In our high-speed world of endless scrolling, meetings upon meetings, and constant multitasking, sometimes the hardest thing to do is be still. Being busy and productive can be a good thing, but too much of it has the potential to wreak havoc on our mental health, leading to fatigue, anxiety, stress, or a short attention span. Sadly, this state of being constantly on-the-go has not only become the norm, but it’s also often encouraged. However, this fast-paced lifestyle is only sustainable for so long — we need moments where we can slow down, stay grounded, and find balance in the busyness.
One of the most effective ways to slow down and achieve mindfulness is through meditation. Now, if you’ve never tried meditating before, you may immediately write it off as a bit woo-woo, but actually, meditation can be a powerful tool for changing the way you relate to your thoughts and feelings, allowing you to distance yourself from the craziness of life and be anchored in the present moment. While it’s a simple and powerful practice, for beginners, meditation can be somewhat daunting. Sitting in silence and stillness with your innermost thoughts and feelings may seem a little alien at first, but luckily, we’ve put together a how-to guide for first-time meditators to help you be on your way to a deeper, more mindful practice.
What is Meditation?
Meditation, put simply, is all about connecting with the fullness of the here and now. It’s not about becoming a different, new, or even a better person, but rather, becoming more aware and gaining perspective. The process of meditation is actually quite simple: just sit and practice. Simply close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and allow your mind to do its thing. As you sit and focus on your breath, recognize when your thoughts wander from your focus, and then return your awareness to your breath. You don’t have to turn off your thoughts or feelings — you’re simply observing them, and hopefully, over time, you’ll be able to better understand them and yourself.
Benefits of Meditation
There are thousands of studies out there that have shown how mindful meditation can positively impact both your mental and physical health. While it isn’t a cure-all, meditation can absolutely help everyone in some way or another. Here are a just a few of the many benefits:
- Teaches stress management
To better grasp how meditation combats stress, it’s important to first understand how stress actually affects the body. When you’re stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which causes a release of stress hormones into the bloodstream. According to Headspace, too much of these stress hormones have the potential to “increase blood sugar levels, suppress the immune system, and constrict blood vessels.” However, meditation has the opposite effect. When the mind and body are at ease during meditation, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and the body stops releasing stress hormones. So, if you practice meditation regularly, you’ll be able to condition your body and mind to relax on command, allowing you to better manage stress in the future.
- Reduces stress
Along with stress management, meditation also helps reduce stress in general. According to a study by the University of California, Davis, individuals who meditate and have higher levels of mindfulness often have lower levels of cortisol (one of the stress hormones). Along with this stress reduction comes lower blood pressure as well as improved heart rate and oxygen consumption, which leads to higher energy levels, better immunity, and improved quality of sleep.
- More happy thoughts!
Not only can meditation change your awareness and perspective, but it can actually physically alter your brain to think and feel more positively. Through consistent practice, meditation can decrease negative neurological connections to the brain, thus reducing thoughts of fear, stress, and anxiety. Simultaneously, meditation can also create new positive neurological connections in the brain and promote traits such as focus and decision-making.
Of course, just like with yoga, practicing meditation frequently and consistently will reap even more benefits over time. Carving out a bit of time every day to meditate, even if only for a few minutes, is better than none at all.
3 Tips for Meditation
A great place to start with meditation is using imagery, which involves using your imagination to help transition your body to a more relaxed state. Using the five senses, you can visualize images in your mind that your body feels are real and tangible. For example, you could try visualizing light filling your body, starting at the top of the head and going all the way down to your toes.
If closing your eyes feels a bit too strange, perhaps you’ll want to try “Trataka,” otherwise called gazing meditation. In this practice, the meditator has an open-eyed focus and concentrates on a single object, which can be physically on the outside in your surrounding environment or inside your mind. As you do so, you’ll be able to block out other objects and distractions and hone your awareness.
We do it every day, all the time, and it’s the thing that keeps us alive, but most of the time, we aren’t even aware we’re doing it. However, focusing on your breath has the power to bring you to the present moment and remind you that you are here. Just like in yoga, breath is an extremely important part of meditation, and most often, it’s the focal point of your practice. Feeling the rise and fall of your chest, recognizing how deep or shallow each breath is, and feeling every sensation that it brings will naturally relax and bring awareness to the body.
Postures for Meditation
A traditional posture of meditation is simply sitting in stillness and relaxation. If it’s comfortable for you, you can sit cross-legged on the floor, perhaps with a pillow or cushion beneath you, keeping your back straight yet relaxed and your arms resting on your knees or in your lap. Alternatively, you can simply sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. You may want to scoot to the edge of your chair so that your feet form a 90-degree angle with your knees.
If being upright is more comfortable for you, try standing in a mountain pose with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Root your feet into the ground, and imagine lifting up through the crown of your head with each inhale.
If you’re looking for a more active posture, you can even try meditating while walking. This may help you become more conscious of your movements, bringing your mind and body in sync. Try breathing in for three steps, then breathing out for three steps.
Yes, you can also meditate lying down! To do so, try lying with your arms at your sides, palms facing up, and allow your feet to fall away from each other. Or, you can also bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Just be aware, this posture may require a higher degree of alertness to remain awake and focused.