Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of achieving an altered state of consciousness. It was originally used for religious purposes, as its original proponents believed that meditation was a way to achieving spiritual enlightenment, and brought them closer to their deities.
Today, meditation is a form of relaxation and a means of alleviating stress in our everyday lives. Many still practice meditation in the spiritual context, but many also now take up meditation as a way of bringing balance in their lives. Meditation can involve chanting, breathing techniques, imagery, and exercises.
Some common forms of meditation include deep breathing, activity oriented meditations such as yoga and tai chi, imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. Deep breathing is a simple exercise that concentrates on taking in deep breaths and exhaling very slowly. This oxygenates the blood and slows the heart beat and is usually done while sitting down the back straight or lying down. The body gets very relaxed during this exercise and the head is cleared. Activity oriented meditations involve controlled movements that make the person concentrate on that movement alone such as in yoga and tai chi. Many cultures believe these exercises to be ways of re-channeling energy in the body thus achieving physical and spiritual harmony. These are very commonly paired with breathing techniques or chanting.
Imagery on the other hand is all about conjuring up images that naturally help the body relax. This is similar in concept to hypnosis. This can be done with the help of a therapist, while many people prefer to use audio recordings in the exercise. People practicing mental imagery will be asked to think of the most relaxing scenery, perhaps atop a mountain overlooking a lake while the sun is setting down. This image can be paired with much more sensory details, such as the scent of the air, the feeling of the ground beneath the feet and the temperature of the surroundings.
Progressive muscle relaxation is when a person consciously tenses up and willingly relaxes various muscles or muscle groups in the body one at a time. This allows the body and mind to get into a deep sense of relaxation, getting rid of tension and stress.
There are many ways for you to alter your surroundings to make it more conducive to relaxation. One is to take a relaxing warm bath before meditating. This loosens up tense muscles which get you better equipped to clear the mind. Another technique is to make use of essential oils to set the mood in the room. Make sure to use essential oils which are plant derived as opposed to fragrance oils which are synthetic in order to make use of the benefits from the plants. For instance, lavender encourages relaxation, or if you would like to visualize being in the mountains, you can make use of pine oil or cedar wood oil.
You should also make sure that you are in a cool and comfortable environment. Some meditation activities are best done in a dim environment if not totally dark. Your clothes can also help you relax ideally they should be very comfortable, not too tight or snug. You may also opt to put on some ambient music, such as nature sounds. The music should be relaxing and should not have any lyrics so as not to distract you from your meditation.