Meditation has become a buzzword these days as it gains popularity and acceptance among counselors, and in today’s culture. Meditation has many health benefits, including increased focus, reduced stress + anxiety, and enhanced sleep. But even with the established benefits associated with meditation, many people remain resistant. I believe this is simply because most of us don’t know any better. We have misinformed ideas about what meditation is, believing that it’s religious in nature or it will require us to sit in a quiet room for hours on end. Then there are those who say they “just don’t have time” for meditation… and I think these are the people who need it the most.
Let me break down the basics for you:
What it is
Meditation is simply the practice of turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment. Over and over again. That’s it, it’s that straightforward.
Where you do it
It doesn’t matter where you meditate: you can meditate on the top of a mountain, in your car, in the bath, or at your desk at work. When you’re first starting out, it’s probably best to find a quiet space with as little distraction as possible.
How you sit
Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Many people like to meditate sitting in a chair with their feet on the floor, some like to sit crosslegged on the floor sitting up straight, and many like to lie down (I personally am a fan of lying down.) Find a posture that will allow your body to relax. As you progress in your meditation practice, you might even find that you’d rather do walking meditations. With practice, you’ll find your style and get into your own groove.
How you do it
Once you’re found a comfortable spot, you can either close your eyes or soften your gaze on something in the room. There are several methods to try when just starting out:
- Focus on your breath. Sometimes it helps to count the length of your inhales and exhales. Every time your mind starts to wander, simply bring your attention back to the rising and falling sensation of your breath. No matter how often your mind wanders, keep bringing your attention back to your breath.
- Some people prefer to focus on a word or phrase, known as a “mantra,” which you repeat over and over again either out loud or within your own mind. An example of a one of my favorite mantras is “be here now.” Every time your attention drifts to something else, bring it back to your chosen saying.
- Listen to a guided mediation. There are many iPhone apps and podcasts that provide guided meditations. Guided meditations are helpful when you’re first starting out because they take any guesswork out and tell you exactly what to do. My personal favorites are Headspace and Calm (you can find both of these in the App store on your iPhone)
Practicing mediation consistently is the key, even if it’s for 5 minutes a day! You will inevitably have wandering thoughts throughout your meditation; we all do. But the idea is to acknowledge them, let them go, and continue to bring your attention back to whatever it is you intended to focus on. Give it a try!