This strange green guy looks pretty chilled out doing meditation.
Meditation is one of those things that many people say they should do, or want to do, but never really get around to it. You know you should do it. It just seems too complicated or not really “you”. You’re not the kind of person that sits around cross-legged chanting. You’re not into that spirituality stuff.
My busy, stress-out friend…allow me change some of your misconceptions about meditation.
You need it.
If you’re honest with yourself you know you do.
It doesn’t have to involve anything spiritual, religious, or complicated.
Meditation has been shown to reduce cardiovascular mortality, and improve conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and high cortisol levels.
Meditation reduces stress, improves concentration and focus, reduces depression, and improves sleep quality.
Pretty good, right?
Most studies find results after a 6-8 week intervention and you’ll probably notice subjective benefits of relaxation and well-being much sooner than that.
My Background with Meditation
I started martial arts as a kid and a brief meditation at the start and end of every class was common in most of my karate classes. I don’t know if I ever really understood the benefit back then, but it was part of the ritual of training.
Martial arts are about discipline and concentration. Being able to meditate and be calm and quiet for a period of time is an excellent skill to learn early in life. Actually, just getting young kids to kneel and close their eyes for a few minutes is quite a feat!
As a karate competitor for 14 years, I often used meditation and visualization as part of my preparation for tournaments. When I studied Sports Psychology, I learned many relaxation and concentration tools that athletes use to give their best performance.
Probably the most important shift in my thinking about meditation came when I was pregnant and read the book “Mindful Birthing” to help me cope with a challenging pregnancy and to mentally prepare for a drug-free labour.
This book introduced me to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He created a full program of Mindfulness Based Training (MBT) that has been shown to help treat a variety of psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Some research is also showing positive effects for treating fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome.
And you thought you were just going to reduce your stress levels!
The interesting thing about mindfulness meditation, and what really connected with me after years of trying different kinds of mental training, is that you don’t try to do or think anything in particular.
“Clear your mind” is a familiar refrain with many kinds of meditation, but mindfulness doesn’t use that concept. Mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts, observing them, and moving on.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
The non-judgemental part is important. Have you ever tried to meditate and clear your mind and you keep thinking about that meeting at work or what you’re going to have for dinner? Then you say to yourself,
“Hey dumby, you’re supposed to be meditating! Stop it. Oh bugger. I’m thinking something again. Why can’t I clear my mind? My head’s itchy. Am I allowed to scratch? I’m an idiot”.
This little conversation goes on for the duration of your session and by the end you think you’re a failure at meditation.
Mindfulness meditation allows you to be aware of those thoughts and just let them pass by. You can even scratch your head, if you need to. You just want to be aware of what you’re doing and thinking while you’re scratching.
Being in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, is also key with mindfulness. Being in the moment can be incredibly calming and freeing.
No worries about the past or future…you’re just sitting here chilling in a quiet place. Sweet.
How To Meditate!
I want to break this meditation down as simply as possible because I actually want you to do it. Overcomplicating the process often makes people give up before they get a chance to notice the benefits.
1) Sit down in a quiet place in a comfortable position.
2) Set a timer for 5-10 minutes.
3) For 5-10 minutes, just focus on your breathing. Feel what’s happening in your body during each exhale and inhale. Every time a thought comes by (and there will be plenty!), just acknowledge it and go back to focusing on your breath.
How Easy Is That?!
When you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to do your meditation in the same place, at the same time of day. This helps you to establish the habit and develop a positive, relaxing association with the process.
Once you get used to the meditating and you’re able to keep focused on your breath without very much interruption, you can practice mindfulness meditation anywhere, whenever you need it (ie. when you’re feeling particularly stressed).
Practice…But Not To Be Perfect
Meditation is a practice and that means that you have to do it regularly. Every day is best because it becomes part of your routine (like brushing your teeth or showering).
Although it becomes easier to maintain focus over time, you don’t need to start off meditation with any particular goal in mind. You don’t get “good” at meditation. You just keep practicing.
The benefits of meditation start immediately and increase over time. I hope I’ve given you incentive to at least try it out. Once you give it a good shot, you’ll wonder what you ever did without your daily meditation.
Keyworth, C. et al. A mixed-methods pilot study of acceptability and effectiveness of a brief meditation and mindfulness intervention for people with diabetes and coronary heart disease. Behav Med. 2014 Apr; 40(2): 53–64.