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Meditation Demystified: 3 Easy Tips to Get it Right

Meditation Demystified: 3 Easy Tips to Get it Right

Throughout my life (and I assume just about everyone’s life!) I’ve tried many different things to improve myself. Usually, I’m looking for ways to reduce my stress levels, develop better habits and think more positively – basically to be a happier person.

I’ve tried keeping a bullet journal (didn’t work for me), hypnotizing myself to eat less dessert (nope), reading a million self-help books (hit and miss), downloading productivity apps (which usually distract me from actually working). A lot of these things were either hogwash or just weren’t for me (some of my friends really like bullet journals!)

The one thing I’m fully confident of, the one thing that actually worked for me is meditation. Over the last year, I’ve been meditating consistently for 15 minutes a day. How has it changed me? I’m generally less stressful about insignificant things, I’m more focused at work, and my personal relationships are the strongest they’ve been in my entire life.

It has definitely changed me for the better.

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The Health Benefits of Meditation

You should start meditating today, if you’re not already. The benefits I’ve seen from meditation have been profound, but that’s merely an anecdote. What does the science say?

The scientific community has come to the resounding consensus that meditation is good for you (duh!) People have known this for centuries, but now scientific studies are finally catching up. Meditation helps us manage stress, reduce anxiety, and in some cases prevent depression.

People who meditate are generally less distracted and can focus on tasks for greater periods of time. Basically, it helps you work harder and for longer periods of time.

Another interesting scientific finding on meditation is that it can aid in drug recovery. Studies have shown for a long time that stressful situations and experiences can lead to relapse in recovering addicts. Now we’re beginning to understand that meditation can be a powerful tool to deal with stress and prevent relapses.

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Common elements among all meditation styles

There are many different meditation techniques out there, as well as schools of thought on the theory behind meditation. One book on meditation will tell you one thing, and the next book will tell you another. My suggestion to you, for now, is to ignore all that noise and just begin your meditation practice. You can always learn the theory and try new techniques later.

The different schools of meditation thought all share a few common elements regarding meditation. To summarize these points, we can say that meditation consists of three things:

  1. A peaceful, quiet area in which you can meditate. Perhaps this is a special room in your house or if you’re trying to meditate at work, an unused conference room. The important thing is that you feel safe, it’s quiet, and people aren’t coming and going in it, which could distract you from your practice.
  2. A comfortable meditation posture. Some people will recommend sitting cross-legged on a pillow on the floor, your back straight. Some will recommend sitting on the edge of a chair. Still others will recommend lying on the ground. At this point in your meditation practice, it doesn’t matter. Choose a posture in which you’ll be comfortable for up to 15 minutes – but not too comfortable or else you might fall asleep!
  3. An object on which you can focus your mind. Many people mistakenly believe that to meditate means to clear your mind of all thoughts, everything. While this is the end goal for many meditation practitioners, it’s not something many people can or want to achieve when they first begin meditating. Instead of thinking of nothing, fill your mind with a relaxed focus on one object. This can be nearly anything: your breath, the tip of your nose, the repetition in your mind of a few words (AKA a “mantra”). The important thing is to fix your mind on this object and try to not let your mind wander away from it.

After you’ve achieved these three fundamentals, resolve to meditate for a set period of time -10 minutes is a good place to start. After 10 minutes is up, pat yourself on the back. You’ve completed your first meditation session!

Your First Meditation Routine

The last section showed you how there’s no one correct way to meditate. Many different paths and techniques are available to you as you embark upon your meditation quest. Find your own way; there’s no real way to do meditation wrong, as long as you dedicate time and effort to your practice.

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I did, however, want to share one meditation routine that has worked well for me and will work well for beginners. But feel free to modify it as you see fit!

Beginner Meditation Routine

When: Morning, soon after you wake up. (Meditating early in the morning will help you to maintain the peace you gained in your session with you throughout your day.)

Where: On the floor in your bedroom

Posture: Sit upright. Use a balled up pillow if the floor is hard or your hips aren’t flexible

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Time: Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Cease meditation when it goes off

Objective: Breath through your nose. Focus your mind on your breathing in and out. Focus especially on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils. When your mind wanders from the sensation of the breath, gently lead it back to your objective.

One Last Thing to Consider: Guided meditation

Before I leave you to begin meditating, I wanted to throw one last thing out there. If you’re having trouble focusing throughout a short meditation session, consider doing a guided meditation. Guided meditation is simply meditating while someone else guides you through what you should be focusing on, how you should be breathing, etc. When I first began meditation, following guided instructions were invaluable in focusing my attention on my meditation session.

You can either use a recording of a guided meditation. (Look on YouTube and Spotify for high quality and free recordings.) Or you can attend a class at a local meditation center.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Tom Casano

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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