World Meditation Day is quickly approaching, to be celebrated on May 20th this year. Meditation has come up more and more in mental health as the influence of research supporting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation grows.
What is meditation? Where does it come from? Meditation has many definitions and we really don’t know where it truly “originates.” Walsh & Shapiro (2006) defined meditation as “referring to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity and concentration.”
As far as where it originated, the earliest records of meditation date from 1500 years BCE. It has been an integral part of vedic practice and moving into the 6th to 4th centuries BCE, the Chinese Taoist and Indian Buddhist traditions began to develop their own versions. Slowly it moved to the west and as it did, changing with its movement. Now meditation is often associated with apps that help with practicing meditation such as Headspace or Insight Timer or Calm.
What helps me consider meditation today is the simplicity and consistency of taking a few minutes a day sitting or lying comfortably and paying attention to your breath. When your mind ultimately wanders, bring it back to the breath. And repeat.
A meditation that is commonly practiced is the Loving Kindness meditation (Metta). In this meditation we send loving kindness to others. We start by formulating a wish. I like “May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be healthy, may I be safe.” We send that wish to ourselves first. Next we visualize someone that we love and share the same wish “may you (referring to the person) be happy, may you be peaceful, etc.” Next we think about and visualize someone or various people we consider neutral in our lives, we send them the same wish. Once we have loving kindness flowing we visualize someone we are challenged by and send them the same wish. This last part can sometimes be particularly difficult and takes practice, just know that you can go back to any part of loving kindness at any time.
The last meditation I will share with you is one I am particularly fond of, the japa meditation. This meditation is referenced in the sutras of yoga and is a meditative repetition of a mantra. Mantra is a sanskrit word that translates as “free the mind.” It is a sound or prayer that frees the mind. Some have adopted this philosophy with the use of affirmations. Japa roughly translates as “to mutter.” Typically a mala (often seen in Hinduism) is used to keep track of how many times you repeat the mantra. A mala has 108 beads so ideally the mantra is repeated 108 times in a session. 108 may seem random but there are many philosophical importances to the number 108 in meditation and yoga.
How could you bring meditation into your day on the 20th this year?
Vera Bednar, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and certified in dialectical behavioral therapy (C-DBT). A Lesley University graduate, Vera earned a bachelor's in counseling and art therapy and a master's in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma.
Prior to joining Looking Glass Counseling, Vera worked in a wide variety of clinical settings including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient and an assisted living center with an art therapy focus. She also worked in partial hospitalization programs specializing in trauma, LGBTQIA+ individuals and young adult transitions as well as substance use.
Thank you for your interest in our Monday Mental Health Moments. Join our mailing list for a weekly newsletter on various mental health topics, and information about upcoming groups or workshops. No spam, we promise!