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Meditation 101

By  AAMI

Meditation is the art of achieving a relaxed, peaceful mind – something most of us could definitely do with! We spoke to Pauline McKinnon, director of the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, founding member of the Australian Association of Meditation and author of In Stillness Conquer Fear, about meditation and how stillness meditation helped her to overcome her own anxiety, depression and agoraphobia as a young mother in the 1980s. Here’s how meditation can help improve your health and wellbeing.

Why meditate?

“Meditation is very important, particularly in today’s society,” says Pauline. “We live at high pace and a lot of people don’t cope very well with stress,” she says. Meditation is a great way to learn stress relief techniques and discover how to relax and reset after a busy day. “Often people opt for medication but in actual fact if people can learn to rest their minds with meditation they can reduce stress, alleviate tension, reduce anxiety levels as well as ease depression and related symptoms.” Regular practice is key, so take a look at your life and find a time you can set aside each day. This might involve going to group classes, learning one-on-one, or downloading a phone app and participating in guided meditation.

Types of meditation

There are so many different types of meditation, but here’s a rundown of some of the most common styles you’re likely to come across:

  • Buddhist & Hindu meditation: “There are many specific classical meditation styles associated with Buddhism or Hindu practices,” says Pauline. “They’re very noble to practise and encourage personal development.” Vedic, Kundalini and Yogic meditation are some of the more common Hindu practices, while Zen (Zazen) and Vipassana are amongst the more commonly practised Buddhist styles.
  • Stillness meditation: This style was created by Australian Dr Ainslie Meares to help people to rest their minds. “Stillness meditation is what I teach,” says Pauline, who was taught first-hand by Dr Meares himself. “It focuses on healing – healing the mind and the nervous system by allowing your mind to rest.”
  • Transcendental meditation: Transcendental meditation is derived from Vedic teachings. It is a form of mantra meditation practised twice daily for approximately 15–20 minutes. “People will practise transcendental meditation for personal growth, spiritual development and life development in general,” says Pauline.
  • Mindfulness meditation: “Mindfulness meditation originated in Buddhist practices but now it’s become a more common practice. It’s about focusing on the moment and living in the present. It may be very good for people who are organisationally focused or who want a particular mindset to achieve a specific goal."

How it works

Whether you’re doing Zen, Vedic, mindfulness or Kundalini, all meditation has a relaxing aspect to it. By focusing on the prescribed breathing technique, mantra, sound or mental exercise, you can lower your heart rate and learn how to relax. Generally, when you come out of a period of meditation your overall tension and anxiety levels will have lowered. Despite this, each meditation style will affect the mind differently. “If you practise visualisation meditation it may enhance creativity,” says Pauline. “Mindfulness meditation will bring the mind back into the present moment; spiritual meditation raises awareness of spiritual practice and brings peace of mind. And in stillness meditation it’s about mental rest so the mind is free of anxiety and stimulus for that period of time.”

Which one is for you?

If you’re interested in exploring the wonderful world of meditation, it’s a good idea to do your research and decide exactly what you want to get out of your practice, as this will help determine the style that suits you. “If people are really dealing with anxiety they need to seriously look at stillness meditation,” says Pauline. “People who are goal-centred and goal-focused, will find mindfulness very valuable, and if people are seeking spiritual comfort then they need to look at one of the spiritual entities.” If you’re still not sure which option to go with, Pauline recommends trying a few different styles and sticking with the one that suits you best. Whatever you choose, meditation can help you learn how to relax by teaching valuable stress relief techniques to help you cope with the pressures of life.