Meditation might sound like some kind of new age mumbo-jumbo to a lot of people, but the truth is, meditation is a simple way to help relieve stress and relax during your crazy day. And you don’t need a special mediation altar to do it, or an hour to devote to your practice, and you don’t need to sit cross-legged while chanting (although, you could, if that works for you). You can start a meditation practice with only five minutes a day using no special equipment!
Why You Should Meditate
If you feel like stories about the benefits of meditation have been everywhere in the news lately, you’d be right! There have been numerous recent studies that have proven both the physical and emotional benefits of a meditation practice. Why should you take five minutes out of your busy day to meditate? Because…
- Meditation conquers stress. A regular practice has been proven to not only make you feel less stress, but actually lowers the levels of stress hormones in your body—you feel better, and so does your body.
- It makes you smarter. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara found that a regular meditation practice actually helped students’ cognitive function over time.
- You’ll be better equipped to handle life’s uh-ohs. Regular meditation is like a good workout for your brain, and a well-conditioned brain helps you process pain, struggle, and stress better.
- Sounder sleep. Because your fit brain is able to process emotions better, it also means your fit brain is able to shut off when it needs to more easily. No more lying awake at night recounting your laundry list of worries.
- It can make you kinder. A study showed that doctors who practiced meditation were better listeners, less judgmental, more compassionate, and had a generally more positive outlook with their patients than those who didn’t. Everyone—doctor or not—could use a big helping of positive thinking.
- It fights colds. Sure, there isn’t a cure for the common cold, but research has shown that a regular meditation practice can actually help lessen the frequency and severity of the cold in practitioners. Mind over body, indeed!
How to Meditate
You might be scared to start meditating. It can be intimidating when you see images in the media of people sitting cross-legged in nature looking peaceful for hours and hours. But the great thing about meditation is that you get to make it into what works for you!
1. Find your spot.
A serene meditation spot is a good place to start. Maybe it’s a specific chair in your house. Maybe it’s in your bed before you go to sleep at night. Maybe it’s in the shower (a great place to “hide” if you have kids). Maybe it’s sitting on a yoga mat in the middle of the floor. Maybe it’s standing. Maybe it’s sitting down.Wherever it is, make sure you’re comfortable.
2. Cut out noise.
A nice, calm meditation can be ruined in a flash by a barking dog, ringing phone, or e-mail notification. Deal with the noise pollution before you get in your meditation spot. Put on some white noise in the background (or some sort of calming, ambient music). Put on noise cancelling headphones. Turn off the sounds on your phone and computer. Or just retreat to a nice, quiet spot.
3. Choose something to focus on.
Oftentimes, people assume meditation is time spent “thinking about nothing” but the truth is, meditating is actually more like focusing on one thing, so you can clear your mind of all the clutter for a few minutes. Eventually, your brain will be trained enough to do this without a crutch, but in the beginning, meditation prompts are a great way to get started. Here are some good ones for newbies:
- Candle flame. Close your eyes. Take slow deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. In the blackness, you see a single white candle on a simple candlestick. The candle is lit, and the flame is flickering gently. Focus on the flame. See the flame gently move back and forth and flicker. Continue to focus on the flame as it dances around. Any time your mind begins to wander onto something else, bring it back to the flame. As your brain grows more accustomed to this workout, you’ll find it strays less and less.
- Count in, count out. Close your eyes. Begin with an inhale through the nose and count aloud—one. Feel your chest and stomach expand with breath. Then exhale through the mouth and count again—one. Feel your body empty of air. Inhale again—two—and exhale—two. Repeat until you reach 10, then begin again at one if you’d like to repeat.
- Fill with light. Close your eyes. Begin with a slow, deep inhale through your nose and imagine your body an empty vessel that is filling up with white, positive light from your toes up through to the top of your head. When your inhale is done (and your body is full), pause for a beat, then exhale through your mouth, letting the light recede as your breath empties. Repeat.
4. Time it. You might feel like you need a long time to meditate, but even just a few minutes a day can go a long way to improving your brain’s fitness. Start with devoting five minutes a day—and feel free to set a timer. And slowly work up to as much as you need. As you become more aware of your self and your practice, you’ll begin to recognize what days you might need a bit more relaxation time, and days when you can get by with just a few minutes.