• Start Meditating with Guided Meditation Videos and Audio

    You’ve heard about the many benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure how to start. Guided meditation can be a good jumping-off point for people who want to begin a sitting practice, but clearing your mind or focusing on your breath seems intimidating.
    Listening to a calming voice giving instructions can help the mind focus and remove some anxiety you might feel about starting a meditation practice.

    You don’t need anything special to get started meditating. All you need is a comfortable place to sit and time.

    Many people who want to practice wrongly assume they must begin by sitting in absolute silence for an hour, trying to clear their mind. As a beginner, if you try to do that, you’ll feel quite frustrated. And jumping into the deep end like that can be a lot when confronting your thoughts for the first time.

    It’s much better for your mind to practice for 5 minutes daily. The frequency at which you meditate is far more important than how long you meditate in a single session. The repetition of the practice trains your mind. As you come to your place of stillness every day, you will understand the process more.

    Connect with your Unconscious Mind

    Your unconscious mind controls 95% of your actions. This includes all of your internal systems that you need to stay alive. It also includes your habits, automatic reactions to things, and emotions.

    Your mind is the architect of who you are, and most of it happens behind the scenes without you even having a say.

    When you meditate, you build a bridge between the unconscious and the conscious mind. You can tap into that power and make it easier to change the habitual responses your mind has built over time.

    Begin with the Breath

    Breath is life. It’s universal for all living things. When you start a meditation program, whether it be an online meditation course or something that you do in person with a teacher, you will begin with the breath.

    You are told to pay attention to your breath when you learn to meditate. Your natural instinct might be to breathe rigidly and more forcefully. Instead, breathe with normal inhalation and exhalation while focusing on the space where the air enters and leaves your body. Draw your attention to your nostrils and your upper lip.

    How does the air feel there? What are the sensations you feel when you inhale and exhale?

    Give Your Mind Something to Hold Onto

    When practicing meditation, it is natural for all kinds of things to go through your mind. We are humans, and we like to grab hold of things in our brains.

    An old Hindu saying compares the mind to an elephant’s trunk. An elephant’s trunk is restless and curious. If you walk through the market with an elephant, its trunk will stray, picking up objects to examine and explore. It could cause quite a lot of chaos.

    But if you give the elephant a piece of bamboo to hold in its trunk, it will walk through the market concentrating on holding the bamboo and not cause any destruction.

    During meditation, the breath is like the piece of bamboo in the story. It gives you something to come back to when your mind strays. Your mind will stray. All kinds of thoughts will pop into your head, but the trick is not to hold on to them. Instead, acknowledge that it’s there and let go of it. Then bring your mind back to the breath. You’ll find that meditation is mostly this… over and over again–allowing the thought to float away and bringing your mind back to the breath.

    This is how you train your mind to focus. Over time you can drop down into the deeper brain waves and get in touch with the subconscious mind.

    If concentrating on the breath is too difficult for you and you need something else to focus on, listening to online guided meditations is a good solution. In addition to the breath, the sound of the person giving you instructions gives you something to return to when your mind begins wandering.

    Omstars has a vast library of online guided meditation programs for you to use as you start your meditation practice. These online meditation videos are perfect for people who are learning how to meditate and want to make it part of their daily lives.

    Try practicing with this guided meditation video with Kino McGregor.

    Do you want more meditation classes like this? Sign up for a free trial with Omstars to get started. 

    Image by vined mind from Pixabay

  • The Science-Based Health Benefits of Meditation

    As meditation has emerged into the modern zeitgeist and grown in popularity, more and more people are beginning to appreciate it not for the spiritual element but for the practical benefits it brings to their day-to-day life.

    Now that meditation has taken root in the west, many therapists, neurologists, and other healthcare professionals have become more and more interested in the measurable health benefits that meditation can offer a person. 

    If you’re getting into meditation, or you’ve been practicing it for a while, and you’re interested in learning more about its effects, here are seven science-based health benefits of meditation and a brief guide on how to meditate for the first time.

    It Helps Reduce Anxiety

    It’s common knowledge that meditation reduces stress levels, which translates to a reduction in anxiety.

    One meta-analysis on studies covering a pool of over 1,000 adults showed a general reduction in anxiety among participants and that the positive effects were strongest in people who reported the highest levels of anxiety.

    A separate study focusing on mindfulness meditation, one of the most popular forms of meditation today, showed that people who struggled with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and took part in group meditation significantly reduced the ACTH, a hormone related to stress.

