Resource says it was first developed in India, a very long time ago. The oldest documented evidence of the practice of meditation are wall arts in the Indian subcontinent from approximately 5000 to 3500 BC, showing people seated in meditative postures with eyes half-closed. Almost all the Hindu religious books talk of meditation in some form or the other. During this time and for centuries before, all learning and knowledge were passed on by word of mouth so not much of written material is preserved. And because it was oral, it is not documented and hence gets very difficult to tell how old meditation really is.
Meditation, young people and Europe
A rough estimation of people who meditate globally ranges between 200 and 500 million people. Different groups of people meditate in different ways. Some recite mantras, some use mala beads, some chant, and some prefer walking meditation. In the West especially, the mindfulness practice of sitting and watching the breath is very widespread. Meditation of course also reached Europe. More and more young people are under stress and in bad mental and physical condition, mostly because of busy working schedules, pollution, unhealthy lifestyles and over-usage of digital devices. That’s why they realized they have to find themselves and listen to their bodies again. Meditation is one of the solutions for that problem and it became a lifestyle for many of them. We can see how the popularity of it grows if we just search for some meditation and yoga retreats around Europe. The most popular is meditation retreat in Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom (according to findings on https://www.bookmeditationretreats.com/). It is also important to say that many of (especially West European) young people seek their new spirituality and mental peace in India, Indonesia, and Thailand where meditation and yoga tourism is boosting. Some of young Europeans decide to stay in these retreat centers for a week or two and other ones decide to stay more than a month. Surprisingly some retreats even offer volunteering options: helping with lessons or organization of programs, cleaning, front desk work, for food and accommodation.
What is meditation?
Because of so many meditation practices, we ask ourselves what meditation actually is? Meditation is a skill of practicing awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. It is the process of quieting the mind in order to spend time in thought for relaxation, religious or spiritual purposes. The goal is to attain an inner state of awareness and intensify personal and spiritual growth. In practice, meditation involves a concentrated focus on something such as a sound, image or feeling. Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable and it’s usually easier if you have a teacher or somebody with experience to guide you at the beginning.
Meditation, mindfulness - what is the difference?
In popular media we often hear words meditation and mindfulness that are actually like reflections of each other: mindfulness supports and enriches meditation, while meditation nurtures and expands mindfulness. Where mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time. We can say that mindfulness is the awareness of something, while meditation is the awareness of nothing.
Ways of meditation
There are many ways of meditation. Sound meditation is repeating a mantra, phrase or another sound. Visualizing meditation is picturing an object with eyes closed, such as a lotus flower or the energy points in the body (chakras). Gazing meditation is looking at an actual object with eyes open. Candles, flowers or pictures are common objects used in gazing. Breathing meditation is observing the breath and what it feels like as it travels in and out of the body.
What are the benefits of meditation?
With meditation practice, you can better understand your mental and physical pain. Studies show that people who are meditating perspire less, have a slower rate of respiration and demonstrate lower blood pressure than normal. It also lowers your stress level, clears your mind and keeps you stay focused and helps you to connect better with yourself and other people. An extra advantage is also you don't need to use any equipment or pay for an expensive club membership.
Have you already tried to meditate?
One of the basic meditation practices is this one: Take a seat or lay down in a calm and quiet space. Just make sure you are stable and in a position, you can stay in for a while. Set a time limit of 5 or 10 minutes (or it can also be shorter/longer, depends on your experience and comfort). Close your eyes and notice your body. Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out. Where do you feel your breath most? Is it in your belly or in your nose? Try to keep your attention on your inhale and exhale. Notice when your mind has wandered. It will happen for sure that your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing that your mind has wandered simply return your attention back to the breath. Be kind to your wandering mind and don’t judge yourself for that. When the time is over, close your meditation with kindness to yourself and being grateful for 3 things in your life. When you’re ready, gently lift your eyes. Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
Phone Apps to which help you meditate
I use and have researched a couple of useful Apps for a mobile phone, so you can meditate almost everywhere, like in the way to work, while waiting for a doctor appointment, after waking up in the morning, and even taking a walk in the forest. My favorites are Headspace, The Mindfulness App, Calm, Sattva, Simple Habit. All of them are free for iPhone and Android and are providing a lot of meditation techniques that you can also tailor for yourself, guidances, special sounds from nature for better sleeping and option of rating your mood.
How about going to an Ashram for a month and learn how to meditate?
An Ashram is a place for practicing Yoga, Meditation and other spiritual practices to evolve and grow spiritually. Ashrams are typically set outside a village or town in a quiet and peaceful area. They consist of only basic facilities with living quarters, dining hall, Yoga hall, library, and gardens. An Ashram is an oasis of serenity and calmness. There is no place or need for luxury in an Ashram. The purpose is to go back to the basics and become independent from regular habits, patterns, and indulgences. I have to say I have never been to an ashram but one of my friends has an experience of learning yoga and meditating in India. She had really recommended me to go. There, she was practicing meditation, yoga and learned a lot about her body and Indian medicine. I checked some interesting options and offers of learning meditation in different parts of the world. If you are interested about it and would like to check different options around the world had CNN written about these: Plum Village, France; Dalai Lama's teachings, Dharamsala, India; The Buddhist Retreat Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Wat Suan Mokkh, Chaiya, Thailand; Assisi Retreat Home and Hermitage, Assisi, Italy; Spirit Rock, California.
If you had never tried meditation before but you are interested in it and have enjoyed the reading, that article could maybe be an idea for a new activity in your volunteering period of time!