How (and why) to give meditation a try

Meditation is known as a way to reduce stress and improve concentration. In daily life, multi-tasking and constant distractions make it difficult to focus on the present moment (was that your smartphone that just buzzed?). This ancient practice offers techniques to train the mind to slow down, get more done and enjoy a series of mental and physical health benefits. Is meditation for you? Read on to learn how, and why, to try meditation at home.

How (and why) to give meditation a try

[Photo Credit: iStock.com/fizkes]

The growing popularity of meditation

Oprah does it twice daily. Bill Gates, Madonna and Arianna Huffington all swear by it. And basketball great Lebron James credits meditation with helping him stay focused, on and off the court. Major corporations like Apple and Google encourage meditation breaks in the workplace, pointing to improved creativity and productivity. And many schools have brought meditation training to the classroom, reporting both learning and emotional benefits for students. But what is it about meditation that has such a powerful effect on the mind?

The benefits of meditation

Better sleep, improved memory and increased happiness are just some of the well-being gains those who practice meditation can experience. While many of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence, scientists have spent a great deal of time examining the physiological effects of meditation on the body. What they found was that meditation can make changes in the brain, essentially shutting down the part responsible for the stress response and can even grow the part that manages learning and memory. And that’s not all.

Other documented health benefits include reducing depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and keeping the brain younger – and more agile – for longer. There’s even evidence that regular meditation can boost the immune system. One U.S. study found that meditators who were given a flu vaccine produced significantly more antibodies than their non-meditating counterparts.

How to meditate

There any many different types of mediation. You may have heard of transcendental or guided imagery mediation, love and kindness or even yoga meditation. It’s a good idea to experiment and find the kind that resonates with you.

Many beginners like the guided meditations available from mobile apps, such as Headspace and Calm. YouTube videos and podcasts are also helpful for discovering different styles of meditating, including tips for meditation for kids.

Basic mindfulness meditation is a simple and accessible way for anyone to get started. Here’s how to try it out:

  1.        Find a quiet space and sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor, in an alert but relaxed position.
  2.        Breathe normally through your nose with your eyes closed. Focus on your breath and try to tune out any thoughts, sounds or feelings you may experience. Your mind will have a tendency to wander. When you feel it wandering, bring your focus back to your breath.
  3.        Slowly scan your body and notice if any region feels tense or stiff. Focus on trying to ease those areas and relax your muscles.
  4.        Consider using a mantra. A mantra can help focus thoughts around a central idea by repeating that idea or phrase over and over.
  5.        Practice daily for as little as 3-5 minutes and work your way up to 45 minutes or an hour. Try to meditate at the same time each day, to create a habit. Many find it a good way to begin their day on a calm, positive note. Others prefer to meditate before bed, in order to enjoy a more restful night’s sleep.

Feeling more relaxed? The benefits of meditation can come quickly, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t notice a difference right away. Stick with it. Like any new skill, learning to meditate takes time and patience.

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