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What Is Meditation and Does it Work?

Young latin woman practicing meditation indoors
Luna Vandoorne/Shutterstock

Meditation doesn’t have to feel like some new age fad. It’s a way to find more peace and relaxation in your life. Yes, there might be additional health benefits, but even if it just brings a little peace of mind, what’s wrong with that?

What Is Meditation?

What do you do when you’re stressed? Do you get frustrated and break things or do you take some time to reflect and sit in silence? If you’re the “reflecting” type, you already have some experience with meditation.

At its most basic, meditation is a means of focusing your attention to allow relaxation and mindfulness. Whether or not meditating works for you depends on how much you put into it.

Meditation is a technique (or a series of techniques) that has been around for centuries and spanned many cultures. It doesn’t have to be religious, although it is used for religious purposes. Meditation is therapeutic, and it’s something you can do on your own, from home, sitting at your desk, in your car, or wherever you find yourself in need of a quiet and calm moment.

How to Meditate?

man meditating at desk
fizked/Shutterstock

There are a bunch of technical terms when it comes to what your brain does while you prepare to meditate, but those don’t matter to the layman. The idea of meditating is about relaxation and experiencing less stress and more positivity in your life. It’s not about taking a science or anatomy lesson.

To meditate, find a place to sit comfortably and either close your eyes or find something to focus on, like a candle flame. Focus on your breathing—breathwork is the catalyst for meditation. Relax your shoulders and let go of the tension in your body (depending on the meditation you’re doing, you may find more relaxation as you go along).

By focusing on the candle flame or your breathing, you work to keep your mind from wandering to the thoughts that bring stress to your life. You can meditate in silence, listen to relaxing music, or you can listen to a guided meditation that walks you through the steps to achieve whatever you want with your meditation time (like lowered blood pressure, helping with sleep, or overall anxiety relief).

A little more about the types of meditation:

  • Breath Awareness: This is pretty much the primary form of meditation. You can do this in silence while focusing on your breathing. Guided meditations often use this type of meditation, in combination with mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness: This form of meditation is a little different than what you’d think of as meditation. For mindfulness practice, you need to be aware of the present moment. You don’t clear your mind; instead, you focus on the moment that is happening now. Mindfulness is something you can practice at any time.
  • Transcendental: This form of meditation uses breathing to transcend to a different state of being.
  • Kundalini: Kundalini combines meditation with mantras and mudras (hand positions) and uses yoga as well.
  • Body Scan: Body scan, or progressive relaxation, is also sometimes combined with breathwork. Guided meditations often walk people through this type of practice, which requires you to “scan” your body for points of tension. The best way to use body scan is to start with your feet and move up, flexing (or tightening) and then releasing your muscles.
  • Metta: This is also known as loving-kindness meditation. It’s a type of practice that helps you open yourself up to being kind to all and more loving as a person.
  • Zen: This is the form of meditation practiced in Buddhism.

No matter what kind of meditation you decide to practice, you need to do it consistently for the best effects. Even if you have five minutes available a day to spare, do it. Wake up a few minutes early in the morning if that’s the only time you can get some peace.

Does Meditation Work?

Some people swear by meditation; some find no benefits from it. When it comes to meditation, a lot of the success comes from mind over matter. If you believe it works, much like a placebo pill, it may work for you.

It also depends on what type of meditation you use. You might try breath awareness alone and find it doesn’t work, but doing a guided meditation with breathwork may help you stress less daily and find better health and more positivity.

Science isn’t sure how (or even if) meditation provides health benefits beyond relaxation, or if it really does anything for the brain and the body. However, if you try it and it seems to make your life better, why not keep doing it? It won’t do any harm, and it doesn’t need to cost you a penny.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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