When we meditate, we inject far-reaching and long-lasting benefits into our lives: We lower our stress levels, we get to know our pain, we connect better, we improve our focus, and we’re kinder to ourselves. Let us walk you through the basics in our new mindful guide on how to meditate.
- BY MINDFUL STAFF
- JANUARY 31, 2019
This is a guidebook to the many different styles of meditation, the various benefits of each practice, plus free guided audio practices that help you learn how to meditate.
How do you learn to meditate? In mindfulness meditation, we’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.
When we pay attention to our breath, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.
In mindfulness practice, we are learning how to return to, and remain in, the present moment—to anchor ourselves in the here and now on purpose, without judgement.
The idea behind mindfulness seems simple—the practice takes patience. Indeed, renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg recounts that her first experience with meditation showed her how quickly the mind gets caught up in other tasks. “I thought, okay, what will it be, like, 800 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath, and I’d be gone,” says Salzberg.
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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.
A Basic Meditation for Beginners
The first thing to clarify: What we’re doing here is aiming for mindfulness, not some process that magically wipes your mind clear of the countless and endless thoughts that erupt and ping constantly in our brains. We’re just practicing bringing our attention to our breath, and then back to the breath when we notice our attention has wandered.
- Get comfortable and prepare to sit still for a few minutes. After you stop reading this, you’re going to simply focus on your own natural inhaling and exhaling of breath.
- Focus on your breath. Where do you feel your breath most? In your belly? In your nose? Try to keep your attention on your inhale and exhale.
- Follow your breath for two minutes. Take a deep inhale, expanding your belly, and then exhale slowly, elongating the out-breath as your belly contracts.
Welcome back. What happened? How long was it before your mind wandered away from your breath? Did you notice how busy your mind was even without consciously directing it to think about anything in particular? Did you notice yourself getting caught up in thoughts before you came back to reading this? We often have little narratives running in our minds that we didn’t choose to put there, like: “Why DOES my boss want to meet with me tomorrow?” “I should have gone to the gym yesterday.” “I’ve got to pay some bills” or (the classic) “I don’t have time to sit still, I’ve got stuff to do.”
We “practice” mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on.
If you experienced these sorts of distractions (and we all do), you’ve made an important discovery: simply put, that’s the opposite of mindfulness. It’s when we live in our heads, on automatic pilot, letting our thoughts go here and there, exploring, say, the future or the past, and essentially, not being present in the moment. But that’s where most of us live most of the time—and pretty uncomfortably, if we’re being honest, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We “practice” mindfulness so we can learn how to recognize when our minds are doing their normal everyday acrobatics, and maybe take a pause from that for just a little while so we can choose what we’d like to focus on. In a nutshell, meditation helps us have a much healthier relationship with ourselves (and, by extension, with others).
WHY LEARN TO MEDITATE?
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.
Here are five reasons to meditate:
1: Understand your pain
2: Lower your stress
3: Connect better
4: Improve focus
5: Reduce brain chatter
How to Meditate
Meditation is simpler (and harder) than most people think. Read these steps, make sure you’re somewhere where you can relax into this process, set a timer, and give it a shot:
1) Take a seat
Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
2) Set a time limit
If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or 10 minutes.
3) Notice your body
You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.
4) Feel your breath
Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
5) Notice when your mind has wandered
Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing that your mind has wandered—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
6) Be kind to your wandering mind
Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.
7) Close with kindness
When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.
Meditation 101: The Basics
Try this 3-part guided audio series from Barry Boyce:
How long would you like to meditate? Sometimes we only have time for a quick check-in, sometimes we can dip in a little longer. Meditating every day helps build awareness, fosters resilience, and lowers stress. Try to make meditation a habit by practicing with these short meditations from our Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce. Find time to sit once a day for one month and see what you notice.
A short practice for settling the mind, intended for doing in the middle of the day, wherever you are out in the world.
A longer practice that explores meditation posture, breathing techniques, and working with thoughts and emotions as they surface during mindfulness practice.
A practice that explores sitting in formal meditation for longer periods of time.
