You hear it all the time, you should meditate it’s good for you. But what does meditation do and how can you benefit from it? In other words, what’s in it for you?
We all want to make some improvements in our lives, otherwise you wouldn’t be here searching for information on this. So I’ll make it easy for you and start with the basics.
Why is meditation good for you?
If you need some motivation to start meditating this is it. The health benefits that come from regular meditation will improve your life, without a doubt. You will sleep better, be more focussed, be less stressed, be more emotionally even keeled and be more equipped to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions in your life. Who doesn’t want that, right? If you want the real sciencey stuff you can check out some of the resources below, but for now here are just a few of the benefits of regular meditation.
- feeling more relaxed
- feelings of calm
- reduced stress
- improved brain cognitivity
- improved focus in daily tasks
- improved capacity to deal with stressful situations
- increased awareness of the present moment or being more mindful
- being able to create a space when needing to make decisions so that you make the right choices which becomes important when you are trying to change your habits
Sound like good enough reasons to learn how to meditate?
How to Start Meditating
So what is meditation and what can you expect from it? Meditation in its simplest form is sitting in silence and calming your mind. “That’s it” you say, “that’s all I have to do?”. So give it a go, right now. Close your eyes and quiet your mind for a minute.
How did you go? If you haven’t tried meditation before or haven’t done it in a while then you may have had some trouble settling your mind. Thoughts kept creeping in and you had little control over them. This is normal, but with regular practice you can get better at it.
One of the easiest ways to meditate is with a simple breathing meditation. This is where you focus on your breathing as an anchor to help quiet your thoughts.
Here is your beginners guide to meditation:
- Sit or lie somewhere comfortable, you want to be relaxed but alert.
- You can set a timer if you wish, start with just 5 minutes.
- Close your eyes and relax your body.
- Bring your attention to your breath. Notice how it feels as the air enters your body through your nose and down into your lungs. Notice how it feels leaving your body. Does it feel different? Notice the rise and fall of your chest and stomach. Settle on one part of the breath and keep your focus there for as long as you can. This can be where the air is coming in and going out, or the rise and fall of the chest or stomach. Wherever you feel it most.
- When your thoughts start to wander, and they will, notice them without judgment and then bring your focus back to the breath. When you are finished open your eyes. You have just meditated. That’s not so hard now is it.
It doesn’t matter if you spent most of your time trying to control your wandering mind. This will happen in the beginning. What is important is that you are noticing your thoughts and returning to the breath. The mind is like a muscle, it needs to be trained. If you practice this simple meditation daily you will get better at controlling your thoughts, and you will be able to better relax your mind.
One quick tip that I read somewhere has stuck with me and become useful when I am struggling with meditation. When your mind is wandering you will get an urge to just stop meditating and get up, usually because you think it is not working for you today and you have other things to do right now. When that happens and you feel yourself starting to give up, just stop, refocus on your breath and say ‘just another minute’. The next time you feel that urge, try to refocus on your breathing again. On the third time you can stop and get up. This has really helped me to gain some control over my thoughts and boost my willpower. It helps me to recognise when I have those urges to give up, and i realise that I don’t have to immediately give in to them.
Keep in mind that although it might not feel like much is happening to begin with, your body is already feeling the health benefits of meditation.
Now that you know how to meditate, lets cover some common questions you may have.
When is the best time to meditate?
I like to start the day with my meditation. It has become part of my morning routine and it makes me feel good to be able to tick off something first thing. That is a great motivational boost for the day. If you don’t have time in the morning then set your alarm for 5 or 10 minutes earlier. You won’t miss the sleep if you are already getting enough restorative sleep and if you aren’t then you can work on that as well. One thing at a time right.
If you really can’t find 5 or 10 minutes first thing in the morning then fit it in later in the day, or right before you go to bed. Once you get your meditation habit going you will find you can do it almost anywhere. Waiting for an appointment, sitting on the bus or train, eating or walking. For now though just try to find those few minutes when you can.
Where should I meditate?
This ones an easy one. Anywhere reasonably quiet and comfortable. I am usually on my bed or in a chair. You don’t need a special room with candles and incense. You can sit outside or on a park bench. Wherever you feel comfortable. Learning how to meditate at home is the best place to start.
How to meditate properly?
There are many different ways to meditate and there is no one way that is better than all the others. The best way to meditate for you will be different than that for others. You should try many types of meditations and find the ones you like best. Check the resources below for some different ways to help you start.
The basic breathing meditation above is a good place to start. Here are some more tips on getting started:
- Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, start small and work your way up to longer times.
- Sit comfortably (or lay down if you prefer) with your back straight but relaxed.
- Try to focus on your breath going into and out of your body.
- As you breath out relax your body further. It can help if you start at your head and work your way down through your body relaxing as you go.
- Try to keep your back straight if you can.
- Once you are relaxed, you can just focus on your breath going in and out. If your mind wanders just notice it and go back to the breath without judgement of yourself.
- This noticing is actually a moment of awakening and the more this happens the more aware you are becoming. It may help you to count your breaths. Count to 10 and then start again. If you don’t get to ten without thoughts intruding it’s ok. Just start again. You will get there with regular practice.
Repeat this as often as you can. Daily is great, more if you can. If you miss a day or two don’t beat yourself up about it. Just do it again the next day. I can notice a difference in myself when I miss a few days. I may have more negative, judging thoughts and may become cranky and irritable. It will then dawn on me that it is because I missed my daily meditation. That shows me that I am seeing the benefits on regular meditation and motivates me to keep going.
Try this quick breathing meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn:
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation really go hand in hand and they are different but related. Meditation is often just the formal practice of mindfulness. So what is mindfulness then? It is paying attention to the present and focusing on what is going on right now, without thoughts or judgments.
Mindfulness can be done anywhere at any time. Whenever you think of it you can bring your attention to the present moment and notice what is going on around you and within your body.
So mindful meditation then is the formal practice of sitting and focussing on the present moment. Once you are relaxed you can choose to become aware of your breath, as in the meditation above, or your whole body, or the sounds around you, or what you can feel with your body.
Mindfulness meditation will help you to cultivate awareness and to be present without judgment, to be just as you are.
The best thing about meditation is that you can benefit from even the smallest amount of effort on your part. Just 5 minutes a day a few days in a row and you will notice the difference, and even 1 minute a day can help you become calmer and more balanced emotionally.
If you are struggling with basic meditation on your own, or want to try some different meditations there are a few resources you can try.
If you have a smartphone there are a couple of great apps to help you out.
- Stop Breathe and Think is a great free app with some short basic meditations that will help you focus. There are further meditations that you need to pay to get access to, but there is enough here to keep you busy for a long time.
- Headspace has a 10 day introduction to meditation that is a great way to build up a daily practice. After that you have to join and pay for further meditations.
- Tara Brach has some fantastic resources on her website with great guided meditations that you can use whenever you are online. Start with her basic guided meditations.
- The Fragrant Heart is another great place to find guided meditations you can listen to online. There are many different meditations of varying lengths so you can find one to fit with the time you have.
Here are also a couple of book recommendations to get you started with meditation.
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn is a great guide to meditation and mindfulness for those new to the practice, with helpful advice on how to maintain it in daily life.
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn is a great read with practical advice on how to live in the moment.
Some scientific articles on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness
- Psychology Today has a great roundup article with links to the scientific benefits.
- Forbes has an article on the science of how meditation can change the brain, with links to studies mentioned.
There are plenty of other resources out there and we will add more here as we find them.