Meditation is a topic we hear a lot more about these days. Partially, because of the influx of yoga and Eastern culture steadily permeating the Western world. But also, because of increasing evidence to support it’s benefits, and an undeniable need for those benefits in our lives. However, even if you’re familiar with it’s merit, it may seem intimidating. It doesn’t need to be though. We’ll break it down for you with some basics.
Benefits of Meditation
- It reduces stress!
- Improves concentration.
- Increases memory function.
- It helps fight aging.
- It reduces blood pressure.
- Improves sleep.
- Lessens anxiety.
- Improves your mood.
- Increased self-awareness.
- Helps gain better self-control.
It’s True. Science Says so.
There are a lot of studies being done the effects of meditation on your brain. But we’re not neuroscientists, and there’s a lot of information out there about this. So we’ll give you a head start with a few legit articles that include references so you can see for yourself. Here they are:
How to Meditate
Maybe you agree that meditation seems pretty awesome. BUT… sitting still for an hour with an empty mind? Eh… not so much. That’s okay, there’s good news! It’s not really like that. AND, you have options!
But first, let’s clear one important thing up– meditation isn’t about the absence of thought. That’s right– you can have thoughts parading through your mind, and still be meditating. However, the key is to notice them, and not join the parade. When thoughts start marching in, be aware of their presence, and where they’re coming from. And then, allow them to pass by without taking you with them. You’ll probably suck at this for a while. No big deal. It’s really about recognizing what’s going on in your mind, and returning to your focus, even if you get lost. It’s kind of like the game, Whack-a-mole. You get points for the moles you hit, not the absence of moles.
Most meditation is done sitting down in a quiet place without any distractions. It’s not necessary to sit in a certain position or place, and special props are not required. It’s important to be comfortable, so that you can sit longer. If you’re sitting on the floor, or in bed, a lot of people like to place a cushion, pillow, or yoga block under their bum- it tends to be more accommodating to help you sit upright. But you can also meditate sitting in a chair or on the sofa. Lying down is not recommended, because it’s easy to fall asleep. (Sleeping is great, but it’s not meditation.)
How and Where to Focus
Once you’re comfortably seated, you can close your eyes, or to keep them open. If you close your eyes, direct your inner vision to the space between your eyes. This will help you focus inward. If you feel that you would prefer to leave your eyes open, you will need to find a point in the room, or an object to concentrate your vision on. The flame of a candle works well, or a mandala or symbol, but it could be something as mundane as a crumb on the floor. The point is to focus entirely on whatever it is you choose. You could also set an intention for your meditation, such as peace, joy, love, trust, etc. Or, you can simply draw your attention inward, to your breath, paying attention to your inhales and exhales. This is good way to keep your mind in check. Any time you recognize yourself getting carried away with your thoughts, you can return to your breath.
Some people like to incorporate mala beads into their meditation. Malas are a string of beads with knots or spaces between them. You hold them in your hands, and with your fingers, you pass by each bead, one by one, as you meditate. These might be nice if you’re a fidgety person.
Another thing that can be helpful is music. It gives you sound to focus on. Choose something calm and relaxing, and preferably instrumental; words can be distracting. An exception would be chanting or something with a mantra that you choose to focus on.
There are also many free apps you can download. Some offer guided meditations, crystal bowl sounds, or gentle timers. These can be helpful tools for beginners. A great one that we love is Headspace: Mindfulness & Meditation. It helps guide you and set goals.
Length of Time
We all struggle with prioritizing time in our day for responsibilities and self-care. It’s understandable if adding one more task seems complicated. It doesn’t need to be. For the same amount of time you mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Facebook, you could also be meditating. Like most things that are good for us, the more we do it, the better. But truly, meditating for one minute is better than not meditating at all! It keeps you into the habit, and it’s still practice. As a beginner, it’s recommended to start out slow. Maybe you begin with 1-3 minutes each day. Or maybe you’re comfortable starting out with 5-10 minutes. Whatever you decide, just make sure it’s reasonable and not intimidating. After a week or so, add another minute, and keep building your time. It will get easier the more you do it. But remember, even if you’re going strong at 30 minutes a day, it’s okay to step back when it’s a challenge.
Buddhist monks often discuss another way to meditate, which is a moving meditation. Most commonly, this is a mindful walk, preferably in nature. There are other ways, too, such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Yoga. We’ll stick with walking, but the principles behind all of them are the same. The key to a moving meditation, as with sitting, is focusing your attention, and not getting distracted by outside thoughts. You want to move slowly, but naturally, being mindful with each step. Be aware of the movement of your body, and the sensation of your feet as they touch the ground. Notice your surroundings, but be careful to not get caught up in thoughts attached to things you see. When you are distracted, bring your awareness back to your movement and breath. Walk like this for as long as you would like, and stop whenever you’re ready. It’s that simple.
That’s All Folks
Ok, maybe it’s not everything. There are a plethora of methods and tools out there for meditation. But if this is the extent of your research, you can rest assured that you have what you need. Take a minute and start now! A happier, healthier you awaits.