The act of meditation has been around for centuries with rich origins in countries like Japan, India and China. In the last decade, it has become increasingly popular in the US for the positive effects on both mental and physical health. In fact, the amount of people who practice meditation has more than tripled from 2012 to 2017.
is typically the main benefit that draws interest around mediation. The hormonal and chemical effects of stress on the body are known to affect mood, disrupt sleep patterns and induce depression and anxiety. The inflammation response to stress can worsen existing conditions such as IBS, PTSD and fibromyalgia. Numerous studies, both scientific and anecdotal, suggest a consistent mediation practice lessens the compounding effects of stress such as lower blood pressure, decreased pain, reduced anxiety, lessened feelings of depression and improved sleep. In a group of adults, researchers discovered a substantial decrease in stress induced inflammation for those who maintained a mediation ritual over a period of 8 weeks. A follow up study found that 3 years later, participants who continued practicing regular meditation maintained lower anxiety levels over the long term. A separate study comparing brain activity shows signs of greater optimism and positive thinking in those who practiced meditation. These along with countless other studies show that the benefits of a habitual meditation practice can have profound and lasting effects on both physical and mental well being.
A common misconception portrays meditation as a means of emptying your mind of all thoughts. Instead, it is the act of observing your thoughts in an attentive yet non judgmental way. There are various styles requiring different skills and mindsets to suit certain needs and personalities. Common methods include mindfulness, loving kindness, mantra, transcendental and as contradictory as it may sound, walking meditation.
Mindfulness is one of the many forms of mediation commonly practiced in America and possibly the least intimidating to start. It pairs the observation of your feelings and emotions while focusing on your breath. This attention to your inhale and exhale helps to anchor your focus to the present moment. As though you are allowing the thoughts to arise then subside, following your inhales and exhales.
Aside from a form of meditation, mindfulness in itself is the act of being present in the current moment, free from reaction to what is occurring in our thoughts and environment. Humans are naturally equipped with this ability but effort and practice can help sharpen its power. The ongoing practice of mindfulness can extend beyond meditation. When you are completely immersed in a task, not focused on the past or future, this is a form of mindfulness which can allow for greater self awareness. The process of reconnecting to what we do and why we do it.
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Try devoting 2 minutes a day and gradually increase as your schedule allows. Or at any frequency, it's all about what works for you! That is what makes mediation an attractive addition to any wellness routine. Here are a few tips to help you get going:
Find a quiet space with no distractions. If that isn’t possible, consider utilizing ear plugs or headphones to drown out any background noise. Turn your phone to silent but consider setting an alarm to ease your mind.
Get comfy, wherever that may be. It's best to sit upright but not necessary.
Position yourself with a straight spine and maintain a relaxed state.
Bring attention to your breath. Inhale. Exhale.
If you feel your mind wandering, don’t ignore it but acknowledge it and then let it go. It’s inevitable to have thoughts, learning to manage them is an important part of the process. The goal is not to stop your thoughts but to become comfortable witnessing them, like overhearing a conversation. If you find yourself getting lost in negative thoughts, anxiety or fear, release the urge to analyze them or get involved, refocus on your breathing and notice the feelings pass without judgement.
Make it a habit by practicing at the same time everyday. Some choose to meditate right before bed which can help induce relaxation. Alternatively, morning meditations can help improve your focus and hone in your intentions for the day ahead.
Determine your reason for starting this practice and monitor your progress. Consider the benefits and outcomes. For example, are you paying more attention to your partner? Feeling more focused at work? Keeping track may help you recognize improvements which in turn helps you stay committed to your practice.
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