What is meditation?

In my latest YouTube video (scroll down to view!) we review Episode 1 of the new Netflix series: Headspace Guide to Meditation.

This new Netflix series is created by Headspace, a digital health company that provides guided meditation training and mindfulness for its users (and is most widely known for its app). It was created by co-founders Andy Puddicombe and Richard Pierson.

In response to the first episode, 'How To Get Started', in my video we address:

  • What is meditation?

  • What are the benefits of meditation?

  • How does meditation link to the practice of yoga?

In this blog, I follow up with some thoughts on these questions.

1) What is meditation?

Meditation is a form of training for the mind. It's based on the premise that our minds create thoughts which distract us from a calmer, clearer mental state of being fully present and connected with the now. Meditation trains us to access that mental state by learning how to detach from our thoughts and observe them going past - we don't chase after the thoughts, rather, we simply recognise them and let them pass.

2) What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation has many positive effects on our physiology. Firstly, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. This promotes better digestion, immune function and sleep. Also, by training the mind through meditation, and thanks to neuroplasticity, our brains can physically develop in response in a way which enhances our ability to concentrate as well as boosts self-awareness and self-esteem. It can also help tackle cravings, anxiety and depression. In addition, it builds the part of the brain associated with empathy, so meditating can increase our levels of compassion and love for people around us.

3) What is the link between meditation and yoga?

The fundamental meaning of yoga is to control the mental faculties or, in other words, to harness the mind rather than be controlled by it. In ancient Hindu philosophy, meditation was used, along with other techniques, to help the mind achieve this state of 'pure consciousness' (known as Samadhi). It was said that in this state, disentangled from thoughts, we are channeling our highest Self, or God. Importantly, there were seven other practices which helped yogis reach the state of Samadhi, which included asana, or the physical postures which we most commonly associate with yoga today. Therefore, yoga consists not just of physical movements, but also meditation, which is why you might experience meditation practice in your yoga class.

Let me know if you enjoyed this review and any suggestions for other video or blog content you'd like to see in the comments.

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