    Various other experiments and reports show that those who meditate to deal with anxiety are less likely to experience the manifest symptoms of anxiety, such as irrational phobias, panic attacks, and obsessive behaviors. 

    It Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease

    As an offshoot to reducing stress and anxiety, regular meditation has been shown to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which can contribute to coronary heart disease. 

    One AHA study focusing on African-Americans suffering from heart disease showed that regular transcendental meditation almost halved the risk of cardiovascular problems like myocardial ischaemia and atherosclerosis, as well as medical emergencies like strokes and heart attacks.

    A separate meta-analysis of 12 studies, also dealing with transcendental meditation, found that the practice helped reduce blood pressure, especially in older participants who reported higher blood pressure before taking part in their studies.

    It Improves Cognitive Abilities

    In the course of reducing stress and anxiety-related symptoms that can impair your ability to think clearly, meditation can also offer a range of benefits that actively improve your cognitive abilities.

    For example, in one study published by the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, it was found that people who listened to meditation tapes exhibited better attention while completing a predetermined task when compared to a control group.

    Another review of multiple studies that dealt with different meditation techniques practiced by elderly participants also showed that practicing meditation can improve attention span, mental quickness, and memory, showing promising potential to offset the symptoms of age-related memory loss and general cognitive difficulties.

    It Can Mitigate Pain

    As physical pain happens entirely within the brain in response to external stimuli, it follows that the mental health benefits of meditation can help mitigate our experience with pain. 

    Though this may be hard to believe for people who are new to meditating, several studies have shown that regular meditation practitioners are better at coping with physical pain.

    This meta-analysis, for example, which covered 38 studies of people experiencing chronic pain conditions, showed that mindfulness meditation can decrease pain and symptoms of anxiety, improving chronic pain sufferers’ overall quality of life.

    Another large-scale meta analysis, covering studies with a total of 3,500 participants, also showed that practicing regular meditation could mitigate the effects of both chronic and intermittent pain.

    It Can Improve the Quality of your Sleep

    Between 33% and 50% of American adults experience symptoms of insomnia at some point in their lives. Though these symptoms usually pass naturally, there’s still a universal demand for healthy, natural ways to get a better quality of sleep.

    One study published by Oxford Academic, a journal aggregator for Oxford University Press, found that people who meditated regularly were able to stay asleep longer and reported less severe symptoms of insomnia, and a separate academic review showed that people who meditate regularly are able to fall asleep faster than members of a control group.

    Because meditating teaches you to reign in and redirect racing, overactive thoughts, it would make sense that those who are practiced in meditation have an easier time relaxing their mind and avoiding the kind of restless thought patterns that can keep anyone up at night.

    It Improves Self-Awareness

    Certain forms of meditation are geared towards helping the practitioner gain a better understanding of who they are, their thoughts, and actions, helping to dampen common sources of cognitive dissonance and strengthen conscious self-improvement.

    For example, self-inquiry meditation, a relatively young form of meditation that was first codified in the 20th century, is used to gain a better understanding of yourself, your thoughts and actions.

    One study review focussed on the mental health of tai chi practitioners showed that the meditative aspect of tai chi could cause an improvement in self-efficacy, a term that refers to a person’s belief in their own abilities.

    It Dampens Mental Sources of Unhappiness

    One of the most interesting health benefits of meditation is that it can reduce the mind’s tendency towards directionless and impulsive thoughts that can cause unhappiness, thereby improving a person’s overall mood.

    A study by Yale University showed that regular mindfulness meditation effectively reduced activity in the default mode network, or DMN, of the brain. This circuitry of the brain is responsible for wandering, self-referential thoughts that characterize those moments when you feel like you’re not thinking about anything particular.

    Separate studies have shown that these kinds of wandering thoughts are associated with worrying about the future and ruminating about the past or feeling troubled due to more abstract, existential issues. In meditation, a practitioner is consciously trying to quieten these kinds of thoughts, and with enough experience, they’re able to snap back to the present moment more easily than non-practitioners.

    How to Meditate

    Now that we’ve looked at some of the great health benefits that meditation can offer you, here’s a quick step-by-step guide to how you can get started with mindfulness meditation. There are many different forms of meditation, but mindfulness is generally regarded to be the easiest and most accessible for people of all backgrounds.

    Step 1: Find a Place to Meditate

    Though experienced practitioners can meditate anywhere at any time, when you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to find a peaceful environment free of as many distractions as possible, such as a quiet bedroom, living room, or yard. 

    Some people like going to a beautiful nearby location to meditate too, and studies have shown spending time out in nature can have an array of mental health benefits.

