In this blog we explore mediatation, what it is, how it can help with our mental health and outline the various types of mediation classes.
What is Meditation?
Let’s get the hard questions out of the way first. A simple explanation of ‘what meditation is’ is not necessarily an easy task. There are as many types of meditation just as there are types of physical exercise, and like exercises, they can bring different kinds of benefits. It is even possible that meditation is not ‘one thing’ but many different things to many different people.
So maybe it’s enough to say that meditation is a way of cultivating, strengthening or enhancing the function of the brain or mind; in the same way that exercise does for the body. With the caveat that meditation doesn’t aim to directly improve the intellectual faculties of the brain as puzzles and crosswords do.
Meditation strengthens your brain’s non-intellectual abilities. These tend to be the faculties that make us more fundamentally happy, healthy, relaxed, disciplined and effective human beings, as opposed to the faculties that make us better employees and brainiac quiz master types.
The Elephant In The Meditation Room
It’s entirely possible that no one has ever tried out meditation for the first time and found it easy right out of the gate. The Dalai Lama would have sucked on day one of Dalai Lama school; that much is virtually certain. Our thinking minds are very, very active indeed, and this is never more apparent than when we try to meditate for the first time.
The truth about meditating for the first time is that it is a bit like your first time riding a bike or perhaps lifting weights for the first time. We really can’t hope to be great at any of these things the first time we try them out. For some reason, though, most people who find they are bad at sitting and meditating for the first time simply conclude that they suck and become discouraged.
It’s not possible to know for sure why so many of us become so instantly discouraged with meditation. Very few of us ever say we tried lifting weights or running once and decided we were no good at them. It could be that the benefits of persisting with meditation and meditation classes are a bit ‘invisible’. Seeing other people running fast and sporting lean muscles is part of what inspires us to cultivate our own bodies after all.
Despite the fact that we all have the ability to take hold of ‘our brain’s steering wheel’ with meditation and steer it towards a bigger, better, happier, more healed life experience, many of us simply don’t have the tools or experience to make it happen. Yet every single one of us does have the latent capacity to meditate and heal our own brain lying latently within us. There is a big difference between being born without the innate ability to do something (like flying) and being born with an ability but not having it cultivated as you develop as a person (like meditation).
The reality is that meditation is something anyone can do anytime, anywhere. It’s super easy to learn, and even the most basic techniques can take you all the way to the top of the meditation tree. Like anything new, the more you meditate, the more comfortable you will get just ‘being’ without external stimuli like your phone.
It doesn’t take long to feel the benefits of consistent meditation practice. Significant benefits can be felt by many within weeks of starting meditation classes. Thousands of studies have shown meditation and mindfulness can positively impact mental and physical health. Yet all this goodness is definitely on the other side of myths about it being difficult and you being bad at it.
The Benefits Of Meditation Classes
We have moved way past the point where meditation could be considered even remotely kooky or ‘alternative’. There’s a mountain of evidence supporting the numerous benefits of meditation.
The mental and physical benefits of regular meditation practice or classes include:
- lowering blood pressure
- stress reduction
- Improved sleep
- improved emotional resilience
- improved focus
- enhanced mood
- greater adaptability
- healthier ageing
- improved relationships
The benefits of meditation classes can be surprisingly physical and measurable. A 2017 literature review found that meditation may be a “promising approach” for lowering blood pressure. A 2019 research review found that mindfulness practice (a form of meditation) reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in office workers.
Even more specifically to the theme of this blog; meditation may also help with symptoms of specific conditions, including:
- anxiety disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- chronic pain
Despite all the tangible physical and mental benefits to people suffering from specific disorders, it is important not to view meditation as a ‘treatment’ for any illness or condition. This is because by the time we are ‘sick’, most of us need far more than a regular meditation class to get fully and quickly back on the road to good health.
Almost everyone who uses meditation in conjunction with treatment for OCD, therapy for PTSD and treatment for anxiety disorders finds enormous benefits. And many even discover that they can ultimately wean their way off the medications and therapist sessions they were using to treat PTSD, OCD, anxiety, stress and other conditions.
The truth about many of the chronic ‘conditions’ that we suffer from is that they are not diseases, nor are they symptoms of a ‘broken brain’. They are just reflections of the fact that we are mentally and emotionally ‘out of whack’. This may be why so many people find great results with more ‘non-medical’ style approaches like meditation and meditation classes. And so many others find that combining traditional medications/counselling/therapy with tools like meditation is an optimal approach that brings massive reductions in their symptoms over time.
It is important not to cast meditation in the role of ‘treatment’ because it can do so much more than relieve symptoms of disordered minds and bodies. Meditation can enhance the lives of extremely healthy and high-functioning people just as effectively as it can help those struggling with their ‘wellness’ in a big way.
Organised meditation classes are the obvious entry point for anyone who wants to develop meditation practice as an alternative treatment for their stress, PTSD, OCD or anxiety symptoms. In a meditation class, you are somewhat protected from the many pitfalls on the road to becoming a self-taught meditator. An experienced meditator’s guidance is the brain equivalent of the guidance we might receive from a professional physical trainer.
There are as many different kinds of meditation and meditation classes as there are types of gym classes. Not that we necessarily have a full spectrum of options here in lively windy Wellington. Not all meditation classes are a great fit for all people so let’s have a look at some of the most common styles with a view to helping you choose the right meditation class for you
Movement meditation classes use movement to guide you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment, and it can be easily practised alone. Like all meditations, though, a class with a qualified teacher is by far the best way to start. Mindfulness meditation classes and courses are growing rapidly in popularity; many people appreciate the ‘non-spiritual’, ‘non-woo-woo’ packaging that comes with the mindfulness concept.
