By Deborah Lambeth

Meditation is growing in popularity in an ever-increasing busy society, and carving out the time to consciously meditate is important. Some people think of meditation as very similar to the practice of prayer. However, prayer emphasizes communication with a higher being, and meditation is more self-focused.

Studies show that people who meditate have decreased respiratory rate, increased blood flow, and slower heart rate. Thus, meditation is good for people with high blood pressure. Meditation also reduces anxiety attacks and decreases muscle tension resulting from muscle pain and headaches. In addition, meditation builds self-confidence. Yoga and meditation techniques are being used now by holistic practitioners for treating serious illnesses, as well as in reversing mental illness. Various types of meditation are also being used in educational programs in the management of lifestyle, future world problems, and in mathematics and the sciences.

Meditation has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in the body. Decreased levels of serotonin are connected with obesity, headaches, depression, and sleeplessness. In addition, the practice of meditation has been shown to strengthen the immune system, and reduce the propensity toward viral infections and emotional issues.

How does one meditate? First and foremost, a quiet place is essential to free a person's mind from all that is "clouding" it, so that a meditative state can be achieved. There are many cultural and religious approaches to meditation. However, most of them have as their general tenets these components:
  • Being in a state where the mind is quiet and free of all thoughts.
  • Being in a state where a person is focused on the present moment.
  • Being in a state where the attention is drawn away from those things causing anxiety, and focusing on God or another significant higher power.
  • Being in a state where the mind is focused on a single object.
In addition to these guidelines, many techniques of meditation employ different postures and physical stances. For example, using a seated posture technique, a person sits on a bench, chair, stool, etc. with their back straight, and rests their hands on their knees or the arms of a chair. A cross-legged posture is where a person crosses legs while seated on the floor (and on a cushion, if it is more comfortable). The person sits upright, back straight, and with their head and spine in alignment. Hands may rest in any position.

In the kneeling posture a person kneels on the floor with their knees together, with the hips resting on their heels, and toes almost touching. The back should be straight, head and spine in alignment, and hands on the thighs. One of the less recommended postures is the lying down posture, because it mimics a sleeping posture, and the person meditating is likely to fall asleep. Whatever posture one chooses, it needs to be relaxing and not one where there is distraction because of being uncomfortable.

As mentioned, there are many benefits to meditation. This discovery involves removing false layers of identity and realizing, "I am not this person, and I am not that person," but a new realization that yes, this is who I am and I am comfortable with the "me" that I am. This is the goal of meditation is to be comfortable and happy with your identity.