    Step 2: Find a Comfortable Position

    Though most people sit cross-legged to meditate, it can be done in almost any position that’s comfortable to you, such as sitting straight in a chair or kneeling. As long as it’s a position you feel you can stay in comfortably for however long you’re planning to meditate, then you can take it as a good meditation pose.

    The only position we’d advise against is lying down. Meditation is a very relaxing experience, though you need to remain conscious to do it effectively, so don’t risk falling asleep!

    Step 3: Find Something to Focus On

    Meditation involves focusing the front of your mind on a single stimulus so the rest of the mind can relax and heal. When most people begin meditation, they’ll focus on their breath, but if this doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of other options. 

    White noise, the sound of birds singing, waves breaking on the shore, and similar calming sounds are all popular stimuli that you may want to use for meditation. For some practitioners, it’s easier not to focus on any one stimulus in particular, and instead listen to the general sounds around them in the same way they’d listen to music.

    If you want to lean more into the spiritual side of meditation, then Better Me has a great list of simple mantras rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other eastern religions.

    Step 4: Notice When your Mind is Wandering, and Bring it Gently Back to your stimulus

    Unless you’ve spent your life in a Tibetan monastery, it’s inevitable that your mind will wander away from your stimulus and break your meditation. This happens to everyone, and it’s nothing to fret about. The important thing is realizing when your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the stimulus you’re focusing on.

    However often your mind wanders, and whatever the content of your thoughts are, make sure you’re re-focusing gently and not judging yourself or obsessing over the way your mind wanders. Directing kindness and goodwill to all things, including yourself, is a core principle of the religions that meditation originates from. Remember to practice this “maitrī” for a more effective and enjoyable meditation session!

    Final Thoughts

    We hope you’ve found our round-up of these science-based health benefits of meditation helpful as you work to improve your physical and mental health. 

    For more information on meditation, yoga, and general wellness, be sure to check out our other articles and tutorials here!

    By Sophie Bishop

    Sophie Bishop is a medical journalist. Sophie aims to spread awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, wellbeing and sustainability and is looking to connect with an engaged audience.

    Find Sophie on her social media accounts:
    Twitter: @SophBishJourno
    LinkedIn: /sophie-bishop/

    Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

  • An Unmoving Mountain: Reflections from a 10 Day Vipassana Course

    I felt the need to run away, away from the work they were asking me to put in. I was looking for distractions in conversations, emails, planning, doing. I quickly realized I wouldn’t have access to any of them for 10 full days. At first, being there sitting from moment to moment, I wanted to do anything else.

    Reintegrating into daily life is easier than I thought it would be. 

    It’s the day after I completed my first 10 day vipassana course and reintegrating into daily life is easier than I thought it would be, because going from no talking, only sitting with yourself to interacting with the outside world and answering emails should feel abrupt. Or at least I thought it would. For the time being I’ve undone my knee jerk reaction of reaching for my phone, because I feel more settled in my own skin, and somehow that makes being in the world simpler.

    The happiness of liberation. 

    I was given the opportunity to participate in a vipassana course, ten days of silence learning one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. Vipassana was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and passed down to the present day by an unbroken line of teachers. It is taught as a ‘universal remedy for universal ills’ aiming for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resulting happiness of liberation.

    I was looking for distractions. 

    Nestled in the Rocky Mountains with not a town or neighbor in sight, I was asked not to communicate in any way. I sat with myself, in silence, alongside 50 others. Initially, I felt the need to run away, away from the work they were asking me to put in. I was looking for distractions in conversations, emails, planning, doing. I quickly realized I wouldn’t have access to any of them for 10 full days. At first, being there sitting from moment to moment, I wanted to do anything else. But what? Why?

    Before external action there’s an internal sensation. 

    With the Vipassana technique we work with felt sensation in the body. Before external action there’s an internal sensation, and according to the technique it’s at this level we need to think about transformation. Our subconscious experiences a sensation it’s come to associate with pleasure, and we automatically act towards it (cravings), it experiences another sensation associated with pain and we act to avoid it (aversions). We are asked to observe and dissect these subtle and gross sensations by observing the moment before the automatic reaction towards or against the sensation and re-route.

    A sensation in the body that will eventually pass. 

    We re-route to simply being there with the sensation and thereby break its association with pleasure or pain. We observe it for what it is – a sensation in the body that will eventually pass. Before bringing our awareness there, our actions and the way we are in the world, seem to only be interfaced with experiences outside us, which leads us to believe it’s someone or something else dictating our reality. That notion that its me, it’s always been me—or rather my unconscious mind calling the shots by reacting to those sensations – flooded my understanding.

