Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.
The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force (qi, ki, prana, etc.) and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.
The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs.
Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way. Meditation is often used to clear the mind and ease many health concerns, such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. It may be done sitting, or in an active way—for instance, Buddhist monks involve awareness in their day-to-day activities as a form of mind-training. Prayer beads or other ritual objects are commonly used during meditation in order to keep track of or remind the practitioner about some aspect of the training.
Meditation may involve generating an emotional state for the purpose of analyzing that state—such as anger, hatred, etc.—or cultivating a particular mental response to various phenomena, such as compassion. The term “meditation” can refer to the state itself, as well as to practices or techniques employed to cultivate the state.
Meditation may also involve repeating a mantra and closing the eyes. The mantra is chosen based on its suitability to the individual meditator. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness inward until pure awareness is achieved, described as “being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself.” In brief, there are dozens of specific styles of meditation practice, and many different types of activity commonly referred to as meditative practices.
Your state of mind is closely linked to the many physiological processes going on in your body. In fact, your entire meditation experience can alter depending on where your breathing is focused.
focusing on the breath in your nose or in your belly during meditation will result in two distinct mental states. Researchers found that belly breathers tend to feel more in touch with their somatic—or bodily—sensations, while nose breathers tend to be more aware of how their attention ‘feels.’
For the study, researchers randomly assigned student participants into two meditation groups: one group focused on nose breathing, and the other group focused on belly breathing. The participants were asked to document their experiences in a journal immediately after meditation.
Two independent coders were also asked to create an analysis of these journal entries. When a self-reported personal experience is coded, it is called grounded theory methodology—this is a research method that works in ‘reverse.’ For example, instead of beginning with a hypothesis, the first step is data collection, and then the key points are marked with a series of codes. The codes are then grouped into similar concepts and then further grouped into categories. This allows a hypothesis to be made.
When asked to describe their meditation experience, participants who focused on belly breathing referred more to specific somatic areas and bodily sensations. In contrast, those who focused on nose breathing tended to describe their state of mind and how their attention ‘felt’ during their awareness.
Based on the journal entries, the researchers believe that the belly breathers may have developed an ongoing, resting-state connectivity across different parts of the insula—the part of the brain that involves intuitive, bodily sensations and plays a role in the emotional aspects of ‘gut feelings.’
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of meditation, and it is typically used as the object of concentration. As you focus on your breath, you become more aware of your mind’s tendency to jump around to different thoughts. Whether your awareness is on your nose or your belly, focusing on the breath is a gentle discipline that puts you in the present moment and helps to develop mindfulness.
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