Between our personal lives, jobs, commuting nightmares, and [insert issue here], stress is bound to crop up here and there. You know the signs: irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety, appetite changes—and the list goes on.
To help manage these effects, some people turn to meditation. Science speaks to its profound benefits—like decreasing inflammation, boosting attention span, and growing your actual brain matter (yes, you heard that correctly). On the flip side, there are a lot of people who bug at the mere thought of sitting still (or not using their iPhone to tune out) for minutes on end. Meditation sounds nice in theory, impossible in execution.
To those people, we say: You can do it. Yes, YOU! The centuries-old practice isn’t just for the Zen.
Understanding Meditation’s Purpose
Meditation has been associated with yoga, tai chi, the use of mantras, and plenty of other mindfulness activities. However, the history of meditation dates back to ancient Indian Vedic texts, which state that the true purpose of meditation is to connect to your deep inner Self (people, according to these texts, are made up of three parts: the physical body, the inner faculty or working consciousness, and the deep inner Self, or pure consciousness).
Unifying the three is said to bring about deep emotional, physical, and mental peace and clarity. Sound heavy? Don’t worry about going too deep. Just think about how freeing it’ll feel to have a few minutes to yourself, totally dedicated the idea of relieving your stress. Plus, experts believe that having meditation in your arsenal can help you better handle stressful situations as they arise in the long-term.
Begin By Breathing
It doesn’t have to lead to some sort of epiphany or grand moment, just sitting and focusing on your breathing is a good way start. Totally doable.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, you’ll want to sit up, with your back straight, in a relaxed posture. Breath naturally, giving all of your attention to the breath, from inhalation to exhalation. When you breathe in, follow the air into your lungs with your mind, and do the same when you breathe out.
According to Lodro Rinzler, Co-Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer of New York City-based MNDFL Meditation, you’ll want to pay close attention to this whole process: “Take a moment to feel the weight of your body on the earth. Gently lift upward through your spine. Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. When your mind wanders, come back to the physical sensation of the breath.”
If you prefer, you can also find a guided meditation on YouTube, or via an app (like Headspace or Calm).
Create A Ritual
Start small with your meditation practice (think three-five minutes per day), and work up from there. Some people prefer to meditate early in the morning, while others might do so before bed. The beauty of meditation is that it’s flexible, although getting into a ritual (like a specific time or after a specific trigger point each day) will help you develop your daily mindfulness practice. Think about when you need to clear your mind, and how your meditation might impact the rest of your day.
Don’t have tons of time? The organization Greater Good In Action lists many ways to build meditation into our busy lives. For one, you can walk and mindfully meditate at the same time.
A walking meditation simply involves being deeply focused on your experience of walking—deliberately noticing each foot rising and hitting the ground, while breathing. You could begin each day by mindfully walking for a few moments each day, or you could mindfully walk during your lunch breaks at work. (Sound dangerous? Don’t worry. You keep your eyes open!)
Set A Daily Intention
Many people like to set an intention each day during their meditative practice. According to Rinzler, this can be done after or while focusing on your breath: “Contemplate, ‘What quality do I want to cultivate today?’ Let whatever answers come up wash over you like a wave and keep returning to the question as the object of meditation. Notice if one answer feels particularly relevant to you. As you emerge from meditation, commit to focusing on that quality for just this one day.”
Don’t Be Hard On Yourself
So you’re sitting there meditating, but you’re really thinking about dinner, or work, or that itch on your left foot. You’re definitely not alone. Meditation, as Rinzler says, is “very simple, but not always easy.”
If in your practice you find it hard to come back to your breath, remember that this is normal. According to Suze Yalof Schwartz, the CEO and founder of Unplug Meditation and app, and author of Unplug : A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers, distracting thoughts and mind chatter during meditation is common, for people of every level. It’s about paying attention to the moments of silence in between letting those restless thoughts pass. And more so, it’s about coming back to the practice again and again. Don’t be discouraged by what is only natural.
So why should you try it? People come to meditation for different reasons, says Schwartz: “They want more focus, to be present, to find calm, or because they’re depressed. Others want to find purpose.”
Does meditation sound like something that could be helpful in your life? Test it out with this one-minute meditation (you can take it longer, if you’d like), offered up by Schwartz, straight from her book: