Imagine yourself running at top speed. After a few minutes pass, you feel yourself slowly getting out of breath. You feel the aches in your muscles as your body slows down but you keep pushing yourself to keep going. Eventually, you collapse because you’ve exhausted all energy and you can no longer function.
For many people, this is what we do to our minds when we are constantly under stress. All the thoughts dictated by our endless to-do lists accompanied by our worries and fears are burning out our brains.
What if I told you there was a simple process backed by science that you can do in as little as 20 minutes a day that will lower your stress levels, improve your decision making skills and relieve anxiety?
This process is meditation. It has now become widely popular with over 18 million people practicing it in the U.S. alone and it now also has grown into a billion dollar business. Leading companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs and Salesforce use meditation practices in the workplace and 22% of employers have offered mindfulness training to staff back in 2016.
We’ve created this article about meditation for beginners so you can learn about what it is, and how you can use it right now to start experiencing the many benefits it provides.
What meditation means to your body and mind
The actual practice of meditation can be done in many different ways but the one type that has shown promising results is known as mindfulness meditation.
The purpose of the practice is to train your mind to be firmly focused on the present moment. It involves the act of focusing your attention on something such as your breathing, as well as taking moments to simply observe and be aware of things around and within you.
Meditation recharges your brain
Meditation is what helps you to be in a restful and recuperative state where you are not controlled by your thoughts and feelings. As a result your mind will become better able to manage them in a way where you just observe them so you can make better decisions.
“Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
Meditation keeps your brain healthy
Just like how exercises will make your body physically stronger, this mental exercise will make your brain stronger. It activates the parts of your brain that promote things like intelligence, empathy, and happiness just to list a few.
It’s a known fact that our brain start slowly shrinking starting around the age of 30 but keeping your brain in shape with meditation can prevent the shrinking altogether.
Meditation hears the cries of your body
When we’re too busy, we may not notice the subtle symptoms of our body. For example, when we are stressed, there are early symptoms such as tightness, irritation and heaviness in the body. When we ignore these symptoms, it can lead to much more amplified symptoms such as high blood pressure, fatigue and anxiety.
Meditation helps you become more aware with what your body has been trying to communicate with you about your health and well-being in order address certain issues before it’s too late.
Why it’s worth it to start meditation
Over 50 years of scientific research has shown compelling evidence of the many different types of benefits meditation can have on both your brain and your body.
One of the most compelling piece of evidence for meditation that I have found was that it literally changes your brain. Brain scans have shown that the neuron rich part of the brain known as grey matter was noticeably increased in multiple areas of the brain involved with important functions such as decision making, emotional regulation and memory.
To learn more about some of the amazing benefits, you can read my other article: 15 Ways Meditation Boosts Your Brain Power and Your Mood
A simple way to meditate (even for absolute beginners)
If you’ve never meditated before, spending as little as 2 minutes a day may be a great start to develop a meditation habit and experience the results.
One thing to keep in mind is that meditation isn’t about trying to stop your thoughts. It’s more about being aware of them and then simply allowing them to come and go.
All you need is a comfortable space where you are likely not to be disturbed and do the following:
- Sit with your back straight at a comfortable level, either on a chair or on the floor (Whichever is more comfortable).
- Start by leaving your eyes open with a relaxed soft focus.
- Take one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- While breathing out, gently close your eyes and resume normal breathing
- Take a moment to pause and enjoy being present in the moment. Feel the pressure of your body on the chair beneath you, the feet on the floor and the hands and the arms just resting on the legs.
- Gently bring the focus back to your breathing and notice the breath and the body with its rising and falling sensation.
- When you’ve realized your mind has wandered from any thoughts, sounds or other sensations, gently bring the focus back to your breath again.
- Gradually bring the attention back to your body and the space around you. Then gently open your eyes again.
- Take a moment to soak in how that felt for you before going about your day.
Clearing the obstacles to meditation
There are many things that may be preventing you from experiencing the amazing results of engaging in regular meditation. Here are some challenges to expect as well as some guidance on how to handle them:
- Doubt – Your skepticism might take over and you might be questioning if such a simple practice can really help you in any way. A ton of evidence has shown it does, so go in with an open mind and trust the process. You will notice the changes gradually and the possibilities will soon become a reality for you.
