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The Many Benefits of Meditation

Why have people meditated for thousands of years?

Meditating works, and the benefits of regular meditation go beyond the pleasurable state of mind achieved during the process. This state of mind allows true relaxation, and it is also conducive to creative problem solving. It gives you greater access to the subconscious parts of your mind, thus making real change in yourself a more practical goal. Let's look at one of the major benefits, stress reduction, and then we'll describe a simple meditation technique. After that you'll find some tips and links to other relevant pages and resources.

Meditation and Stress

One of the more obvious benefits of meditation is the reduction of stress. Imagine yourself rushing to the hospital to see a friend that just received head injuries in a car crash. The roads are icy, one of your headlights burns out, the traffic is crazy, and the knob on the radio breaks, leaving a half-tuned station blaring in your ears. Then you recall that you were trying to decide when to quit your job and which type of business to start. Are you ready to make the decision?

Obviously stress isn't conducive to good decision-making (or good living), but sometimes we forget this lesson and push our way through problems despite an overloaded mind. The scenario above isn't necessarily more extreme than what's going on inside our busy minds when nothing so obvious is happening externally. Our "monkey minds" may take us on a wild, noisy ride on icy roads with one headlight while we are just sitting there eating breakfast. One of the benefits of meditation is that it can tame those monkeys, lessening our stress level. Less stress means better decision-making and better living.

How to Meditate

There are meditations for many purposes. The simplest and most quickly learned are the types that involve just relaxing and closing your eyes, while concentrating on your breath. There are many variations on this technique, but the important thing is to keep your attention on your breath. You also want to let go of your thoughts as much as possible, but you don't want to try too hard too push them away. Try the easy exercise outlined below.

A Simple Meditation Technique

Sit or lay comfortably, and close your eyes. Starting with your toes,and working up to your head, become aware of each part of your body for a moment, and feel the tension leaving that part. Then bring your attention to your breath and begin watching it. Breath through your nose, deeply at first, but then in whatever way is most comfortable. As thoughts arise, dismiss them and return your attention to your breath. Again and again return your attention to your breath.When you are done, simply open your eyes and take a deep breath.

You may notice that things look different; "new" in some way that you can't explain. This is because in our normal busy-minded state, we see what we expect to see-our idea of what a tree is, for example, instead of just seeing the tree. When our thoughts have quieted, we just see what is there in front of us, without preconceived ideas. You may or may experience this at first, but in any case, you should feel more relaxed.

Meditation Tips

To get the full benefits of meditation, your mind needs to quiet down. This is the biggest stumbling block for most. Be aware that your thoughts will most likely never leave you alone. Your "monkey mind" will continue to chatter away no matter what you try. So don't worry if you don't have "complete" success. You can probably move the mental noise more into the background, though, and reduce the volume. Try some of the following tips, and remember that different techniques work better (or worse) for different people.

Letting thoughts go: When thoughts or feelings arise during meditation, it helps some of us to name them. It is like writing something down so you can get it off your mind. Say to yourself "Pain in my leg," or "Old argument," or otherwise label whatever is distracting you. Then return your attention to your breath. If this doesn't help, just accept that your mind will rattle on, but repeatedly bring it back to your breathing anyhow.

Releasing tension: If the tension in your muscles persists when you are meditating, try tensing up each part of your body. Hold the tension for a few seconds, then let go, perhaps saying to yourself, "relax." Pay attention to the feeling of release. By doing this, you are basically training your body to relax on command. Another technique is to let a little tension drain from your body with each exhalation. You'll notice right away that it is easier to relax when breathing out, than when breathing in.

Length of meditation: Try to meditate for at least ten minutes to begin with, and work your way up to twenty minutes. Longer meditations are beneficial, if you have the time, but somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes seems to be useful to most people. Also, once you have trained your body to relax, and have gotten used to watching your breath, you can take two to three minute meditative breaks during the day, when you need to refresh your mind or relax.

Other Types of Meditation

There are more types of meditation than you could learn in a lifetime, and many of them are subtly different in the benefits they offer. Guided meditation may work better for those who have too much difficulty meditating on their own. Prayer can be a form of meditation. Meditation involving visualization can help change habits and possibly cure some illnesses. Practicing the Buddhist "meditation on the corpse" may change your outlook on life. Once you seen the benefits of meditation from the simple technique above, you may want to explore other forms.

For a simple mindfulness exercise/meditation, see the page "Mindfulness Exercises."

And for three easy practices you can try right now, see for the following page: Daily Meditations.

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Other relevant pages:

Two Easy Meditation Techniques

Which Meditation CD is Best?

Using a Meditation MP3

The Intelligence of Self Observation

Self Awareness

The Effects of Stress on Brainpower

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