    Our subconscious mind has come to associate the sensations. 

    An example to paint a picture – you have a big presentation coming up and you get anxious. Our subconscious mind has come to associate the sensations that come with anxiety with something to push away, so the usual avoidance strategy kicks in. We spin out, go over in our heads the worst possible outcomes, maybe figure out a way to bail, or we say something to bring someone else down. With vipassana, we are asked to observe the anxiety and bring the discomfort to our conscious mind. Feel the tension and how it actually feels in the body. For me, it’s a knot in the throat, shallow breathing, tightness in the chest.

    They are just energy vibrating without our awareness. Until they aren’t. 

    The pleasures and discomforts are merely sensations felt in the body that shouldn’t be labeled. They shouldn’t be considered good or bad, right or wrong, craving or aversion. They are just energy vibrating without our awareness. Until they aren’t. Until we become aware and discover the mind body connection and how that determines our external world. The process put forth by this technique seemed almost scientific to me. We feel the sensations and retrain our bodies and minds to not react by our deeply rooted patterns of attachment and aversion, patterns ingrained internally by past experiences. We do this by observing objectively. From this space we can retrain our actions to be less reactive and therefore less tainted and more connected to our authenticity. If all our reactions and unconscious patterns were to be erased, there would be nothing fogging our view of the present moment, and we could experience the world as it is.

    You can consciously choose your next set of actions. 

    Back to the example – by observing the anxiety, you settle the mind on the body, into the present. Maybe you watch the anxiety pass soon after, or it remains until after the presentation is over. Either way, the anxiety is there but it’s not taking hold of you dictating your actions. You can consciously choose your next set of actions from a clearer state of mind. It’s not easy and it’s something that takes practice. It takes doing it consistently in a daily seated meditation practice, when your effort is focused on objectively observing the sensations in the body, for it to be a new way of operating out in the world, when the attention is mostly outwards.

    The work needs to start beneath the surface. 

    Changing external circumstances is useless because the method of perceiving and interacting with the world would remain the same. In other words, you’d be looking at something different on the outside, but the lens through which you’re looking would be the same, with that same warped tint. There would be the same unconscious reactions to things feeling good or getting tough, so from where you’re standing the world would look the same. The work needs to start beneath the surface for real change to happen. You don’t change the presentation, you change your reaction to the anxiety that comes up because of the presentation.

    Around the 4th day the staying got bearable. 

    The first 3 days were mentally challenging. Getting through an hour of just sitting in the same room, never mind not changing positions just yet, was hard. Really. Hard. I had to come up against all the reasons why that was so difficult and find the mental determination to overcome them. I had to tell myself to just wait it out and no matter what I wasn’t going to run back to my room (sometimes we had the option of meditating in our rooms but I knew I would just take a nap or start stretching to distract myself). So I stayed, and stayed and stayed. At some point, I think around the 4th day the staying got bearable, and I was able to face the next challenge—staying without moving. That’s when the pain came. To some extent the physical pain was easier for me to deal with: there were moments it was excruciating, but it felt like something tangible to work with, whereas the mental discomforts of restlessness were so hard to pinpoint in my body. But the sharp precise pain was a clear place to rest my mind. The challenge at this point came from observing objectively, removing the mental anguish from the physical pain and simply witnessing the sensation within the body. I went in.

    There was one particular experience during the 10 days. 

    When there was discomfort there was pain, uneasiness, anxiety, more pain, sadness, a scattered mind and then more pain. And then there was the other side of ease, calm and glimpses of peace. I watched and trusted that what I was told was true—there’s always another side, and it’s worth going through the pain to get to the other side. There was one particular experience during the 10 days where I was able to observe the pain without reacting and see through to the other side of pain. I watched as the intense pain in my left shoulder was broken down into vibrations moving faster and stronger, taking all my attention. I studied it long enough to eventually watch it dissolve into the sea of vibrations contained in the rest of the physical, energetic body.

    I couldn’t let this experience inform future ones. 

    There’s a catch though, in this process of looking through to the other side of pain. After moving through the pain in my left shoulder, I felt good. The vibrations dissolving into the rest of the body felt ecstatic. It felt so good that I wanted more of it and just like that I was again caught up in the cycle of craving. I faced another challenge—continuing with objective awareness even as the gross sensation passed and the other side was sensed. Moreover, I couldn’t let this experience inform future ones. I needed (and still do) to develop the capacity to observe for the sake of observation, not for the promise of a particular sensation arriving or disappearing. Instead there should be genuine objective observation, without the expectation of a particular outcome.