- Restlessness – You may find yourself restless and constantly distracted with thoughts when meditating. Be aware this is totally normal especially in the beginning. Like any other practice, you will have some good days and bad days but as you continue training your mind, you’ll become more and more fluent with entering into a calm state.
- Impatience– You might not experiencing the benefits as quickly as some other people do. Don’t worry. While it might take you a little longer to see the positive outcomes, go at your own pace and as you continue to practice and get better, you will definitely experience the results.
- Sleepiness – You will definitely have trouble focusing if you’re tired or low on energy. If you find this happening often, try to meditate during a time where you are more awake such as earlier in the day rather than closer to bedtime.
- Discouragement – As with any other new habit formation, life happens and you will miss some days that you were hoping to get a meditation session in. Don’t let this discourage you into giving up. Keep moving forward and do it whenever you can. Every little bit helps to create a big result.
Basic techniques and practicing exercises (With specific steps)
Two of the most researched types of meditation include focused attention meditation (FAM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM).
Focused attention meditation involves the active focusing of attention on an object, your breathing, an image or some words.
Open monitoring meditation involves more of a observation approach where you practice being aware of any experience that comes up without any judgement nor focus towards it.
Most mindfulness meditation sessions use a combination of both these types with focused attention meditation usually in the beginning and gradually shifting to open monitoring meditation.
To help you take your meditation a little further, here are some basic techniques you can practice for each type:
Focused attention meditation
Focused attention meditation can be done in a variety of ways as there are many things you can choose to focus on. Here are some basic techniques that you can use to incorporate:
- Breathing Meditation – This is a very common form of focused attention method where you focus on the breath while meditating. Simply count to 10 with each breath that goes in and out and repeat. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring the focus back to your breath and start the count over again.
- Walking Meditation – Go out for a walk at a comfortable pace. As you do, start focusing on the sensations you feel in your body. Notice the weight of your feet as it hits the floor and the swinging of your arms with each stride. If you find thoughts coming into your mind, just gently bring the focus back to the sensations you feel as you walk.
- Mantra Meditation – A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself. It can be any word so choose a positive one you like that’s comfortable for you to say. As you begin meditation, close your eyes and repeat your mantra to yourself. Focus only on the sound and feel of your mantra and gently bring your focus back to it whenever your mind wanders.
- Object or Image Meditation – This involves placing your focus either on an image in your mind or on an actual object in the environment. Meditation with images can be done with your eyes closed whereas you would need to do it with your eyes open when focusing on an actual object such as a flower or candle flame.
Open monitoring meditation
Open monitoring meditation is all about observing experiences without judging or getting attached to them. This sort of awareness of your thoughts and feelings without being controlled by them is what’s referred to as mindfulness.
This promotes the clarity, perspective and wisdom that comes when gaining insight and helps you make better decisions especially when handling challenging emotions such as fear and stress.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Get comfortable into your meditation position and relax.
- Take long and deep breaths. With every exhale, feel how your body is getting more and more relaxed.
- Now rest your awareness in the present moment.
- Tune into your sensory experiences for several moments. Take a moment to observe the weight of your body on the chair and your hands on your lap. Notice any sounds or smells in your room.
- Monitor your organs by doing a body scan from the top of your head to the tip of your toes and observe any sensations as you do it.
- Take your awareness deeper by monitoring and thoughts or feelings. Recognize any deep emotions. Remember not to think about these emotions, but to simply notice them instead. One way that can help you not get caught up in the emotion is to label them. If you experience fear, just tell yourself “This is fear”. Then let go of it.
- When your mind wanders from the moment, resist the urge to attach yourself to those thoughts. Just let them come and go.
- Exit the meditation by letting your mind slip out of awareness and back to the present moment.
One way to help you get started and really experience the perks of meditation is to participate in guided meditation.
You can always search for a local class or if you’re more introverted, you can download great apps like Headspace that have free meditation sessions that you can do in the comfort of your own home.
You can also try this Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day)
The transformation you’ve been searching for
One of the key ways that meditation helps you, is by bringing you to the realization that you are not your thoughts or feelings; meditation frees you if you’ve been chained by your thoughts.
By simply connecting with and being more aware of yourself, you develop the amazing ability to handle stress, improve your health and increase your intellect.
So take two minutes now to close your eyes, focus on your breath and be present. Then you’ll be on your way to changing your life for the better.
Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com