Benefits of Meditation
You may think you have to be a monk on a mountaintop to meditate, but that's just not true. Meditationa practice that involves sitting quietly while focusing on your breathing for as little as 10 minutes per dayhas gone mainstream. Research shows that meditating can help lower blood pressure and conventional health care providers have recommended meditation to more than 6 million Americans to help them manage stress and symptoms of illness. It's also free and has no side effects.
Still skeptical? Here are three common mental blocks to meditating, and how to get around them.
Mental Block: "Meditation sounds like hokum."
Block Buster: There has been loads of solid research on the health benefits of meditation as well as evidence that over time it actually changes the structure of the brain for the better.
Researchers at Stanford University looked at brain scans of people who'd taken an eight-week meditation course. The scans showed reduced activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that triggers fear, anxiety and stress, and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate emotions.
Mental Block: "I don't have time to sit around doing nothing."
Block Buster: On the contrarythe positive impact on your life may help you achieve more of your goals, and just 10 minutes a day may do the trick. A recent study published in the journal Emotion found that meditation helped practitioners be less reactive to stressful situations and better able to find constructive solutions. That can include making better food choices, complying with medication regimens and sticking with exercise.
Mental Block: I've tried meditation and it didn't workthere's just no way I can clear my mind!"
Block Buster: "There's a misconception that meditation is about stopping thoughts," says Andy Puddicombe, author of Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day (St. Martin's, 2011). "But it's really about allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. Try not to have expectations or pressure yourself to be 'good' at meditation. The nicer you are to yourselfin anything you dothe more likely you are to reach your goal."
How to Meditate
Start with 10 minutes once a day, first thing in the morning or any time when you will be undisturbed, and not after a big meal or exercising. (Many meditation timer apps are available for smartphones.) Then...
- Sit comfortably on your bed, sofa or a cushion on the floor in a cross-legged position, keep your spine straight but not rigid, and close your eyes softly.
- Take five deep, slow breaths, then let your breath return to its natural rhythm, breathing through your nose. Don't try to control it.
- Thoughts, feelings, judgments and sensations will arise. Don't stop them, just re-focus on your breath. You are doing it right no matter how often you have to re-focus.
- When time is up, keep your eyes closed, and take your attention off your breath. After two minutes, open your eyes.
From our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living Spring 2013