“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life.” – Sogyal Rinpoche
Meditation. It’s becoming a bit of a buzzword, with celebrities like Katie Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and even Howard Stern boasting the benefits of the practice. But though this age-old tradition is finding its way back into mainstream society, there are still countless misconceptions about what meditation is and whom it’s really for.
I’ve been there myself. Before committing to Blue Osa’s one-month immersion yoga teacher training program, there was one thing that absolutely terrified me. And it wasn’t jungle living or physical exertion or teaching in front of peers—it was meditation. I was certain that meditation just wouldn’t be for me, for my restless mind, and for my tendency towards doing rather than being. But I also knew whole-heartedly that Blue Osa’s teacher training was the next stop on my life journey. 5:00am morning meditation it was.
The first few days of meditation I assumed my comfortable seat, closed my eyes, and counted down the minutes until I could have a cup of coffee. Then the first week passed, and I found myself feeling more grounded and calm throughout the rest of the day. By the end of the month, I discovered the power in getting still and steady to observe my thoughts—and I realized everything I thought I had known about meditation was entirely wrong.
Anyone can meditate. It doesn’t matter what your religion or experience or age or gender; all it takes is understanding more about the how and the why. Not convinced? Read on to learn more about meditation and the tangible steps you can take to start practicing on your own:
What Is Meditation?
It’s not about the bliss.
Before I began meditating, I assumed that the whole point of the thing was to tune out and bliss out; meditation meant sitting in lotus pose devoid of any thoughts or distractions, serene and unbothered, likely nearby an ocean or forest. (After all, Google image meditation and that’s exactly what you’ll find.) For someone like me who is constantly thinking a million thoughts a minute, the task seemed virtually impossible.
I quickly discovered that my misconceptions about meditation were exactly that—false impressions based purely on what the practice appears to be. As I began to dive into meditation, though, I learned that it’s not so much about checking out as it is checking in.
Meditation is about getting still and steady; from here we can take our attention inwards. Eventually, we might get to that space in between thoughts, when our minds are completely quiet. But for most, meditation starts with attending to the thoughts that come up; it starts with observing the thoughts and gently letting them pass through without judgment or analysis, simply noticing any patterns that occur. Through this process, the mind starts to slow down and get quieter. And it’s in this quiet space that we can return home within ourselves, devoid of busyness and distractions. As we become at peace within ourselves, we begin to discover our true nature that lies within us all.
Why Should I Meditate?
Put simply, meditation can lead to extreme personal transformation. As we sit and quiet the mind, we start to notice the reoccurring thought patterns. We are then able to look at the thoughts that keep coming up and adjust our lives accordingly. We start to learn how to control our thoughts and emotions, and that’s a powerful thing. Aside from a greater awareness and understanding of our inner self, meditation also:
1. Improves Concentration and Memory: This fun infogram shows that meditation: increases the cortical thickness as it is related to introspection and attention; increases areas related to memory (hippocampus) and thought (frontal lobes); and increases positive emotions and self-control.
2. Reduces Stress and Disease: Meditation is a great way to put things back into perspective and remember that all of our problems are only temporary. As a result, it reduces stress and anxiety, from which many other health problems stem.
3. Decreases Attachment: Meditation is all about staying in the present. It allows us to take a step away from worrying about the past and the future, which in turn helps us to detach from the things that don’t matter.
How Do I Start A Meditation Practice?
Beginning a meditation practice is easier than you might think! Here are a few of our top tips for getting started:
Commit To A Time And Routine: Start by reserving five to ten minutes a day for meditation, and then increase your practice time from there. Remember that it is better to meditate for a few minutes every day than an hour once a week. As you continue meditating, you’ll find that you both want to and can meditate for longer sessions. I’ve found it is more sustainable to choose a specific time and place for my daily meditation sessions, far removed from anyone or thing that could interrupt me. Typically the morning is considered one of the best times to meditate but anytime is better than no time.
Drop The Expectations: Don’t expect to close your eyes and clear your mind immediately. Like anything, meditation takes practice and patience. Go into it with openness and understanding, and be kind to yourself if your mind continually wanders.
Get Still and Steady: Before you begin any meditation practice, find a comfortable seat where you can work on becoming motionless. Thoughts follow movement; a still body will lead to a still mind.
Start With Your Breath: One of the best ways to focus on the present is by concentrating on your breath. As you watch your inhalation and exhalation, you’ll find you can breath deeper and smoother. Your brain can become calm. Whenever you find yourself falling into a thought, gently bring your awareness back to observing the breath.
Explore Guided Meditations: Guided meditations are a wonderful way for beginners to learn how to remove outside distractions and go inwards. There are loads of great guided meditations on YouTube, or try a simple Google search to see what options appeal to you.
Practice Yoga First: Sometimes one of the best ways to get still for meditation is by tiring out our physical body first. Try a yoga practice followed by a gentle relaxation to get you prepped for meditation.
Make It A Priority: Like anything in life, you must make meditation a priority if you are going to see the amazing benefits from it. Don’t give up, even if all you can think about is your first cup of coffee—it will get better!
Photo Credits: Dan Moore Photography
Do you meditate? Does the idea inspire or scare you? What additional tips would you add to the list?
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About the author:
Casey Siemasko is a content marketing consultant, travel blogger, and wandering yogi. An entrepreneur at heart, she is the co-founder of the award-winning travel blog A Cruising Couple. Besides yoga and travel, she enjoys wine tastings, being outdoors and taking on new hobbies. Follow Casey on LinkedIn and Google+.