The Truth Behind the Meditation Trend
While its ancient practices are Eastern, meditation is associated with many Western spiritual disciplines, including Christianity. This calming technique reduces stress, insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and, most recently; it was shown to strengthen immunity. And it’s a lot easier than you think.
Here are seven things your Zen Master won’t tell you, but we will.
You Can Do it Anywhere
Serenity is a second away – anyplace, anytime. Your living room or bedroom will do – wherever you feel comfortable.
“Eventually, you can learn to do it anywhere, but for beginners, it’s easier if they have their own little spot,” says Alan Finger, yoga master and founder of the Be Yoga and Yoga Works studios.
The more you practice, the easier it will become to reach your meditative state on command – at your computer screen, waiting in traffic, or at the airport before a flight. Try to get in the habit of meditating in the morning instead of at night, when you’re more likely to forget or be distracted.
You Don’t Need a Yogi
Not if you’ve got the book or audio, according to Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies.
“The practice itself is relatively easy,” says Bodian, who compares meditation to running. You have to build muscle in order to run far and for long periods of time, just like you have to train your mind to be attentive and aware. All you need to do is breathe. Once you’re sitting quietly, close your eyes, and inhale and exhale easily and fully.
You Don’t Need an Hour
Some time is better than none. And like most things in life, if you’re drawn to it, you’ll invest yourself more fully with time, energy, and money. Start off by sitting for two or three minutes, five days a week. Slowly build up to 10, 15, and eventually 25 minutes.
“It’s a good amount of time to really feel refreshed afterward and calm,” Finger says. Your blood pressure may decrease after just 15 minutes of meditation twice a day, according to at least one recent study. Lowering blood pressure by a few millimetres can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
You Don’t Have to Sit in Some Awkward Pose
Holding your Half Lord of the Fishes pose (the what?) may require a lot more energy than needed. Meditation means doing nothing. If your muscles are tense, it will be difficult to slow and calm your breath.
“Meditation is the art of quieting yourself down so that your brain goes into the stillest rhythm, called delta, which is equal to deep sleep,” Finger says. “And when your brain goes still, you can’t be doing anything else.”
Sitting, standing, walking, and lying in bed or on the floor are all traditional positions for meditating. Suit up in some loose, comfortable clothes, lower the lights and sit cross-legged on the floor. Prop a pillow under each knee for support. If you’re having trouble keeping your back straight, it’s okay to sit in a chair instead. Relax your stomach muscles to allow free range of diaphragmatic breathing. Make yourself as comfortable as possible to better ease into this state of mind, but not so comfortable that you actually fall asleep.
You Don’t Have to Empty Your Mind
Thinking doesn’t have to stop, but the attempt to stop thinking does. “There’s a difference between thinking and getting caught up in your thinking,” Bodian says. As thoughts about work, kids, and chores go through your head, concentrate on following your breath. If you find yourself planning and obsessing, just come back to your breathing.
“The good thing about your breath is that it’s always present,” Bodian says. “Just hook up with your breath again; your mind continues to think, but you’re not involved in thinking.”
You’ll Never Achieve a Absolute Bliss
Unless you’re on drugs, a feeling of pure bliss and serenity isn’t something you can create, though it may arise from time to time while meditating. “What tends to happen if you’re present, open, and relaxed in the moment is that you’ll be more peaceful, more content, and more open – it’s a by-product,” Bodian says.
But if you try to manipulate your mind to produce these feelings, you’re not letting your mind relax. “If you try to achieve it, paradoxically, you won’t,” Bodian says. You spend your whole day pushing yourself to be better – at work, at home, in your relationships. Meditation is meant to be a break from that. Stop wrestling with your thoughts, body itches, and tics, and just… be.
You Don’t Have to Chant
Not really. In fact, inner peace has no sound. So turn the TV off and listen to the quiet. Don’t speak or think or move. Just relax. Chanting is just one of many techniques you can try to quiet yourself down. “Different mantras are used for doing different things,” Finger says.
For example, you can repeat the word “ram” (pronounced “rum”) to help alleviate anxiety and slow down. “I trust in God,” is an example of a religious mantra. There are hundreds of mantras, but they aren’t necessary for all meditations.
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