Starting a Meditation Practice

meditating-outside

I believe that meditating is good for me. I have read many blog posts and books about it. I have written papers on the brain and meditation. I have done Deepak and Oprah’s 21-day meditation courses. I’ve taken workshops at my local yoga studio and tried different meditation practices during yoga teacher training. But I have never really established a regular practice.

I am not sure if it is long enough to call a regular practice but tomorrow will be my 24th meditation day. It has not been mighty – 5 minutes total each day. But like a yoga practice, I feel that consistency trumps length. To me, 5 minutes is not daunting which makes me far more likely to do it. I may increase it eventually but for now this works.

Benefits of Meditation

Meditation has hit the mainstream and been the subject of many research studies. Here is an overview of some of the benefits that have been found.

Physical

  • Boosts immunity
  • Decreases pain and tension
  • Meditation changes you brain. How cool is that?!? It increases cortical thickness in areas related to attention and introspection. It increases grey matter in areas related to memory and executive function (e.g., problem solving skills). And it increases brain volume in areas related to emotional regulation and self control
  • Lowers blood pressure

Mental and Emotional

  • Increases positive emotions and emotional stability
  • Improves attention and memory
  • Decreases anxiety, stress and depression
  • Increases creativity, happiness and resilience
  • Gives you clarity and perspective – the ability to step back and consider the big picture

Learning to Meditate

In Buddhism, “monkey-mind” refers to the frenetic nature of your mind as it chatters and bounces about from topic to topic. Basically, we are easily distracted! It is pointless (read: impossible) to fight the monkeys. The more you resist things, the more they persist. Instead, meditation helps tame the crazy “monkey mind” and quiet your inner voices – the fear, worry and negativity.

There are lots of different ways mediate. You can use a mantra (a phrase that you repeat out loud or silently). You can gaze into the flame of a candle, use meditation beads (a mala) or do a walking meditation.

I have found that the simpler the better! Two methods that have worked well for me are: 1) guided meditation and 2) sitting and focusing on my breath.

1. Guided Meditation

Guided meditations are great because they give you something to focus on. You are listening to someone else’s voice and following their words. Having someone take you through the process can be helpful, especially if you are just starting out or struggling to get back on track!

There are tons of free resources out there but here are a few great web sites that I have tried and enjoyed:

 2. Follow your Breath

The past few weeks, I have been doing the simplest of simple. I set an intention of 5-minutes of meditation per day. I often do it after a short yoga practice or just before I leave for work. Before bed would be a great time too. It’s pretty hectic in my home so this may be to the tune of xBox in the background … but I just go for it anyway.

I sit on my yoga mat, usually Japanese style on a yoga block or pillow. For me, this is the most comfortable seated position for my spine. You can sit cross-legged on a cushion or even in a comfy chair.

I use an app called Insight Timer (not necessary but it’s kind of like getting a new school supply or toy!) Set the timer for 5 minutes total with one chime halfway through. Then sit tall, relax and focus on your breath. Follow the inhalations and exhalations. You might start thinking about dinner or that you need to feed the dog. No worries. Just acknowledge what comes up then bring your attention back to your breath.

Do you meditate or want to start? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Caleb Roenigk

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