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Meditation Tips and Techniques:
We’ve gone over the basic breath meditation so far, but there are other mindfulness techniques that use different focal points than the breath to anchor our attention—external objects like a sound in the room, or something broader, such as noticing spontaneous things that come into your awareness during an aimless wandering practice. We’ve tapped mindfulness teacher Elisha Goldstein to craft our premium How to Meditate Course. If you’re interested in learning various meditation techniques to help you find focus, feel peace, and uncover your inner power, please explore our Mindful Online Learning School.
Try this free sample of our How to Meditate Course: Making Mindfulness a Habit—with Dr. Elisha Goldstein.FREE SAMPLE OF HOW TO MEDITATE COURSE
How to Make Mindfulness a Habit
It’s estimated that 95% 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. These default brain signals are so efficient that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead.
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. Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for “autopilot” brain.
But here’s the problem: While our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain causes us to shortcut our way through life. So how can we trigger ourselves to be mindful when we need it most? This is where the notion of “behavior design” comes in. It’s a way to put your intentional brain in the driver’s seat. There are two ways to do that—first, slowing down the autopilot brain by putting obstacles in its way, and second, removing obstacles in the path of the intentional brain, so it can gain control.
Shifting the balance to give your intentional brain more power takes some work, though. Here are some ways to get started.
- Put meditation reminders around you. If you intend to do some yoga or to meditate, put your yoga mat or your meditation cushion in the middle of your floor so you can’t miss it as you walk by.
- Refresh your reminders regularly. Say you decide to use sticky notes to remind yourself of a new intention. That might work for about a week, but then your autopilot brain and old habits take over again. Try writing new notes to yourself; add variety or make them funny. That way they’ll stick with you longer.
- Create new patterns. You could try a series of “If this, then that” messages to create easy reminders to shift into the intentional brain. For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday. Or, “If phone rings, take a breath before answering.” Each intentional action to shift into mindfulness will strengthen your intentional brain.
More Styles of Mindfulness Meditation
Once you have explored a basic seated meditation practice, you might want to consider other forms of meditation including walking and lying down. Whereas the previous meditations used the breath as a focal point for practice, these meditations below focus on different parts of the body.
Introduction to the Body Scan Meditation
Try this: feel your feet on the ground right now. In your shoes or without, it doesn’t matter. Then track or scan over your whole body, bit by bit—slowly—all the way up to the crown of your head. The point of this practice is to check in with your whole body: Fingertips to shoulders, butt to big toe. Only rules are: No judging, no wondering, no worrying (all activities your mind may want to do); just check in with the physical feeling of being in your body. Aches and pains are fine. You don’t have to do anything about anything here. You’re just noticing.
Body Scan Meditation
A brief body awareness practice for tuning in to sensations, head-to-toe.
Begin to focus your attention on different parts of your body. You can spotlight one particular area or go through a sequence like this: toes, feet (sole, heel, top of foot), through the legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back, chest shoulders, arms down to the fingers, shoulders, neck, different parts of the face, and head. For each part of the body, linger for a few moments and notice the different sensations as you focus.
The moment you notice that your mind has wandered, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember.
If you fall asleep during this body-scan practice, that’s okay. When you realize you’ve been nodding off, take a deep breath to help you reawaken and perhaps reposition your body (which will also help wake it up). When you’re ready, return your attention to the part of the body you last remember focusing on.
Introduction to the Walking Meditation
Fact: Most of us live pretty sedentary lives, leaving us to build extra-curricular physical activity into our days to counteract all that. Point is: Mindfulness doesn’t have to feel like another thing on your to-do list. It can be injected into some of the activities you’re already doing. Here’s how to integrate a mindful walking practice into your day.
A mindful movement practice for bringing awareness to what we feel with each step.
As you begin, walk at a natural pace. Place your hands wherever comfortable: on your belly, behind your back, or at your sides.
- If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.
- With each step, pay attention to the lifting and falling of your foot. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. Notice any shifting of your body from side to side.
- Whatever else captures your attention, come back to the sensation of walking. Your mind will wander, so without frustration, guide it back again as many times as you need.
- Particularly outdoors, maintain a larger sense of the environment around you, taking it all in, staying safe and aware.
Introduction to Loving-Kindness Meditation
You cannot will yourself into particular feelings toward yourself or anyone else. Rather, you can practice reminding yourself that you deserve happiness and ease and that the same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and everyone else in the world.