Transcendental Meditation Classes
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a type of meditation that’s been extensively studied in the scientific literature. Most likely due to its popularity.
TM was founded and brought to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It involves a specific practice designed to quiet the mind and induce a state of calm and peace. It utilises mantra and is best taught by a certified practitioner in a meditation class setting.
One of the best things about transcendental meditation is its popularity. This means that if you live in almost any city or town of note, there will be a transcendental meditation class that you can easily try to see if it is a good fit for you.
Visualisation Meditation Classes
Visualisation meditation classes focus on creating feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualising positive images, scenarios, and experiences. This can be a super helpful type of meditation because it really teaches you to flex your ‘feeling good’ and ‘happiness’ muscles. And let’s face it, we meditate because we want to feel better.Visualisation meditation classes focus on learning to use all five senses to add as much detail to the visualisation as possible.
Visualisation meditation classes may focus on imagining yourself succeeding at specific goals, which is intended to increase ‘performance’. Other visualisation meditation classes may focus on developing, empowering or bliss enduring symbols which can be cultivated as internal resources.
Sadly visualisation meditation classes are quite a bit harder to find than classes like transcendental meditation, which have been driven forward by large organisations over many decades.
Mantra Meditation Classes
Mantra meditation is a popular part of many spiritual traditions, including Hare Krishna, Hinduism and Buddhism. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound. Repetition of sounds can be used to create altered brain states. Your mantra can be repeated loudly or quietly, or even silently. Regardless, the effects of mantra take time, but many find it reliably leads to experiencing more profound levels of awareness.
Some people gravitate towards mantra meditation classes because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. Others enjoy feeling the vibration of the sound in their body. Others are repelled by mantra meditation classes because they feel a bit self-conscious and foolish chanting like a monk.
One of the nice things about mantra meditation classes is that they give the mind something to do. This elegantly bypasses the pressure to empty the mind or the pressure to visualise well. Mantra meditations are a common part of meditation classes offered by Buddhist meditation groups and Hare Krishna groups worldwide.
Focused Meditation Classes
Focused meditation classes involve concentration on sensory information. This can mean focusing on something internal, like the breath or heartbeat. Or an external stimulus like a far away sound or a candle flame. The idea behind focused meditation classes is that by concentrating persistently on a piece of sensory information, the mind’s ability to focus in a stable way becomes enhanced. Much of our suffering is caused by the fact that our mind activity is not ‘stable’ and is too easily influenced by our environment.
Focused meditation classes are simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to focus for longer than a few minutes at first. Focus is, in many ways, ‘a muscle’. The benefits of persisting with this kind of mediation class and developing your own daily practice can be well worth the effort.
Focused meditations can be an offering within any number of meditation and yoga studio/class options. It could be worth asking your local meditation class teachers if they use this type of meditation.
Movement Meditation Classes
Meditative Movement classes use movement to guide you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment. Although most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation, there are a vast number of classic styles of movement meditation. It is also possible to do almost any form of movement meditatively with sufficient training. A considerable number of runners tap into legitimate meditative states in the course of their weekly training regimens.
Traditional types of movement meditation classes include countless styles of yoga, tai chi and qi gong. If you are considering a meditation class of this nature, you’ll just have to try some out and see which feels right for you. It’s important to know that there are as many types of qi gong (for example) as there are different salad recipes, so if you don’t like the first one you try, don’t get discouraged.
Movement meditation classes are an excellent option for people who find meditation ‘boring’. For some of us, the idea of sitting quietly for an hour is a bit like the idea of a living hell. Movement meditations are an excellent option for these personality types.
Alternatives To Meditation Classes
The rise of meditation Apps has been a revolution in the effective spread of meditation practices among those who need them most. Leveraging the fact that our phones are attached to us, combined with the incredible technology held within these devices, was a meditation no-brainer’ and it has worked out exceptionally well for developers and their customers alike.
- Headspace offers a vast array of features, from quality guided meditations to sleep- and exercise-specific content. The App is extremely broad in scope, and the content is of exceptionally high quality. Headspace is fully mainstream so expect a polished experience!
- Calm offers both guided and unguided meditations. The session length can be customised. Calm is totally secular and doesn’t entertain any religious or spiritual themes but rather emphasises mindfulness-based stress reduction. This teaches people to tap into their natural resources to help manage stress and pain.
A simple search of YouTube using the relevant search terms that relate to the style of meditation that you are most curious about should be more than enough to bring up hundreds of not thousands of suitable options.
In addition to a bounty of actual guided meditations, you will also no doubt also find talks and podcasts where experts on specific styles of meditation offer more in-depth knowledge on how and why your chosen meditation style is a worthwhile venture.
If you find teachers you like on your YouTube journey, they will likely have some paid content you can avail yourself of. Many meditation teachers will have meditations that you can download. Joe Dispenza’s guided visualisations are an excellent example and can be absolute game changers if you use them regularly.
Online Meditation Classes & Courses
One of the most obvious options to explore if you can’t find a meditation class near you is simply taking an online meditation course. The might of the internet is such that you can have the world’s best meditation teachers beamed into your front room. How could the universe make this any easier for you?
It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t mention Brainwave Entrainment as an alternative to meditation classes; it’s what we do, after all. People who decide on Brainwave Entrainment sessions instead of or alongside meditation classes generally progress with meditation practice in a way that usually takes years. This progress can be made in months or even weeks. This is because Brainwave Entrainment quickly clears the ‘blockages’ that prevent us from being good meditators in the first instance.
Concluding Thoughts On Meditation Classes
Choosing the right meditation class (or a suitable alternative) for you is like anything else in life; you need to be willing to take a few wrong turns but be persistent. Good things take time, and finding meditation practices that are a good fit for you is definitely a good thing so expect some patience to be required.