Intro to Meditation: What is it and How does it Help?
Definitions of Meditation
There are hundreds of lineages that teach thousands of meditation techniques. This means a few things for those who are wanting to learn what meditation is and how to practice it. There are quite a few definitions of meditation floating around out there! Here are some examples of how some front runners in meditation define it:
Pema Chodron teaches that “meditation is about seeing clearly the body we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It's about seeing how we react to all these things.”
In the Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the Dalai Lama says that meditation is about seeing your “natural state of your consciousness”. He says that the number one key is all about observing the mind.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that, “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
I, personally, like to think of meditation as a family of techniques. Meditation is a term that covers thousands of techniques. They are all connected by being techniques that train the mind, providing an avenue to develop focus and calm awareness.
Origins and History of Meditation
The history of meditation is a long one. There is debate over exactly when and where meditation first took place, but the truth is, there are signs that meditation took place in many parts of the world, and in many different traditions. Different archaeologists and historians have different perspectives on the beginnings of the group of techniques that are known as meditation. This, in part, is because meditation pre-dates written language.
The earliest hard evidence, pictorial, of the existence of meditation practice is in the form of cave drawings. On the Indian subcontinent, there are drawings of people seated in meditative postures. Some archaeologists date meditation as being an established practice in 5,000 BCE due to the existence of these cave drawings. The earliest written evidence of meditation was in the Vedas in 1500 BCE, but it is commonly known that the Vedas were passed down orally for thousands of years before they were written down.
Roots in meditative practices can be traced through ancient Egypt and China, and can be found in Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Meditation practices spread with trade and migration, moving throughout Asia and the Middle East. Every new region it went to, it was molded, transformed to assist the particular culture it was assimilated into. Due to the wide spread of meditation and the large group of cultures that practice, there are hundreds of lineages and thousands of meditation techniques. Many of these techniques have made it into mainstream American culture due to their massive amounts of mental, emotional, and physical benefits. One of the most common practices that began as a meditative technique is Yoga!
The modern Yoga movement emphasizes postures and breathing exercises, and has become widely known as a valid way to stretch, exercise, and in many studios, strengthen the body-mind connection. This is an adaptation of one of the hundreds of Yogic schools, Hatha Yoga. Traditionally, Yoga is a wisdom tradition, and its core is meditation.
As meditation practice spread and was implemented into cultures, it reached Greece. Alexander the Great went to India to conquer, and the meeting of Greece and India, though tumultuous, created an atmosphere in which cultures were exposed to the ideas of others. In the 300s BCE, meditation reached Greece, and the practice of ‘naval-gazing’ became common practice for Greek philosophers. The philosophers, Philo of Alexandria and Plotinus, came a little later on and developed their own take on meditation practices for the purpose of developing concentration.
The spread of meditative practices slowed shortly after the takeover of Christianity, but Christian meditation became prevalent in the beginning of the Middle Ages. Vocal prayer moved to Christian Meditation in Christian traditions in both the East and the West. It is often called contemplative prayer in modern day discussions.
After World War 2 there was a resurgence of meditative practice within Christianity. The rediscovery of the teachings of John of the Cross, along with the spread of Eatern meditative practices created an uprising of contemplative Christianity. Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and John Main are responsible for two widely taught streams of Christian meditation, Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation, that are still prevalent today.
Over the years, meditation in the West has transformed from a mostly religious tradition to a secular, medically backed, emotionally, mentally, and physically beneficial practice. Meditation and Mindfulness are being implemented in schools, prisons, therapy sessions, end of life care, treatments for many different ailments, and in peoples’ daily lives. The technique range is impressive and the benefits are astounding.
Meditation began to be studied for medical benefits in the 1960s. A medical researcher, B.K. Anand “found that yogis could meditate themselves into trances so deep that they didn’t react when hot test tubes were pressed against their arms.”
In 1967, a Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Herbert Benson, studied meditation, finding that people who meditated used 17% less oxygen, their resting heart rates were lower, and they had an increase in brain waves responsible for improved sleep experiences. Benson went on to publish writings on the biological explanation concerning why meditation worked, and he founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute.
Jon Kabat-Zinn learned about meditation while he was studying at MIT. He went on to found the Stress Reduction Clinic at UMass Medical Center in 1979. Kabat-Zinn is the founder of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), which has been used to treat PTSD, chronic pain, stress, anxiety, depression, cancer, hypertension, skin and immune disorders, and many other issues. This paved the way for further research to be done on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
Benefits of Meditation and Research
There is a growing cache of research on the psychological and physical effects of regular meditation and mindfulness practices. Since the 70s, there has been an abundance of interest in how, exactly, these practices affect our minds and bodies. Studies have been conducted by medical schools all over the country.
