How To Control Your Mind Through Learning Meditation
By: Marie Miguel
Updated March 25, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Christine Clawley
What is meditation? The dictionary definition is "to think deeply" or "to focus one's mind for a period of time." However, there are many different interpretations about what meditation is and how it influences the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. A general understanding of meditation is that it is a practice where one attempts to focus, concentrate, and train to clear the mind, calm the emotions, or achieve higher states of consciousness. However, meditation has existed since prehistoric times. As with any practice that has existed for so long, there are as many different types, techniques, and schools of meditation as there are beliefs.
In the 1960s, meditation became popularized in the West as the Beatles began studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, originator of Transcendental Meditation. More recent teachers, such as Deepak Chopra, Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chodron, and Thich Nhat Han have discussed the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimension of meditation in depth. Currently, many have heard about meditation as a new trend as high-powered CEOs, celebrities, and engineers in Silicon Valley embrace mindfulness and meditation as a way to improve their ability to work, produce, and heighten creativity.
Most of us grow up learning how to compare, categorize, compete, and assign judgements and evaluations onto almost everything we encounter. We are especially encouraged to do this with ourselves. One form of meditation known as mindfulness meditation involves staying still and becoming observant and watchful of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations we experience without judgement and from a place of neutrality. By learning to stay with and observe various thoughts and emotions as they arise, we can not only become aware of unconscious scripts that we play in our minds, but also learn to identify negative or false beliefs about ourselves and the world, as well as become more compassionate and accepting of our own emotions.
As one practices meditation and cultivates this sensitivity towards one's own subjective experiences, one generally becomes not only more self-aware, but also more tolerant and compassionate towards oneself and others. Krishnamurti said "Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence."
Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners
As mentioned earlier, there are many different techniques and practices that fall under the general umbrella of meditation, some focusing on the breath, directing qi or "life force" through the body, and others reflecting on the true nature of reality or compassion. One of the simplest forms of meditation involves mindfulness meditation, which involves becoming aware of one's thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions as they arise in the present moment. This practice involves self-observation without judgement.
To start, you will need a quiet place where you can spend 15-20 minutes without interruptions. If this isn't possible, don't worry. Any amount of time spent engaged in meditation can be helpful. Additionally, if you don't have a completely quiet space or hear noises around you or from the outside, you can incorporate this as part of the meditation.
Next, sit cross-legged on the floor or comfortably on a chair. Try to sit with your spine and back as straight as possible with the chin pointed slightly down so your neck is straight. Relax the muscles in your jaw, shoulders, and stomach. Then, begin by settling into your space and bringing awareness to your breath while you breathe naturally. As you bring awareness to your breath, your breath may become deeper and more relaxed. Begin to observe the thoughts that arise within your mind, as well as any physical sensations or emotions associated with certain thoughts. Become aware how thoughts arise and fade away almost as if you are watching clouds roll by or different images on a movie screen, allowing them to come and go. With this awareness and mindfulness of your thoughts, try to become aware of value judgments you place on people, places, things, or events. Also, begin to notice resistance or clinging to certain images, thoughts, or emotions. After you meditate, you may want to write down thoughts or insights that were noteworthy.
There are also other forms of meditation, known as concentration meditation, which involves focusing on a single point, such as an object, mantra, candle flame, or mala beads. Insight meditation and Vipassana meditation are other forms of meditation that aim to cultivate direct insight into the nature of reality. There are also other meditative techniques, such as qi gong, tai chi, and yoga, which involve linking movement, posture, and breath. Regardless of which type of meditation technique you explore, observe what seems to have the most profound effect on you. Even simply closing your eyes for a few minutes at your desk and breathing deeply can help you regain clarity and a sense of calm.
Benefits and Risks of Meditation
There have been many different studies, as well as personal anecdotes indicating various benefits of meditation. According to 2017 article in Healthline, benefits of meditation include stress and anxiety reduction, improved emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, reduced feelings of loneliness, increased attention span, improved clarity of thinking and memory, increased feelings of compassion towards oneself and others, improved sleep, reduction in cravings related to addiction, improved ability to manage pain, and decreased blood pressure. Other benefits include improved decision-making abilities, reduction in negative emotions, and increased creativity and patience. Research has even indicated the meditation can help reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
However, there are also some risks associated with meditation. Contact your healthcare or mental health provider to discuss the benefits and risks associated with meditation. For some individuals with a history of trauma, hallucinations, psychosis, or dissociative symptoms, as well as significant health issues, meditation may worsen or trigger symptoms. In some cases, meditation has been known to cause anxiety, headaches, or panic attacks. Meditation can also bring up repressed thoughts or feelings, such as anger, jealousy, or fear, which may be unpleasant. Meditation is also not a substitute for traditional medical, therapy, or psychological treatment.
As someone who has practiced meditation and found it to be profoundly transformative and life-changing, I do feel compelled to discuss some of my own personal experiences with the disclaimer that everyone may have their own unique experience. In my early adolescence, I experienced a very traumatic event that negatively impacted my perception of myself, my performance at school, as well as my emotions. I had become depressed, hopeless, and alienated from myself and others.
I remember the first time when I sat down to meditate, it was the first time I had the realization that I had the freedom to watch my emotions and thoughts, rather than be controlled by my emotions and thoughts. I learned to embrace the silence and spaciousness between thoughts, desires, and feelings and discovered a new inward feeling of freedom, rejuvenation, vitality, and creativity. With practice, I became less dependent on others for external validation or reward and more self-accepting and compassionate. Growing up in a world that emphasizes appearances, success, competition, and achievement, meditation gave me a tool to slow down and begin to question some of these values, motivations, and intentions. With this, it became easier to heal and feel more empowered.
If you would like to continue to learn about meditation and ways to incorporate this and other positive coping skills into your life consider talking with one of our licensed counselors.