Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. But many meditation techniques exist — so how do you learn how to meditate?
“In the Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing,” University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., told The New York Times. And different meditation practices require different mental skills.
It’s extremely difficult for a beginner to sit for hours and think of nothing or have an “empty mind.” We have some tools such as a beginner meditation DVD or a brain-sensing headband to help you through this process when you are starting. In general, the easiest way to begin meditating is by focusing on the breath — an example of one of the most common approaches to meditation: concentration.
If relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is often a result. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response” after researching people who practiced transcendental meditation. The relaxation response, in Benson’s words, is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”
Since then, studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:
Lower blood pressure
Improved blood circulation
Lower heart rate
Slower respiratory rate
Lower blood cortisol levels
More feelings of well-being