Functional MRI (left) showing activation in the amygdala when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation. After eight weeks of training in mindful attention meditation (right) note the amygdala is less activated after the meditation training. Courtesy of Gaelle Desbordes
Reduces Anxiety and Stress Levels
One of the most beneficial traits of Meditation and Mindfulness practice is the ability of the participants to help themselves through reducing anxiety and stress levels.
In a study published in 2013, familial caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers who participated in a Yoga and Compassion Meditation Program benefitted from reduced levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and cortisol levels. The study suggests that after as little as 8 weeks of participation in yoga and compassion meditation, a significant positive change can be made in a person’s life.
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/513149/?links=false Volume 2013 |Article ID 513149
A 2009 study of Natural Stress Reduction Meditation techniques showed that practicing twice a day for 15 minutes per session significantly reduced stress and anxiety and increased levels of self-actualization in a group of 31 tested individuals. This was a result of meditation inducing a physiological state of deep rest. Qualities such as creativity, peace, and satisfaction were reported after only four weeks of practice.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Volume 37, Number 3, 2009, pp. 307-311(5)
Improves Quality of Sleep
Meditation and Mindfulness practices teach the participants how to let emotional stimuli go. When you are able to have a non-reactive and open mental space, it helps clear the mind and allows sleep to come more easily. Studies show that meditating before bed time decreases the amount of time it takes for participants to fall asleep. It also prepares the body with breathing techniques to slow down and prepare for a restful night.
Increases Ability to Remember and IQ
Many studies have been done on the improvement of Working Memory Capacity (WMC) and meditation. In all cases, memory retention improved, including every age group tested. This result is due to the increased amount of focus that the participants are encouraged to put toward a certain task. If you are able to focus more fully, you are more able to remember what you are participating in.
Improves Concentration and Attention
The mind is an intricate thing. Concentration and attention have been studied for years, and one fact we have is that meditation can improve your focus and attention span. When you get distracted, it is increasingly more difficult to focus. Say you are working and the phone rings, you answer it, then go back to work. Every time this interaction happens, your focus level drops and your attention span shortens. Meditation helps your concentration and focus by helping your mind bounce back from distractions faster, reducing the inevitable stress that comes with multitasking, and improving focus during the task at hand by promoting mindfulness.
There are two types of pain. Primary pain is, in almost every case, unavoidable. Meditation helps with Secondary pain. When you step on a nail, the pain of the nail going into your foot is very real. It hurts a lot! Secondary pain is that extra jolt of pain that runs through your body when you look down and see the nail coming out the top of your foot. For some reason, that extra mental pain can be very real as well.
Meditation and Mindfulness are useful tools in reducing secondary pain because the practices teach the mind not to react with emotion. A regular meditator will feel the primary pain, but the more practiced a person is, the more they are able to reduce that secondary pain. This practice is great for dealing with chronic pain and the following:
Addiction and Chemical Dependencies
Pain Associated with Terminal Diseases/People in Hospice Care
Helps Decrease Symptoms of Asthma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and IBS
Helps with PMS and Menopausal Symptoms
Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Not only is there plenty of evidence that meditation helps lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, but the interesting side effect of this is that it is helping people get off of medication in a safe way. There is a great article from NPR that walks through how this is possible and why meditation is so healthy. This study was done on people who allocated time every day to meditate, and the results were astounding. This particular technique that was studied is called the ‘Relaxation Response’:
Increases Excitement, Energy, and Motivation
In 2017, the University of Waterloo did a study on the effects of meditation in the forms of Mindfulness Meditation and Hatha Yoga. “The study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation per day can boost the brain's executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions.” The study was performed on 31 participants and suggested that movement meditation, in particular, was helpful in boosting energy, and that both techniques increased excitement and motivation. It is also noted in the study that improved focus and attention span were results of these techniques.
University of Waterloo. "Yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 September 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906103416.htm>.
Increases Perception Abilities (acceptance, openness, compassion, etc.)
There are many meditation techniques that focus on perception abilities. These techniques are adept at increasing qualities of acceptance, openness, and compassion. One of the most popularized of these techniques is called Loving-Kindness meditation. It is amazing how participating in regular sessions of meditations geared toward developing perception can change your life for the better.
