Making meditation part of your day is not as tough as you might think - Hint; it starts by breathing. We want to debunk some of the misconceptions that get in the way of people adding meditation to their lives. Yes, it takes work but it’s probably a lot easier than you expect. Plus, it’s good for your mind, body and soul.
What is Meditation?
For one person, meditation might be a long bike ride, soaking in the sounds, smells and views. For someone else it may mean a guided meditation that leads to a quiet place in their minds where they focus on their breathing. Neither is necessarily a better approach than another because it truly depends on what works for you.
That said, there are some common goals behind the practice of meditation. The desire to focus and find a sense of calm many refer to as mindfulness.
“It’s estimated that 95 per cent of our behavior runs on autopilot. That’s because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts so we can function in this crazy world,” according to mindful.org. “Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these default processes. It’s executive control rather than autopilot and enables intentional actions, willpower and decisions. But that takes practice. The more we activate the intentional brain, the stronger it gets.”
The Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation can be so fantastic, the folks at Mayo Clinic dub it as medicine without the pharmaceuticals.
“Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions”.
Studies on the relaxation response (that’s the opposite of the body’s stress response or it’s your ‘off switch,’ to your body’s tendency towards fight-or-flight,) reveal short-term benefits to the nervous system ranging from lower blood pressure to improved circulation, less anxiety, a lower heart rate and deeper relaxation.
With that in mind, many insist the purpose of meditation is not to attain benefits per se.
“To put it as an Eastern philosopher may say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present,” Gaiam states in its 'Meditation 101' blog. “In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.”
Where can you buy some of that? You can’t. But there’s lots of support and guidance (figurative hand holding,) for those looking to begin a practice or up the one they already have.
How to Get Started with Meditation for Beginners
Here are a few tips to learn meditation techniques for beginners:
- Sit or lie comfortably. You may want to invest in a meditation chair or cushion
- Close your eyes. Some people lie down, using eye masks but au natural is fine
- Breathe naturally
- Focus your attention on the breath and how the body moves with each inhale and exhale. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage and belly. If your mind wanders, return focus back to your breath
- Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start
Many of us get distracted by our thoughts — to-do-lists and work deadlines when we start our meditation practice. But keep it up and mindfulness can become a great escape because it puts us in the moment far from our day-to-day stresses and worries.
Meditation Apps to Help You Get Started
Many people love the Headspace app as a way to explore guided meditation. And it’s popular because it is a great resource.
But there are hundreds of Youtube videos, both long and short, to cater to the style of meditation that interests you. There are some with leaders, like Deepak Chopra, and others who offer before-bed meditations, ones to start the day or others that focus on finding calmness or how to sit.
You can sign up for free Mindful Meditation for Beginners emails here and find free ones on mindful.org, which offers tips on getting started and a guided audio series from editor-in-chief, Barry Boyce, who delivers gentle instruction that includes a one-minute primer, a body scan meditation and a mindful walking one which, yes, you do with your eyes open.
Where Should You Meditate?
There are ways to set up some physical space and options available from the basic yoga mat to the meditation chair or aromatherapy. But, perhaps, all you need is the beauty meditation can bring to your life.
“While meditation isn’t a cure-all, it can certainly provide some much-needed space in your life. Sometimes, that’s all we need to make better choices for ourselves, our families and our communities. And the most important tools you can bring with you to your meditation practice are a little patience, some kindness for yourself and a comfortable place to sit. When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives. And bonus: you don’t need any extra gear or an expensive membership.”
It doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of your body type, age, colour or where you’re at in your life, meditation is an option. Give yourself some compassion — it’s called the ‘practice’ of meditation for a reason. Don’t expect to be an instant expert or to ever master the practice. Just commit to making it part of your life.
“One of my meditation teachers said the most important moment in your meditation practice is the moment you sit down to do it. Because right then you’re saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself and you’re making it real,” says meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg.
So how does this all dovetail into mental health? Keeping brain chatter to a minimum, lowering stress and carving out time for ourselves is good for our mental and physical health.
Although mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. They say mental health is akin to physical health and refers to “a state of wellbeing,’ which in the case of mental health includes “our emotions, feelings of connection to others, our thoughts and being able to manage life’s highs and lows.”