By Anne Piccolo
People have been practicing meditation for over 3,000 years, for both the mental and physical benefits. In 2007, the US government reported over 20 million adults had meditated within the previous year, and the trend is still growing.
While there are no set in stone rules about meditating, we want to share some guidelines to help practitioners get the most out of the activity. If you’ve been considering learning meditation, there is no better time than the present to begin.
If you have ever been frustrated when someone tells you that a problem is “all in your head,” meditation is the answer to solving your conundrum. Even at just a few minutes a day, meditation has been known to increase serotonin levels, which positively affect mood and behavior.
Meditation also creates relaxation on deeper levels, which can help prevent insomnia by sending you off into dreamland with ease. With practice, everyday distracting thoughts, or “mental chatter,” will decrease, and result in better focus, concentration, and memory.
Creative aptitudes also increase, and after meditating many people also find that they become more productive in their day to day activities. Sometimes when solving a difficult problem it can be hard to take a step back, and meditation can help you see the bigger picture. Meditation can also positively affect listening skills and empathy for others, which lead to better relationships.
In addition to the psychological benefits, one can reap psychological benefits from meditation as well, from improved air flow in the lungs to increased exercise tolerance. Links have also been found between faithful meditation and fewer headaches and migraines. Meditation can also change brain activity, moving brain waves to the left frontal cortex and away from the right frontal cortex (which is a big stress zone). There is also less activity in the amygdala, which is how the brain processes fear.
While there isn’t one right way to meditate, there are a few tips that can help you get the most out of the exercise:
- Find a quiet place to sit, preferably one with no people around and minimal distractions.
- When getting started, five minutes is a good target range for a meditation session, as it can feel strange to do absolutely nothing for a prolonged period of time. After a week or so, try building up to ten, then fifteen minutes.
- In transcendental meditation, it is recommended to meditate twice a day for twenty minutes, once at sunrise and once at sunset.
- It is a good idea to try to keep a schedule, because the more you meditate, the more you get out of it.
- As far as positions go, the lotus (legs crossed with feet on top) is the most common, but the most important thing is for you to be in a comfortable upright position. Once seated, close your eyes and roll them back slightly to the spot between your eyebrows to become calm faster.
- Instead of getting bogged down by wandering thoughts, focus on your breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) and in time that “mental chatter” will decrease. If they don’t, try and focus on those thoughts because paying attention to where your mind wanders can lead to self-awareness.
- Finally, you know you’re successfully meditating when your mind becomes free of distracting thoughts and is silent.
If you’re having trouble getting rid of distracting thoughts, mantras can be helpful in providing something for your mind to focus on! It’s a happy medium between complete mental silence and distractions.
To start, make your breaths slow and audible. If you want, say one word as you inhale and one as you exhale. One of the most common mantras is to slowly say “so” on the inhale and “hum” on the exhale, but you can say any monosyllabic words that feel comfortable to you.
There are many different types of meditation, and it’s all about finding the right one for you. Transcendental meditation is commonly associate with benefitting creativity (director David Lynch is a strong advocate) while the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) technique involves meditating for 45 minutes a day while listening to a guiding CD. With this method, one’s focus is first directed to the body as a whole, then to a specific body part.
Meditation is a calming exercise that can reduce stress and pain while helping the mind reach its full potential. It can be done anywhere and involves no equipment, so it’s easy to get started. Best of all, there aren’t any adverse side effects or sore muscles after this exercise!
The Big Question
Have you tried meditation? How has it changed your life?
Meditation Society - 108 Different Ways to Meditate
Mind Tools - Self-Hypnosis
Web MD - 10 Ways to Relax