Sounds pretty simple, yet so frequently we forget to really breathe. Fortunately for us our body has the ability to do this for us, or I am sure many of us would be in trouble!
Meditation is a word used for multiple purposes to find a source of relaxation, lets dig deeper to find out what is REALLY is all about and how it can help you to calm the clutter in your mind, focus and gain clarity for you.
What is meditation?
By dictionary definition, meditation means to reflect, ponder, or contemplate. But these actions can look different from person to person, and as such, meditation is much more.
Tracing the roots from age-old tradition.
Today’s modern iteration of mindfulness meditation is derived from a tradition first depicted in ancient Indian wall art dating back to 5,000 BC. When meditation got its start, Indian sage Patanjali referred to it as a transformative experience of fundamental unity, advaita, designed to help humans find the interconnectedness of all living things.
The practice of meditation was then adapted as a staple in other cultures, eventually finding its way to Buddhist teachings. Buddhists emphasized the mindful and personal aspects of meditation, focusing on the practice’s ability to affect two major qualities of the mind: vipassana (“insight”), a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens, and samatha (“mind calming”), a state of calm and tranquility that can be experienced throughout the body.
Modern Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield is one of the key teachers who integrated these original teachings of vipassana and samatha, developing mindfulness meditation, which is practiced widely today.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of acknowledging the conflicting thoughts in your brain and then choosing where you’d like to focus your thoughts. You can learn to observe the thoughts as they appear and take note of any patterns or sensations that come up in the body.
The goal is not to empty your mind; it’s to understand and take control of how your thoughts contribute to the way you feel. This can help you live more consciously outside your practice, instilling mindfulness, alertness, and awareness.
With a long-winded history and a lengthy list of benefits, meditation can touch every aspect of your life. Here I will break down how meditation can impact your life and why it could be beneficial to your health to start implementing a daily practice.
Mindfulness meditation can help you calm the clutter in your mind.
The stream of thoughts and questions that cross your mind daily can be overwhelming:
I’m struggling to focus at work. Am I drinking enough water? Did the kids finish their homework? I’m worried about tomorrow’s deadlines.
None of these thoughts or questions are inherently bad, but when you’re overwhelmed and consumed by these daily stressors, it’s hard to feel like you can gain control over them to operate more calmly and efficiently. Sometimes, the best way to calm down is to take a step back from your checklist and find a moment to quiet your mind with a meditative practice. We know it’s easier said than done! It takes practice to learn how to effectively use meditation to begin reaping the benefits.
Meditation is an amazing tool that can be used to alleviate many forms of stress. It’s the perfect opportunity to recharge your brain and find quiet away from high-pressure situations.
Here are the benefits of meditation that can manifest in improved overall health.
Physical and mental stressors can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which stimulates the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These chemicals further contribute to fatigue, issues with sleep, and general anxiety and depression. A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that mindful meditation reduced the inflammatory response, helping those who practice find relief from psychological and physical symptoms of distress.
Another study found that meditation can help people find calmness and alleviate anxiety, helping activate a better connection to our autonomic nervous system, the system responsible for our heart rate, digestion, and the “fight or flight” response. By practicing meditation, we can activate the neural structures involved in the control of this system, allowing the body to learn how to calm itself more efficiently.
When it comes to cognitive benefits, meditation and breathing exercises can help sharpen your mind and strengthen your focus while conducting tasks. A study by Trinity College Dublin determined a link between meditative breathing and the natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical acts as a “brain fertilizer” that is released when we are feeling challenged, curious, or focused.
Ready to give Meditation a Try? Here are some tips to get your practice started:
- Just Do it!
There is not going to be the “right” or perfect time so, just give this a go. The scene need not be a dreamy mountain side retreat or on a deserted beach on a tropical island. To keep this simple, here are two options that are great and easy to fit into the most hectic of schedules.
Pop on some relaxing music and simply walk. Please put your device in flight mode so you are not interrupted, head out for a walk and take three deep breaths at the beginning and the end of the song. Simple, no app and no extra thinking involved. Repeat for three songs.
Trial an app there are several that offer guided meditations, Calm, Headspace and Shine are three options, try the free period to decide what works best for you. Find a quiet space or head outside and walk and be guided by the mediation teacher. These meditations are timed.
Do this daily to create the habit. More frequently if you feel the need.
- Practice Extended Focus
Now that you’ve done the foundation work of carving out a few minutes each day to simply breathe, it’s time to practice real focus. For those of us running through our days on autopilot, this can be a difficult task. Our minds are accustomed to drifting from thought to thought, and you may find you need to consciously pull yourself back to the current moment multiple times.
- Notice your breathing and how the breath creates sensations in your body.
Breath is at the center of mindful meditation. By allowing yourself to notice your breath, you gain a heightened awareness that contributes to both your physical and mental well-being. The key is to breathe naturally, observing the nuances of your inhales and exhales as well as the sensations they cause in the body as the breath moves through your chest, rib cage, belly, and shoulders.
- Don’t judge yourself for “not doing it right.”
As you practice mindfulness and conscious breathing techniques, you may find yourself doubting the effectiveness of your practice. As you can tell from the abundance of techniques and teachings, there is no one “right” way to meditate.
- Appreciate the work you did and Be Kind To Yourself!
Remember to close your practice with kindness. This is your moment to show gratitude for yourself and bring the mindfulness that you’ve cultivated into the next action of your day. Perhaps that action is enjoying your first sips of morning coffee, noticing the sun shining through your window, or mindfully stepping into your clothes for the day.
Now it’s time to bring your meditation practice to life.
We could all use a bit more mindfulness and clarity right now. If you’ve never tried meditation but have always wanted to, let this be your sign to finally say yes and try something new! You may be surprised by its impact on many aspects of your daily and weekly routine.