Meditation for Beginners
By: Swathi Raman
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of the years; however, in the past few years, mindfulness and meditation have encountered a resurgence in pop culture. These terms have been popularized so much through apps, yet so many of us don’t understand what it truly means. Not to fear! I’m here to go through what meditation is, its benefits, and most importantly, how to start incorporating it in your daily life.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that is meant to increase awareness of one’s thoughts and emotions, helps to calm the mind and improve focus and concentration, reduces stress and can even be used as a psycho-therapeutic technique. It can be done by anyone, in any location, at any time, with no special equipment or skill set.
What isn’t meditation?
Meditation is not religious in nature and doesn’t require any particular belief system. Meditation is not something you are “good” or “bad” at doing. It does not entail getting rid of all thoughts, or trying to have an “empty mind,” nor does it solve all of your problems in life, but rather, it gives you perspective to deal with things in life better.
Benefits of Meditation:
There are several scientific studies detailing the benefits of meditation. Here are just a few of the benefits of meditation:
Reduces symptoms of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
Reduces substance and alcohol abuse
Increases resilience against pain and relieves pain
Reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, reduces blood pressure
Reduces levels of emotional eating
Increases gene function related to immunity decreases inflammation and autoimmune disease
Improves relationships, increases compassion, fosters love and affection towards others, reduces social isolation
Now that you know what meditation is, and how it can benefit your life and well be, it’s time to dive in and learn exactly how to practice it. And if you still don’t buy into it or feel that meditation will turn you into a new age hippie - read 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It demonstrates the power of meditation to facilitate professional success while remaining calm and centered at the same time.
As mentioned, meditation can be done anytime, in any place. It’s best to initially meditate for 5 minutes per day, and over time, you may increase the duration of your meditation practice in 5-minute increments. Consistency is key - meditating is akin to working out, you may not feel any different after the first session, but you’ll build mental stamina over time.
Pro Tip: Meditate first thing after waking up if possible. It’ll set you up to feel centered and calm throughout the day!
Find a quiet location where you will not be disturbed (close the door, silence your phone, etc). Make yourself comfortable in a seated position (either cross-legged on the floor or seated on a chair). You can even meditate while lying down, although you will run the risk of falling asleep (which may be useful if better sleep is a reason for your meditation).
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Make sure the alarm tone is calming so that you may gently conclude your practice (and not be jolted back to reality by a blaring horn).
Take 3 deep breaths - in through your nose, out through your mouth. Try to make your exhalations longer than your inhalations.
Allow your breath to come back to a normal rate through your nose. Start to observe the breath. Do not attempt to change it. Try as much as you can to keep your focus on your breath. Notice how the air comes in and out through your nostrils, how your belly expands with inhalations, and how it slowly makes its way out while exhaling.
When thoughts arise (and they will), allow them to be and refocus yourself on your breath. You may feel as though you are doing this every 1-2 seconds - this is normal. Even seasoned meditators still have thoughts racing through their minds. The key is to be persistent and continually redirect your attention back to your breath.
Pro Tip: When meditating, your mind should be focused on a singular point, and for some people, the breath may not be conducive or may not resonate with them. If you are one of those people, you may repeat a mantra (ex: repeating “Om,” or reciting a 1 line prayer that you utilize regularly), or you may create an intention or saying for yourself (ex: “I am calm,” “I will be mindful today,” anything that centers you and that you can focus on).
And that’s it! Over time you’ll be able to meditate for longer periods of time.
You may initially find these steps difficult to follow on your own, in which case you can certainly use guided meditation apps. Oak (available for iOS) is my favorite as it adheres most closely to the principles of meditation (and because it’s free) but you’re welcome to subscribe to Calm, or Headspace, or any other number of apps. There are even free guided meditations on Youtube and Spotify!