If you’ve been following me along, you might have noticed I’m on a bit of a self-growth journey. I’ve been exploring a host of healthy practices, and this past April I added daily meditation to my routine. I’ve experienced so many great benefits from my meditation practice in such a short time that I wanted to share what I’ve learned in hopes it might resonate with some of you, too.
Before we get down to the good stuff, I thought it might be helpful to explain a bit more about how to meditate and the different types of meditation.
How to Meditate
I think the idea of meditation is overwhelming. A lot of us envision someone sitting quietly for hours without distraction – who has the time or can even create the circumstances to make that happen?
Meditation is much simpler than we think. Here’s what you do:
- Settle comfortably; this can be laying down or sitting in a chair or on the floor
- Remove stimulation and distraction (turn off your phone, be sure you’re in a quiet room, dim the lights, etc.)
- Then, try to clear your mind
- Rest like this for anywhere from a few minutes (seriously!) to as long as feels good
The goal is to focus your mind to create relaxation, which sounds like an oxymoron but it works! By focusing, you remove negative and pressing thoughts and are able to exist in the moment.
It can help to have a connecting point to divert your attention to, especially when you’re starting your practice. I like to concentrate on my breath moving in and out of my body without controlling it. Some people recite mantras, others listen to calming music, some focus on sensations, and others use visualizations or relaxation techniques (more on these below!). The idea is to have something to return to when your mind starts to wander.
On that note, it’s perfectly normal to have thoughts while meditating! People who meditate for YEARS have thoughts. The goal is not to have zero thoughts. The goal is to allow the thoughts to float in, acknowledge them without judgment, and let them float back out. It’s kind of like your commute to work or your fave coffee shop; you see the buildings and signs on your drive but don’t pay them any attention. This is how to treat your thoughts while meditating.
There are lots of ways to practice meditation!
- Mindfulness meditation: Probably the most popular type of meditation, in mindfulness meditation you focus on what you experience during meditation without judgment. A common technique here is to notice your breath moving in and out.
- Guided meditation: In this practice, you use mental imagery or visualization to move you through your meditation. If you’re first starting meditation, it’s really helpful to have a guide walk you through this type of meditation. This can be a very powerful form of meditation because you can use the imagery to achieve specific goals.
- Mantra meditation: Here, you recite a word or short phrase to maintain focus and help keep distracting thoughts at bay. You can use one of any of your favorite affirmations (I personally love, “I am gladdening my heart”), sanskrit words, or other phrases that make you happy as your mantra. It’s most helpful if you choose a mantra that serves your purpose for meditating that day, such as creating calm, releasing anger, or finding motivation.
- Transcendental meditation: Similar to mantra meditation, transcendental meditation uses the recitation of specific mantras in a particular manner to meditate. Transcendental meditation is gaining in popularity, and you can learn more about it here.
- Active meditation: Some also consider yoga and tai chi to be meditative, or even meditate while walking.
You don’t need to choose one type of meditation. You can explore all types and even use more than one type of meditation in a single meditation practice.
My daily practice usually consists of a combination of a guided meditation followed by mindfulness meditation. I like to spend about half my meditation time listening to a guide, and then sit mindfully and focus on my breath for the other half. I typically meditate for 15-20 minutes per day. I also find that it’s easiest for me to meditate in the morning, before I’m exhausted from my day but while my mind is naturally a bit more quiet.
Some will say that you need to meditate for at least 20 minutes per day because that’s how long it takes for your brain to reach the optimal state, however you can experience the benefits of meditation regardless how long you practice.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation can help improve both mental and physical well-being. Though we’re still learning all the ways that meditation can help us, here are some known benefits:
- Improve self esteem and self awareness
- Increase focus/concentration
- Heighten creativity
- Increase patience
- Reduce stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Slower breathing rate
- Better sleep
- Reduce depression
In my short period of meditation practice, I’ve noticed a more positive attitude, higher self esteem, less stress, and better sleep. Even more, the practice of just acknowledging my thoughts – without judging or analyzing them – has taught me to apply that same approach to the situations and experiences that would have previously riled me up, so I have more calm and peace during my day. What’s not to love?!
If all of this sounds good to you, here are some resources you may want to check out:
- Meditation apps (with free and paid versions) from Calm, Headspace, and the Cleveland Clinic
- Free meditation soundtracks on Spotify
- Free guided meditations by Deepak Chopra and Tara Brach
- Meditation info from Gabby Bernstein
I hope you’ll try to spend just a small bit of your day on yourself and this beautifully restorative practice; I know the benefits you’ll receive far outweigh the investment!
Meditation may even be able to help manage conditions such as asthma, heart disease and headaches.