Knowing the Benefits of Meditation

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When many people hear the word "meditate," they think of a man in a loincloth with a serene look on his face sitting cross-legged on top of a mountain. Meditation, however, isn't nearly as esoteric as people think. It doesn't require years of study or mystical knowledge from on high; all it takes is practice.

Meditation is a spontaneous flow of consciousness when all the conditions are just right. It's about listening inwardly with a quiet mind for the wisdom and guidance of a more expansive and unlimited mind.

All the arts of relaxation — breath control, contemplation, prayer, affirmation, repetition of a mantra, and visualization — are different, but they all direct you toward self-realization and a deep meditative state. Different systems of thought and traditions vary in their meditation techniques, but they all have the same goal: to reach the point of stillness, quiet, and communion with the essence of your being.

With meditation, you discover how to quiet your mind and increase your level of energy and enjoyment of life. You experience the natural joy of being in meditation, and you establish a greater confidence and a higher understanding. Meditation can deliver deep inner peace; increase your mental stamina; improve your memory; enlarge your multitasking abilities; and teach you to organize your internal awareness and concentration.

You can practice different forms of meditation:

i Mantra meditation: You focus your attention on a repeated word, thought, or sound.

i Metta or loving kindness meditation: You practice acts of generosity or loving kindness toward others.

i Stair-step meditation (or modified progressive relaxation): You focus on different areas of your body with the aim of relaxing those areas one at a time.

i Mindfulness: You observe whatever goes through your mind without judging or analyzing it. (Some yoga practitioners don't consider this a true form of meditation, but rather a practice or deeper step toward meditation.)

Meditation as a garden

Here's one useful way to consider meditation: Imagine your mind as a garden. In a garden, you want only the plants that you plant yourself — vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees — to grow, but at every opportunity, weeds spring up to choke off your plants. Those weeds are like the chatter that goes on in most people's heads most of the time. Consider all the urgent thoughts, distractions, and mind-chatter that go through your head in a single day. The average person thinks 60,000 thoughts each day, and as much as 80 percent of these thoughts are repetitive. You thought them yesterday, and unless you begin to change your thought habits, you'll think them again tomorrow and the day after that. Unless you train your mind, this chatter will go on year after year.

Meditation practice is how you train your mind. It can quiet or silence some of your thoughts in order to keep the weeds from growing out of control. Meditation is a way to nurture the plants in the garden that you want to grow by bringing you into the present and letting you focus on your inner domain. As a gardener cultivates a garden, meditation cultivates the essential things inside you that really matter. The goal of meditation is to be in the moment as it unfolds and connect to the state, or fruit, of your being.

Cooling Down: Ending Your Workout with Meditation

In each of the workout chapters in this book, we ask you to meditate whenever you complete a yoga-with-weights workout. Meditation is an excellent way to cool down after you exercise. It rests your body and mind, and it serves as a soothing and supportive transition between your workout and the next activity you want to engage in. This section introduces some useful meditation techniques and the proper way to end your meditation session so you can move on with your day.

If you want to explore meditation further, we recommend Yoga For Dummies, by Georg Feuerstein and Larry Payne (Wiley), and Meditation For Dummies, by Stephan Bodian and Dean Ornish (Wiley).

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