Known mostly as an Eastern practice, Americans often do not know about meditation or mistake it to be overly-simplistic. Meditation is a difficult and rigorous practice, but the benefits are worth the effort.
The ultimate purpose of meditation is enlightenment and unending happiness, but this can take a lifetime of dedicated practice to achieve. However, there are great immediate benefits: clarity of mind, reduced stress and the ability to concentrate.
"Meditation is not 'zoning out,'" Chris Rogus, a senior in mathematics, emphasizes.
"It is not getting caught up in the moment like when playing guitar or sports, or listening to music. It is not what Edward Norton was doing in the icy room with the penguin in the movie "Fight Club." Those activities enable people to ignore reality," Rogus explains.
The purpose of meditation is to become more aware of reality.
There are three principles that guide meditation and need to be understood before the full benefits of meditation can be realized.
First, one must acknowledge that every sensation is, in some way, unsatisfying. People have trained themselves to ignore unpleasant sensations, such as unhappiness, and as a result become out of touch with reality, Rogus explains. Meditation, on the contrary, calls people to acknowledge, observe and pinpoint what they are feeling and experiencing.
The second principle of meditation is the concept of "no self." Essentially, explains Rogus, people are not their sensations. They are not happiness or pain. These things can be observed as separate things.
"It is not your anger. You are not anger personified, but you possess anger," states Rogus.
The third principle of meditation is the concept of impermanence. This concept stresses the acknowledgment that all sensations will pass. Feelings of pain, happiness and anger are only temporary.
The point is that once people become aware of their sensations, acknowledge their separation from the sensations, and understand that the sensations are impermanent, then they can let them go. Meditation is important because it provides the clarity needed to be able to observe these sensations.
There are several ways to meditate, but the breathing (concentration) meditation is best for beginners. Breathing meditation is the most basic meditation and it can help concentration by clearing the mind of distractions.
The meditation position for the breathing meditation is the same for most others as well. One should find a calm and quiet place that is free of distractions. Then, sit on the ground with legs crossed. Beginners may find this position uncomfortable and may sit on a pillow or without legs crossed. The most important thing is comfort.
The hands can either be placed on top of each other, palms up, in the lap or on the knees, palms up or down. Generally, palms up symbolizes focus on universal connectedness and palms down symbolizes inward focus. But again, comfort is important. While meditating the back should be straight, but not strained, and the head should be straight or slightly down.
The purpose of breathing meditation is simply to clear the mind by turning the focus to the breath. Once in the right position, begin to focus on breathing. Breathing should be normal and not forced, preferably through the nostrils. Pay acute attention to the breathing. Note the sensation of it going in and out of the nostrils or in and out of the lungs. This will be hard because people's minds have a tendency to wander.
When thoughts arise, do not follow through with them or pay attention to them. Instead, immediately redirect focus back to the breath. This will be a difficult task for many people. For those who have trouble concentrating, Rogues suggests a counting exercise. He says that instead of noting the sensation of the breath, count them. Count each breath up to ten, and then start over. It makes them easier to keep track of when counting in lower intervals. Counting also gives the mind a more direct focus and helps keep out distracting thoughts.
This breathing exercise can be done in as short as ten to fifteen minutes. Benefits of this meditation practice are greater and more consistent when it is done on a regular basis. This small time commitment has the benefits of a clearer mind, greater concentration and reduced stress; meditation is definitely worth a try.
Meditation might be considered an alternative practice, but Adam Stetted, a senior in industrial engineering, points out, "Meditation isn't just for hippies... it's for everyone."