    I was with myself and that’s it. 

    Another profound part of this course was the silence. No talking, no communicating in any way with anyone (unless you had an emergency you could talk to the course administrators). Since I wasn’t communicating externally all my attention was internal for 10 full days. I was with myself and that’s it. The first couple days I realized just how much actually goes on in my head. With no other noise to cover it up, it was all I could hear. Then to watch as these thoughts slowly faded as the days went by felt so settling. It was a relief to know that all the thoughts, conversations and stories created in there aren’t really necessary. I had this deeply rooted idea that I needed to keep these thoughts active to maintain a valuable identity.

    Who am I without these stories?

    Who am I without these stories? Who am I without the person that comes up to interact with others? Who am I without people around me I know and share a common life with? Who am I without a job to do and people around me telling me that I am doing it well? Who am I without my parents and family showing me where I came from and those who came before me? Who am I without all the distractions covering up who I really am underneath all that? I think these are all questions that will take a lifetime (probably more) to discover and definitely a 10 day course didn’t answer for me. But what it did do was offer a path to understand that the labels we give ourselves can’t define who we truly are because they are always changing, in the same way the sensations in our bodies are always changing.

    I knew I just wanted out to distract myself from the work. 

    There were moments I wanted to run after the next car that passed and beg them to take me with them. There were moments I grew so restless and agitated knowing I needed to be there for another day and another… but the bigger picture of getting through day by day (rather than getting through one sit) put things in perspective for me yet again. Why did I need to get out of the course? To be who? To do what? I would continue being the same person out there that I was in the course. No matter where I go, I’ll be there, with the same reactions, cravings, aversions, with my insides reflected on the outside. I knew I just wanted out to distract myself from the work. Wholeheartedly coming to terms with all this gave me the determination about halfway through to really get down to work. To look in and keep looking in and keep looking in. I found the determination to put in the work. And that’s something I wasn’t prepared for—just how much effort this would require.

    What first meets the eye isn’t the whole story. 

    It was amazing to me, and still is that I experienced this whole process through the means of looking inside, by my own effort! Every sensation I experienced, whether mental or physical, came and went. To experience the reality of impermanence inside myself was a sort of paradigm shift in the way I see myself, but also beyond that – how I see the way events and people unfold before me. What first meets the eye isn’t the whole story. It’s just a glimpse of a moment in time. There is so much more. There’s the inner world, the whole story of the entire universe. To think we understand someone or something fully by only perceiving the superficial external aspect in a particular moment is misleading. Because that will change and therefore we must look deeper. What we’ll find is true for everything—nothing lasts forever. People aren’t set as the person you see or think they are. Events aren’t set in one condition. I think it’s important to re-learn the people we think we know and to look at situations with a new perspective. Refusing to accept the truth of impermanence will only lead to suffering, because contrary to what the subconscious is trained to believe, nothing lasts forever, so we might as well surrender.

    There’s nothing about us that remains the same. 

    The mountains surrounding the center helped me get through the course and understand the process I was going through. They hovered over me, strong, stable and unmoving throughout the entire 10 days; yet their external appearance never the same as the sun rose and set, the shadows and the way the sun rested on their sides was always changing. Likewise, we are always changing—our minds, bodies, ideas, everything. There’s nothing about us that remains the same, yet we act like we are this one unchanging being with a perfectly constructed image. An image that can so easily be shattered at any moment. Only awareness is always there looking out— the unmoving mountain.

    This course is truly accessible to anyone. 

    To learn more about Vipassana 10 day courses taking place all over the world, visit https://www.dhamma.org/ This course is truly accessible to anyone! No prior meditation experience is necessary, although having a daily practice of even 10 minutes a day is helpful. They even give the option to sit in a chair, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. I highly recommend participating in one and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the course, just reach out. For some guided meditations of varying lengths, check out my YouTube channel.

    By Monica Arellano

    Meditate with Monica Arellano

    Monica’s teachings are informed by the knowledge carried on from her teachers and the first-hand experience from her daily asana and meditation practice. Her classes emphasize the breath, alignment, proper foundations and methods of concentration; in hopes of exploring the deeper intention of Asana and the resulting expression in each student’s unique body and mind. In this space, she believes we can deconstruct unhealthy patterns, facilitate healing on many levels, and find our way back to the most honest version of ourselves.