Since meditation has been shown to improve your concentration, focus, and attention span, it isn’t a far jump to realizing that this will increase productivity. Meditation improves every aspect of how we manage our attention. It also increases our Working Memory Capacity. A study on students who were planning to re-take the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) was done.
After meditating 45 minutes twice per week and with the same amount of study as the group who wasn’t meditating, their overall scores came in at 16% higher. Studies have shown that regular meditators are able to hold 30% more memory, on average, than the non-meditating person. There is a really great article on this written by Chris Bailey, the author of a book called Hyperfocus and the Productivity Project. You can read it here:
Promotes Emotional Health and Regulates Emotions
Researchers at Michigan State University have found neural evidence that Mindfulness helps control negative emotions. The study was done on 68 students who had never practiced Mindfulness Meditation before. The participants wore an EEG electrical cap so that their brain activity during meditation and after they had been meditating, when they were shown disturbing images that would surely stimulate negative emotion. The study showed that the participants who meditated beforehand recovered much more quickly from the negative stimuli.
Another technique or family of techniques, instead of focusing just on the present moment, such as in Mindfulness Meditation, focuses the meditator on positivity. In a study involving Twin Hearts Meditation, one of the many positivity techniques, a group of 90 people were tested with an ECG to view their psychophysiological responses scientifically. 30 of the participants were instructed in Mindfulness techniques, 30 were instructed in Twin Hearts Meditation, and 30 were instructed in neither, as they were the control group. The study showed that Twin Hearts Meditation amplified the positive emotional responses and dampened the negative emotional responses of the participants. This was done after only one session of meditation. Although Mindfulness Meditation is shown to dampen negative emotional responses as well, this is the case after multiple sessions. The 30 people in the control group showed no regulatory response changes.
These studies are numerous, and done on many different meditation techniques. They unanimously show that meditation of any type will help you regulate emotional responses. They also show that, depending on what you are wanting to get out of your meditative experience, you may want to choose different techniques to help with different problems.
Helps with Impulse Control
Impulse control is a difficult process to go through for many people. Most people struggle with at least a small amount of self-control and dealing with impulses. Meditation has been shown to help with that! It increases awareness of thought, feelings, and actions. Bringing attention to the present moment allows a meditator to understand more clearly what they are doing and why they are doing it in any given situation. This allows people to pause before reacting, which lessens impulsivity. This is part of why meditation is so useful for relapse therapy and other disorders that involve impulsivity.
Many different meditation techniques have you look inward. Mindfulness Meditation focuses your attention on the present moment, whatever arises in the here and now. What may arise? Feelings, Pain, Thoughts, all may show up. You are trained through mindfulness to let those things go as the moment moves along. This is an interesting way to develop self-awareness, but it works.
Mindfulness Meditation has been proven to help decrease ruminative thought, meaning that cycle of pain that a person is prone to put themselves through, worrying about cause and replaying a scenario in their head over and over. Mindfulness Meditation, as a result, is associated with allowing healing, allowing self-care, in the form of diminishing that rumination. Analytical Meditation can be helpful in determining answers to questions that need probing. Self-awareness, in any type of meditation practice, will be developed. Again, this is a case by case basis. Knowing where you need help is important, and there are different techniques for different issues you may have, but meditation can help you!
Helps Develop Positive Social Connection
Have you heard of Compassion Meditation? Loving-Kindness? These types of meditation fire neural connections to brain sites that regulate positive emotions. These emotions include empathy and kindness. These types of meditation also foster amicable and affectionate responses to social stimuli. Together with the development of self-awareness and less impulsivity, meditation has the ability to develop positive social connections overall.
Helps Manage ADD and ADHD
In a study done in 2008, research showed that the practice of Transcendental Meditation twice per day for three months showed a significant improvement in students with ADHD by way of reducing stress and anxiety.
