Beginning a meditation practice can be daunting, which is a commentary on our society … that slowing down and being in the present moment is something that we crave yet it makes us nervous to try!
The basic principles of meditation are relaxation and breathing. If you can find a few minutes each morning and evening to practice, you will begin to feel the benefits of meditation very quickly; a few minutes a day can make a difference. Personally, it took me 15ish years of practicing yoga to achieve a consistent meditation practice. Meditation has lowered my reactiveness, helps me deal with chronic pain, even can help me dissolve a headache or stomachache. When I meditate I find that I am healthier, calmer and happier.
Benefits of Meditation: The benefits of meditation are well documented. Some of the earliest records of meditation date back 1500 years BCE and many religions, including Buddhism and Judaism, have records of meditation practice going back nearly as far. For instance – and I’m oversimplifying – in the Torah, Isaac (the patriarch) is described as going “lasuach” in the field. “Lasuach” is a term understood as a meditative practice (Book of Genesis 24:63). Ancient texts teach us that there has always been a central meditative tradition in Judaism.
Other forms of meditation evolved as non-religious variations of yoga traditions, such as the system of Transcendental Meditation, which became popular in the 1960’s. Instead of focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.
The effects of breathing your way into meditation are grounding. Learning to use your breath to naturally calm yourself centers you for meditation and relieves many symptoms of stress.
Stress reduction, better focus, better sleep, anxiety relief, enhanced self-awareness, assistance with age-related memory loss, promoting feelings of kindness, assistance with addiction recovery, pain control, blood pressure regulation are just some of the benefits of meditation.
Let’s briefly talk about some of the benefits and why meditation helps:
Stress reduction: Mental and physical stress can cause increased levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol will cause many of the harmful effects of stress, including the release the inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines, causing disruption of sleep, depression and anxiety, raising blood pressure and causing your thinking to become slow and sludgy. Meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions such as irritable bowel and fibromyalgia.
Anxiety Reduction: Less stress often means less anxiety. A regular meditation practice will help maintain lower anxiety over the long term. Meditation can also positively affect job-related anxiety. Since social anxiety, phobias and OCD can be symptoms of stress and general anxiety, meditation may help relieve those symptoms too.
Increased Focus and Memory: Meditation is training for your attention span, increasing the strength and endurance of your attention, much as physical exercise does for your body. Meditation may help you stay focused longer and remember details better. It is even suggested that meditation may reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to monkey-mind, worrying and poor attention. Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young, as mantra meditation has been shown to improve memory, attention and mental fitness in older meditators.
Improves Sleep: Will it surprise you to know that nearly half of American adults struggle with insomnia at some time? Meditation helps you control or redirect monkey-mind that can lead to trouble falling asleep. Additionally, meditation can relax the body, release tension and place you in a peaceful state where you are more apt to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Pain Control: A consistent meditation practice is found to decrease complaints of chronic or intermittent pain. Your perception of pain is effected by your state of mind. The quieter your mind the more likely you are to be able to “control” your pain.
There are many reasons to try meditation. Slowing down and being present brings many benefits. Here are tips when starting or freshening up a meditation practice:
- Keep track of your practice: when you meditate, how long, guided or on your own, whatever details are helpful. You can use an app or keep a journal.
- Meditation Apps: My personal favorite is Insight Timer, and there are many others. The apps have timers and keep track of your practice, they have guided meditations of many varieties and lengths with different teachers. Some of the apps also have talks and classes.
- Try to meditate at about the same time every day. You can meditate pretty much anywhere you can sit still, so try different places from time to time.
- Try to do breathing exercises before meditation
- Be comfortable, but not so comfortable you get sleepy. You can lie down, sit or be in a restorative pose.
There is so much information available about meditation. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed or confused. If you’ve decided to start or restart your meditation practice, remember, one foot in front of the other and keep your practice simple. Maybe a few minutes early in the day and a few minutes later on. Work your way into whatever feels comfortable and necessary. There are also meditation classes available at yoga studios and other places. Seek assistance where needed.
Remember, the quieter you become, the more you will hear.