When I started studying psychology in 2011, with the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, I was very surprised to see ‘mindfulness’ on our lesson plan for the first term.
You see, I knew mindfulness was a form of meditation, because I’d been practicing it in a spiritual context since 1994, when I’d picked up my first book on Paganism.
I knew that science (yes, naysayers, psychology is a science!) didn’t usually give much credence to Pagan practices… so I was both fascinated and delighted to find it right there in front of me in class.
As my studies continued (and to be honest, they’ve never really stopped, though I’m not in formal education anymore), I became more and more enthralled with the science of meditation, and the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I had a key question that I keep revisiting – what is meditation, and how do you do it?
And that’s never stopped either!
But yeah, what is Meditation, exactly?
You’ll hear people talk a lot about different techniques of meditation (mindfulness is one of them, for example), and different types of meditation (meditation for sleep, meditation for relaxation, meditation for anxiety or stress relief, and so on)… but at its essence, what you are trying to do when you meditate is to reach a place of deep peace, with your mind being calm and silent, yet completely alert.
Meditation then, is the practice of methods that can be used to reach this place or achieve this state.
To get there, we can use any number of techniques. Honestly, the range of practices available can be entirely overwhelming. Meditation has been practiced for as long as we know, in a number of ancient religions and belief systems. Personally, I believe every ancient culture had its own form of ‘meditation’, though our ancestors wouldn’t have called it that.
The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise, ponder’ (Bailey, 1776).
So, as far as meditation techniques and practices go, the WORD meditation is relatively new.
But the formal definition we have now, runs like this:
“Meditation: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018)
Since the 1800s, people in industrialised cultures have been picking up the practice with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain… and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing (Shaner, Kelly, et al, 2016).
(You can see where I’m coming from and what’s available in This Article Here.)
What are some Common Meditation Techniques?
Mindfulness, as mentioned, is gaining a fantastic reputation over the last 20 years or more, for being a science-based meditation technique, with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of a regular meditation practice (although the spiritual aspects certainly follow through with this method too).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2015).
We can sit or lie down, set some time aside and devote our attention to the mindfulness meditation by using body scan techniques, or observing as our thoughts arise and letting them go.
Or we can practice mindfulness day to day as we go about our lives, for example by focusing our attention on sensations of heat or cold in our bodies as we experience them, or by becoming fully aware of the taste, smell and texture of food as we eat it.
If you’d like to try some free ‘Ground Level’ meditation exercises, you can find them as part of our Getting Started Course – to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself…
Bailey, N. (1776). The new universal etymological English dictionary … To which is added, a dictionary of cant words. By N. Bailey. Printed for William Cavell.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2015, 10). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1481-1483. doi:10.1007/s12671-015-0456-x
Meditate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditate
Shaner, L., Kelly, L., Rockwell, D., & Curtis, D. (2016, 07). Calm Abiding. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(1), 98-121. doi:10.1177/0022167815594556