The first time I heard about meditation was in college. I was in an undergraduate liberal studies program at Sonoma State that fulfilled almost all of my lower division GE requirements in four 12-unit classes, one each semester for two years. It was kind of crazy, but in my first semester, we learned about world religions. When we got to Buddhism, we took a field trip to the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center where they taught us how to meditate.
I remember being so bored. Sit still, they said. Back straight. Eyes closed. Be quiet. Just focus on your breathing.
I can tell you I focused on everything BUT my breathing! I couldn't get my mind to sit still....or my body...and it felt like the longest twenty minutes of my life! I decided it was the biggest waste of time and was all too happy to put the experience behind me.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I was introduced to meditation again by my acupuncturist/alternative doctor. He explained the benefits of meditation in a way that made more sense and emphasized all the ways it is beneficial to my mind and body. And, of course, in my late twenties I was far more interested in improving my health than I was in my late teens!
Here's why you should meditate:
1. It's a stress killer.
Next time you are faced with a super stressful situation, stop and take a few deep breaths, letting your thoughts slide away and imagining the negative emotions exiting your body with your breath. Open your eyes and face the situation. I can almost guarantee you'll feel less anxiety about it.
2. It'll help you sleep.
I like to meditate right before bed. I lie flat on my back with my arms at my sides, palms up, eyes closed. Starting with my toes and working my way up, I visualize each part of my body relaxing. By the time I get to my face, I'm usually drifting into sleep.
3. It gives you perspective.
When you can clear your mind of all the crap that floats around in it, you open up space for productive thoughts. I've come across some of my most profound insights while meditating.
4. It's good for you.
There has been a ton of research done on the positive effects of meditation on the body. Everything from better digestion and brain function to lower blood pressure and decreased inflammation.
5. It's a good practice in discipline.
It's hard to control your thoughts, to keep them focused on your breathing and not wandering around your head, searching for something, anything to latch onto. It takes concentration and discipline to train your mind to focus on your breath and nothing else.
If the idea of focusing on your breath for twenty minutes still seems daunting, try these little tweaks to make it easier:
1. Repeat an affirmation or mantra while you breathe. I like to take a personal inventory and see how I'm feeling before I sit down. If I am feeling insecure, I'll repeat something like "I am enough" in my head with each breath in and out. If I'm feeling bad about my body, I'll repeat "I am beautiful."
2. Meditate for five minutes. When you feel like you can increase your time, do so. Even five minutes of meditation will benefit your mind and body.
3. Picture something peaceful in your head. I like to visualize the waves of the ocean breaking on a beach. I breathe out and the wave crashes on the sand, I breathe in and it retreats into the sea.
4. Don't stress about it. They call it a practice for a reason: you get better the more often you do it.
5. Sit down. Lie down. Stand in a corner. Find a spot and position that works for you. As long as you're relaxed, it'll work.
6. Fill the room with relaxing sounds. Find a cd or a Pandora station of relaxing sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back to birds chirping or the waves crashing. Sound is a more concrete thing to focus on than breath. At least I think so.
7. Get some assistance. There are plenty of guided meditations out there. You can buy them on amazon or find an app on your smart phone or tablet. My favorite meditation website, calm.com, also has an app for iOS and Android. It features several different serene scenes with sounds to match. You can choose between guided meditation where a relaxing woman's voice talks you through it or a simple timed meditation.
I am no expert on meditation. I just know what works for me and can attest to some of the positive effects of meditation on my own mind and body. Let me know if you give it a try and what you think!
Have you ever tried meditation? Do you have any other suggestions for beginners?