Part 1: What is meditation and how do I start?
Have you ever been interested in meditation but you are just not sure where to start? We have been hearing more and more about mindfulness and meditation and the positive effects practicing these skills can have on our health and well-being. Let’s start with a look at what meditation actually is and where it began.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines meditation as “a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior.” There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common:
- A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
- A specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions)
- A focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath)
- An open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).
The exact date of meditation’s origin is unknown, but archaeologists and scholars agree that it’s been around for about 5,000 years dating back to 5,000-3,500 BCE in ancient India and Taoist China. More recently, the largest meditation gathering in history took place, hosted by Deepak Chopra, Gabrielle Bernstein and India Arie. Over 100,000 people from nearly every country in the world came together to meditate for peace.
The Benefits of Meditation:
- Reduces stress
- Controls anxiety
- Promotes emotional health
- Enhances self-awareness
- Lengthens attention span
- Helps reduce age-related memory loss
- Generates kindness
- Helps fight addictions
- Improves sleep
- Helps control pain and enhance immune functioning
- Helps decrease blood pressure
- Increases energy
- You can do it anywhere!
You may be wondering, what does it actually mean to practice meditation? There are many misconceptions about meditation and it is important to learn how to use this practice in a style that works best for you.
- “Just Chill”- Meditating is acknowledging and observing whatever happens, pleasant or unpleasant, in a relaxed way.
- No ‘no thoughts’- The goal of meditation is not to empty the mind but to observe the present moment non-judgmentally. If you notice thoughts that are distracting, that’s okay. Just notice them and return back to your breath.
- Open- This gives insight into how the mind really works, reducing attachment and letting us relax more deeply.
- Microscope- Transforming the mind and using it as a device to explore itself and nature of reality.
Using meditation and mindfulness to be in the moment helps to allow yourself to look at situations with a fresh perspective, and being able to accept and even welcome what can’t be changed, rather than struggling to control things beyond your control. By using mindful awareness even when not meditating, the positive results are seen throughout multiple situations and eventually become habitual.
The neuroscience of meditation provides us with the evidence to know and understand why this is a skill that actually works! Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors:
- In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information.
- A 2013 review of three studies suggests that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.
- Results from a 2012 NCCIH-funded study suggest that meditation can affect activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain involved in processing emotions), and that different types of meditation can affect the amygdala differently even when the person is not meditating.
Ready to jump in? Here are 10 steps to start practicing Mindfulness Meditation:
- Create time & space
- Set a timer
- Find a comfortable sitting position
- Check your posture
- Take deep breaths using diaphragm (inhale through the nose, exhale out the mouth)
- Direct attention to your breath
- Maintain attention to your breath
- Repeat steps 6-7
- Be kind to yourself
- Prepare for a soft landing
Part 2: Having trouble with your meditation practice?
The Five Hindrances:
- Desire: Things we wish were different
- Aversion: Having anger or ill will toward what is here
- Sleepiness: Feeling heavy or dull
- Restlessness: Feeling uncomfortable or distracted
- Doubt: Inner dialogue of fear or resistance
Coping with the Five Hindrances:
- Desire: Use wisdom to stay empowered and resist temptation
- Aversion: Learn from anger and ill will by using compassion and kindness
- Sleepiness: Take breaks and be active
- Restlessness: Sharpen your concentration
- Doubt: Slow down thoughts and use supports
More tools to help with your practice:
- Use a positive self-statement or mantra to help focus
- Mala beads to hold and count
- Cushion/ pillow
- Oils, candles, incents
- Tea/ Water
If you feel that a traditional sitting meditation is not your style, that’s okay! There are plenty of other ways to practice meditation and mindfulness:
- Deep Breathing
- Guided Imagery
Mindfulness and Meditation Apps:
- Meditation Studio
- Smiling Mind
- Mindfulness DailyBy: Melissa Major, MHC-LP