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Yoga And Meditation

What is Meditation?

From yoga studios, to some of the world’s most successful names in finance and entertainment, it seems meditation is on everyone’s mind. Considering the wealth of scientific and anecdotal evidence that discusses the benefits of this age-old practice, such popularity is to be expected.

But, why, in this modern age of science and technology, would an ancient practice be something to consider? Why is meditation effective? And above all, what is meditation anyway?

If these questions have passed through your mind when considering the art and discipline of meditation, highlighted below is an illuminating perspective on this age-old practice, as well as an explanation of some of the common misconceptions about meditation.

Origins of Meditation


The origins of meditation lie in an age that historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists are still learning much about: prehistory. The word, “meditation” is derived from the Latin word for “to ponder,” meditatum . Nevertheless, experts agree that the origins of meditation predate most modern languages and even some ancient civilizations.

Many early traditions of this nature would have been passed on through an oral history, as was common during the early Agricultural Age. There have been archaeological findings that suggest that earlier hunter-gatherer cultures and shamanic practices included the practice of meditation. However, it wasn’t until 1500 BCE that the first recorded references to meditation were outlined in Vedic traditions that centered on balancing mind, body, and spirit.

The principles of attaining higher awareness through meditation are broad and can be found in a wide variety of cultures. In fact, it can be difficult to draw a line between what practices fall under the category of meditation and which do not. Meditation can be practiced through focus, contemplation, mindfulness, kinetic activities like dancing or walking, chanting, communion, and even through the practice of martial arts. 1

buddha statue


Meditation in the East and West


Meditation first took a prominent place on the Indian subcontinent at around the same time the Trojans were fighting the Greeks, the Babylonians were developing multiplication, and the Egyptians were completing the Valley of the Kings.

While meditation was part of the local Vedic health plan, it was not perfected until about 500 BCE, when a privileged prince renounced luxury to seek an answer to the suffering in this world. This prince became the Buddha.

The depth of structure and dimension that the Buddha has brought to the study of meditation is like an explorer mapping an ever-changing landscape and providing excellent techniques for navigating the terrain. According to Buddhist tradition, meditation is one of three practices that cultivate the great awakening of enlightenment, the other two being virtue and wisdom.

Throughout the subsequent centuries, Buddhism and the practice of meditation spread far and wide. The Silk Road that connected the Middle East to China provided a perfect conduit for these ideas as well as valuable trade goods. By 700 ACE, meditation was practiced in civilizations across Asia including Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan.

There has been much speculation as to how the practice of meditation arrived in early Christian, Islam, and Jewish traditions, which are all closely related. Some experts conclude that they arrived along the Silk Road from India and China, while others say they were adapted from pagan rituals in neighboring Egypt.

However, there is no reason to believe that meditation was not developed locally as it has been in many other cultures from the Aborigines of Australia to the Maya of Mesoamerica. After all, the equipment required is universal, a single functioning mind.

Even though the practices of meditation practiced in Eastern and Western cultures share a foundation, the focus applied to the practice is different. According to Halvor Eifring, a professor at the University of Oslo, meditation traditions in Western Cultures are focused on content, while Eastern cultures celebrate a variety of technical processes and application of the discipline. 2

Conscious meditation in Western cultures is mostly imbued with religious significance. This includes the focus on the infinite, praise in song and sometimes dance, as well as deeper contemplation of scriptural and spiritual words and texts.

In Eastern cultures, meditation is applied to a greater field of practice than religious pursuits alone. Although the religious applications are significant, mindfulness and meditation are also practiced for better health, improved focus in artistic practice, and even military training.

De-Mystifying the Practice: What Meditation is Not


The differences between the applications of meditation and mindfulness have caused much misunderstanding about what meditation really is. To better understand the practice of meditation, it’s important to separate the truth from these misconceptions.

Myth One: Meditation is Difficult


Meditation has a daunting aspect probably born from the idea that meditation is practiced by shamans, yogis, and monks with a dedication to the quest for enlightenment. This is just a stereotype, however. As with any practice or endeavor, meditation is “easier” or “more difficult” depending on the approach taken.

Experienced guidance and research into the study as well as a plan for consistent practice can allow the novice meditator to avoid some of the common difficulties that derail the curious. Most people find meditation initially difficult because concentration is generally hard to maintain and expectations for results can be distracting and cause disappointment.

Preparing an undisturbed location for meditation can help eliminate some of these distractions. Essential oils can also be used for their grounding effects and have been used alongside meditation practices for thousands of years. Taking the time to make the practice as easy and conducive to mindful awareness as possible will play a big role in cultivating it. Most importantly, never underestimate the advantages of consistency in forming lifelong habits.

Myth Two: Meditation is About Controlling the Mind


Many people confuse the concept of meditation with silencing the mind and exacting control over natural thought processes. This is not only a misconception but a recipe for disaster. It is not possible to control what is happening in the mind, but it is possible to choose where your attention goes. The magic of the exercise lies in the stillness in the thoughts that naturally enter the mind.

Thoughts of all types surface, they always do. However, these thoughts should not be judged or blocked out but accepted and allowed to pass through the awareness that returns to the silence between thoughts. Cultivation of this awareness eventually allows for greater moments of stillness where the mind is able to rest and reflect on the moment fully.

woman meditating


Myth Three: Meditation is an Escape from Reality


Leaving all philosophical, spiritual, and religious concepts aside, meditation is simply the act of turning the attention from the slew of exteriors concerns, demands and judgements. By taking the attention away from these constant motivators, it is easier to focus on the essential self that exists beyond the reach of external circumstance.

Meditation does nothing to escape the truth of reality any more than car maintenance avoids the conditions of the roads, the loads to be carried, or the distances to be traveled. However, both of these practices are important for facing future efforts with strength, endurance, and resilience.

Myth Four: Meditation is Time-Consuming


Actually, this is no myth, it does take time to meditate. However, meditation is not time-consuming—the concept of time itself is full of paradoxes. One of these is the way that those who spend more time meditating find they get more from their time than they could without the practice.

Meditation allows for improved cognitive function, reduces the occurrence of human error due to work-related exhaustion and allows for increased creativity. All these benefits have time-efficient applications. So, does meditation take time? Absolutely, but time spent sharpening your most essential tool—your brain—is not time wasted.

woman stress free while meditating


Myth Five: Meditation is Only for Spiritual or Religious Individuals


Even though meditation has played a central role in just about every major religion and represents the most important vehicle for conveying the mind to planes of higher awareness, the essential foundations of meditation are not so ambitious.

Meditation is simply about taking the mind to a place where stillness and silence can work their balancing act against the constant chatter and confusion of the outer world.

In fact, there are a range of secular applications for practicing meditation and mindfulness including for preventing relapse in substance addiction, reducing stress, improving mental function, delaying degenerative conditions, and many more.

Conclusion


With so much talk of meditation in society, it’s surprising that so many myths about meditation are still floating around and how little people know about the true purpose and history of meditation. What is clear from all of this, however, is that meditation provides a range of valuable benefits, and now that you understand the essence of meditation, from past to present, consider adding it into your daily routine.

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