Meditation cultivates consciousness by calming the mind, which helps us gain control of our own health and happiness.
In Rig Veda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism, sages pray for binding the mind with inner reflection, ‘Invigorate our meditations, invigorate our insights.’ To them, the ultimate purpose of mediation was to ‘manifest the sun’; the sun being a symbol of higher consciousness. The Vedic meditators focused on the in-and-out cycle of breathing.
The ancient Buddhist texts speak of mindfulness – training the mind to focus on the present moment without emotionally reacting to it and without thinking about what happened earlier or what’s to come – as the path towards inner reflection to know yourself better. Mediation is an essential means to achieving mindfulness, but we can work or learn mindfully.
Decades of research shows multitude of benefits for both body and mind in meditation and mindfulness.
In our brains, a large mass of grey matter called thalamus acts as the gatekeeper by relaying sensory information. It focuses our attention by funnelling data into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Brain scans during meditation show that the flowing of incoming information in the thalamus reduces to a trickle. This is a sign that meditation has not shut off the brain but rather it has blocked information from coming into the part of the brain responsible for processing it.
Brain imaging of long-term meditators also shows an increase in volume of brain tissues in the prefrontal cortex, the ‘decision-making’ region of the brain, and decrease in the volume of amygdala, the region of the brain involved in fear processing. These changes not only reduce chronic pain but also psychological stress.
A meditating mind is opposite of a wandering mind. During meditation we try to train our neurons to direct activity in the concentration oriented area of the brain. In other words, we train our minds to get used to learn to be totally aware of the moment. How can you train your mind to strike a balance between awareness and distraction so that you have control over attention? Simply by meditating daily.
Try this simple technique which begins by focusing on your breath. You do not have to sit cross-legged on the floor. Just sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Keep your back straight and body relaxed. Close your eyes. Take in a slow deep breath. Pause for a few seconds then breathe out gently. Observe the entire course of your breathing and let it settle to its natural flow. Focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your lungs. Thoughts will come and go. Do not force your attention to breathing. Quietly return to it. If you hear a noise, just listen to it rather than thinking about it. The idea is to pay attention to sensory experience; not to think about it. The goal of any type of mediation is getting used to not thinking.
Meditation should last at least 10 minutes. Try it twice a day, if possible. After a few sessions, you will start noticing the calming effect on your mind.
© Surendra Verma 2015