If someone said to me, ‘I have a limited amount of time, and I need something guaranteed to make me feel better. What can I do?’, my answer would be simple: Learn how to meditate.
For some people, the idea of meditation seems mystical and superstitious. For others, meditation is so simple that they decide, before even starting, that it’s not going to work. I mean come on, can meditation really help me with my severe anxiety/depression/trauma/anger? The answer is YES, but don’t believe me, look at the research. Decades of studies have proven that meditation can improve general brain health, decrease negative mood symptoms, improve focusing, cultivate creativity, improve relationships, and so on. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a physical or mental condition that meditation cannot benefit. Along with the decades of western medical research, in some cultures, meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as a tool for spiritual and personal development.
One might ask, If meditation is so great, why isn’t everyone doing it? It’s not that people don’t believe the research, it’s the practice itself is difficult. Meditation involves patience, hard work, consistency and dedication. Most people don’t want to do the work, or feel as though they don’t have enough time to fit it in. It would be so much easier if the benefits of meditation could be gained in one single, free pill with no negative side effects. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet. To fully dive into the practice of meditation/get the most benefits out of it, one must change his/her mindset about it. To help with this, try viewing the time spent on meditation as time saved in the long run from being sick physically and mentally.
Before I go any further, I should probably explain what meditation actually is. There are several definitions for meditation, but for the purpose of this article, I would say that meditation is a conscious engagement in an exercise dedicated to self improvement by using techniques to encourage staying in the moment, to help curb distractions and decrease stress.
There are thousands of books out there that discuss how to meditate in great depth, but going into all of the interstices can be confusing for a beginner. If one is really interested in growing his/her practice and has plenty of time, I would recommend reading several books, and identifying common themes, spending time practicing different techniques and figuring out a plan to take helpful techniques and bring them into your own life. However, many people don’t have time for that, so to simplify, I will share some insights from my personal practice.
The most important step, like with all new habits/behavioral patterns, is the dedication to the new skill. One must fully commit to trying it and do it consistently. I’ve found that having a daily routine that includes meditation has been the most beneficial for me. Even if the commitment is for one minute, the daily routine is vital. Once that is set, experiment with longer settings on the days that allow extra time.
To prepare for meditation, select a quiet area with no distractions, wear comfortable clothes and find your ideal sitting posture. There are different ways to sit, the most common being to setting on a cushion (also known as a Zafu), with one’s back straight, eyes closed, and arms out and relaxed. Some people prefer their hands on their knees, others like having their palms face up, others like connecting their thumbs to their index finger, any variation along with others will work. If one cannot sit comfortably on a cushion, sitting in a chair, along with lying down are also options. Lying down is only recommended for those who are not able to sit because this posture can be sleep inducing.
For the practice itself, one is encouraged to focus on a single thing and allow distractions to come and go. Some people prefer to focus on their breathing, others a mantra (a statement or word repeated frequently), some like prayer beads, counting and visualization are other tools. Try them all! Some days one might help more than others. Remember it is natural for thoughts to pop up; the key is to recognize them as thoughts and gently guide the mind back on whatever tool you choose as your focus point. The word ‘gently’ is important; no one is perfect and when you become distracted, just try again. It is all part of the practice.
Another great tool to use is a meditation class. These are really helpful because it encourages one to spend the full amount of time meditating and remove temptations of shortening one’s practice. It also provides a social support group and advice from a teacher. Many therapists, like myself, have studied meditation and are able to provide guidance not only in meditation but how to live more mindfully. Living more mindfully naturally comes with a meditation practice. You will even find that once you have been practicing for a while, the benefits you experience will not just happen while you are meditating but during other parts of your day and can last your whole life. How many pills can do that?!