By Emily Fletcher
Meditation can be broken into a number of different styles: mindfulness, Zen, self-induced transcendence, Vipassana, Yoga Nidra, and Kundalini, just to name a few.
Just like eating a hamburger does different things to your body than drinking a chia seed smoothie, different styles of meditation light up different parts of the brain and require different degrees of effort and time. They can also have varying degrees of effectiveness on your performance off the proverbial cushion. So, which style is best for you? Let’s explore two popular styles:
1. Mindfulness meditation:
Mindfulness meditation focuses on bringing your awareness into the present. Mindfulness is a directed focus mental practice. Mindfulness is a beautiful tool to help you stop incessantly reviewing the past and rehearsing the future.
Counting your breaths, visualizing, walking meditation, healing meditations, imagining a waterfall, listening to a guided audio: All of these would be versions of mindfulness. Most of the popular apps these days are shades of mindfulness.
At Ziva I like to treat mindfulness as the appetizer to the main course of meditation. Mindfulness is great if you are stressed in the right now and you want to feel better in the right now. Similarly, if you have a headache and you take an aspirin, you feel better in the right now.
Meditation, on the other hand, is not only dealing with your stress in the now, but also helping to get rid of the backlog of stress from your past. Your body is a perfect accountant. So, every all-nighter you’ve pulled, every unhealthy meal you’ve ever eaten — it’s all stored in your cellular memory. Meditation gives the body deep, healing rest. When you give your body the rest that it needs, it knows how to heal itself. One of the things it heals itself from is stress. The less stress you have in your body, the easier it is for you to perform at the top of your game.
The specific style that I teach at Ziva has its roots in something called Nishkam Karma Yoga, which is a fancy way of saying: “Union attained by action hardly taken.” It is a 6,000-year-old practice born of the Vedas, an ancient body of knowledge originating in the Himalayas. The Vedas are the same beautiful body of knowledge that brought us yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, feng shui, and acupuncture.
This style of meditation requires no effort, no focused concentration, and thankfully no struggling to “clear the mind;” all you need to practice is a place to sit and a bit of instruction. Instead of trying to force ourselves into a cosmic abyss of black-hole nothingness, we allow the body innocently to approach a deeply restful state more organically. There is a tool that helps with this. It is called a mantra. Now, the word mantra needs some clarification as well. A mantra is not a slogan. It is not something like, “I’m a strong woman!” The word mantra is Sanskrit, man means “mind,” and tra means “vehicle.”
When I teach face to face, each student is given their own mantra that helps to access a verifiable fourth state of consciousness that is different from waking, sleeping, or dreaming. In that fourth state of consciousness you are giving your body rest that is five times deeper than sleep. This allows you to feel more awake afterward. Imagine a supercharged power nap without the sleep hangover.
How does meditation work?
The function that helps get rid of the old stresses we have been storing in our cellular and genetic memory is a de-excitation of the nervous system. When you de-excite something you create order. When you create order in your cells, the stress can start to come up and out in a way that allows your brain to use more of its computing power for the task at hand instead of using that energy to handle the stress. This is one of the reasons meditators tend to get more done in less time.
But concretely, what do we really gain or lose by incorporating it as a daily, nonnegotiable part of our daily routine?
Top benefits of meditation:
One of our favorite sayings at Ziva is “We meditate to get good at life, not to get good at meditation.” Meditation is not a party trick you do to show off to your friends; meditation is the means to an end. The goal is, ultimately, a world full of happy, healthy humans enjoying the innumerable benefits of meditation—all the things that can shape our lives and improve our interactions with one another.
- Better sleep: 50 percent of adults suffer from insomnia a few nights a week. Meditation gives you allocated time to get rid of stress in the body, so you can use your sleep as a time for sleep.
- Better sex: Because who has ever said, “I had the hottest sex last night with this person who looked WAY older than their age and was totally distracted the whole time”? Less stress means better sex. Reducing stress in your body can intensify arousal and orgasm for both men and women. Plus, it’ll help you be a more generous lover because it gets your mirror neurons firing.
- Enhanced productivity: When the body is in “fight-or-flight” mode, mental capacity decreases. Meditation gets you out of fight-or-flight and into stay and play.
- Less anxiety: Did you know that 23 percent of U.S. women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants? Johns Hopkins found that meditation helps combat depression and anxiety about as effectively as antidepressants. It floods the brain with dopamine and serotonin, aka “the bliss chemicals.”
- Improved immune function: Many meditators report getting sick less often (I wasn’t sick for eight years!) and improvement in chronic ailments. They also heal faster from injuries and illnesses.
- Fewer migraines: Meditation can help relieve the intensity, frequency, and duration of migraines. Studies have shown that migraines can be up to three hours shorter for meditators and happen up to 1.4 times less frequently.
- Improvements in attention deficit disorder: In a recent study of meditation for people with ADHD, 78 percent of participants reported a reduction in total ADHD symptoms, with 30 percent reporting at least a 30 percent symptom reduction. For adults, significant reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms were reported.
- More empathy, compassion, patience. So, happier holidays with the family!
- Less anger (bye-bye, road rage!).
The list of benefits goes on and on (for real). You don’t have to take my word for it—over 20,000 students have graduated from Ziva’s trainings, and here our graduates explain how meditation has transformed their lives.
If you’re still skeptical, remember:
- It is impossible to lose at meditation. Every act of delving into your least excited state, every calm decision you make as a result of your practice, every moment that you realize that you are enough—is a victory. In other words, every time you engage in the practice, you are winning.
- Meditation is so much more than “just sitting”; it is updating your mental hardware so that you can more effectively run whatever software you have as the operating system of your life.
- You don’t have to have your life figured out to begin a meditation practice. Seriously. Just about every other self-help or personal improvement plan hinges on figuring out profound truths about yourself, your driving forces, and your inspirations before you begin to experience the positive results. Meditation is a tool that can actually help you discover those things along the way. Meditation is actually just a means of moving your mind, intuition, creativity, and even your physical body toward realizing your goals and clarifying your motivations.
This article originally appeared on mindbodygreen.