How to Get Started Meditating
Meditation can have big health benefits. Sitting alone in a quiet room might give you more than a peaceful moment to yourself. That pause in your day could also help you reduce stress, ease anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve immune function or lift your mood.
Yet, meditation is no quick fix. It takes time to develop the technique, and you have to practice regularly.
What's more, there are different types of meditation. All share certain traits, such as taking a comfortable position, focusing attention and ignoring distractions. Among the various meditation approaches, the practice known as mindfulness meditation—sometimes simply called "mindfulness"—has emerged as the method gaining the most notice for helping to improve health.
Developing a mindful approach through meditation often means fighting yourself. For mindfulness meditation to be effective, you need to take time out from your day's activities, unhook from the steady stream of technological interruptions and recognize that being great at multitasking in your personal and work life isn't necessarily wonderful for you all the time.
To begin mindfulness meditation, try these steps:
- State your purpose. Ask yourself why you want to practice mindfulness. Many people have a clear idea—they want to improve their sleep, lower stress, or solve a relationship issue. As you continue practicing, your intention may evolve, extending the mindful approach to other aspects of your life.
- Make a commitment, even a small one. Decide to give over 20 minutes each day for the next two months to practicing mindfulness meditation. You may be able to start with as little as five minutes, so long as you meditate at the same time every day. It's important to sit still, be aware of your breathing and practice daily.
- Train your mind. Each day when you meditate, you will be training your mind to pay attention in an accepting way. If your mind wanders—which it will—gently note where it went and bring it back to focus on your breath and your body. Many people are surprised at how hard it is to pay attention. When you're not paying attention, you don't notice your breath. This is sometimes called "monkey mind," when your mind swings from one thought to another, like a monkey in a tree. With practice, you'll learn to focus inside yourself and be mindful.
- Extend your mindful actions. Mindfulness practice can't succeed if you compartmentalize it into one 5- or 20-minute session. Once you become comfortable with the practice, bring mindfulness into your daily life. Take time to appreciate the experience of simple actions, such as washing dishes, eating a meal or taking a walk. The more skilled you become at mindfulness meditation, the more seamless the transition becomes between your "official" mindfulness meditation and everyday experiences.
- Find a teacher. It helps to have guidance, as you would in a yoga or spinning class. One good measure is to look for a teacher trained in the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Hospitals with integrative medicine departments are also good resources for meditation programs and instructors.
If you're experiencing severe anxiety, depression or debilitating stress, consult with a mental health professional or other health care provider. Some are trained in MBSR and use mindfulness meditation along with talk therapy or medications.Copyright © 2015 HealthyWomen. All rights reserved.
Updated January 23, 2017