Grosswald, S. J., Stixrud, W. R., Travis, F., & Bateh, M. A. (1). Use of the Transcendental Meditation Technique to Reduce Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by Reducing Stress and Anxiety: An Exploratory Study. Current Issues in Education, 10. Retrieved from https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/1569
Improves Ability to Work Under Stress
Reduces Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Helps with PTSD
An excerpt from the abstract of a paper concerning Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Meditation says, “PTSD is a multimodal psycho-physiological-behavioral disorder, which calls for the potential usefulness of spiritual therapy. Recent times witness a substantial scientific interest in an alternative mind-to-body psychobehavioral therapy; the exemplary of which is meditation. Meditation is a form of mental exercise that has an extensive, albeit still mostly empiric, therapeutic value. Meditation steadily gains an increasing popularity as a psychobehavioral adjunct to therapy in many areas of medicine and psychology. While the review does not provide a final or conclusive answer on the use of meditation in PTSD treatment we believe the available empirical evidence demonstrates that meditation is associated with overall reduction in PTSD symptoms, and it improves mental and somatic quality of life of PTSD patients. Therefore, studies give a clear cue for a trial of meditation-associated techniques as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy or standalone treatment in otherwise resistant cases of the disease.”
Jayatunge R.M., Pokorski M. (2018) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of Therapeutic Role of Meditation Interventions. In: Pokorski M. (eds) Respiratory Ailments in Context. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1113. Springer, Cham
Increases Empathy and Compassion
What we do, and How we Offer Meditation
Healing Solutions Inc is offering new services! We have added Brooke Rice to our staff as a Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher. Here is some information on her, her teachers, and why she loves Meditation:
I taught my first series on Meditation and Mindfulness four years ago, after graduating from Naropa University with a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies: Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. I am a Certified Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher and a Certified Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance, and am continuing my education currently in the fields of Meditation for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Sound Healing.
I love teaching, and even more, I love helping people. Teaching Meditation and Yoga is especially significant to me because of the immense changes that they have provided me in my personal development. I started a daily meditation practice six years ago, and the benefits to my mental, emotional, and physical well-being have been exponential! It takes some time, but Meditation helped me in my personal relationships with friends and family, and even helped me repair disastrous issues there. I have become a more calm and happy person in my daily life as a result of my practice. I deal with stress, no longer have anxiety attacks, and am better able to provide support to those around me as a result.
When I wake up in the morning, I know there are a few things that I will do every day, without exception, willingly and happily. My daily meditation practice is the first thing on that list. I would love to help others in the same way that my teachers have helped me. I was taught by amazing individuals who had years of experience. My first teacher, Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen, will hold a special place in my heart forever. I met him at Naropa University.
Lama Tenpa was born in Nepal and entered the monastery at the age of 13. He graduated from the Karma Shri Nalanda Institute at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India with his lifelong friend, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in 1981. He completed a 3 year retreat, and has been teaching ever since, all over the world.
My most recent teacher, who taught my certification courses, is a positive psychologist and is also a teacher at Naropa University. Dr. Ivtzan has a PhD in Psychology (Mindfulness Studies) and MSc in Counseling and Psychotherapy. He is also an honorary senior research associate at University College London. Over the past 15 years, he has run retreats, seminars, workshops, and lectures all over the world.
At Healing Solutions Inc, we are now offering the following services currently and plan to add more as we are able:
Mindful Mondays on Facebook
Free of Charge
Mondays at 9am MST on our Facebook page,
(Be sure to like our page and turn on notifications to see when this happens!)
We wanted to provide some support to our community in the form of Mindful Mondays! These Meditations are short, about 10 minutes long, and won’t take up too much time. They will provide you with some context that will hopefully help you see that there are many techniques, and you may even find one that you love! Which type of meditation is right for you? Come check out our Mindful Mondays!
Calming Chaos: Foundations of Meditation
(Course, six weeks online)
$72 per Course
This course will be available in specific six week blocks. Check our Website for further information on when this will happen next! www.HealingSolutionsInc.com
This is the first of our Meditation and Mindfulness courses at Healing Solutions Inc! This course will go through some foundational Meditation practices. During the six weeks, you will be provided with six class sessions of an hour each. These are group classes, and questions will be answered at the end of each session. We plan on creating more courses in the future, and we hope you love this one!
Individual Meditation and Mindfulness Instruction
Introductory Rates Available for your First Session! (See Website)
$54 for a 30 minute private session
$99 for a 60 minute private session
$139 for a 90 minute session
Book your Individual Meditation Instruction session on our website at www.HealingSolutionsInc.com
Individual instruction can be extremely helpful because these sessions are private and tailored especially for your individual needs. If you are working through difficult emotions, want to cultivate better habits or get rid of some bad habits, need support in learning mindfulness or meditation techniques and aren’t sure where to start, or just want to deepen your practice, this may be right for you! We have great introductory offers listed on the website. We also offer wellness plans if you would like to get a discounted rate on bi-weekly or monthly sessions.