sit and be calm

Meditation and relaxation


Meditation is not just daydreaming or relaxation; it works to train the conscious mind to a state of stillness and tranquillity and brings both physiological and psychological benefits. Many people feel that the Eastern or religious trappings associated with meditation mean that it is not for them. In fact, meditation takes on many forms and philosophies and no religious bias is necessary - you can take from it whatever it is you need.

Relax at home

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Primarily, it is a discipline for training your mind to a point of both deep concentration and relaxation. Its early beginnings were, of course, religious, though it would be a mistake to imagine they were only Eastern - the early Christians meditated, too.

The most common forms of meditation we know today do come from the East and have been perfected over the centuries by such religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Islamic Sufism. Within this context, the aim of meditation is to help reach a point of spiritual enlightenment. However, for many people in the West today it is basically a practical self-help technique for coping with the high levels of stress found in our daily lives.

Why meditate?

Methods of meditation may differ, but they all have in common the aim of producing a state of deep relaxation which, it is claimed, rejuvenates both mind and body. People who meditate regularly say it gives them a new zest for life, with increased energy, improved concentration and an inner peace that leads to better relationships. Sportsmen and women even claim it improves their performance.

When you see someone meditate, it looks as if very little is happening. You may notice that his or her breathing has slowed down, but otherwise he or she remains quite still, eyes closed. The work is all taking place on the inside. Most of the meditation techniques that are used these days are really concentration techniques. Their effect on the mind might be compared with the effect of exercise on the muscles of the body. They aim to tone up the capacity for memory, analysis, perception, inference, concentration, recognition and recall. By developing in these daily sessions the mind's strength and flexibility, it is able to perform much more efficiently and effectively the rest of the time. In essence, it gives you the ability to stay focused on whatever you happen to be doing.

Learning to meditate

You can learn to meditate at home on your own simply by following the basic guidelines below. There are numerous audio tapes available, too, to draw you through what is usually known as a 'guided meditation'. This may take the form of a journey or visualizing a series of images in your mind. There are also tapes that simply play meditational' music. However, unless you are meditating solely on that sound, these may prove to be more of a distraction than a help.

There have, of course, been many great teachers of meditation over the millennia. The most famous in recent times is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught the Beatles and other pop stars to meditate and attracted countless Western devotees in the 1960s. He then went on to establish his Centres of Transcendental Meditation, now found worldwide, which use the technique of a repeated word or mantra. Many people do find it much more effective to have a teacher to guide them, especially when they are first starting to learn to meditate. Having other learners around can be helpful, too, making it easier to discuss difficulties.

Is meditation for everyone? Is meditation for everyone? Generally yes, especially at this level, which is very much 'try it and see'. The only note of caution I'd add is that if you are going through a particularly difficult emotional time, you shouldn't expect an introductory meditation practice to suddenly make everything fine again.

You'll have more to work with, but it will feel harder at first. Equally, if you're suffering from serious depression, schizophrenia or other mental difficulties, take medical advice before starting meditation. It may not help you at all, or your medication may make it harder for you to do the practice.

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