A Loving-Kindness Meditation
Explore this practice to extend compassion to yourself, those around you, and the larger world.
This loving-kindness practice involves silently repeating phrases that offer good qualities to oneself and to others.
- You can start by taking delight in your own goodness—calling to mind things you have done out of good-heartedness, and rejoicing in those memories to celebrate the potential for goodness we all share.
- Silently recite phrases that reflect what we wish most deeply for ourselves in an enduring way. Traditional phrases are:
• May I live in safety.
• May I have mental happiness (peace, joy).
• May I have physical happiness (health, freedom from pain).
• May I live with ease.
- Repeat the phrases with enough space and silence between so they fall into a rhythm that is pleasing to you. Direct your attention to one phrase at a time.
- Each time you notice your attention has wandered, be kind to yourself and let go of the distraction. Come back to repeating the phrases without judging or disparaging yourself.
- After some time, visualize yourself in the center of a circle composed of those who have been kind to you, or have inspired you because of their love. Perhaps you’ve met them, or read about them; perhaps they live now, or have existed historically or even mythically. That is the circle. As you visualize yourself in the center of it, experience yourself as the recipient of their love and attention. Keep gently repeating the phrases of loving-kindness for yourself.
- To close the session, let go of the visualization, and simply keep repeating the phrases for a few more minutes. Each time you do so, you are transforming your old, hurtful relationship to yourself, and are moving forward, sustained by the force of kindness.
MORE GUIDED MEDITATION PRACTICES
The RAIN Meditation with Tara Brach
A practice for difficult emotions, RAIN is an acronym for Recognition of what is going on; Acceptance of the experience, just as it is; Interest in what is happening; and Nurture with loving presence.
A Mindfulness Practice to Foster Forgiveness
Explore this practice to let go of the tendency to add to our suffering during challenging situations.
The Alternative Daily’s CEO, Jake Carney, feels his meditation practice, Kelee® meditation, has helped him improve his life. Wouldn’t you love to become a better person too, just by meditating? Well you can, and it’s easy to do.
The best thing about this meditation is, it doesn’t change you into someone you’re not. It helps you to let go of the parts you would like to let go of. It enhances the real you. You know, the good parts — the things you love about yourself — the things that make you, you. Doing this practice gives your thoughts clarity: your thoughts about what to do, and your thoughts about your life. This is something good to know in a world that seems filled with people telling us how we should be, and what we should do. If you could see clearly what is best for you, wouldn’t you do it?
Here are some ways Kelee meditation can help you:
You feel better physically
“When your mind lights up with a good thought, your physical body follows suit.” A quote from the book, The Mind and Self-Reflection by author Ron W. Rathbun.
While surfing, Jake, experienced this firsthand. He’d had “one of those days” at work and was out on the ocean but not “feeling the vibe.” He got a little frustrated, then decided to try and “drop into his mind,” right there on the water. So he dropped into his Kelee and detached from the thoughts bothering him. He waited patiently for the next wave, and it was one of the best rides of his life! Dropping into your greater Kelee, which is an opening to the mind, is not some abstract thought. It’s real, and you can use it to help yourself every day in your life.
You naturally become a better listener
A wise person observes more and talks less. Through this practice brain chatter lessens, and you naturally hear more of what others are saying.
You talk from your heart
Speaking from your heart means never having to apologize for saying something you didn’t mean. When you do Kelee meditation, you naturally speak from your heart, and your whole life gets simpler.
You mind your own business
Have you ever gotten into someone else’s business, then wish you hadn’t. We are responsible for ourselves. This meditation practice focuses you on your thoughts, and your life.
You become less dramatic
“If you make something an issue, it will be. Do you create issues for yourself or others, and why.” When you live from the harmony of mind, you don’t make issues. Being dramatic is really just a waste of everyone’s energy anyway.
You learn to say, “No, thank you”
When you learn to respect yourself more — your thoughts and your feelings — you respect your own space. From The Mind and Self-Reflection, “If you never learn how to say no thank you, people never learn to respect your space. Do you respect your space.”
You let others work out their problems
It doesn’t help to get involved in other people’s problems. Most people don’t want to be told what to do anyway. When you are in mind, you focus on your life. Isn’t that enough?
