Meditation is making headlines right now as one of the best ways be happy, healthy, and successful. With everyone from Arianna Huffington to Bill Ford incorporating into their daily routines, people around the world are shrugging their shoulders, raising their eyebrows, and saying “Why not?” to the mindfulness craze.
Is there anything to it though? Or is the success of these people completely unrelated to their daily meditation practices? Crazily enough, the science adds up.
The Benefits of Meditation
Though studies are still developing into the concrete benefits of meditation on the human mind and body, an astounding number of connections have been made between this simple mindfulness practice and a wide variety of tangible benefits.
According to the Huffington Post, the benefits of meditation can stem from something as simple as improved mental focus, to as measurable and scientific as lower blood pressure.
So far, the research indicates that meditation:
- Cultivates willpower
- Improves mental focus
- Increases grey matter in the brain
- Boosts cognitive function
- Decreases emotional reactivity
- Reduces depression
- Fights insomnia
- Eases anxiety
- Relieves stress
- Decreases pain
- Boosts the immune system
- Lowers blood pressure
- Eases inflammation
- Reduces heart risk
- Provides greater relationship satisfaction
- Gives the practicer greater love of self
- Improves empathy
The list of possible benefits is HUGE, and so far the science is supporting it. What began as a practice strictly for the new age among us has evolved into something that multi-million dollar companies are now recommending to their own employees.
In short, it works, and the effects of as little as five minutes of meditation per day can be life-changing.
How to Meditate
If you’ve never meditated before, don’t be discouraged if it’s a struggle initially. Meditation is simply the practice of mindfulness, of being fully present in the moment and calmly decluttering your mind.
There is no right or wrong way to do it, only a path that leads to the end result of clarity and improved focus, with a great center in the midst of an otherwise chaotic mind.
Below are a few guidelines to establish a starting point, but if you find your mind calms in other places, in other ways, do what works for you. Sit in the position that is comfortable, listen to the music that is calming, and remember that with meditation as with anything, there is going to be a learning curve.
It will get easier.
There is no one perfect place to meditate other than the place that brings you the most peace. Choose a space that is comfortable, serene, and without distractions (i.e. not the floor of your kids’ playroom).
Whether you choose to sit or stand, make sure that the space is comfortable for you to remain in that position for five minutes or more without moving around — bring in cushions if you need to.
While the space doesn’t have to be perfectly silent, it should be without distractions. Being beside a peaceful creek is wonderful, but even just a little white noise or some atmospheric, instrumental music will do. This Music for Concentration playlist from Spotify is one of my personal favorites.
Meditation is most often done in what’s known as the lotus pose, a yoga position that can be a bit challenging at first. Don’t sweat it if you can’t get your ankles up there right away — just sit in a position that’s comfortable for you for an extended period of time.
Sit on a cushion if the area is too firm for your liking, and stretch before you plop down so that your muscle tension doesn’t cause any aches later.
The trick is to choose a position that’s comfortable, but also supports your spine without you having to contract your muscles. Remember: it shouldn’t feel like a workout. Sit on your cushion, and focus on aligning your vertebrae slowly, stacking them into position so that your spine, neck, and hips are in alignment, and your back isn’t bowed out.
Place your hands on your knees or in your lap, palms up and relaxed. You can either choose to close your eyes or keep them “soft” — unfocused and relaxed, but open — whichever is most comfortable and conducive to meditation for you.
There isn’t a specific breathing method used in general meditation practices, only the practice of being aware of your breath to calm your mind and center your focus. If you feel particularly prone to your mind wandering or have a hard time centering your focus, use your breath to ground yourself.
Don’t attempt to control your breathing, just feel every part of your breath from inhale to exhale. Make yourself aware of how your body feels as your lungs fill with air, and feel the release as you exhale.
Don’t control, just feel, and you’ll find your mind settling into each meditation session with greater and greater ease.
Perhaps the most challenging part of meditation for most people is simply the art of quieting the mind. In a society that glorifies multitasking, it can feel utterly impossible at first to simply sit without planning the day’s activities.
Don’t be discouraged if your brain is like Grand Central Station as you get started — your mind isn’t more cluttered, you’re just more aware of how much is going on in there.
Use your breath to improve your focus, but don’t worry if it’s not enough to clear your mind. Focus instead on acknowledging your thoughts one at a time, and clearing them like you would from a whiteboard, line by line, as you acknowledge the thought, and then calmly wipe it from your mind.
How to Fit it into Your Schedule
One of the biggest hurdles to getting into a routine with meditation for most people is simply that they can’t imagine taking time to just sit there everyday — sounds absurd, right?
The bottom line is, you don’t need to start with 20 minutes a day twice a day like Oprah. Even just five minutes every day is a great start, and can drastically improve your mental focus.
If the tricky part is finding a quiet, distraction-free moment to truly just be, then do what you have to do and physically schedule it in. Wake up 15 minutes earlier, turn off your phone and shut your office door, and take the time you need for your mental and physical wellbeing.
However you make it happen, make it a habit as natural as brushing your teeth, and you may just start seeing the results you need to become the next Elon Musk (hey, we can dream, right?).
Do you meditate? Continue the conversation by tagging us with @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoGreenMagazine on social media.
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