Meditation may seem like an intimidating word to many people. You may be picturing a person on a mountain or on the beach with absolutely no thoughts in their head. However, many of us use some form of meditation on a daily basis without even knowing it! There are many different kinds of meditation and a vast number of mental and physical benefits linked to the practice of meditation. These benefits include, but are not limited to, helping attention and focus, lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress and anxiety, and even improving the immune system.
Meditation is the practice of training the mind in order to achieve attention and awareness. In the same way we exercise to train our bodies, meditation helps us focus and achieve a stable mental state. Many people confuse this with the idea of not having any thoughts, but that is not always the case. It has to do with becoming aware of your body. There are many forms of meditation, but I have listed a few common ones below.
Concentration Meditation involves focusing on one single thing. This can be an object, such as candle flame, or a sound, such as a singing bowl or gong. Whenever you find yourself distracted in your thoughts you simply focus back on the object or sound again.
Mindfulness Meditation involves actually being aware of passing thoughts. It allows you to observe passing thoughts in your mind without judgment. This means we do not look at a thought as a good thought or a bad thought, we just recognize that we are having a thought and move on. Many times we have a thought and immediately judge it as a good or bad thought and then we have emotions that follow that judgment. With mindfulness meditation we aim to find a balance by simply observing the thoughts as they occur.
If you have never thought about meditation before, you are probably wondering where to start. Here are some tips to get started on your first session.
- Sit in a comfortable, quiet area or lay down if you like.
- Close your eyes or use a sleep mask.
- Begin with breathing at your natural pace.
- Start to focus on your breath, maybe even count for four seconds on inhalation and seven seconds on exhalation.
- Focus on the way the breath enters your nose and travels throughout your lungs.
- You may even place one hand on your belly and another on your chest to feel your belly expand and chest rise you inhale and feel your belly retract to your spine and chest fall as you exhale.
- Do not be discouraged if your mind wanders. Just focus back on the breath and count or even tell yourself that you are breathing in and breathing out as you inhale and exhale.
Like anything, meditation takes practice. You may begin with just a minute or two of breathing exercises each day and gradually you may find yourself meditating for thirty minutes or more. At first it may be hard to stay focused on your breath, but it gets easier and the benefits are worth it.
For those who may want a little extra help, there are many guided meditation apps available or even YouTube videos. There are three great apps I use that I find help a lot with getting started and even with continuing meditation or even just motivating you to do it each day.
- Headspace has several guided meditations that are good for beginners as they walk you through how to get started. There is a guided meditation for each day and they increase in duration as you move forward. This is a great place to start if you have never tried meditating and have no idea what to do.
- Calm is another amazing app. It has resources to help with guided meditation, open meditation, sleep, stress, anxiety, and more. It has categories for meditating that include meditations for reducing stress, finding balance, enhancing relationships, relaxing, and much more.
- Insight Timer is another meditation app that has many resources similar to the Calm app. It also allows you to time your own open meditations if you want and keeps track of your meditation streaks to motivate you to do it every day. Insight Timer also has a social component so you can see what other people are meditating to at the same time.