We recommend doing this meditation. It is a simple, five-minute meditation based on stillness of mind — and you can do it at home. For instructions, download this simple ebook, Kelee Meditation: Free your Mind, and begin becoming a better person today.
Nikki Walsh is a freelance writer and mom of two kids living in Southern California. She holds an MBA in marketing from University of California, Irvine and a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UCSD. She has been practicing Kelee meditation for 19 years. When she is not writing she can be found out and about having fun with her kids.
©2016 with permission of the Kelee Foundation.
5 Signs You Need To Align Your Chakras ASAP
Liivi Hess 43.6 Kviews
If you’re feeling run down, lacking in energy, depressed or unhealthy, it’s possible that your chakras are out of alignment.
Maintaining a healthy body and mind that are perfectly in balance with one another is a difficult, near-impossible endeavor. This process, called homeostasis, can provide the means by which we achieve harmony between all the different chemicals, hormones, microorganisms and more. The further we move away from this harmonized state of being, the greater our chances of both physical and mental illness are.
Balancing your chakras provides an age-old mechanism with which you can return your body and consciousness back to homeostasis, and keep it that way.
What exactly are “chakras?”
Simply put, your chakras are the locations at which your spirit and physical body meet. Thought to have been officially standardized under eighth-century Buddhist Tantra teachings, ancient custom dictates that there are seven primary meeting points between the subtle (non-physical) energy channels of the body. These channels, known as “nadi,” are believed to be the channels in the subtle body through which your life force moves.
The word “chakra” is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “wheel,” “circle” and “cycle.” This should help you to visualize how chakras are understood to operate. Your chakras are constantly moving bands of energy that circulate within specific zones of your body… like a moving wheel. While there are many chakras understood to exist within the body, most practitioners focus on the seven “major” chakras:
Located at the base of the spine, this is otherwise known as Muladhara, the earth chakra. Your root chakra is red in color. It is associated with feelings of safety and security.
Located below the belly button in the upper pelvic region, this chakra is known through ancient custom as Svadisthana. It’s orange in color. It is considered the water chakra (you’d think it’d be blue). It is associated with pleasure, acceptance and creativeness.
Solar plexus chakra
Located at the point where your ribs meet your abdomen, just above the naval, this chakra is known as Manipura, the fire chakra. Manipura is believed to be responsible for your digestion and diaphragmatic functions. It is associated with feelings of control and self-worth.
Located, funnily enough, at the center of your chest, this is known as Anahata, the air chakra. Anahata is green. It is associated with feelings of love and inner peace.
Blue in color, this chakra is known as Visuddha, the ether chakra. Responsible for your taste, speech and eating abilities, Visuddha’s purpose is to enable both inward and outward communication.
Third eye chakra
Located between your eyes, this chakra, otherwise known as Ajna, is that of the light. Indigo in color, Ajna enables physical sight and internal decision making.
Thought to be either located at the top of the head or just above it, Sahasrara is the violet chakra, representing cosmic energy. Your crown chakra is responsible for maintaining mental peace and connectedness.
If this is all seeming a bit too hocus pocus for your taste, simply think of chakras as energy bands. The universe is energy — it’s a scientific fact. Therefore, it stands to reason that our own bodies are governed by certain energy wavelengths. A convenient way to enable understanding of these energy bands is through the system of chakras. There. Feeling better about the subject now?
Reasons to align your chakras
Whether you like it or not, your body and mind are heavily influenced by your own energy and the energy of others. Those energy fields, conveniently compartmentalized into distinct chakras, dictate whether you feel vibrant and full of life or lethargic and down in the dumps. Aligning your chakras so that they’re perfectly balanced and in tune with each other helps to get you feeling energized and whole once more. Here’s a number of reasons why you need to align your chakras.
