Meditation 101: Understanding the Mind

If you’re trying to begin a regular meditation practice, it can be helpful to understand why meditation works to calm the mind, soothe the spirit, and improve physical wellbeing.

Brain Waves

The main reason that meditation is so effective at creating a state of calm in your life is due to the activity in your brain during focused meditation. The brain has five distinct types of brain waves:

  • Gamma State: Hyperactivity and active learning
  • Beta State: Working mind/thinking mind – we spend most of our day in this state
  • Alpha State: Calm, peaceful, grounded
  • Theta State: Deeper state of awareness, this is where your mind sits during a meditation practice
  • Delta State: Tibetan monks can reach this state during meditation, but most of us experience it only during deep sleep

Meditation works to shift your brain activity towards lower frequency brain waves, which means your brain activity is slowed down and you have more time between thoughts, which means you have a greater awareness of your thoughts and greater control over which thoughts you invest in. This awareness is key in moderating your inner thoughts and your reactions to them.

How to Meditate

Although there are special meditation cushions and pillows available for purchase, you don’t need any special equipment to meditate, just yourself and the willingness to learn a new skill.

Here are five steps to starting a meditation practice, adapted from Leo Babauta’s Meditation Guide at Zen Habits.

1. First, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. It helps if you wear loose clothing that won’t bind, dig in, or restrict your body at all. A quiet place may help you focus, especially as a beginner.

2. Sit cross-legged or lie down in a neutral position (on your back with your arms at your sides).

3. Start to bring your awareness to your breath. Don’t change your breathing, just notice it. Notice what parts of your body move as you breathe, anywhere you’re holding tension in your body, and how your breath feels as you continue to inhale and exhale.

4. Continue breathing. Some find that it’s easier to maintain focus if you count your breaths – “one” as you breathe in, “two” as you breathe out, and so on. Start over each time you reach ten.

5. As you sit, your mind will want to wander. This is normal! Our minds like to be busy and we’re used to constant distraction and stimulation. It can be really hard to simply sit with our thoughts and not try to avoid them, indulge them, or follow them. But this is your goal! Simply count your breaths. In and out.  In and out.

When you noticed that your mind has wandered away from your breath, just smile and bring it back. Do this as many times as necessary.

Start Small

In the beginning, aim to meditate for just 2 minutes before bed. This seems like a short length of time (and it is!) but it can also feel like an eternity when you’re trying to calm a wild and easily distracted mind. It’s important, to begin with small, easily achievable goals in order to establish a solid habit.

As you progress, add a minute or two to your meditations each week, until you reach ten minutes at a time. Stay tuned for more meditation tips!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *