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Meditation: the art of focusing your mind

We spend almost every day in the fast lane of life, facing enormous challenges like juggling finances, family, career, and relationships all at once. Ever feel like you’re running on empty?

Keeping up with such a hectic pace produces high anxiety and stress, which causes us to become disconnected, mechanical, and sometimes numb. We end up living in our heads when we were created to live from our hearts.

One solution to this is to develop or strengthen a regular yoga practice. But today, we’re diving into yoga’s sister: meditation.

Meditation is often referred to as the art of doing nothing. While it certainly is an art—in the sense that you must practice it just like you do your physical asanas—there’s a lot more going on in your body and mind than what this catchy phrase suggests.

I prefer: the art of focusing your mind. And it does take work to quiet your busy mind. But the more you practice and the more you’re able to quiet your thoughts, the more you will experience a sense of true presence – creating the mind-body connection yoga is known for.

Meditation offers a wide range of amazing benefits, including:

  • Stress and anxiety reduction
  • Enhanced self-awareness
  • Lengthened attention span
  • Reduced age-related memory loss
  • Improved sleep

There are two major styles of meditation:

  1. Focused-attention meditation: concentrates attention on a single object, thought, breathing pattern, or mantra.
  2. Open-monitoring meditation: encourages broadened awareness of all aspects of your environment, including thoughts, feelings, or impulses you might normally suppress.

The following 7 meditation styles all fall within one of these two groupings.

Transcendental: In transcendental meditation, you remain seated with your eyes closed and breathe slowly while repeating a mantra (a word or phrase) with the goal of rising above your state of being. If you choose to try this meditation style, practice twice a day for 20 minutes each session. This allows time to settle inward to a profound state of relaxation and rest.

Breath awareness: Have you ever found yourself in your driveway with no recollection of your drive home? Breath awareness meditation ensures that this does not happen while you’re practicing. The goal is to keep your mind fully focused on the present. It builds patience for your everyday life. For example, rather than reflecting on the annoyance of a traffic jam, a skilled practitioner will simply note the delay without judgment.

Zazen sit: Similar to breath awareness meditation, the zazen sit style focuses on sitting in concentration while counting each breath. When zazen is deeply integrated, you should not feel that each part of your body is separate from the others—you should feel a sense of wholeness.

Walking meditation: This style will improve your cardiovascular health, boost your energy, stabilize your mood, and help you embrace the present. Begin by walking at a normal pace, tuning into your natural breath and noticing what it’s like. Then, refine your breath so it’s nasally and free of irregularities. Coordinate your breath so that you’re inhaling for four steps, then exhaling for another four. These should be short puffs of air. Continue for five minutes, then walk and breathe normally for three before repeating.

Guided meditation: For this meditation form, you don’t need any prior experience or knowledge; you’re simply required to listen to an instructor (a real person or via headphones). The goal is to form mental pictures based on situations and experiences you find relaxing. Use as many senses as possible—smell, sound, and texture—to evoke calmness.

Devotional or mantra chant: In this meditation style, you’ll chant a mantra (a sound like “om”) to keep your mind busy while you focus on breathing. This is a powerful and effective method because of the vibratory effects of the sounds that stimulate your body.

Yoga nidra: Also known as progressive relaxation or body scan meditation, the goal is to move through your body noticing areas of tension—then releasing that tension. You’ll start at one end of your body (usually your feet) and work all the way to the other end. You might envision a wave drifting slowly over your body. Because this meditation style slowly and steadily relaxes your body, many people use this to help them fall asleep.

As you can see, there are many different styles of meditation to choose from. I encourage you to give a few of these a try, while keeping a journal or log on your reflections about each type. You can truly practice meditation anywhere – from a quiet corner of your home to a crowded grocery store! So what’s stopping you?

photo courtesy of Shannon Austin