Misaligned chakras can cause physical problems
Often, if you’re suffering from certain ailments of the body but can’t for the life of you work out why, it may be due to an imbalance in your chakras. Here are some of the symptoms associated with chakras that are out of alignment:
- Bladder and bowel issues
- Breathing problems
- Circulation issues
- Dental issues
- Digestive complications
- Immune disorders
- Lower back pain
- Low libido
- Skin problems
- Reproductive issues
- Vision problems
Misaligned chakras can cause mental issues
Because the chakras represent your spiritual life force, they can arguably play an even more influential role in dictating your emotions and mental health. If you’re suffering from any of the following issues, it could be due to a problem with one of many of your chakras:
- Anger issues
- Abusiveness towards yourself or others
- Boredom (with life, others or your job)
- Eating disorders
- Lack of creativity
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of willpower
Aligning your chakras can help you achieve overall balance
Together, your chakras represent your entire self: physical, spiritual and emotional. For this reason, they provide the means by which you can achieve overall balance in your life — that evasive homeostasis I discussed earlier. By devoting a little bit of time to actively visualizing and supporting each of your chakras, you help to improve each area of yourself. By taking a few minutes every day to focus your awareness on each of the seven chakras, you will subtly but surely promote the attributes it represents.
Aligning your chakras can increase self-awareness
This sounds like an inconsequential benefit, but it’s actually kind of a big deal! By developing an awareness of your chakras, you unlock the potential to become adept at self-diagnosing. Not in the sense that a doctor diagnoses you by asking what symptoms are (“cough now”) then prescribing some form of nasty medication, but in the sense that you can ascertain where you’re feeling weak or ill and focus your energy on that region to reattain homeostasis. Essentially, by looking for ebbs and flows in your chakras, you can pinpoint elusive problems in your health and resolve them… without knocking back vast quantities of drugs.
Aligning your chakras can help you to achieve well-being
Chances are, if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, you’ve heard of yoga. Yoga, as it happens, draws much of its mantra from the chakra system. In fact, many modern forms of meditation derive much of their essence from this understanding of energy flow between the major chakras. All acknowledge, in some way or form, that your consciousness is spread across all seven chakras, and that aligning them all brings a state of harmony and well-being. In this sense, aligning your chakras is like being in a state of meditation all the time, allowing you to achieve effortless calm and support a life rich in beauty and happiness.
How to align the chakras
There are plenty of ways in which you can go about achieving chakra greatness — just about everyone in the business has their own special method. But, as usual, simplicity is key and this method is an age-old way to align your chakras quickly and effectively:
1. Lie down in a comfortable spot away from the hustle and bustle of life. This might be your bedroom or a quiet spot on the grass under the trees — whatever it takes to minimize disturbance from discomfort and the stresses of life.
2. Take a few minutes to just lie there and breathe deeply, clearing your mind of all that everyday fuzz and becoming centered with your body.
3. Now set an intention for balancing and aligning your chakras. Apparently, the energy listens to your intentions, so this actually makes a lot of sense!
4. Place one of your hands on your first chakra (the one at the base of your spine), and another hand on your second chakra (your sacral chakra, just below your belly button). You can physically rest your hands on these areas, or allow them to hover a few inches above the body — it’s your choice.
5. Keep your hands in this position until you feel the energy between the two chakras equalize. This may be a pulsating feeling, or simply a feeling that it’s time to move onto the next chakras. If you don’t feel anything conclusive, don’t worry — simply move on after a minute or two.
6. Move your hands to your second and third chakras, and repeat this process all the way up to the seventh chakra. After you’ve balanced all the chakras, take a few minutes to simply lie there and soak in the feeling of wholeness.
Make a point of doing this every day and you’ll not only kick stress right in the unmentionables, but you’ll become much more in tune with your own body. Goodbye, doctor. Hello, chakras!
Why Meditation is as Important as a Healthy Diet and Exercise
By: Cat Ebeling, BSN, co-author of the best-sellers: The Fat Burning Kitchen, The Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix
Meditation used to be something I thought about as applying mostly to Eastern cultures and yoga fanatics. I just didn’t see how it could be possible to transcend thoughts and never wanted to take the time to practice it. I always found meditation to be too complicated and time-consuming and actually never felt it was productive to ‘disengage’ from life and swirling thoughts long enough to make it worthwhile.
I was never so wrong.
Meditation has become mainstream these days, thanks to the popularity of yoga and other eastern practices. It seems that everyone, especially productive, creative ‘game-changers’ are doing it and having amazing benefits. The most successful people in the world meditate. They apparently know something about its benefits, or they wouldn’t waste their time.
