Meditation 101: Calming Your Mind & Soul
Stress is a part of life. In the short term, stress is surprisingly good for us. It keeps us clear of danger, boosts brain power, fuels motivation, and helps with immune function.
However, long-term stress has harmful effects. It can create heart issues and lead to serious mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
Practicing meditation on a regular basis can help relieve stress in your life. Meditation benefits, beyond decreased stress levels, further include:
- Promotion of self-awareness
- A stronger mind to body connection
- Achievement of self-realization
- Improved focus and concentration
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased immune function
Meditation is a mental practice where one focuses on a particular object, thought, or action. The goal is to clear the mind of stressors, achieve clarity, and attain a relaxed emotional state.
Historically, meditation techniques have roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. In more recent decades, many celebrities and notable entrepreneurs have discussed how meditation has contributed to their success. The list includes celebrities such as Katy Perry, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, and Paul McCartney.
How Can You Start Including Meditation Techniques in Your Life?
Balance is a major part of well-being. The World Health Organization states that health is, “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Society tends to focus on physical health. Only recently has mental and social well-being taken the main stage.
Meditation is a practice similar to exercise. Instead of exercising your physical being, you are exercising your mind. It gives you time to reset and refocus.
It is important to determine what type of meditation works best for you, as there are many techniques. A few popular meditative methods include body scan meditation, breath awareness meditation, transcendental meditation, and movement meditation.
Body Scan Meditation
If you have attended a yoga class, it is likely you have already experienced a form of body scan meditation. The final yoga pose, Savasana or Corpse Pose, embodies the basis of this meditation technique.
For this meditation, you can sit down, lay down, or find a comfortable position that you can remain still in. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to start. With every exhale, relax deeper into your chair, mat, or bed.
As the name states, you begin a scan of your body. You take note of your feet. Feel how heavy they are and allow them to fall into a position that feels natural. Notice your legs and feel them sink into the ground. Feel their warmth and heaviness. Note any pulsating or vibrations.
Continue this process in your stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, chest, neck, face, and head. Allow each body part to relax and soften. At the end of your body scan, bring your attention to the body as a whole.
Make sure to breathe naturally throughout the entire meditation. Be thankful for your body. Be grateful for what it endures every day. Remind yourself to be kind to it. When you have completed your body scan, open your eyes.
In a yoga class, the yoga teacher may guide you through the entire process. Phone applications, such as Headspace, also offer guided audio recordings that include body scan techniques. You may choose to start with or without a guided meditation. The goal is to increase your mind to body connection and your self-awareness.
Breath Awareness Meditation
Frequently referred to as mindful breathing, the breath awareness meditation technique focuses solely on the breath.
Find a comfortable sitting position. Relax your shoulders and maintain a good upright posture. You may close your eyes or keep them open. If your eyes are open, try to fixate on a spot or object in front of you.
Bring your attention to your breath. You may note the rise and fall of your chest or stomach. You may become more aware of the movement of air through your mouth or your nose. Stay in the moment focusing on inhaling and exhaling.
For beginners, it can be useful to count each exhale. Start with 1 and work your way up to 10. Once you reach 10, count back down to 1.
It is absolutely normal for your mind to wander. If you reach the number 15 on an exhale and have no idea how you got there, it’s okay. You have not failed. It is merely a part of the journey. The general idea is that eventually each thought will pass and you will focus on just your breath. Meditation takes practice.
Open your eyes when you are ready. Many people set timers for the duration they wish to meditate. If you are new to meditation, start with 2-3 minutes. Once you have had a few sessions, begin to build on your time.
Transcendental meditation is similar to breathing awareness in the positioning and single focus. However, in transcendental meditation, you repeat a personal mantra.
A mantra is a word or phrase. The idea is that you focus on your mantra. From there, you transcend into a meditative state. The internet is home to thousands of mantras, and different ones have varying effects. The sound of your mantra produces a certain relaxation response. The experience may vary for different people.
Like the breathing awareness meditation technique, find a comfortable seated position.
Take a couple of deep breaths. Close your eyes. Without speaking it out loud, repeat your mantra in your mind. It should not be a fast repetition, but a slow and calming pace.
Focus on the feelings associated with your mantra. Try to avoid thinking of the word. Bring your attention to your emotions and feelings. Ideally, the mantra you choose should have a positive and peaceful association attached to it. If your mind happens to wander, just slowly and quietly come back to your mantra.
When you are ready to end your meditation, take a few deep breaths. Slowly open your eyes. Transcendental meditation techniques are best learned from an experienced teacher, who can also be your source for a mantra.
Movement meditation refers to numerous meditation techniques. Yoga, walking, gentle stretching, and other types of exercise fall under this type. In yoga, a focus on the breath and body sensations is key. Essentially, movement meditation is any activity where mindfulness is combined with slow movements.
For beginners, it is best to start with guided practice. YouTube is home to many yoga videos incorporating this meditation style. Try out the above meditation techniques. Find which one works best for you!
Meditate as often or as little as you want. Some make it a daily practice, while others prefer to do a meditation session once a week. Frequency is a personal choice. If you are new to meditation, we suggest shorter durations to ease into your practice. Start with under 5 minutes. Gradually increase your session times.
Some studies state that meditation benefits can appear immediately after your first session. Other studies say it may take 3 or more sessions to notice changes. Track your mood and stress levels before and after you meditate. Make note of your mood changes.
Heighten your self-awareness and find your balance. Start your meditation journey today!