According to researchers at Harvard University, our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time. These thoughts regularly stem from two sources: dwelling on the past (rumination) or worrying about the future.
Meditation is a practice that helps people through training the mind to focus on the present moment and to ‘just be’. Most forms of meditation involve sitting or lying down comfortably, focusing on your breath or a particular object, and observing your thoughts as they arise, without judgement. It has been used for millennia in religious and secular settings as a tool for reducing stress, promoting relaxation, insight and overall well being.
Most people are familiar with the reported benefits of meditation, hardly a day goes by when we don’t watch or read something in the media about it. The problem is, when your to-do list is as long as your arm, meditation can just feel a bit laborious. When I asked friends for their thoughts on meditation, many of them told me they had tried it but quickly gave up as they said “I don’t have the time”, “it’s difficult to stick with”, “it was hard to sit still” and, well, “it was just really boring”.
This World Meditation Day, let’s look at some reasons why we should all try to build meditation in as a daily habit and introduce some accessible tips on how to start, and maintain, a meditation practice:
The benefits of meditation:
Lowers stress and anxiety levels
Research has proven that meditation decreases the production of stress hormones in the body like cortisol and so reduces feelings of anxiety and stress.
Regular meditation can lead to more positive emotions like kindness and compassion. It also helps cultivate an increased sense of wellbeing and happiness. As the grey matter in the brain increases, so does your ability for emotional regulation.
As practising meditation trains your mind to release thoughts and refocus your attention on the breath/an object, over time you will improve your ability to focus attention. This will lead to better productivity and efficiency in your daily life.
Meditation is inherently about staying in the present moment, really learning to notice what’s happening in your body. As you develop your meditation practice, you’ll begin to notice the small emotions and sensations arising within you so that when you’re anxious or tense you can move towards better self-regulation.
Helps you sleep better
What happens to our bodies when we meditate regularly are similar to those that happen during the early phases of sleep – the pulse slows, blood pressure drops, and stress hormones decrease. Meditating before bedtime can help with insomnia and other sleep problems.
Tips to begin (and continue) a meditation practice:
Meditate without meditating
Meditation does not have to involve being still, which many people find difficult. If this is you, try focusing on the breath while activating slow, repetitive movements. This could happen while doing yoga, walking or cycling. Remember meditation can be done anywhere – whether on the MRT coming home from work or during your lunch break. The intentional focus on your breath, done anywhere, can be equally effective in relaxing the mind and body.
Small and often
Many people tell me they don’t have time to meditate. In fact, starting with just 8 minutes a day can bring you emotional and physiological benefits. Quality is definitely more important that quantity here, so try setting a timer for just 8 minutes in the morning before you start your day. It’s easiest to start with a few minutes of practice and gradually increase.
Use an app
Some beginners find the process of meditation uncomfortably quiet and others just don’t know how to go about it. If you feel that a guiding voice would be helpful, try downloading a free app like Insight Timer – it has over 130k guided meditations ranging from just a few minutes to over an hour.
Tie it to your routine
New habits bed in more easily when they happen alongside an existing daily activity. So focus on your breath as you take your morning shower, or try 8 minutes of mindfulness before bedtime. You’ll find the excuses in your mind will start to quieten down.
Let go of the idea of right and wrong
So many people abandon meditation after a few tries because they “aren’t sure whether they’re doing it right”. Giving close attention to our thoughts and emotions can set off a plethora of uncomfortable emotions and responses like anxiety and judgement. With continued practise, you can learn not to get pulled into this thought spiral and to, instead, learn to observe the rise and fall of our emotions and thoughts. The most important thing to remember is that, when other thoughts are coming up, we gently remind ourselves to notice what’s happening and then bring our attention back to our breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Stress-Based Reduction (MBSR) reminds us that, “Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realise where you already are.”
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- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat Zinn
- How to Meditate When You Have No Idea Where to Start
- How To Meditate