People like Paul McCartney, Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Richard Branson, Derek Jeter, Ariana Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and more all practice some form of meditation. Olympic athletes do it, top-level CEO’s do it, and super successful celebrities do it—and everyone in between. These people are not doing it because they have too much time on their hands; these people are busy super-performers who have learned how to become even more productive and more clear-headed with meditation.
It’s a discipline that needs daily time and attention.
Meditation is not just for yoga fanatics. Meditation is not mysterious or complicated. It is exactly and perfectly made for us–busy, crazy, too-much-stuff-packed-into-one-day folks. It is a simple process of clearing one’s mind of all the crazy clutter that we get hammered with on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. You clear your desk to work, right? Well, when you clear your mind, you will find that work, health, exercise, personal relationships, creativity, and more—all become better and more productive.
Meditation will change your life for the better if you make it a habit.
One of my resolutions for this year is to get more disciplined in a meditation practice. After seeing dozens of articles come up on my computer, I decided it was high time to look into the benefits and get my own practice going. It’s not easy at first, but it’s like exercise for the brain. At first, it’s difficult and you may struggle with this, but it’s an EXERCISE, which means that with practice, you will get better and better, and see and feel results more and more!
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Below are twelve ways that meditation is as powerful for your health as a healthy diet and exercise.
Have you ever felt like there is information overload going on in your brain and you feel you just need hit a shut off button to reboot? This is where meditation can be extremely helpful. Depending on the meditation style you practice, you can virtually empty your mind of all the excessive clutter flying around in your head and reset your focus.
Meditation is incredibly effective at slowing down your thoughts and lowering stress and anxiety. In fact, many people often meditate before stressful events like going onstage to speak or perform in front of thousands of people.
One study found that mindfulness and Zen meditation significantly reduced stress after only a period of 8 weeks. Another study found that meditation actually changes the brain structure, especially those parts associated with stress and worry.
Both mental and physical stress can increase the hormone cortisol. This is what causes many of the harmful effects of stress, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, tight muscles, weight gain and more. Cortisol is an inflammatory hormone that has very negative effects on the body.
In this study of med school students, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Research also shows that meditation can not only lower stress and cortisol response, but it also has a very positive effects on those conditions affected by stress like irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, fibromyalgia and even more serious diseases like cancer. I know for me, meditation is a definite stress reliever. It does seem to really help to rewire my brain.
Helps with Razor Sharp Focus
Need to sharpen up your focus a bit? Meditation improves your ability to stay on task, focus on being productive, and also helps with cognition. This study shows how meditation improves focus.
With the computers and the internet on everyone’s desktop, focus has become a diminishing ability. However, focused meditation actually helps us increase this all-important ability once again, and clears your plate for razor sharp focus. Meditation helps to increase both the strength and length of your attention.
This study published in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience journal shows that just 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation improves the ability to reorient and maintain attention. And a similar study shows workers who practiced meditation were able to stay on task and focus for longer periods of time while multitasking—and remember details of their tasks better than those who did not practice meditation.
While our digital phones, pads and computers, combined with social media, have actually shortened our attention spans to about 8 seconds, according to a study by Microsoft, meditation can help to reverse those brain wave patterns that have contributed to mind-wandering, worry, and short attention spans. This study actually found that just four days of short meditations helped attention.
Meditation lowers anxiety as well as stress. Many people have out of control anxiety which results in panic attacks, social anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This comprehensive scientific review of 47 studies shows just that. Positive effects of meditation have been seen across multiple studies, and it only takes about 2-2.5 hours per week, or 20 minutes a day for these effects.
One of the best types of meditation for anxiety is a type called mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR. Mindfulness meditation is one of the easiest types of meditation to learn. It merely means you stay in the moment and focus mostly on your breathing while letting your thoughts just pass by.
Having a meditation practice shows promise, especially after a few years of following regular meditation. This study of 18 people shows that after an 8-week meditation program, the participants who practiced regular meditation had maintained lower anxiety levels over the course of three years. And a larger study shows a variety of meditation techniques work for reducing anxiety. Some techniques include visualization that helps to shift attention away from the thoughts that may cause anxiety.
Meditation may also help control anxiety that comes from a high-pressure work environments. Here is a study that shows how a meditation program reduced the related job anxiety in a group of nurses, which as we all should know is a very high stress job.
