Meditation. When you hear the word, does it bring up imagery of tie-dye, long hair, and questionable hygiene? How about cross-legged practitioners wearing flowing robes and chanting with eyes closed for hours on end. This may be what comes to mind when you think of meditation, or what media has led you to believe, but there are plenty of reasons to change that perception.
Meditation is a practice that’s been around for thousands of years, and has been present in nearly every civilization around the world. It has has substantial health benefits, and is something anyone can practice. Scientists at Harvard studied the affects of meditation over a two week time frame, and found it to measurably increase the amount of grey matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is closely associated with learning and memory.
The Benefits of Regular Meditation and Mindfulness
In addition to improving the capacity for learning and memory, meditation has a whole host of benefits; they’re right at your fingertips. It’s been known to decrease depression, pain, and stress. Meditation benefits practitioners by instilling a greater sense of life satisfaction. It fosters a peaceful and calm demeanor that’s noticeable throughout the day, and can help you with more control, presence, and awareness with all of your thoughts and emotions.
What is Meditation Anyways?
There are plenty of ways to go about it, but at the very core, meditation is the act of sitting calmly and quietly, clearing your mind, and focusing on your breathing. When thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, then slowly let them pass. Some folks like to chant a mantra over and over to stay focused, others prefer to pay close attention to their breathing. Some meditators sit cross legged on the floor, others sit comfortably on their beds or in their desk chairs.
The great news is there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, it’s a very personal and subjective experience. There’s no need to worry about posture, position, or what you’re wearing. Try to find a method that is enjoyable, and is easy to build into your schedule for the day.
Commit to dedicating just two minutes per day. Within the first hour of waking in the morning is a great time to do it, and so is in the evening before bed. How about right now. Let’s silently meditate for two minutes together right this very moment. Sit back in your chair so you’re in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths, and let your eyes slowly close. Focus on your breathing, and just contently sit in place for two minutes. Do it now. Breath in deeply through your nose, and out slowly through your mouth. Count your breaths slowly up to ten, then count back down. Pay attention to any aches and pains in your body, any signals that might be getting sent, signals that you may be ignoring in your day to day life. Relax and clear your mind, and just sit contently in place.
Am I Doing it Right? Don’t Worry!
One of the easiest pitfalls is when practitioners worry whether or not they’re meditating correctly. Don’t get caught up in this trap, because there really is no right or wrong answer. Just go through the motions, and focus on the process and the journey, rather than a specific outcome. The benefits of meditation come through consistent practice over a longer time frame, so learn to appreciate the couple minutes of peace and calm. Focus on your breathing, try to quiet the voices in your mind, and pay attention to how your body feels as you relax and meditate.
Come Back to Your Center
When you’re meditating, it’s inevitable that your mind will start to wander. Learn to be aware of these tangential thoughts, and come back to your peace and calm. Think of each time your mind starts to wander as a chance to practice self awareness. Acknowledge the thoughts as they come up, then let them slowly pass. Each time you are able to become aware of your wandering thoughts, and refocus on breathing and clearing your mind, it gives your brain more control and awareness.
Be the Observer of Your Thoughts
You are not your thoughts, you are merely the observer. A metaphor that’s always helped me, is to think of your mind as a vast ocean. Envision it as you meditate. The ripples and waves on the top level of the water are your thoughts, but you go much deeper than that. You are not your thoughts. You are the vast body of water, that goes seemingly infinitely deep, and spans for miles and miles, farther than the eye can see. Sometimes there’s a quiet peace and calm, and the water may be still as glass. Other times, there may be a torrential downpour with tidal waves that could capsize an ocean freighter. Quietly observe, and come back to your center each and every time.
Smile and Be Grateful for the Moments of Calm
Whether you set an alarm each time you meditate, or you end your practice when it feels right, take a few moments to reflect on the experience. Smile. Breathe deeply. Say something you’re grateful for, it can be big or small. Today you woke up happy and healthy. You have a community of family and loved one that care about you. You dog was excited to see you in the morning. There is so much to be grateful for all around us. Meditation helps us focus on the blessings we have all around us, and helps us live with more appreciation and gratitude throughout the day. Learn to appreciate the time that you dedicate for your practice, because it’s a time that’s truly yours, and will help your mind and body become more aware and present throughout your waking life.
There are tons of resources out there that can help you get started, or refine your practice and take it the next level. A few of them which I personally recommend because I’ve used them consistently, are: