“I’m too busy to meditate.”
“Meditation is for hippies or people who can sit in weird poses.”
“My brain won’t stop, so meditation must not be for me.”
Sound familiar? There have been a lot of studies which conclude that meditation can be beneficial for just about everyone. Below are 6 good reasons to start (or continue a meditation practice.)
- Meditation may improve your sleep. Niclole Winbush, co-author of a University of Minnesota study says that meditation helps some people break the cycle of obsessing about not being able to get to sleep. This practice can also reduce stress hormones like cortisol, which can interfere with sleep.
- Meditation eases pain; it has been shown to help ease chronic discomfort like neck and back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia and recurring headaches. Jeffrey Greeson, a clinical health psychologist at Duke University, suggests that “If some attention is going toward other things, the pain’s not going to bother you as much.
- Meditation improves your ability to focus according to studies conducted by Fadel Zeidan, a cognitive neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
- Meditation reduces anxiety and stress. Other studies conducted by Dr. Zeidan show that in addition to lowering cortisol in the body, meditation helps one be more aware of the immediate experience rather than stewing over the past or worrying about the future.
- Meditation stabilizes emotions. “One of the reasons why meditation is effective for mood and depression is because it helps us not believe these automatic thoughts that we have,” says Jeffrey Greeson. “It involves focusing on what’s possible, not what’s impossible.”
- Meditation seems to support your immune system and may help you live longer. In a study last year, people who took eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training had far fewer cases of colds and flu and less severe infections compared to a group of non-meditators. Daniel Muller, a doctor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked on this study, says meditation may help to restore the body’s homeostatic balance. It may even help us live longer by keeping our DNA from degrading over time, according to recent research at the University of California, San Francisco.
Now that you know why you want to meditate, how do you get started?
Step 1. Sit comfortably with your back straight and your eyes closed.
Step 2. Focus your attention on your breath coming in and going out. Notice it come in through your nose, go down the back of your throat, down your chest to your lower abdomen. And notice the path of exhalation.
Step 3. When you notice your thoughts wandering (and you will), bring your attention back to your breath. Do this step again and again.
Meditation is exercise for the brain. When you repeat a bicep curl, over time you build muscle and endurance. When you meditate consistently, over time you will be less distracted (though I don’t know anyone who is never distracted) and will be able to sit for longer periods of time.
For your first session, sit down and get comfortable. Set a timer for 5 minutes and then begin.
Meditate daily for 5 minutes a day for a week.
Then next week set the timer for 10 minutes each day.
Add 5 minutes a week to your daily meditation time until you are meditating 30 minutes each day.
If you can’t give yourself permission to sit for 30 minutes at a stretch, break it up into two 15 minute sessions.
Experiment with different times of day to see what works for you. In the fall and winter I prefer to begin my day with meditation, and there are a some days that my schedule creates a better opportunity for me to meditate mid-day. When I am out of sink with my regular routine, I schedule a meditation between treatments. Actually writing it in my book as an appointment increases the likelihood that I give myself permission to take this essential time for myself.
UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers some free guided meditations if you’d like to try a different approach. Click here for their page.