Promotes a Positive Mindset
With a reduction in stress and anxiety, the chance for hope and a positive mindset can come in. Many forms of meditation help to improve self-image and create a happier, calmer, more positive mindset.
In fact these studies show that mindfulness meditation helps to get rid of depression in 4,600 adults, and meditation can produce lasting results when practiced for longer periods of time.
And guess what? This meditation practice literally changes your brain! Those who meditate actually show measurable changes in the activity areas related to positive thinking and optimism.
Positive thinking helps to bring about positive results in your daily life. What a great reason to make meditation a daily habit, along with your cup of coffee in the morning!
Increases Feelings of Kindness, Compassion and Love
We just discussed how meditation helps to increase positive feelings and actions, and this translates to positive feelings towards yourself and others as well. Creating feelings of calmness and happiness also help to generate this loving kindness. A specific type of meditation, Metta, especially enhances loving-kindness feelings, beginning with yourself. Metta increases feelings of positivity, empathy and compassionate behavior toward others. Over twenty studies on this type of meditation have shown that it increases one’s feelings of compassion and self-worth. And the more it’s practiced, the better it works!
While meditation is helping to improve your ability to empathize, it also allows you to increase your intuitive ability to notice subtle cues that will help you understand how others are feeling.
Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by negative people or negative emotions in your life. And because of all of this, meditation has a definite positive influence on relationships and marriages!
Whatever type of meditation practice you choose, rest assured, it will help to increase your feelings of being self-aware, having greater self-worth, and feeling more loving of yourself and others.
One of the great things about mindfulness meditation (which I think is one of the easiest to understand and follow) is that it helps to create better self-awareness. As you meditate and go within yourself, you will begin to notice passing thoughts and feelings. Meditation helps you become more aware of your own feelings and instead of being reactive, it helps you to see your thoughts and feelings and to understand them better.
Other types of meditation help you to recognize harmful or negative subconscious defeating thoughts that may be operating in the background of your mind, creating situations for you with poor outcomes. Meditation helps to break this cycle and helps you to see and separate out those negative, self-defeating thoughts. And, as you gain a better awareness of your own thoughts and habitual ways of thinking, you can begin to steer your thoughts to more constructive patterns.
Gaining a better understanding of yourself and your subconscious thought patterns can go a long way towards changing your whole life for the better. This can become a huge starting point for positive changes in your life. Want to change your life? Meditate on a regular basis!
Did you know that improving your attention and clarity of thinking helps keep your mind young? In essence, meditation helps to reduce the noise and clutter going on in our brain, and that allows people to remember things better. In addition, because meditation helps to tap into the subconscious, many forgotten memories can be tapped into as well.
An interesting review of 12 different studies found that many different meditation styles increased attention, memory and mental quickness in older volunteers, especially. For aging people, meditation is especially good at helping to reverse age-related memory loss and even dementia. So meditation is good for keeping your brain young!
Kirtan Kriya is a particular type of meditation that involves chanting, using a repetitive motion with the fingers that actually helps to focus thoughts. It was shown to improve participants’ ability to perform memory tasks, especially for those with memory loss due to aging.
Physicians know that when a patient is anxious, they tend to feel pain even more, so oftentimes patients in pain are given medications that help to relieve anxiety, as well as the pain. What if you could do that without taking addictive medications that have undesirable side effects?
Since your perception of pain is very attached to your own state of mind, pain is elevated when you are stressed. And pain, is of course, stressful all by itself. Especially chronic pain.
One study used MRI techniques to observe brain activity on participants experiencing a painful stimulus. Some participants used a type of mindfulness meditation while others did not. Meditating patients showed increased activity in the brain centers known to control pain. They also reported less sensitivity to pain.
Another study looked at the effects of habitual meditation in 3,500 participants. It found that meditation was associated with decreased complaints of chronic or intermittent pain. And further studies of meditation in patients with terminal diseases like cancer found that meditation not only helped reduce anxiety but it also helped mitigate chronic pain, even near the end of life.
While both both groups were experiencing the same cause of pain, the meditators showed a greater ability to cope with pain and even experienced a reduced perception of pain.
With diseases like breast cancer, meditation is not used just as a treatment for pain or the disease. It is supportive care designed to help a person deal with the stress that comes with cancer. While this area currently needs more research, meditation may actually help fight cancer on a cellular level.
