How to meditate – What is meditation and how do you do it?
Meditation is a human behavior that has thousands of years of knowledge and tradition behind it, today it is practiced in many different cultural and spiritual contexts. As such it has developed into different forms and is used for many reasons. By comparison, modern ideas about how to meditate using methods like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), secular Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) or Compassionate Meditation (CM) are in their infancy. What reliable traditional and modern methods have in common is their ability to bring benefit to the people that practice them. It is generally accepted that meditation can support subtle changes in the way we engage with our own thought processes, this alone can help to reduce stress and levels of anxiety and depression. There is evidence to suggest that meditation carried out regularly over time can have a relationship to neurological changes leading to more permanent and sustainable increases in happiness and well being.
“One study indicated that regular meditators have brain ages seven years younger than non-meditators”
However it should be noted that despite decades of scientific research into meditation and mindfulness there are few longitudinal studies able to reliably assess the long term impact of contemporary meditation methods. Therefore one of the most useful ways to evaluate the long term value of meditation is to look to people that have been meditating for a long time.
The current Oxford English Dictionary described (at the time of writing) the verb to meditate as:
“focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.”
This definition is an over-generalisation and misses several of the key issues relevant to many important meditation methods. There is a problem with understanding meditation more generally in modern society, and this can be reflected in attempts to explain meditation in a sentence or sound bite. Some recent meditation methods have become composite practices and contain elements of traditional systems combined with modern psychological innovations. This has led to a degree of confusion in descriptions of how to meditate, both in practical application and research.
There is no complete catalogue of all available meditation methods, and among the hundreds that are known, great variation is present. Perhaps a useful metaphor for meditation is to think of the term exercise. Walking a dog, professional boxing and playing table tennis are all ‘exercise’, however the benefit they might bring to their practitioners are quite different. So how you are taught, what training you do and your level of motivation are all likely to impact on the result of your exercise, so to with your meditation.
Meditation information and advice, how to meditate
In most cases meditation systems are accessible to beginners and can be undertaken with basic instruction. Typically there is a need for clear guidance and advice in the first stages of training. Traditionally meditation could be practiced together with a teacher or more experienced student for several years. In every instance a meditation student will reach a stage where they meditate alone, at least part of the time. This is an important point to stress, meditation is essentially an experiential practice and thus requires the meditator to engage personally with the method.
Specific advice is dependent on the form of meditation you want to undertake, your own capacity for meditation and also the meditation goals you might have. In the first instance carry out some research into what it is you want to do then which method might be right for you. As a starting point read advice from experts in the field. You may also be interested in learning how to meditate using Brain Renewal Meditation, mindfulness meditation, breathing meditation and mantra meditation.
If you have a question try our Meditation FAQ page, if you don’t find an answer there access the meditation links for more information. If you’re still unsure feel free to contact us, it should be pointed out that only general advice can be offered via email. We share our own library of meditation books with our students. The breadth of the material available underlines how widespread and flexible the practice of meditation is. In addition to our own resources we have access to current scientific research across contemplative science (meditation, contemplation and mindfulness). As well as being abreast of developments in meditation and related areas of both psychology and neuroscience we also contribute to research and scientific discussions.