What comes to mind when you think of meditation? Many people imagine cross-legged monks in Zen rock gardens. While this might be a great place to meditate, it’s probably not all that relatable if you live on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, there are many places and many ways to meditate besides sitting in a lotus position for hours on end in silence among rock gardens.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mind and body practice akin to yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy. The goal is to connect mental focus, controlled breathing, and body movement (or stillness) to elicit relaxation. A typical meditation misconception is that you need to empty your mind and leave the world behind. But consider a different perspective. Instead of draining your brain, focus on filling it with love, gratitude, and compassion while keeping worries and negative thoughts at bay. Engage with the world and wholly immerse yourself in the colors, patterns, and textures that surround you. Meditation is defined as thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for some time, so don’t zone out; make it meaningful!
The wide-ranging benefits of meditation stem from a newfound appreciation for life’s big and little blessings. Since meditation encourages a grateful and compassionate outlook, people who meditate report better emotional wellbeing, better coping skills, and increased self-awareness. Meditators also tend to focus more on the present moment, which could be an important benefit for people who find themselves dwelling on the past or fearing the future. Although more research is needed to establish a connection between meditation and physical health, current research suggests it can be a valuable adjunct therapy for anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and tension headaches.
Although meditation might seem out of reach, it’s really quite simple. Ensure your practice is well-rounded by aiming to include four components: a distraction-free space; a specific posture (such as sitting, lying, or walking); a focus of your attention; and an open and accepting state of mind. Your meditation practice can be as formal or informal as you want—there’s no right or wrong way to do it!
Make it a habit by identifying a time commitment that’s realistic for your schedule. If your goal is to start meditating every day, what behaviors can you work on now to make that goal possible? For example, if you have hectic mornings, an hour-long meditation practice before you start your day likely won’t be sustainable. But maybe you could write about three good things that happened to you before bedtime. Or perhaps you could make your morning jog more meditative by silently naming and appreciating the positive things you pass by. Meditation comes in many different forms! Find an idea to get started below.
Control of our breath is one of the few ways we can consciously turn off our body’s stress response–“fight or flight”—and shift to a more relaxed state. Try mindful breathing for 1-3 minutes at a time whenever needed.
- First, find a relaxed and comfortable position on the floor or even your desk chair.
- Notice your body and its positioning. Let go of any tension or stiffness one muscle at a time.
- Feel the natural flow of your breath and notice where you feel it in your body. Are you breathing into your nostrils? Chest? Belly? Don’t worry about changing the pace of your breath, just acknowledge it.
- As you focus on your breathing and body, it’s normal for your mind to wander. Acknowledge that your mind is wandering and redirect your focus to the breath.
Walk (or run!) mindfully
Gain an appreciation for the pleasant things around you by savoring them on your next outdoor walk or run. Here’s how:
- Find a daily 20-to-30-minute block of time when you can take a walk outdoors by yourself. You can do this activity in light rain if you have an umbrella or rain jacket.
- On your walk or run, take in as much as you can—the positive sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the natural environment.
- Acknowledge each thing you notice and determine what about it makes you happy. Why do chirping birds or fragrant flowers bring you joy?
- Thank each thing that you acknowledge.
- Take different routes to make the most of this practice.
Do a body scan
Tune into the present moment by bringing your attention to real-time emotions and sensations. Try combining this guided body scan meditation with mindful breathing.
A grateful outlook can help bolster personal relationships and improve your physical health. Cultivate gratitude by closing your day with a deep, thankful intent for all that went well. The “three good things” activity can guide you in this practice:
- Choose a journal you can dedicate to gratitude journaling.
- Tune into the day’s positive happenings and write about three things that went well—then provide an explanation for why they went well. The items you write about can be small or large in significance.
- Consider what caused this event and how it made you feel in the moment and at the time of writing.
- Use as much detail as possible, but don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
Repeat a meaningful word, mantra, or affirmation
Choose an uplifting word or phrase that keeps you focused during meditation. In addition to promoting a positive attitude, repeating a word or mantra gives your brain something to do while meditating, helping keep intrusive thoughts at bay. Your mantra can be chanted, whispered, spoken, or repeated in your head. Short and easy-to-remember mantras and affirmations work best. Here are some positive affirmations to try:
- “I am enough.”
- “I have the power to create change.”
- “I let go of all that no longer serves me.”
- “I deserve the best and I accept the best.”