Helps Fight Addiction
It’s apparent that meditation helps to strengthen the mind and the will power. Using this mental discipline that can be developed through meditation may actually help break dependencies on addictive substances or behaviors. Not only does this practice help to focus and redirect attention, it also helps to lower stress, lower anxiety and reduce depression. All of these things are extremely helpful in breaking free from addiction.
Mindfulness meditation also increases self-awareness, helping to break down some of the barriers in understanding how one gets addicted in the first place. Meditation also helps to stop food cravings and impulsive eating as well, making it helpful for weight loss too.
Can’t Sleep? Meditate!
One of the reasons many people say that cannot sleep is because they have a hard time calming an overactive mind. Most of us have problems with insomnia at some point. Some of the common reasons for trouble sleeping include stress, discomfort, anxiety, inability to relax, and just a busy mind that cannot shut down. Meditation is helpful for all of these things and helps to put you in a relaxed state of mind to sleep soundly.
Participants in a study on sleep and meditation fell asleep sooner, stayed asleep longer and slept more restfully than those who didn’t meditate. Meditation helps to relax the body, release tension, and allow for natural, beneficial, restorative REM sleep. And another benefit of meditation is that you don’t need to rely on harmful sleep medications that destroy one’s natural restful sleep cycles.
Avoiding those racing thoughts in the middle of the night that wake you up and cause you to worry needlessly will help you feel rested and relaxed in the morning and much better able to deal with the daily issues.
Decreases Blood Pressure
While meditation has many benefits for the mind, it also has beneficial effects on the physical body including the heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure can be partially a result of stress and excess tension, and create extra strain on the heart and blood vessels. This can lead to strokes, heart disease, and blood vessel irregularities like aneurysms.
Meditation can become a form of biofeedback that helps in focusing on relaxing the mind and lowering overall blood pressure. This seems to be even more effective in older people and those with higher blood pressure. Meditation is thought to actually control the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, lower the heart rate, and the tension in the blood vessels as well. Cardiologists, take note!
You Can Meditate Anywhere
Unlike other activities, meditation does not require any fancy equipment or specific locations to practice. You can practice meditation virtually anywhere! Well, maybe not while driving a car, but you know what I mean! And it only takes a few minutes a day. One of the best ways to start meditating and reaping its benefits is to meditate a few minutes in the morning when you first get up and meditate right before bed.
How Do I Get Started?
While there quite a few different meditation practices out there, there are two basic types:
• Focused-attention meditation which allows you to concentrate your attention on a single object, thought, sound or visualization. This helps by ridding your mind of other distractions. Meditation may focus on breathing, a mantra or a calming sound. I find this is the best form for me, as I tend to get distracted easily by sounds and other things.
• Mindfulness meditation encourages more awareness of all aspects of your environment, your train of thought and your sense of self. While you want to relax your mind and slow it down, it allows you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings and letting them go. Think of it like you holding onto a helium balloon. As you become aware of a particular thought or feeling, you just consciously let it go and its drifts away. This practice is an easy way to begin.
Don’t be like I used to be and think that meditation required a lot of training or studying. It’s easy and is something everyone can do—you can too—and reap some amazing benefits. That’s not to say that a meditative class or yoga practice won’t improve your chances of incorporating it into your life as well if your home space is not conducive to a quiet meditative practice.
I set my appointment alarm to remind me that I have an appointment to meditate every morning while I drink my coffee. I currently only meditate for about ten minutes in the morning but setting a timer helps so you don’t have to keep peeking how long you’ve been at it. There are also quite a few good apps you can download on your phone that will take you through the steps and offer guided imagery, mantras, or gentle directions. My two favorites are Headspace and Russell Simmons’ Meditation Made Simple.
Many of the studies above utilized mindfulness or TM style meditation, but that is simply because they are the most well-known. There are around nine major styles of meditation to try out if you’d like. Start simple and incorporate the practice into habit. Other types of meditation styles may fit your personality better, but they all will have positive benefits, and some, if you stay with the practice, can radically transform your life in such positive ways, you will become a new and better person.
Trying out a style of meditation suited to your goals is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if you only have a few minutes to do it each day.