrical activity is predominant in a specific area of the brain (the left prefrontal cortex). A study using magnetic resonance imaging has found that in a state of meditation, this area is particularly active. According to the researchers, it may be that meditation promotes brain activity in areas associated with positive feelings while inhibiting those associated with anxiety and negative feelings. They hypothesize that this could in the long run affect the temperament and make it more “positive”.
Reduce the symptoms of chronic pain in the elderly
In 2008, two journals on the effectiveness of meditation in the treatment of chronic pain in the elderly were published. The findings of these reviews suggest that meditation may be an intervention that helps to reduce overall chronic pain. However, as it is often accompanied by other treatments and therapies, its specific efficacy is not clearly established.
Improve concentration and attention skills
The practice of meditation would allow to stay long and effectively focused on a task or a problem to solve. When a person is very concentrated, his gamma-frequency brainwaves synchronize and amplify naturally. But these periods rarely last more than 1 second at a time. Researchers have found that people who have been meditating for a long time can make them last for several minutes.
Research over the last 40 years has found that meditation has several measurable psychological and physiological benefits.
Reduce stress and anxiety
Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in reducing psychological and physiological stress. This could be explained by his action on negative thoughts. Indeed, many thoughts are harmful (ruminations, catastrophic scenarios, mental representations that have nothing to do with reality …), these thoughts create what is called “internal stress”. The practice of meditation can help to chase those thoughts and reduce stress. It is in this that, when practiced daily, meditation is a powerful anti-stress.
Prevent cardiovascular disorders
A randomized clinical study evaluated the practice of transcendental meditation by comparing it with information sessions and discussions with 84 patients with stable cardiovascular conditions. Beneficial effects were observed with regard to blood pressure and insulin resistance in the meditation group. The use of transcendental meditation by patients with cardiovascular disorders could also improve some aspects of the metabolic syndrome.
Reduce the severity of symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder
A 2008 study investigated the effects of meditation on individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The results showed a decrease in the symptoms of participants who attended the sessions. Moreover, they had less trouble letting go of their thoughts.
Improve the immune system
In one study, researchers found that, following vaccination, the level of antibodies against the influenza virus was higher among meditators than in a control group. In addition, the increase in this rate was proportional to that of cerebral activity in the area related to positive feelings (the left prefrontal cortex).
How to meditate? Meditation in practice
According to the different schools, and there are many, meditation can be practiced standing, sitting, walking, eyes open or closed, silently or repeating a word, the mind focused on an image or not. There does not seem to be much difference in the effects of one form over another, the most decisive element being diligent practice.
To be well understood and integrated, meditation training should take place within a certain framework: stress reduction workshops, retreats, classes or meditation groups. This is important for good habits (practice, proper posture, etc.).
There are now many resources on the Internet that allow you to learn meditation and meditate alone. Most are guided meditations accompanied by music or sounds. These are aimed at bringing inner calm or easier access to states of relaxation, vigilance or creativity, for example.
If you want to start alone, here are some techniques that can help you focus, since they occupy the mind, and thus limit the occurrence of parasitic thoughts.
This is probably the most common technique today. This is to be aware of the air that enters the body, which is expelled, which penetrates again … As breathing is a permanent and infallible movement, it gives a stable anchor to the effort of attention.
The body scan
The person sits with their back straight and makes a mental sweep of their body. This exercise must be done without judgment, and makes you aware of any tensions or pain points.
Meditation with a mental image
The individual imagines a precise image, and must focus on it. He can imagine a tree, the sea, or anything that inspires him.
Using a mantra
The individual repeats a mantra (sacred formula), an expression that is personal to him or a syllable (“aum”, for example). He can repeat them mentally, articulate them without making any noise or uttering them aloud. In the latter case, the vibrations caused from the vocal cords are supposed to bring the body to good dispositions.
Meditation with the help of an object
The person stares at an object near her. It can be the flame of a candle, an image that is dear to him or a geometric drawing.