How many minutes a day do you spend in absolute stillness and silence? For many of us, the answer is zero—unless you count sleep. That means many of us are missing out on the physical and mental benefits meditation provides.
According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, some 20 million U.S. adults use meditation for health purposes. Meditation has been shown to improve energy and create calm while alleviating depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia. Its physiological effects include decreasing airflow to the lungs, relaxing muscles, boosting immunity, and decreasing blood pressure. Visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for an overview.
In July, USA Today reported on a recent study found that meditation can also strengthen focus in the workplace. In the report, “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment,” researchers concluded that meditation training may effect positive changes in the multitasking practices of computer-based knowledge workers. Those with meditation training showed lower stress levels, increased concentration, and better memory.
In our hurried lives and stressful careers, we can all benefit from a few moments of solitude in which we quiet or minds.
Meditation comes in many forms—some more casual than others. Two of the most common include mindfulness and transcendental meditation. Mindfulness is an experiential form that linked to Buddhism and focuses attention on the flow of the breath. Transcendental finds its roots in Hinduism and employs a mantra as well the objective to reach a state of awareness.
There are many postures, breathing styles and purposes for meditation. Your practice may have religious meaning; it may not. Exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi also have meditative components and may be a good starting point.
Finding a method suitable for you might be as simple as designing your own while following these basic elements:
1. Find your nook
Choose a quiet and soothing spot in your home—or your office, or even a park. You just need enough space to sit for a moment. You may choose to decorate with calming colors or images, light a candle, or set meaningful objects in it.
2. Position yourself
Sitting rather than lying down to meditate can help you avoid drifting off to sleep. You may choose to cross one or both legs in the lotus position. Use a cushion or a chair, if makes you more comfortable. You may fold your hands in your lap or place them on your knees. Most people leave their eyes open and softly focus their gaze toward a spot on the floor.
Take deep but not labored inhalations, pulling air deep into your belly. As you exhale, do so slowly. Keep the pace consistent.
This article from Access to Insight offers in-depth instructions on basic meditation breathing.
4. Let go
Your mind may begin racing. It is natural for thoughts to enter. Rather than entertain them, acknowledge them and let them go. Imagine them drifting away as you exhale. Sometimes the more you focus on trying not to think, the more you think. Many people find paying attention to breathing helps keep thoughts at bay. Consider counting or thinking “in” and “out” as you breathe. Some forms of meditation use a mantra—a word or phrase—to focus on during practice.
The Zen Habits blog offers meditation beginners 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind here.
Start with five minutes a day and gradually add five minutes increments as the days and weeks progress, until you reach half an hour or more. If finding half an hour in your day seems impossible, try breaking it up into 15 minute sessions—one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Or simply do what you can.
For more help getting started, read Goodlife Zen’s 10 Important Tips.
Explore your options
Try it out and see how it feels. If one method doesn’t work, consider another. Once you establish a routine practice, you may begin to notice changes in how your mood, energy, health and work performance.
If you want more guidance, consider books such as Learn to Meditate by David Fontana or Wherever You Go There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn. You may also choose guided meditation in the form of a podcast or audio book. For more formal instruction, consider looking into classes or group meditation through community education or meditation centers.