Often when people consider meditation, they have a vague sense it's something they should be doing, but they aren't exactly sure why.
And the “should” part makes it just another self-improvement obligation, like eating more vegetables. Sitting on the floor thinking about nothing seems like a big fat waste of time, especially if you've tried it once or twice and figured out how difficult it is to quiet your mind.
Like any other practice, the practice of meditation takes, well . . . practice. It takes a lifetime of practice to reach any level of true mastery. Fortunately, the benefits of meditation kick in as soon as you begin the practice and increase with your regular commitment to it. And the more you practice, the more you enjoy those benefits.
So, what are the benefits of meditation? Scientific research on meditation is a growing field of neurological study and has revealed dozens of physical, mental, and psychological positive outcomes including . . .
- reduced stress
- increased positive emotions
- increased energy
- improvement of memory and focus
- boost in self-confidence
- decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression
- boost in immune function
- decreased pain and inflammation
- lowered blood pressure
- improved sleep
In my research for this post, I found dozens of articles and studies reinforcing these positive outcomes. Now that you know meditation is not only good for you emotionally but actually changes your brain, your heart, and your immune system, I hope you see it as a practice well worth pursuing and developing as a regular habit.
The steps of meditation are not so difficult. But the regular practice of meditation is. If you've ever tried to quiet your mind, you know how stubborn your incessant thoughts can be. The first few times you meditate, you will feel like you've failed at it. But please don't give up. With every meditation session, you will notice improvement and increasing power over your “monkey mind.”
How to Meditate Properly
I would suggest you begin your practice of meditation with just 5 minutes a day. As with any new habit, attach your meditation practice to a “trigger” — a previously established habit like brushing your teeth or having your morning coffee. This trigger is a mental cue to insert your new meditation habit into your daily schedule.
After the first week, you can begin increasing the amount of time you meditate as the habit feels more automatic. Consider the goal of working up to 30 minutes a day.
For those new to meditation, here are the basic steps in the practice:
- Sit comfortably either in chair or cross-legged on the floor with a cushion. Keep your spine erect. (Don't recline as you may fall asleep.)
- Close your eyes, then take a few deep cleansing breaths — maybe three or four.
- Notice the sensations of your body as you are sitting. This could be any discomfort or simply pressure on your chair, warmth, tingling, etc. Simply notice these without judgment or anxiety.
- Gradually become aware of your breathing. Notice the air moving in and out through your nostrils and the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. Allow your breaths to come naturally without forcing them.
- Allow your attention to rest in the sensation of breathing, perhaps even mentally thinking the word “in” as you inhale and “out” as you exhale.
- Every time your thoughts wander (which they will do a lot in the beginning), gently let them go and return to the sensation of breathing. Don't judge yourself or your intrusive thoughts. Just lead your mind back to focused attention on breathing.
- As you focus on breathing, you'll likely notice other perceptions and sensations like sounds, physical discomfort, emotions, etc. Simply notice these as they arise in your awareness, and then gently return to the sensation of breathing.
- When you observe you've been lost in thought, detach yourself from the thoughts and view them as an outside witness with no judgment or emotion. Then again, return your attention to the breathing.
- Continue with these steps until you are increasingly just a witness of all sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and pass away.
In the beginning, you'll find you must redirect your thoughts almost constantly. But with time, it will become easier and easier to remain the witness to all thoughts and sensations and remain focused on your breathing. With increased practice, you'll experience three stages toward mastery: concentration, contemplation, and bliss.
When the mind is completely still and calm, you experience great clarity of mind, inspiration, and inner peace. You will come to long for your meditation sessions because of the wonderful state of serenity and rapture.
Those who are new to meditation can get started by following a guided meditation in which you listen to an audio of someone leading you through the initial relaxation and breathing steps. You focus on the speaker's voice and instructions which helps you master the “monkey mind” and gain confidence with your new meditation practice.
Guided meditations also can be used to offer subconscious support for any problem or positive life change you might be undertaking. When you are in the state of relaxed mindfulness, you are more open to mental suggestion.
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Commit yourself to one month of regular meditation practice, working up from 5 to 20 minutes a day. Keep a journal to chronicle your experiences with each daily meditation and make note of any physical, mental, or emotional changes along the way.
Notice how you improve in mindful awareness each week and diminishing power of the monkey mind. You may find you want to continue a lifetime practice of meditation!