What if I told you there was a scientifically proven way to feel less stress? A way that made your anxiety dissipate. A way that could lower your blood pressure and decrease pain. A way that could ameliorate headaches and improve your sleep quality.
What if I told you this solution could benefit almost every single person in the world? That this solution was not a drug and not a sham.
Now what if I told you this solution was free?
My guess is you would be interested in learning more.
So what is this incredible solution?
Meditation. And this post will give you the foundation to start your own meditation practice.
What Meditation Is
What is meditation? Meditation is a practice that relaxes the physical and mental state by freeing the mind.
The word meditation may conjure different images in your mind — maybe a Buddhist monk or a hippy or something else entirely. This is because there are many different types of meditation. Types of meditation include:
- Transcendental (very popular right now)
These different types of meditation are practiced in varying ways.
What the different forms of meditation have in common is the resting of the mind to attain an improved state of consciousness.
With my patients I find there is much confusion surrounding meditation. So here is a quick rundown of what meditation is and what it is not
What meditation is:
- Resting of the mind
- A way to attain a special state of consciousness
- Something that can be done independently or with others
- Scientifically proven to have many health benefits
What meditation is NOT:
- A religion
- Something only hippies or monks do
- Difficult to learn
How Meditation Promotes Wellness
The evidence surrounding meditation is robust. In fact, there is more compelling data to support meditation than there is for many drugs on the market. For those of you who love to know the evidence, the following is an overview of the peer-reviewed scientific evidence for meditation.
- Meditation for 8 consecutive weeks significantly reduces blood pressure and heart rate in patients with high blood pressure.
- Meditation for 8 consecutive weeks significantly reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Meditation further reduces anxiety in patients already using anxiety medication
- Meditation for 8 consecutive weeks can decrease the perception of back pain.
- Meditation for 8 weeks can improve subjective quality of life in adults and older adults.
- Meditation for 4 weeks can significantly decrease blood sugar in patients with diabetes (decreases hemoglobin A1c by 0.5%).
- Meditation may improve cognition and aging.
- Meditation for 1.5 hours each week can significantly improve perceived stress levels.
If you are an evidence-based medicine lover, feel welcome to contact me for links to the original research articles that support the listed benefits.
How to Meditate: A Simple Way
Now that you know what meditation is and what it can do you for, I will share simple instructions on one way to meditate. Beginners generally find basic or guided meditation to be easiest. Below you will find instructions on basic meditation.
STEP 1: Settle yourself into a comfortable meditative posture.
You may think you have to be seated on the floor in full lotus position to meditate. This is not true. If sitting in full lotus on a hardwood floor is comfortable for you, excellent. If not, there are many different options.
The best posture for meditation in one that is comfortable and allows your head, neck, and torso to be straight while you are seated. This may mean sitting crossed legged on the floor, on a cushion or pillow, or even on a block. Or it may mean you are seated in a comfortable chair. Whichever way you can sit comfortably whilst keeping your head, neck, and torso aligned is perfect.
My personal preferred meditation posture is sitting on a mat in half lotus position. If my hips are feeling tight, I will add a cushion or block under my seat.
STEP 2: Close your eyes gently.
There is no need to squeeze your eyes shut. Just gently lower your lids into a comfortable position.
STEP 3: Bring awareness to your body.
Take a few moments to notice how your body feels. Perhaps you become aware of the strength of your core or the tension in your neck. Just notice without judgment.
STEP 4: Bring awareness to your breath.
Notice the depth and quality of your breathing. Breathe using your diaphragm (not just your upper chest). Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply.
Continue this for 10 minutes. You may find setting a timer is helpful when you are new to meditation.
Don’t stress if your mind wanders, especially when you are new to meditation. This is common. When thoughts bubble into your consciousness, try to observe them without reaction or judgement. Or mentally invite them to rest until a later time.
If you have severe asthma or other pulmonary disorders, consider physician advice before starting a new meditation practice. Do not meditate while driving or operating heavy machinery.
When to Expect Results from Meditation
Some meditators experience positive results immediately. Others notice benefits gradually — a few weeks pass and they realize they do not react as strongly to irritations, their anxiety level is lower, or they feel more peaceful. While you may not immediately notice results, understand positive changes are occurring in your mind and body. Persist with your meditation practice and you will experience transformative results.
My Personal Meditation Practice
Meditation has been a truly transformative practice in my life. I flirted with meditation about seven years ago. For several years I had an on-again off-again relationship with meditation. I appreciated the immediate benefits, but did not experience tangible lasting results.
About two years ago I truly devoted myself to meditation practice. I was in a particularly stressful period of life. Lots of change (two cross country moves, deaths in the family, and new jobs, to name a few) had left me feeling fatigued, irritable, and frankly looking less than well.
Because of my evidence-based quest for wellness (read more about that here), I knew the strong data support for meditation. I even recommended meditation to my patients. So I decided to truly practice what I preached and made a pledge to meditate for twenty minutes for an entire month.
My instant gratification came in the form of immediate calm and relaxation after a meditation session. Then later I actually noticed myself getting frustrated and irritated (obviously not the desired effect). I noticed myself tensing in certain situations and being irritable. This was confusing and seemed entirely counter-intuitive. I wondered if I was doing something wrong.
Then my husband and other loved ones commented that I seemed more relaxed. Calmer. Happier, really. And then I realized that even though I was noticing myself tensing more, I was actually reacting less. Basically, before meditation I would tense and feel anxious or irritable without even recognizing it. Now I recognized it and was able to choose my reactions. This phase lasted for a few months and then dissipated. Eventually, I stopped noticing myself tensing because my mind and body had actually stopped tensing. I was progressing.
Before meditation I didn’t have the awareness to recognize my stress and anxiety. Once I started meditation, I became more aware of my stress reactions (and falsely assumed I was tensing and stressing more). With consistent meditation, my stress reactions decreased significantly in a noticeable way for myself and those around me.
I share my personal experience in case yours is similar. If you start a meditation practice and feel like you may be reacting more to your circumstances, do not fret. You are likely noticing your reactions more. This means you are progressing in a positive way. Persist with your practice and you will experience the transformative effects of meditation.
Your Turn: From Knowledge to Action
You understand what meditation is, why it can help you, and how to start. Now that you have a solid meditation foundation, what will you do? I challenge you to start a meditation practice today. Make a commitment to yourself and get meditating. It’s a small investment of 10 minutes (or less) a day with a huge return on investment.
So there you have it. A how to meditate guide.
What are your tips and experience with meditation? I would love to hear!
Sending you light until next time.
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