What is meditation?
Meditation isn't a question of performance or perfection, but a form of mental training used to find inner peace and achieve a state of well-being. There are various forms of meditative practices. They can have a religious background or a connection to spirituality, or they can simply be mental training and breath training unconnected to any form of spirituality. Be it mantra, vipassana, zazen, consciousness, yoga or tai chi meditation – the important thing is to find the appropriate form for the goal you wish to achieve.
The various techniques are based on breathing and repetition exercises with vocal tones and/or the observation of thought processes in order to focus your attention and promote a state of self-awareness and inner peace. An overview of a few practices:
Vipassana or mindfulness meditation
In mindfulness meditation, all your attention is drawn to the present moment, to perceptions, your own breath, your own thoughts, all without judgement.
In mantra meditation, a word or sentence is repeated throughout the meditation.
Zazen or zen meditation
This corresponds to Buddha’s sitting meditation and consists of devoting your attention entirely to your posture, breathing and the emergence and disappearance of thoughts. Posture plays an important role in this meditation.
Guided meditation for everyday
Use meditation to ease into a state of relaxation and leave the tension of your daily life behind. Short, guided meditations make it easier to get started and are easy to build into your daily routine.
Where does meditation come from?
Originally, meditatio in Latin stood for reflection and dhyana in Sanskrit for attention and contemplation. Dating back over 3,000 years, meditation stands at the heart of numerous spiritual and religious practices such as Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga and – what’s often forgotten – Christianity. While meditation in the West was mostly associated with religion, in the East it was also developed as a way of developing consciousness and improving health. Ancient texts show that meditation also formed part of medical procedures. From the 1970s, the practice of meditation in the West became secularised and ever more popular.
Effects of meditation
Meditation has a subjective effect on stress, emotions and general well-being. These benefits can even be physiologically measured. Indeed, over the last 40 years, research in neuroscience has seen growing results in this field. It is now scientifically recognised that meditation can be used as a therapeutic means and method of leading a healthier life. Studies have shown, for example, that meditation and mindfulness have a positive impact on immune response, mental health, chronic pain and sleep.
What happens during a meditation?
But what exactly is going on in our bodies and brains when we meditate? Recent research suggests that the mental activity involved in meditation facilitates neuroplasticity – i.e. the ability of neurons to change and reshape themselves – and improves the connectivity in brain regions associated with emotions, attention regulation and the learning and memory processes.
In the short term, meditation can reduce oxygen consumption, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood lactate levels. Meditation also reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. This means that the system that puts us on alert when we feel danger or fear and speeds up the metabolism is wound down by the effects of meditation, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. This not only leads to relaxation, but to other benefits including improved digestion. All in all, body and mind are transported to a state of well-being and relaxation.
Research has also shown that the brain dynamics of people who have been meditating for years differ from those who haven't. This means that meditation changes the way in which they perceive and process stimuli. In concrete terms, regular meditation helps reduce conditioned behaviours in response to certain stimuli. Changes were also observed in their brain structure. Among other things, those areas of the brain understood to be the centre of attention and emotions were larger. In addition, there was more grey matter in the brain regions used for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation and empathy.
Meditation for inner peace & good sleep
We have learnt that meditation helps us regulate body and mind. This enables us to better deal with emotions like sadness, stress and anger, for example. Meditation techniques also help many people find out what does them good, what they really want or what stresses them the most. Or they use them simply to fall asleep better. These methods therefore allow us to strengthen our own resources, get a different or perhaps more objective view of events and also take a step back sometimes. That's why meditation or another form of mindfulness training – like breathing exercises, for example – is certainly worth a try.