Meditation is a practice that involves focusing the mind on a specific object, thought, or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. I thought earlier that meditation means concentrating on breathing only. Another myth I had developed that it is thoughtlessness. The practice has its roots in Eastern spiritual and religious traditions, but it has also been adopted as a secular practice. Meditation can take many forms, such as mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, loving-kindness meditation, and many others. The goal of meditation is to increase self-awareness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, and promote overall well-being. It can be practiced in different ways, alone or in a group, seated or walking, and can take from a few minutes to hours.
The duration of meditation can vary greatly depending on an individual’s goals, preferences, and schedule. Some people may find that they can only spare a few minutes a day for meditation, while others may choose to set aside an hour or more.
The length of time that one chooses to meditate is less important than the quality of the practice.
However, as general guidance, it is derived that one should meditate for several minutes compared to the age in years. For instance, if you are 39 years old you should meditate for 39 minutes.
There are certain myths which are prevailing among people who approached to practice meditation. Let us see some of them.
Myth 1: Meditation is only for religious or spiritual people.
This is not true. While meditation has roots in various religious and spiritual traditions, it is also a secular practice that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs. Numerous advantages of meditation can be experienced by anyone who takes the time to practice it. There are many different types of meditation, some of which have no spiritual or religious connotations at all, such as mindfulness meditation or guided imagery. I have seen many people meditating but have never seen a temple or mosque.
Myth 2: Meditation is difficult and requires years of practice.
It is a wrong idea. While meditation can take some time to get used to and may require some effort to quiet the mind, it is not necessarily difficult. With practice, it can become easier to focus on the present moment and let go of distracting thoughts. There are many different types of meditation, some of which are simpler and more accessible for beginners, such as breath awareness meditation or loving-kindness meditation. Different individuals use the method that they feel more comfortable and accessible and then gradually progress to more advanced techniques. One may master the skills in a few weeks, or one may not at all learn even after a few months or years.
Myth 3: Meditation is only for relaxation and stress relief.
This is a false impression. While meditation can be a great tool for relaxation and stress relief, it also offers many other benefits. For example, it can improve focus and concentration, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and heart rate, decrease chronic pain and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Meditation has been shown to enhance creativity and emotional intelligence and even increase Gray matter in the brain.
What is Gray Matter?
Since I have written a book on the brain i.e. “Rewire Your Brain” I am much interested to clarify Gray Matter.
Gray matter is a type of brain tissue that is composed of nerve cells (neurons) and their supporting cells (glial cells). Gray matter is primarily found in the cerebral cortex, which is the outermost layer of the brain, and in certain other areas such as the brainstem and cerebellum. Gray matter is called Gray because it has a Gay color in fresh brain tissue, as opposed to the white color of the myelinated nerve fibers which make up the white matter.
Gray matter plays a key role in processing information in the brain. It contains the cell bodies of neurons, as well as dendrites that receive input from other neurons. Gray matter also contains synapses, where neurons communicate with each other. Gray matter is associated with functions such as memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control.
Studies have shown that meditation can lead to changes in gray matter in certain areas of the brain. For example, studies have found increased gray matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, and stress regulation in individuals who meditate regularly.
Myth 4: Meditation can lead to loss of control or a loss of sense of self.
This is not true. Meditation is a practice of self-awareness and self-reflection, not self-erasure. While during meditation one may experience temporary loss of thoughts or sense of self, it’s not a loss of control. With practice, meditation can help to increase self-awareness and improve the ability to regulate emotions and thoughts, rather than losing control of them. Additionally, meditation can increase feelings of self-compassion and self-acceptance, rather than leading to a loss of sense of self.
Myth 5: Meditation will lead to a complete emptying of the mind.
This is not true. Meditation is not about emptying the mind, but rather about training the mind to focus and be more present. During meditation, it’s normal for thoughts to arise, but it’s not possible to stop them completely. Meditation is about learning to observe thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them or identifying with them. The goal is to develop the ability to be more aware of the present moment and to be less reactive to thoughts and emotions. With practice, it’s possible to learn to focus the mind more effectively and to have fewer distracting thoughts, but complete emptiness of the mind is not the goal.
Myth 6: Meditation is only for adults and not suitable for children.
This is not true. Meditation can be beneficial for people of all ages, including children. Children can similarly benefit from meditation as adults, by reducing stress and anxiety, improving focus and concentration, and promoting overall well-being. Additionally, meditation can be a helpful tool for children to learn how to manage emotions, reduce impulsivity and improve self-regulation. It can also be taught in a way that’s appropriate for children, using age-appropriate techniques and language.
From a biological point of view, aging is a gradual and ongoing process that starts at a cellular level. As people get older, their cells begin to lose their ability to divide and repair themselves, leading to a decline in physical and mental function over time. It’s not accurate to say that aging starts in old age only, but it’s important to understand that we should take care of ourselves and our health from early on to prevent some diseases related to mental and emotional health.
Myth 7: Meditation is not scientifically proven to have any benefits.
This is not true. Meditation has been extensively researched and there is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports its benefits. Studies have shown that meditation cannot only improve physical and mental health, reduce stress and but also improves focus and concentration and promote overall well-being. Certain MRI scans have shown that regular meditation can lead to changes in brain structure and function.
Zoran Josipovic, a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University, says he has been peering into the brains of monks while they meditate in an attempt to understand how their brains reorganize themselves during the exercise.
Since 2008, the researcher has been placing the minds and bodies of prominent Buddhist figures into a five-tonne (5,000kg) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.
The scanner tracks blood flow within the monks’ heads as they meditate inside its clunky walls, which echoes a musical rhythm when the machine is operating.
Dr. Josipovic, who also moonlights as a Buddhist monk, says he is hoping to find how some meditators achieve a state of “nonduality” or “oneness” with the world, a unifying consciousness between a person and their environment.
I have gained a lot from meditation practices in the last few years and it has become clear to me that meditation has many scientifically proven benefits. It’s important to note that meditation is a practice and benefits can accumulate over time. It’s recommended to start with small amounts of time and gradually increase it. It’s also important to find a comfortable place and time and to remember that the goal is not to clear the mind completely but rather to focus on the present moment and be less reactive to thoughts and emotions.
Meditation can be a powerful tool for overall well-being, and it’s worth giving it a try.