Meditation has been gaining popularity in our culture for decades, even being introduced into the medical field, schools, and the workplace. So what exactly is it, and why all the hype? In this post, we’ll learn about what meditation actually is and why it’s so beneficial to our overall well-being. Then we’ll offer some guidance on how to introduce meditation into your daily routine. A consistent meditation practice can be life-changing for both your physical and mental health, so read on to learn more!
What is Meditation?
Before we can discuss formal meditation, it helps to define what a meditative state is. Lots of things can bring us to a meditative state: listening to or playing music, surfing, painting, or really any hobby/activity we enjoy so much that our mind becomes focused and present while outside distractions fade away. Practicing whatever this is for you has amazing benefits for your health. When you are focused in this way, you don’t have to react to the usual worrisome chatter in your mind.
The practice of formal meditation brings this concept to the cushion and makes it something we do deliberately as a way to improve our health and happiness. When our mind is in the present moment, we are more relaxed. When we are more relaxed, we are able to release engrained patterns of response in our bodies and our brains that cause suffering. We can enjoy life as it’s happening instead of spending our time worrying about the future or regretting the past.
Meditation creates space for us to practice being in this mindful state. When we set aside time to meditate, we temporarily separate ourselves from external distractions and focus on letting go of our attachment to our thoughts. Consistent practice makes this space more accessible and can help us notice how our thoughts take us away from the present moment in our daily lives. With meditation, we are taking time to develop the clarity in our mind that’s necessary to truly enjoy life.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Our society constantly bombards us with stimuli: loud, fast-paced commercials on TV, the blinking lights of ‘sale’ signs at the mall, and the six different social media apps we have on our phones. These things keep the mind in a distracted state, always jumping from one thing to the next. We hurry from one commitment to another, and our to-do list is three pages long. While a certain level of busyness can be healthy, it’s equally important to take time out to reconnect with ourselves and our spirituality.
On top of these external distractions, we are also distracted by our own minds. Whether you’re aware of it or not, our mind tends to be fear-driven. We instinctually avoid pain, but pain is part of life. So when something painful comes up, our minds make up stories about the situation to make it more acceptable to our ego.
We also spend a great deal of mental energy planning ways to avoid these painful situations in the first place. These are our internal commercials, blinking lights, and iPhone apps that take away from our experience and appreciation of life. With meditation, we can practice returning to a neutral, grateful state and make this state a tool we can use when faced with life’s many challenges.
Meditation has been shown to reduce activity in our brain’s default mode network, the sections of the brain responsible for self-talk and mind wandering. This is the part of the brain that makes up stories, worries, and ruminates. When the DMN is quiet, we feel more relaxed. This peaceful state sends signals to our body to calm down, basically the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. This has numerous health benefits on both a physical and emotional level. Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, lower the risk of heart disease, and help with sleep.
Here are a few other benefits of meditation:
Decreased blood pressure
Pain or headache reduction
How to Introduce Meditation into Your Daily Routine
Getting started with meditation can be daunting, especially when your chatterbox of a brain won’t shut up and you feel like you’re wasting your time. Trust me when I say, you’re not. Meditation is very much like exercising: It takes time to see results. When you meditate, you are literally training your brain to think differently, and that doesn’t happen overnight. When we sit down to meditate, our thoughts don’t magically go away. In fact, they may even become louder as we are deprived of our usual distracting stimuli. That’s really the idea. Over time and with consistent meditation, that narrator begins to quiet down, and our thoughts become more present-based.
Someone once explained meditation to me in a way that really made sense. She said to think of training your brain with meditation like you might train a puppy to use a puppy mat. Every time they go to the bathroom somewhere they’re not supposed to, a good dog owner patiently brings them to the mat, time and time again. Eventually, the puppy will go to the mat naturally.
When you spend time gently guiding your awareness back to the present using meditation, you are training your mind that this is the preferred method of existing. Over time, your destructive thought patterns can be broken down, making room for a healthier state of being. But just like the exercise example, results come slowly, and it can be frustrating to feel as though you just sat cross-legged with racing thoughts for no reason. Although a single meditation session can definitely make you feel calmer and more grounded, lasting results only come with lasting effort. Don’t let this discourage you. Although it takes time to see the lasting results of meditation, it’s absolutely worth 15 minutes a day. Even though your thoughts may race, you are doing yourself a huge favor every time you sit in meditation.
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to start a meditation practice is to set aside a specific, consistent time to meditate. Don’t overcommit: if you aren’t currently meditating at all and you set yourself a goal to meditate for two hours a day, you’ll probably fail. Think of a length of time and consistency that’s realistic for your life. If you practice yoga, add a few minutes of meditation to your savasana. If you have a regular morning routine, add a guided meditation. Since meditation is great for sleep, try meditating right before you go to bed. The key is consistency, something you can make into a habit.
Meditation is a personal practice; there is really no right or wrong, only guidelines to help you reach higher states of consciousness. The only real requirement is that you have a space away from distractions where you feel safe and comfortable. You can practice on your own, using a timer and whatever background sound you like (nature sounds, music, etc.), observing your breath or using a specific mental focal point, or you can use a guided meditation.
Guided meditations take away some of the guesswork. They typically start with a breathing exercise to promote relaxation, then guide you back to whatever the focus of the meditation is throughout the session. Whatever method you choose, your body and your mind thank you. With consistent meditation of even a few minutes a day, you’ll start to notice yourself becoming more calm, more compassionate, and less likely to experience extreme emotions.
Here is a guided meditation that can help get you started as part of our Chakra Series:
Thanks for reading!