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.
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!
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.
In the last 10+ years, both yoga and meditation have grown significantly in popularity across the globe. For most of us, however, the path of yoga begins with a focus on the physical aspects of the practice, like building strength, flexibility and coordination. It isn’t until we begin to further develop and deepen our practices that we actually discover the truth – yoga is more about the mind than anything else.
I, like many, began my pursuit of yoga with a focus on movement, eager to flow my way into a stronger & suppler body. So, I practiced frequently, both at home and at my local studio. With time and dedication, I was indeed able to achieve the results I was looking for, but I also noticed other effects – like the fact that I felt less stressed and more at peace in my body. As someone who had always been a bit of a worrier, this was huge.
Yoga became a place of solace for me. The more I practiced, the more I began to realize that it was the moments I spent in stillness that truly impacted me. So, naturally, I became increasingly interested in the stillness part of the practice – the meditation.
I like to think of yoga as training for meditation. The physical postures work as a means for helping us find more comfort in our own bodies. This in turn, allows us to sit in stillness for longer periods of time without getting too distracted by our bodies. The best time to meditate is after asana.
Unfortunately, most yoga studios don’t offer time for meditation after practice. For this reason, it’s important to get comfortable practicing yoga at home. That way you can move into meditation straight away after you’re through with asana. But, what if you don’t know how to meditate?
Figuring out how to sit for meditation is a lot more difficult that you might think. When we’re new to meditation, most of us simply don’t know what to do. We often find ourselves wondering, am I doing this right? Then, when we notice that our minds are going a million miles a minute, we start to think we just aren’t meant for meditation.
This could not be further from the truth. Every single person on the planet who sits down as a beginner in meditation will find a million thoughts racing through their heads. Even advanced meditation practitioners have a hard time getting their minds focused sometimes. The important thing to remember is that like yoga, meditation is a practice, and it takes some getting used to.
If you’re curious about meditation or think you might want to give it a try, there are tons of meditation classes you can practice with on Omstars.com. I recommend moving through an asana practice with one of your favorite teachers first, then transitioning into a meditation class. Try clicking the button below to browse through some of the available meditation classes offered online, or sign up to become an Omstars member by clicking here.
Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for at least 5 minutes. You can sit in a chair, on the floor, in your bed – really, anywhere that works for you.
Step 2: Sit up tall, let your spine be long, and find comfortable stillness.
Step 3: As you settle into your seat, bring your awareness to your breath, observing each inhale and exhale.
Step 4: Try deepening the breath so that the belly begins to expand as you breathe in and out. Keep your focus on your breathing.
Step 5: If your mind starts wandering, just notice your thoughts. Then, let them go and bring your awareness back to your breath.
Step 6: Continue focusing on your breath for at least 5 minutes. Each time your mind wanders off, notice, and come back to your breath.
That’s all there is to it.
It’s important to know that your mind will wander off – probably several times. You will get distracted and you will most likely feel like you can’t focus. This is part of the process. That’s why it’s a practice. We have to practice bringing our mind back to our point of focus (in this case, the breath) again and again.
Learning to focus the mind in meditation can carry over into everyday life. In time, we can learn to let go of stress and anxiety with ease. We can learn to keep our attention on projects and work for extended periods of time. We may even find that we become better listeners, better students, better partners, and better human beings. That is the power of meditation.
Alex Wilson is a writer, yoga teacher, and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist. She is passionate about empowering students to create space for healing and self-discovery in their lives. She is also the content manager for Omstars.com.
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