How to Meditate: A Beginner's Guide
There are many ways to meditate. Meditation uses mindfulness to balance mind, body, and soul, and teach them to work in harmony together. Meditation helps us get out of our fight-or-flight mode, helping to protect our minds and nervous systems from the stresses of life, contributing to longevity (1), and training us to stay calm instead of reacting to negative situations.
The simple act of mindfulness, which is “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment” (2), has been shown to reduce fixation on negative emotions, improve focus, improve memory, lessen impulsive, emotional reactions, improve relationship satisfaction. (3) Research has shown that meditation may even help depression, chronic medical illnesses, chronic pain, insomnia, and support cognitive functions like learning (1). With proven benefits like these, it’s not hard to imagine how much meditation can improve your life and wellbeing. The results are well worth the short time it takes to meditate. Below are 5 easy ways to start:
Focus on breath:
Bring your attention to your inhales and exhales while breathing naturally. Mentally count how long it takes you to inhale and exhale, for example, “Inhale, 1, 2, 3…” and “Exhale, 1, 2, 3…”. Work your way up to seven-second inhales and ten-second exhales. Do this for two minutes.
Repeat a mantra:
Come up with your own positive thought, and mentally repeat it to yourself as you deepen your breath. You could use self-affirmations like, “I am confident. I am confident,” or repeat an intention like, “I will reach my goal. I will reach my goal.” This exercise is based on a popular form of meditation called transcendental meditation, in which people repeat personalized mantras- oftentimes in an ancient language- to decrease anxiety, benefit mental health, reduce addiction symptoms, and even reduce hypertension and mortality in the elderly. (4)
Pay attention to physical sensations:
Focus on your five senses: Taste, smell, hearing, sight, and feeling. Actively savor every bite of your lunch. Mindfully sniff a flower. Listen to the sound of birds chirping outside, or the rumble of the air conditioner inside. Observe the pen in your hand. Watch how smoothly the ink glides onto the paper. How does it feel in your fingers? Heavy? Cold?
Observe your environment:
Meditation can automatically help us to respond better to our surroundings. (5) Instead of catching a coworker’s bad mood, detach from it, and simply observe it without judgment. Instead of feeling nervous when your airplane flies through a rainstorm, simply notice how sparkly the raindrops are on the windows and the shadows they cast on the seats. Count how many seconds there are in between lightning strikes. Observe your fear instead of giving into it. When you’re at home, try finding things you’ve never noticed before. What color is the trim of your microwave? How many windows do you have? Take a walk through a park, engaging your five senses while studying the plants and wildlife surrounding you. Count each step you take.
Count Your Blessings:
Nineteenth-century writer Maltbie D. Babcocksaid, “Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings to counting your troubles.” (6) Everyone has something to be thankful for. Act like whatever you value will disappear unless you take the time to acknowledge it. Make of list of who and what you value. You might write down the names of close family members, friends, or pets. You can write down daily necessities, like oxygen, food, sleep, and sunshine.
An online search of “meditation” on the US National Library of Medicine website results in over 5095 scholarly articles. Every day, more people are discovering meditation and using it to enhance their health and lives. Using one or multiple of the 5 meditations above is a great way anyone can start meditating.
Practice meditation at least once a day. Ideally, meditate once every morning to prepare for the day, and once every night to unwind before bed. Some people practice meditation several times throughout the day, whenever anxiety, stress, or pain arises. There are no rules. You can meditate however you want, whenever you want. One thing is for sure: once you reap the benefits of meditation, you won’t want to stop!Sources:
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