Updated: Oct 11
If you think meditation is something only Buddhist monks (or people with lives a lot less crazed than yours) can do, think again. Not only can anyone meditate, but there are myriad health and well-being benefits to be gained from a simple, daily meditation practice. For starters, meditation can decrease blood pressure as well as cortisol (a stress hormone) and cholesterol. It can increase creativity, reduce anxiety, strengthen your brain and strengthen your immune system.
Most people who try meditation for the first time have a very specific goal: to reduce stress. And it’s a terrific tool for that. The bonus is that the calm you experience seeps into other moments of your day. Before you know it, you find yourself with a greater, more natural sense of balance, more compassion for yourself and others, and a more robust sense of humor. Over time, you may notice that you see the “big picture” of your life more clearly and are able to make better decisions about it. Meditation also can help you connect with your spiritual side and possibly to a higher power if your belief system includes that.
Begin to meditate by learning one simple technique and practicing it every day. There is no right or wrong way to do it
How to start :
Sit comfortably on a cushion or a chair. Don’t slouch, your back doesn’t need to be ramrod-straight either. At first, you may want to try sitting against a wall to support your back. Use extra pillows under your knees or anywhere else to make you comfortable. Try lying down, if sitting to meditate is unappealing.
Put on music, if that helps to calm you before beginning to meditate. Turn it off once you begin.
Set a digital (non-ticking) timer. Start with five minutes and work your way up to 10, then 15, and eventually 20. It will probably take weeks or months to lengthen the time you practice. Try not to put yourself on a schedule. Whatever your pace, it’s fine.
Breathe normally through your nose, with your mouth closed.
When you notice your mind wandering, bring it gently back to the breath. Be careful not to drift off; this will be tempting, especially if you’re lying down. While shutting off your mind is not the goal of meditation, neither is judging the meditative process. No matter what feelings or thoughts you have, simply bring your focus back to the breath again.
Benefits from meditation:
1. Lower blood pressure 2. Improved blood circulation 3. Lower heart rate 4. Less perspiration 5. Slower respiratory rate 6. Less anxiety 7. Lower blood cortisol levels 8. More feelings of well-being 9. Less stress 10. Deeper relaxation
As with anything new, once you’ve tried meditation, you’re bound to hit a snag or two. These are some of the most common barriers to developing a regular meditation practice and how to get through them:
“My mind races.” Why it happens: That’s the way your mind naturally works. How to work with it: Try counting your breaths, or repeating a word or phrase (such as “peace” or “one”) silently to yourself. The practice of meditation is not about suppressing thought, but surpassing it.
“I fall asleep.” Why it happens: It’s a natural response when you’re relaxed. How to work with it: Focus softly on a spot a few feet in front of you. If you tend to fall asleep, try sitting up while meditating. It’s normal to feel sluggish when we let go of daily concerns.
“I can’t sit still.” Why it happens: Your body and mind are restless. You need to practice focus. How to work with it: Try a "walking meditation". Walk at your usual pace or slower, indoors or out. Synchronize the rhythm of your breathing with your steps. Gaze ahead calmly with your eyes lowered. Notice the contact of your feet with the ground. Focus on your breath and on walking.
“My back (or knees or butt) hurts”. Why it happens: You may need to adjust your body, or you may just be tired or restless. Remember that it’s fine to meditate sitting in a chair or lying down (as long as you don’t fall asleep). How to work with it: “Just sitting still is an enormous challenge for most of us”. If you’re truly experiencing an urgent pain, move to a more stable position.
“I don’t have time to meditate”. Why it happens: You’re busy and feeling overwhelmed. How to work with it: You can carve out the time. Really. Set your alarm clock to get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning or try meditating before bed instead of watching the late-night news. All you need is time and consistency.
“I don’t feel anything special”. Why it happens: Your preconceived notions about what meditation is may be getting in your way. How to work with it: Aim simply for increased awareness of your breath. Try to avoid unrealistic expectations that something monumental is going to occur.
Your experience of meditation is very personal. For some people, it is simply becoming aware of the thoughts that have always raced through their minds. For others, meditating is a feeling of intense concentration, and for others, it is a deeply relaxed yet highly alert state. The truth is, every person who is meditating probably gets a taste of each of these states, and many others in the course of a session.