In today’s fast-paced world, it can be easy to lose track of time between taking care of work, family, errands and everything in between. With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, people are more stressed and distracted than ever, making it challenging to find moments of calm and peace of mind.
The practice of meditation is a simple way to boost physical, mental and emotional well-being. Dating back thousands of years, mindfulness meditation is the practice of gently training your mind to focus your attention on the present moment using a focal point, like your breathing or your body’s sensations.
This practice helps quiet the chaos of a mind constantly looking to the future or thinking about the past and aims to cultivate awareness, reduce stress and promote a sense of calm and clarity.
Mindfulness meditation can have many positive impacts on your physical and mental health.
“There are so many positive benefits to practicing mindfulness meditation,” says Dr. Hui Qi Tong, the director of the Mindfulness Program at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto, California. “For example, it enhances your ability to concentrate, calms the mind … and naturally increases a sense of compassion. We can feel more centered and less scattered.”
Some key benefits include:
Improving emotional balance and mental health.
Boosting emotional well-being.
Decreasing blood pressure.
Lowering heart rate.
Increasing mental focus.
How to Meditate
Meditation is highly individualized. Just as everyone is different, everyone’s meditation practice will be unique to them. Trial and error will be involved while you find what works best for you, but the key to success is commitment and an open mind.
Here are steps to help get you started:
It’s important to find a quiet, comfortable place that works for you. Whether it’s a dedicated corner in your bedroom or a peaceful spot in the park, a tranquil environment makes it easier to tune out external distractions and fosters a clearer mind – both of which are key to lulling yourself into a meditative state.
Step 2. Determine your time limit
If you’re new to meditating, it can be hard to quiet your mind for a long period of time. With all the stress and mental chatter from the day, it’ll take time and practice to slow down your thoughts. You may find that it’s easier to start with a few minutes, then work your way up.
“I start people out at five minutes a day and suggest if they are enjoying it to move up to 10 to 15 minutes. Most important is that it fits into their life,” says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center in Los Angeles.
Step 3. Get comfortable
Take off any restrictive clothing or shoes that may distract you and get into a comfortable seated position.
Step 4. Relax
Gently close your eyes and take in a few slow breaths through your nose. Allow your body to relax by softening your face, shoulders, arms, fingers, legs and toes.
Step 5. Focus on your senses
How does your body feel? Are your arms at your sides, in your lap, the cushion or floor beneath you? What can you smell? What can you hear around you? Focusing on your body can help calm the thoughts running through your mind.
Step 6. Breathe
When you are ready, begin to focus on your breath. Feel the sensation of the breath coming in and out. If you find it difficult to just focus on the breath, tell yourself to “breathe in” and “breathe out” to get into a rhythm. For some, continuing to focus on body sensations rather than the breath coming in and out provides a better focal point.
Step 7. Redirect your mind
When your mind wanders, which it will, gently redirect yourself to focus back on your breath.
“One struggle that people encounter is they notice how active and restless their minds are and find it difficult to focus their attention on their breathing. It is important to know they are not doing anything wrong, and this is normal,” Winston says. “Try not to let this frustrate or demoralize you as this happens to even the most seasoned meditator.”
Step 8. Crossing the finish line
When you’re ready, end your practice gently by opening your eyes and taking a moment before you get up. Some like to quietly observe what is around them, while others pay attention to how their body feels before they get up.
If you’re new to meditation and need assistance, there are many apps dedicated to guided meditations that fit your personal goals. Although some are free, most apps require you to purchase them for the full experience. Before you make that commitment, most will give a free trial period, so you can evaluate if the app is for you before making a purchase. Winston recommends the UCLA Mindful app as a place to begin.
Other highly rated apps to consider include:
For many people, repetition is key to successfully incorporating a new habit into their daily lives. While mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere and anytime, sticking to a similar time and place every day can help make this a long-term practice.
You can do this by incorporating meditation into a specific part of your daily routine. For example, start your day with a mindfulness practice by showering, meditating and then getting ready for the day. After you come home from work, make it a habit of changing your clothes, meditating and then making dinner. Anchoring your practice to an existing part of your routine can help set you up for long-term success.
“Meditation is a personal journey, so be open to exploring and adapting your practice based on what suits you best,” Winston says. “With regular practice, meditation can become a rewarding part of your schedule.”
“The beauty of meditation is that it can slide into a busy schedule with little disruption. It can be done anytime, anywhere while going about your daily routine,” Winston says. “Don’t get discouraged by early challenges. Give yourself time to develop a routine that works for you so that you can be more fully present.”
Mdia Release/The U.S. News Health
Sources: Hui Qi Tong, MD
Tong is the director of the Mindfulness Program at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto, California.
Winston is the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) in Los Angeles.