By Jenny Park
Although the history of meditation dates back to ancient Vedic texts, it grew in Asia, was cultivated by priests, became part of western counterculture, and the Beatles introduced the healing art to the western public in the 1960s. In the decades that followed, the once-mysterious practice became the target of scientific research and slowly penetrated mainstream western culture. Accepted today in many hospitals and churches, meditation has evolved into a variety of styles that encompass everything from its Transcendental roots to contemporary contemplative prayer.
For Yogis, the path seems obvious. Not only is meditation one of the eight limbs of Yoga, but postures and breathing also prepare the body for meditation. Those who choose other paths will find a wide range of contemporary options. While purists sometimes contend that contemporary techniques water down the authentic practice, clinical studies show benefits to physical, emotional, and mental health.
Five Meditation Facts for Beginners
• Searching for a meditation practice is like any other endeavor in life. It requires scrutiny and experimentation. Don’t give up until you find the one that works for you.
• Be wary of teachers or programs that charge excessive amounts of money or insist their way is the only way. There are many reasonably priced programs, and there is no “one” path. If you choose, you can teach yourself.
• Meditation can consist of physical practices, such as qigong or Yoga; but it can also involve any introspective and repetitive action, such as walking, painting or playing a musical instrument.
• While meditation is called by different names, the goals of any form meditation are the same: union with the divine, self-realization, enlightenment or nirvana.
• Meditation needs to be consistent, but short sessions help to avoid discouragement and feelings of failure in the beginning. Do not give up because you miss a day or have trouble focusing during a session.
Many Yoga classes end with brief meditations, making them good alternatives for beginners. Other preferences include guided meditations; music with binaural beats; focusing on mantras or objects, such as a candle flame; and concentrating on the breath.
If you have experienced what psychologists call “flow,” chances are you have already been in a meditative state. The simple act of practicing mindfulness – living in the present moment while feeling compassion or forgiving – is an essential practice that brings peace in the midst of daily life and is available to all.
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