|To some people, meditation seems difficult. To other people, easy. If you’ve tried it once or twice and by your own assessment, you’ve “failed,” you may think it’s incredibly difficult. If you’ve never tried it and I were to tell you, all you need to do is close your eyes and observe your own breathing or repeat a word or phrase, silently to yourself, it might sound incredibly easy.
One reason to meditate is that whether it’s hard or easy for you, mindfulness meditation has many health benefits. Studies have shown that a regular practice of meditation reduces stress, relieves anxiety, helps with depression, boosts your immune system, and increases happiness and contentment.1 By reducing the activation in our amygdala (where the stress response begins) and increasing the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, these enhanced neural pathways help us react differently to stressors and respond in healthier ways to the stress we experience.
Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson write in their book, Altered Traits, “These changes are trait-like: They appear not simply during [meditation], but even in the ‘baseline’ state” [afterward] for longer-term meditators, which supports the possibility that mindfulness changes our ability to handle stress in a better, more sustainable way.”2
How to Meditate.
So here are ten things you need to know to start meditating today.
1. Sit any way you want. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor. You can sit in a chair or sit up in bed. You can sit on the floor on a cushion. Just find a comfortable position where you can maintain the same posture for 5 to 10 minutes. You can even meditate lying down.
2. Choose your style of meditation. You can repeat a word or phrase silently to yourself, (sometimes called, concentration meditation) or, you can focus on something that brings you into the present moment, like your breathing, or the sounds in the room (usually called, mindfulness meditation).
3. Choose what you want to focus on. You can try focusing on every in-breath, every out-breath, and then the gap that occurs between the out-breath and the next in-breath, or you can quietly chant a mantra like Ohm Shanti (which means God, Peace) or you can silently repeat a calming word or phrase like peace, one, or I am feeling more and more relaxed.3
4. How to stay focused. When your mind wanders simply bring it back to whatever it is you have chosen to focus on. That’s the practice of meditation. Think of it like doing reps at the gym. This practice or mental workout teaches you how to concentrate better and makes your mind stronger, and you more resilient.
5. Start small. Meditate for just five minutes first thing in the morning, or before you go to bed at night. Build your habit slowly. Eventually, you can work up to 10, 15, or even 20 minutes twice a day. But for now, five minutes a day is plenty.
6. There is no such thing as a bad meditation. No matter how distracted you get, or discouraged, just keep refocusing your mind on the target, over and over. This sharpens your mind and physically changes the brain.
7. Sleep is a by-product of meditation, not the goal. If you are sleep-deprived, you may fall asleep while meditating. Meditators generally meditate sitting up, to help prevent this from happening.
8. It doesn’t have to be quiet. A quiet place is often preferred, but you can meditate anywhere: On a bus, on a plane, on a park bench, or even at the office. An important part of the practice of meditation is “non-judgment.” Let go of your thoughts about the noise in the room and try to experience it directly – without thinking of it as either bad or good. It just is.
9. You don’t have to close your eyes. Tibetan monks meditate with their eyes half-closed. They feel it’s less distracting to focus on the floor in front of them than to close their eyes completely (which – by their way of thinking – opens up the mind to infinitely more distraction). Choose what works best for you.
10. Meditation changes the brain. Harvard Professor, Sara Lazar, has shown that eight weeks of meditating just 30 minutes a day can bring about increases in the parts of the brain that promote self-regulation, happiness, and contentment (primarily the left pre-frontal cortex), while decreasing the size of certain areas of the brain that help to trigger the stress response (primarily the amygdala).