In recent years more and more people have been looking to meditation for various reasons. For some it is a practice to calm the mind and reduce stress, for others it is a spiritual practice that allows them to feel a higher purpose in life. The physical sciences and Western medical researchers have also found many benefits for the body. Studies have demonstrated that meditation can improve the immune system, balance hormones and regulate blood pressure. Since there are many psychological and physical benefits of meditation it is worth considering adding it to your life. Meditations role in having greater health and happiness cannot not be overstated, and having some kind of meditation practice is a key to both physical and psychological health.
While many of us may think of meditation as sitting quietly and/or watching our breath, my goal here is to create a broad outline of various meditation practices that can assist you in finding the right practice that best serves your unique needs and desires. Meditation can include many things that we don't normally think of as meditation, such as dance, exercise and sports, as these kinds of activities can induce meditative states of mind. In fact, many meditations involve moving the body, and moving meditations are a great place for beginners to start. This is not to say that any sports or exercise will induce a meditative state, for a sport or exercise to be classified as a meditation a high degree of concentration and focus is required. While it is possible to enter a meditative state through activities like running, swimming or playing basketball, it is also possible, and even likely, that most people that have been doing these sports for years, will have never reached a true meditative state.
Meditation therefore requires a specific type of concentration that is combined with movement, body awareness, breathing or any number of other activities that lend themselves towards cultivating a meditative state of mind. In the more rarefied states of meditation activity ceases and allows for expanded states of consciousness characterized by great peace, inner silence and even rapture.
Often when I talk to people about meditation I hear people say that their meditation is swimming or some other kind of exercise, taking walks in nature, or laying in bed in the morning. While these activities are conducive to relaxation and may quiet the mind, they are not necessarily a deliberate meditative activity that gives the full benefits of a more traditional kind of meditation practice. For our purposes meditation is a deliberate act of concentration and contemplation done in a way to produce a heightened state of awareness.