Overview of Meditation

Meditation is the art of mindful concentration and relaxation. During meditation there is an increase in alpha waves in the brain. The mind becomes calm, focused, and alert; the body becomes relaxed and still.

There are many routes to mindful concentration; during meditation one might chant, practice breathing exercises, pray, sing, or move. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), meditation may be practiced as a still form with no physical movement and as a moving form, such as in Qi Gong and Tai Qi Quan. There are many different meditative exercises within each form, but all have two things in common, relaxation and focus.

How to Meditate

While meditation is best learned from a teacher in private or group sessions so it can be tailored to individual needs, anyone can easily learn a few simple meditative exercises to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve health. Counting Breaths, for example, is one of the most commonly recommended beginning meditative exercises. It may be done for up to 20 minutes twice a day. A minimum of 10 minutes is preferable.

Preliminary Steps to Meditating

Make sure you are wearing loose clothing. At the very least, loosen any belts or ties, and unbutton or unzip any clothing that feels constraining. Remove your shoes. Choose a quiet, pleasant location that is free from distractions. Many people enjoy meditating in nature, but closing your office door and turning down the telephone ringer also works well.

Sit on the edge of a chair with your legs spread about shoulder width apart and both feet on the floor. You may place your hands gently on your knees or clasp them lightly, letting them remain in your lap or resting directly below your navel. Make sure your back is straight, but not too rigid, your head is erect, not jutting forward, and your chin is tucked in slightly. Gently close your eyes and allow the tip of your tongue to touch the ridge behind your upper teeth.

Exercise: Counting Breaths

Begin to observe your breathing, your inhalations and exhalations. Do not try to control them; simply notice how they come and go. After you've observed for a few breaths, begin mentally counting each inhalation and exhalation up to 10. In other words, mentally count "1" as you inhale, then "1" as you exhale for the first breath, then "2" as you inhale and "2" as you exhale for the second breath. Continue until you reach "10." Once you reach "10" begin at "1" again. If you lose the count at any time, begin again at "1." Continue for 20 minutes, or until your body tells you to stop.

Because the mind wanders easily, this exercise is more difficult than it appears. Do not get annoyed or upset if you lose count; accept it and begin again. One point of meditation is learning to let go.

When you are proficient at this exercise, you may alter it by counting only the inhalation or the exhalation. If you feel your body tense up at any time, just let go and allow it to relax. With practice, the body will become increasingly relaxed, the mind will wander less, a state of clarity and calm will be more easily reached.

After you complete the exercise, gently rub your hands together to create warmth in your palms and massage your face, head, and neck. Slowly move around, stretch, and continue your day.

Meditation & Sleep

According to our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living (Summer 2015), meditation may improve sleep—and people over the age of 55 have about a 50 percent chance of having trouble falling or staying asleep. Researchers found that adults 55 and older who took a six-session course in mindfulness meditation reported fewer symptoms of insomnia and fatigue after the course.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 2000

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015