We live in a world where many of us need an app to remind us to breathe — and in a world where there are numerous apps to choose from for help.
These are stressful times and many people who once regarded meditation as something done by barefoot dreamers in yurts, are embracing a daily meditation practice with good reason: More and more studies are showing that meditation can help with everything from stress to sleep to weight loss.
While scientific evidence about the benefits of meditation has helped diminish some of the stigma associated with the ancient practice, many people have trouble with the idea of “sitting and doing nothing.” Culturally, we’ve been told that’s a waste of time.
The first step in accessing the benefits of meditation is letting go of that old idea. Understanding the possible benefits may help you shift your focus and see that meditating is quite the opposite of “doing nothing.”
Meditation Can Lead To …
- Reduced stress levels: A study conducted by a group at the University of California, Davis found a direct correlation between an increase in mindful meditation and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.
- A deeper connection with the real you: Sometimes, we are so goal-driven (get the job, get the raise, get the promotion) that we forget to think about what it is that truly drives us and makes us happy. Mindfulness can help you reconnect, and a mindful meditation practice can help you develop the skills.
- Better performance at work: Researchers found that doctors who practiced mindfulness meditation listened better and were less judgmental at work and at home. While the study focused on doctors, the lessons apply to people in any field.
How To Meditate
Luckily, you are already engaged in the most important part of a meditation practice: breathing.
The next step is to pay attention and breathe consciously. Engaging in deep diaphragmatic breathing is, hands down, the fastest way to slow your body’s physiological response to stress.
So, take a comfortable seat. If you like, lie down or lean against a wall for support. Breathe in through your nose, concentrating on filling your belly with air like a balloon. Hold your breath for a count of 2, then, exhale slowly through your mouth until your belly flattens. Breaths should be at a ratio of 1:2, with exhales about twice as long as inhales. Try counting to 4 as you inhale, hold for the count of 2, then exhale to the count of 8.
Start by doing this for two minutes today. See how you feel. Do it again tomorrow, see how you feel. Beginning your day by taking two minutes to breathe can have a huge impact — both in the moment and for your overall health.
If meditating is new to you, it may be difficult at first. You may sit down, take a deep breath and start running through your to-do list without meaning to. You might focus on the fact that your nose itches or remember that you didn’t refill the dog’s water bowl. These are all natural reactions and they are all okay.
“If you find your mind wandering (and you will), just pay attention to your mind wandering, then bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes you meditate. You won’t be very good at it at first, most likely, but you’ll get better with practice,” suggest the experts at ZenHabits.
Don’t judge yourself or the thoughts you are having. Many people describe thoughts during meditation as rocks in the water — they are there, you encounter them and move on.
Make Meditation a Habit
Start by scheduling your two minutes first thing in the morning. Put it on your calendar. Once you are comfortable with two minutes, try five — then grow your practice. Like anything else, there’s always more to learn.