Benefits of meditation and how to start now

When was the last time you sat still for 20 minutes without distraction of television, phone or computer? 

You might not be able to recall one recent minute of awake stillness. Technology is taking over. We have gadgets that save us time, but that only leads to more time to mess with more technology - emails, texts, games, apps, websites, Google searches, GPS. We're multi-tasking more and at a faster rate. All of which doesn't equate to a calmer or healthier lifestyle.

If you practice yoga, you may have experience with guided meditation at the beginning or end of class. Now, meditation isn't just for yoga class. It's becoming increasingly more accepted as a direct path to relieving stress and calming the mind's chatter. Between Oprah's online meditation series and urban meditation studios popping up, meditation is now a mainstream trend and practice for kids, athletes, and world-class performers and executives.

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. -Zen proverb

Benefits of Meditation 

Most people are drawn to meditation for stress relief. In addition to this valuable health benefit, a meditation practice has been proven to help with the following:

  • Emotional health. When we take time to go inward, we become less reactive and are able to regulate our emotions better. This is also good for those around us.
  • Improved concentration and memory. When we draw in and become centered, we stop reeling out of control and can better direct our cognitive function and energy toward what we are doing. A study done at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that students who had 8 days of meditation and mindfulness training did better on the GRE.
  • Heart health. Research indicates you can actually improve your health with meditation. According to Psychology Today, meditation can help reverse heart disease, reduce pain and enhance the body's immune system, enabling it to better fight disease.

Meditation Techniques

Taking a break and silencing your environment and thoughts sounds pretty simple in principle, but meditation can be an overwhelming experience if you begin with high expectations. Start slow and create the habit of stillness.

If you’re a beginner to meditation, try some of these simple meditation tips and techniques to help guide your mindfulness practice:

  1. Start small. Often we set our expectations high and plan to sit in meditation for 30 minutes only to fall out of focus after 3 minutes. Then we get frustrated and say we can't meditate. As with anything, this takes practice. It's okay to start with 1 minute at a time. Taking a moment for yourself is better than none. Be patient.
  2. Blue sky mind. When you close your eyes, picture a clear blue sky. As thoughts pop into your head, imagine them being clouds and let them blow across your sky. Rather than pushing thoughts down and creating a "that which resists, persists" struggle, the key is to acknowledge the thought and let it float by. Eventually, with practice, your mind will clear on its own and your mind will be clear and cloudless.
  3. Repeat a mantra (silently or aloud). The act of repetition gives the brain a rhythm to relax to. Thoughts fade as the mantra takes space in the mind. 
  4. Walk in silence. Sitting in silence may be too much for the ball of energy bouncing inside your physical body. Release this energy and step outside for a silent walking meditation. Listen to your steps, the birds singing, leaves blowing, the sound of your breath. Focusing your awareness on the present surroundings naturally quiets the monkey mind.
  5. Breathe and count. Focusing on the breath not only relaxes and regulates the body's systems, but it is a tool to quiet the mind. Breathe in for 6 counts, hold for 2, breathe out for 6, and repeat. Match the length of your inhales with your exhales to maximize the benefits of breath, while also turning your thoughts away from your daily to-do list.
  6. Do more yoga. Most yoga studios offer a variety of yoga styles and classes. Whether you go to stretch, to sweat, to restore or to bend, your state of mindfulness increases with a consistent yoga practice
  7. Perform a full body scan. Close your eyes right now and listen to your breath. Can you feel your toes? How do they feel? What are your hands doing? Are they tense? How does your forehead feel? Is it relaxed? Can you feel the air passing your outer nostrils? This brief body scan is an instant way to go inside and bring awareness to the present state of your body. This is just the beginning of a meditative state.

If you don't have time to meditate, that might be a sign you need it the most. Give yourself the gift of a quiet mind to help your overall health and wellbeing. Be kind to yourself and your mind with a daily dose of meditation. Read part two in our series, to discover how to create your your own yoga and meditation space in the comfort of your own home. 

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