As I lay in bed one night, my mind raced so quickly from one thing to the next that I couldn’t even finish a complete thought. There was so much to be done the next day, the next week, before the deadline, that I felt completely consumed and aware. Every minute that was passing by was one minute closer to my alarm sounding and inducing immediate anxiety. My mind was in a whirl, and I thought of the words of my yoga teacher. She insisted that breathing was the most vital part of the practice and to keep a constant awareness of it. After three deep inhales and exhales, I felt my entire body relax, without realizing that my legs, toes, and back had been tensed this entire time I was laying in bed. Perhaps this allowed my exhaustion to take over, because next thing I knew, I was waking up to my alarm the following morning.
Was it meditation? Sure, at least for a beginner. I realized that “meditation” was not just for the zen’ed-out hippie with loads of free time to sit and reflect. As I started to look further into meditation and the methods for beginners, I realized why we seem to hear more about it day to day. There are overwhelming amounts of research proving the multiple benefits that come from meditation, including both psychological and physical results. Meditation is perhaps the simplest way to quickly improve your overall well-being. And who doesn’t desire quick results nowadays?
I’m not a doctor (surprise!), so I won’t pretend to explain how and why these effects can occur, but you can read more about it in this Forbes article. The benefits most observed by meditators in these studies were lower heart rate and blood pressure, and a decrease in overall stress and anxiety. Improved attention and concentration were also often present, and studies have even used standardized tests to prove that people scored higher after just a couple of weeks of meditation.
But the emphasis was that these effects are not just observed during meditation, but became noticeable to the person in their daily life. Of course if we slow down our breathing and relax, we will become calmer, but it is once your army of thoughts marches back in that our worry and negative emotions return. I found it incredibly interesting how the research explained this in factual findings. Studies showed that meditation led to measurable changes in the brain, including reducing activity in the area responsible for mind-wandering. If we can control our mind from wandering, perhaps we can prevent some of those negative emotions from taking over.
THE HOW-TO: You can find many video-led meditations online, but there are some easy methods that anyone can implement. First, you need to find a comfortable, quiet place to sit with your eyes closed. It is recommended that you sit up straight, ideally with legs crossed, to allow for comfort and proper air flow. The key is to take long breaths in and out, and focus on ONE THING ONLY, which I find very difficult. A couple of examples helped me to achieve this:
- Picture a clear blue sky, and any thoughts coming into the mind as clouds passing by. You acknowledge their existence and let them go, without reacting. This practice helps negative thoughts from spiraling out of control.
- OR imagine inhaling white light into body and exhaling all negative thoughts and feelings as black light, until you are completely filled with only white light
I started with only 5 minutes of meditation, typically right before bed, and increased to 10 minutes when I felt I could allow myself the time. I challenge you to train your brain, your most powerful tool, through meditation. At least give it a try – what’s the worst that could happen? There is no wrong way to meditate as long as you are attempting the technique, and it certainly comes easier with practice.
In a society where we are tempted to be constantly stimulated – must be on Instagram at all times – it seems right to give our minds a break by taking the alternate route…doing NOTHING.