When someone says the word meditation do you think of a granola head sitting cross legged on a pillow with their fingers held daintily just so making a weird noise? While meditation can be a spiritual practice, it is basically about learning to consciously alter and control the brain waves. Done with regularity, it actually physically changes your brain. It has been a large part of my recovery from a brain injury. I do it every day, and, OK, I do eat granola.
Everybody already does light meditation even if they don't know it. It occurs when you are doing any activity in which you become so engrossed that you loose sense of time and you aren't thinking about the bills or your to do list. Your attention is only on the task at hand while experiencing a sense of calm and a laser beam focus. This can occur while gardening, taking a walk in nature, writing or even cooking - anything. I have a friend who says he experiences this while riding his motorcycle. This is an alpha state in the brain. It is the most relaxed a person can be while remaining awake.
Deep meditation takes this further into that half asleep, half awake state where a person is aware of their surroundings, but they are not actively conscious of them or interacting. Although, there are moving meditations such as tai chi, yoga, and labyrinth walking. At this level, the brain produces theta waves which are the first stages of sleep.
While in theta, the happy chemical, serotonin, is released and blood pressure lowers. Brain scans of people who practice meditation show higher activity in the frontal lobes which are basically the the parts of the brain that make us human. There is also increased activity in the thalamus which helps different parts of the brain talk to one another and is very involved in the processing of sensory information. This happens even when not meditating. Meditation literally changes how the brain works.
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. To put a lot of pressure on yourself to meditate "the right way" kind of defeats the purpose. There are many different flavors of meditation - some vanilla versions and some down right strange, but basically, all practices involve three essentials: 1) Focus on something simple and non thought provoking like the breath or a single word or sound. 2) Consciously relax the body. 3) Exercise a passive awareness of the mind.
I started meditating in an effort to reduce the extreme anxiety shown in my brain waves on a qEEG. I have to admit, at first, I had no idea what I was really trying to do. I read books and listened to cd's. I have tried it with my eyes open staring into space and staring into a candle flame. (did not work for me at all!) I have developed my own method of meditating/visualizing with my eyes closed while music is playing, and I kind of hum.
I like to feel the vibration of the music so it has to be loud. Drums, chants, Celtic songs, classical music with the chords of a piano or violin. Are you following me here? I even have some where Monks sound sort of like they are being strangled under water, but the vibrations of it are remarkably peaceful and transcending if you can imagine. I also hum on the exhale because I can really feel it in my throat and nasal passages. I have a lingering speech impediment due to the brain injury, and I can feel this healing and working on and sending energy to those areas.
The third one, "exercising passive awareness of the mind," I find ridiculously hard, but therein is the most beneficial work. The goal here is to become detached from your thoughts and just observe them and not get all wrapped up in them. I have heard it described as noticing your thoughts like you would a passing cloud. Just say "Oh, lookie!" and let it go on by. When this happens, and, it most certainly will, just label it as "thinking," and return your focus back to your breath or your word or sound.
This building awareness of and detachment from your thoughts is the goal. It is this manner of being consciously aware of your thoughts which you are learning and why it is called a practice. I have been meditating for two years and still find myself thinking about the crud in the dog's ear and wonder with a chuckle "How in the hell did I get here?"
The concept and understanding that I am not my thoughts was huge for me. I used to think I was an absolutely horrible person because of some of the thoughts I had. Now, I still have shocking and not so nice and wacky thoughts - we all do if we are honest, but I am just amused by them and do not define myself by them. I choose which thoughts I buy into and act on and, in turn, allow to define me. It is a choice. You can't choose what you think, but you can choose which ones you put energy into. Choose wisely.