Does this sound familiar? You wake up each morning with a list of things that must get done. You rush out the door to work, forget to pack your lunch, spend your day answering emails and going to meetings. Only to have to come home, cook, attend family events, prepare for the next day and then start all over again. We are so used to running from one activity to the next, that we often forget to just slow down and breathe.
If we continue to go about our busy lives without allowing ourselves time to recharge, we run the risk of being chronically stressed. Signs of chronic stress are muscle tension like neck or back pain, headaches, forgetfulness, insomnia, gas and bloating and weight gain. These long-term effects can lead to heart disease, depression, hypertension, memory loss, obesity, stroke and advanced aging. The good news is that there is a way we can reduce our stress levels. We can improve our health by practicing meditation.
Meditation has many physical and mental health benefits. It has been shown to improve blood pressure, sleep, memory, concentration, your mood and reduce stress. It has also been shown to be helpful with improving hot flashes and reducing pain.
There are several types of meditation practices. The simplest form and probable favorite is mindfulness. Mindfulness means to be present and aware of what’s going on around you without distractions. Just think about it. How often do we get to practice mindfulness? We are often distracted by always having our electronic devices close to us. This makes us always available to receive a text, an email or phone call. We are constantly multitasking and not giving our full attention to one thing.
Meditation can helps bring you back to present not only while you’re sitting in silence but also when you go about your day. You develop a continuous awareness and an attitude of what’s important at all times.
So, what happens during meditation? Mindful meditation is a form of meditation where you sit with your eyes closed, legs relaxed or in crossed position and the back straight. For the period of meditation, you would focus on your breathing in and out, and when wandering thoughts emerge, you would return to focusing on your breathing again.
Guided visualization is another form of meditation that can be used for stress relief or personal development. This meditation practice entails sitting in the same position but here you are thinking about relaxing and positive experiences during your session. Your body’s response to these images is to release chemicals that boost happiness and positive feelings. You would imagine being in a certain place, such as on the beach listening to ocean waves or any other visual that inspires you.
Meditation does not have to be difficult. There is no perfect way to meditate and there are no hard and fast rules. You must be consistent with the practice to see the benefits. It’s a lifelong journey. Here are 4 simple steps to get started
1. Find a quiet place
Make sure your space is quiet and free from distractions. Having the room at the right temperature is important as well. You want to be as comfortable as possible.
2. Sit in a relaxed position
You can sit on the floor crossed leg or legs straight out in front of you. You can also sit in a chair. Find the position that works for you. If you are relaxed, and your back is supported, you will be able to have a better experience.
3. Focus on your breathing
You just want to try to concentrate on being present. This means focusing on something during your meditation practice that keeps you centered and your thoughts in one place. Deep breathing helps to relax you as well as gives you something to concentrate on. Take nice, slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you begin the breathing exercise, close your eyes and just concentrate on your breathing.
4. Be mindful of your thoughts
Focus on your breathing and don’t try to be in control of your thoughts. Just let it happen. If your thoughts are racing, allow yourself to come back to your breathing. If you are using guided visualization for your meditation practice, concentrate on the image that brings you joy and happiness. When your thoughts wonder, allow yourself to come back to the image.
There is no rule as to how long one should meditate, however most experts say at least 20 minutes. If this is your first time, start with 5-10 minutes and then gradually work your way up to 20-30 minutes. Set a timer to help guide you.
Don’t be too judgmental or be too harsh on yourself. This is a stress-free practice and you will learn as you go along. Need more assistance getting started try the Headspace app or use guided meditation apps like Insight Timer.
Here’s to hoping you find peace, clarity and happiness through meditation.
Meditation is a form of self-care that requires you to make yourself a priority. This free guide provides 5 ways to find time for yourself without feeling guilty about it. Download it here