Ease Stress with This Beginner's Guide to Meditation
By Robyn Caruso, Fitness Specialist
Virtua William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness
Finding time to relax is a struggle for many. We underestimate our need to unwind and decompress, and our busy lives sometimes make it impossible. But, 5-10 minutes a day can really go a long way toward forming new habits for healthier well-being.
What is meditation?
Meditation is defined as a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, breath, or movement. It's an ancient Chinese tradition that was initially applied for religious purposes. But, there are so many benefits to meditation that it has become a much more common practice across the globe.
Meditation can help with:
- Stress management
- Pain relief
- Anxiety and depression
- Improving focus
- Reducing blood pressure
- Breaking addiction
Meditation also is a way for people to relax and be mindful and in tune with yourself and your surroundings. It uses slow and controlled breathing, in which you direct air into your abdomen instead of your chest (chest breathing can trigger the stress response).
Where do you begin?
Choose a time of day that works best for you, and practice meditation each day at that same time.
Begin with an open mind—free of judgment of yourself and your thoughts. As your thoughts stray (as they do in those new to meditation), just bring your focus back to your breath. You’ll find that your focus gets better with a regular meditation practice.
I like to tell beginners to start with guided meditation, such as the class I teach at Virtua’s William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness called Mindful Stretch. A class setting prevents the distractions that can pop up at home and helps you focus on the instructor’s voice. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, you'll be able to meditate anywhere.
Finding a practice you enjoy
It’s important to find a type of meditation you like. You may have to try different ways to meditate to see what works best for you. If you choose to meditate outside of your home, find an instructor who is patient and willing to work with you. As you become more seasoned in your practice, you can experiment with other forms of meditation. It’s a very personal experience, so no two people will have the same exact response.
General meditation guidelines to follow
- Find a quiet space where you won’t be distracted—no phones or laptops.
- Set a timer to ensure you aren’t worried about how long you’re meditating. Start with 5 minutes, then build to 10, then to 15 minutes or even longer. Frequency is important to become proficient and maximize the effect. It can become a daily practice or even several times daily.
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable position: cross-legged, sitting in a chair, or even walking.
- Try adding aromatherapy or essential oils, such as lavender, bergamot or ylang ylang, to help you relax and calm down.
- Consider adding calming/relaxing music to your routine to maximize the effect.
The idea is to focus to the point where you no longer notice the things around you. It may help to recall relaxing images, but it’s important to avoid mental chatter and/or be distracted by your thoughts and worries.
For more information, check out these great resources:
- Types of meditation – An overview of 23 meditation techniques
- Guided meditation for deep relaxation with The Honest Guys (YouTube video)
- Free and paid guided meditations for specific goals (calm, stress relief, confidence, etc.)
Updated May 1, 2017