A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO MEDITATION
There are meditation apps everywhere these days, but are they really worth it? We decided to find out for ourselves. We dove into the history of meditation, it benefits, why it really is worth the daily pause, and how to incorporate it into your own schedule. Let's get into it.
Meditation has a rich and diverse history spanning thousands of years throughout Eastern cultures, though it has relatively recently become more popular in the West. Initially practiced for its spiritual benefits, meditation has proven to benefit physical wellbeing as well. The Hindu religion first adopted meditation as a means to come closer to the greatness of God. Buddhists began meditating to realize and express human interrelatedness with all things. Meditating first gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s due to the physical improvements caused, and has remained popular ever since.
Although it may seem daunting to begin, meditating can positively impact your wellbeing in many ways, including the following:
- Helping you organize your thoughts and gain perspective
- Simultaneously calming and energizing the mind
- Increasing the effectiveness of your immune system
- Making your brain age more slowly
- Increasing the grey area concentration in the brain, which means that more parts of the brain are involved in learning, memory, and regulating emotions
- Reducing blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes
For thousands of years in the East, these effects have been known benefits of meditation but more recently, scientific studies have proven that meditating truly does have positive physical and neurological effects on those who practice it frequently.
How do you begin meditating?
Start with a cushion and a timer. Most frequent meditators use a meditation cushion or bench, which help keep you most alert. A beginning meditator probably does not have a meditation cushion or bench lying around, so a chair is sufficient and comfortable. You can use the timer on your phone. However, make sure that you turn on airplane mode to avoid being distracted by other notifications.
Set the tone
Begin meditating by setting the tone of your meditation space. Choose a quiet room and dim the lights. For your first several meditation sessions, set your timer for five or ten minutes. Use a gentle alarm—if you spend your meditation session anticipating a loud alarm, you will be unable to focus, and will not meditate productively.
Sit up straight
The first step to meditating is to sit down with your back straight. Sitting with proper posture allows you to remain alert and continue focusing on your breath.
Keep your body relaxed—you can cross your legs in front of you or fold them underneath you. You should be comfortable enough not to be distracted but not so comfortable that you fall asleep. Relax your hands as well. Although some people find benefit in forming a circle between their thumb and their pointer finger, many people find that they can focus better when they relax their hands, palms down, on their knees.
You can keep your eyes open or closed. If you feel distracted by your surroundings, close your eyes. If you feel extra tired, open your eyes slightly so you do not fall asleep and focus your glance on a spot on the floor in front of you. Keep your head tilted downward, whether your eyes are open or closed.
Focus on your breath
Once you are sitting comfortably, begin to focus on your breath. Meditating is all about mindful breathing. Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. Focus on any element of your breathing—how the air feels in your nose or in your lungs, the sound of your breath, or the length of time taken to fill and empty your lungs. Do not force your breath; just pay attention to it as it is done naturally.
As you meditate, do not think. If your mind begins to wander, bring the attention back to your breathing. When you lose focus, do not become discouraged; just focus once more on your breathing. Keep bringing your attention back to your breathing, no matter how many times you are distracted, until the timer sounds.
You may not notice a difference in your overall well being the first few times you meditate, but as you keep trying, you will be able to focus better and will, over time, receive the physical and neurological benefits.