Demystifying Meditation: Six Ways to Free Your Mind

woman practicing meditationAn ancient practice stemming from many traditions, meditation has recently gained attention because science suggests that we can alter our brain chemistry by practicing regularly.

Many people are interested in meditating, but wonder if they can do it. How many times have you sat down and tried to just “empty” your mind, only to feel you couldn’t focus, and then quit, thinking you’re just not able to do it?

When people try to meditate, this is often what they do. But meditation is an advanced skill, one that comes with a lot of practice—and even so, it’s not for everyone. Its purpose is to achieve a quieting of the mind, and there are many methods, some of which may be more accessible to you and your particular personality. Before considering some of these methods, set yourself up for success by doing some groundwork:

  • Identify your expectations of the practice and yourself, and be willing to “let go of the fruits of your labors.” In others words, focus more on the process than on the outcome or you will likely be disappointed.
  • Be willing to try something for 30 days or so before giving up. It takes time to get something into a routine; five minutes a day at the same general time for a month will be more effective to start than trying to force yourself to find 45 minutes here and there.
  • Seek a mentor, group, or retreat so that you can get feedback and share your experiences. Otherwise, you are likely to practice to your own neuroses and feel stale or even stuck.

According to Robert Butera, whose book Meditation for Your Life: Creating a Plan that Suits Your Style I am mostly drawing from, the many types of meditation can be reduced to six categories, which I’ll review briefly.

  1. Breath: Focus your attention on the sensations of breath—counting breaths, etc. This is a great way of stilling the monkey mind.
  2. Visualization/affirmation: Choose an image or series of images to focus on. Or you can sculpt an affirmation and repeat it aloud or silently. This category also includes loving-kindness meditation, a unique and beautiful practice.
  3. Mantra: Repeat a meaningful syllable, word, or phrase over and over. This can be soothing or even boring, depending on the person. It can also be vocalized or repeated internally.
  4. Devotion, prayer, and intentionality: This can be exemplified in many ways, but includes prayer to a higher power or to any other inspiring form, such as nature.
  5. Mindfulness: Allow the mind to be where it is in the moment without necessarily “buying into” the chatter. This technique can include walking or eating meditation. For example, walking and just taking in the feel of your feet against the ground and observing the subtleties of sights, sounds, and smells can be a great form of mindfulness.
  6. Contemplative inquiry: Choose a concept or question and explore it deeply. For example: “Why do humans suffer?”

Meditation can be invaluable to your life, but it will take time to develop a practice that works for you. Be patient and gentle with yourself … you may even have fun!

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, LCSW, MFA, RYT, Aging and Geriatric Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ava

    February 13th, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    I will have to try to remember that these things can take time. I think that I went into this thinking that it would make a difference from the very beginning, without actually thinking it through that I had never tried this before so it might take a little time to make it a habit and give me a little more purpose and understabding.

  • Michaela

    February 14th, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I want to give this another try, because in the past I think that I have gotten mired down in what I perceive should be the expereince instead of tuning into what my experience actually is. I think that I do that a lot in life actually, trying to think of what I think something should be instead of focusing on what it actually is and seeing the beauty that could be right there. I have built so many things up, meditation included thet then when I try it and it doesn’t the evry forst time live up to my expectations then I refuse to give it a try again.

  • Frannie

    February 18th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    It’s something that you have to be dedicated to making work for you.
    You can’t do it simply because your friends are, or because it’s the trendy thing to do right now.
    This has to be a true path that you wish to pursue to discover some inner healing for yourself.
    When you make the commitment in that way, then I think that you become more invested in the process and you will be willing to see it as a way to improvement.
    But when you don’t see it that way, just do it because, well, everyone else is doing ti, I don’t think that you will ever see the same kind of success with it that you potentially could.

  • Delia

    February 19th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    Is there anything like this that I could try that perhaps wouldn’t take up so much time? I am not sure that I have quite this much time to dedicate on a daily basis. Something that could be equally beneficial, but just not as time consuming

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