“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day… unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen saying
Mindfulness, which is trained through meditation, is an effective tool for stress, worry, lack of focus, and general mental health.
During meditation, heart rate and respiration slows, blood pressure drops, and we become physically relaxed. Because it’s physiologically impossible to feel both stressed and relaxed at the same time, the practice of meditation is beneficial for naturally reducing feelings of stress and increasing feelings of peace and wellbeing.
People who practice meditation regularly report a range of mental, emotional, and physical benefits, and report feeling more balanced overall.
Benefits of meditation
- Better focus (and improved ability to focus under pressure)
- Less anxiety and stress
- More creativity & problem-solving capacity
- More compassion, less anger
- Improved communication and relationships
- Improved healing, especially if the condition is worsened by stress (meditation may help in managing the symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer)
You can practice meditation wherever and whenever. Riding the bus, in the office, in your kitchen while cooking dinner, before a big presentation or performance, or when you’re feeling just blah.
How to meditate
There are a few different styles of meditation. Some of the most popular, which have been practiced for centuries, are visualization (using all of your senses to visualize relaxing imagery or situations), mantra meditation (silently repeating a calming word or phrase to avoid distraction), and mindfulness meditation (practicing awareness and acceptance of the present moment).
Use this to practice focusing your senses on relaxing imagery that can be recalled as needed.
- Choose a picture that you find soothing. A natural scene, a favorite place, a scene from a painting, whatever you find relaxing and comforting.
- Study the picture for a few moments and imagine what it would feel like to be there right now. Imagine the sounds, the smells, the feeling under your feet, the feeling of the wind or the sun on your face.
- When you’re ready, close your eyes and continue imagining that you are in this place. Absorb yourself in the experience, but don’t try to manipulate or force your thoughts.
- Stay in this relaxing place for a few minutes, enough for your body to feel physically relaxed.
This is great practice for training your mind to focus and avoid distraction, which can be useful for work productivity, or for reducing the distraction of worry.
- Choose your mantra. It can be any word that’s easy to remember and is meaningful to your meditation practice. For example: still, calm, peace, one, relax, tree, donut.
- Sit comfortably (but upright) with your eyes closed.
- Repeat your mantra gently in your head. Over and over. And over.
- When your mind wanders (it will), gently bring it back to your mantra. Don’t try to change your thoughts, just keep whispering your mantra in your head. Continue for several minutes.
Acknowledging and accepting things as they are, without the tendency to judge or try to control them is great practice for living a more accepting (and thus peaceful) life in general.
- Sit on a chair, the floor, or wherever you’d like, as long as it’s relatively stable. Sit upright but not rigid.
- Close your eyes or gaze gently at something that’s naturally within your view.
- Breathe naturally and bring your attention to your breath. In and out, in and out. There’s no need to try to manipulate the breath, just pay attention to how it is naturally.
- Continue for a minute or two, sitting upright, paying attention to the in and out of your breath, and gently bringing your mind back when it wanders (it’s okay, the mind will wander, especially at first!).
- After a couple minutes of focusing on the breath, begin to notice your thoughts and label them without judgement. For example, “I just had a thought.” “Thinking has occurred.” “I thought about a task.” “I heard a dog bark outside.” Gently bring yourself back to focusing on the breath and continue acknowledging and accepting any thoughts that come along. The goal is not to stop your thoughts, or try to shape them in a certain way, but to just accept them as being there.
- Variation for beginners: At Step 4, instead of focusing on the breath for several minutes, focus on your senses- what do you smell, hear, taste, or feel at that moment?
- Start with a tiny habit that you’re able to conquer. Set an alarm and meditate for two minutes every day.
- No need to worry about finding a quiet place to meditate. It’s actually very effective to practice meditating with other stimulus, which gives more practice accepting the present moment as it is.
- Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders. The point is not to control your thoughts or force an absence of thoughts, it’s to practice accepting your thoughts simply as being there, without assigning importance.
- Meditative practices are simple and easy to learn, but they require patience and perseverance in practice.
- Try meditating once a day for a week and take note of how you improve over that time.
- Experiment- try different styles of meditation and different environments, to learn what works best for you.
Meditation Resources: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress (Mayo Clinic) The Science Behind Meditation & Headspace (Headspace) Free Guided Meditations (UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center)