Meditation | How To Maximize Your Health With This Daily Practice
By Sara Novak
I have been meditating pretty regularly for the past 12 years. I usually wake up and do my meditation practice first thing in the morning. Sure, my practice has had its ups and downs. When my children wake me up in the middle of the night, it is more difficult to wake up early. If I have had a busy work week, sometimes I would just rather sleep in. But when I skip my meditation, I feel it throughout the day. It organizes my mind, makes me feel happier and less anxious, slows my reactions, helps me be calmer with my family, and allows me to see the world in a more positive light. Meditation or general mindfulness has become more common than ever before, but for many of us, it can still feel intimidating. But it should not be. Here is a look at meditation and why you should add it to your daily repertoire.
Table Of Contents:
Different Types Of Meditation:
With so many forms of meditation, it is important to find the right practice for you. Here are just a few of my favorite forms of meditation. Choose the type that is best for you and find your own perfect practice.
- Mantra Meditation - Mantra meditation involves repeating a mantra or positive affirmation throughout your meditation practice. It is thought to help focus the mind so that your thoughts do not take over during your practice. The idea is to widen the space between your thoughts and fill that space with peace. Choose a mantra that fits your needs and repeat it as you inhale and exhale throughout your meditation practice. Similarly, you can start your practice off by chanting a positive mantra that helps to calm the mind and prepare you to meditate.
- Walking Meditation - Walking meditation or moving meditation is about staying focused while you are walking. Counting the steps as you walk or following your breath as you walk. Walking meditation is a great form of the practice if you are out in nature.
- Sound Baths - You can also do guided forms of meditation that infuse the sounds of someone playing crystal healing bowls. This is a form of sound healing where the various tones actually impact mood, calming the mind, and making it easier to sit for meditation.
- Metta - Metta is a form of Buddhist meditation that is all about opening the heart to loving kindness. If you are feeling isolated and having trouble connecting to those around you, opening your heart through meditation might be just the thing for you. I do this when I feel anger toward someone or something and it really does make me feel better. You realize that the only person you’re hurting by not forgiving those around you is yourself.
- Yoga Nidra - The term yoga nidra means yogic sleep. It is a form of deep relaxation that involves laying down, tensing and relaxing the body, and then scanning the body for tight muscles. It helps relieve anxiety and brings a sense of wellbeing and calm.
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How To Get Started:
Do not let all the varieties of meditation feel intimidating to you. The purpose is to give you choices, not to overwhelm. This is a simple way to get started on your meditation practice. The easier it is, the more likely that you will do it regularly and that is where the joy is found. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Designate Your Meditation Space - It does not have to be anything special. Just a little space that you use for your daily practice. Maybe it is a closet that you decorate with your favorite meditation posters or special knick knacks. Maybe it is a room that you know will be quiet during your meditation in the morning. Maybe it is you with your headphones on in the bathroom. The point is not the space you choose, but that you have space set aside where the energy is positive.
- Set Your Timer - You do not need to meditate for an hour to notice major results. The key is making it a part of your routine and doing it each and every day until it becomes a habit. Start off with 15 minutes and do your practice for the same amount of time at the same time each morning until you feel ready to up the time a bit.
- Elevate Your Seat - I like to sit up on a pillow and allow my knees to fall below my seat. Stacking a few pillows is a good idea or if you want to take it a step further, you can purchase a meditation pillow that you use each day for your practice. You will want to take the time to get into a comfortable seated position so that you are less focused on your discomfort and more focused on your meditation practice. If your knees do not allow you to come to a seated position on the floor, feel free to sit in a chair with your feet planted on the ground. It is nice to have at least one part of the body connected to the Earth.
- Make Sure That You Are Comfortable - Choose comfy clothes and make sure that you are warm enough. I like to wrap myself in a sheet or blanket so I’m never cold during meditation. Avoid tight clothing as well.
- Close Your Eyes - Close your eyes and begin to follow your breath, watching the inhale and exhale as you meditate. Every time that you get lost in thought, come back to the breath and start again. The purpose is not to avoid thoughts. Our minds are meant to think. But finding separation between the thoughts is how you start moving towards more peace.
- Use Tools For Focus - Most of us cannot just sit for meditation, we need tools to help us focus. Pranayama or deep yogic breathing is one tool to help get you started. Alternate nostril breathing is a great way to slow down the central nervous system so that you are better able to stay focused during meditation. You can also use mantra and chanting to get in the best mindset to practice meditation as mentioned above.
- Add In Yoga Poses - Adding in yoga poses before or after your meditation practice is an added bonus. Yoga works on the endocrine system and helps elevate your mood and make you feel more empowered to stay focused during your meditation practice. Sometimes it can be hard to just sit down to meditate. Yoga helps to calm the central nervous system and it makes sitting on the ground for long periods of time in meditation easier because it opens up the hips and the legs. A short practice with a few sun salutations, standing poses, twists, seated poses, inversions, and backbends is all you need to set your body up for meditation success. In fact, yoga was traditionally used to help meditators get their bodies ready to sit for longer periods of time.
Benefits Of Meditation:
So now that you are learning how to do it, here is why you should. Meditation has so many benefits that researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface.
1. Reduces Anxiety And Depression
Meditation helps to reduce stress hormones that may lead to anxiety and depression. In some cases, it helps slow the central nervous system, which helps calm you down. Research published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education found that “students experienced a reduction in stress and anxiety levels after completing a six-week yoga and meditation program preceding final examinations.” Another study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that meditation had a “beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms and may also improve stress reactivity.” Finally, a study published in the Journal of Southern Medical University found that “mindfulness meditation training can effectively alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve the quality of sleep in perimenopausal women, and the frequency of the exercise is positively correlated with the improvements.”
2. Reduces Hypertension
When the body has an acute stress response, it increases the levels of cortisol coursing through our bodies, which constricts the blood vessels and can increase blood pressure. Research has also shown the opposite to be true. Regular mindfulness meditation has also been shown to reduce hypertension. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension “points to the benefits of meditation for blood pressure control.” Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine acknowledged that the research had its shortcomings but still found that yoga and meditation could be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
3. Improves Memory And Concentration
Meditation has been shown to strengthen the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is important to concentration. That is why meditation is so important for cognitive function. A study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research found that “meditation enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory.” Researchers also found that the amount of meditation necessary to see significant improvements in cognitive function was small. Basically, a little goes a long way. Another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that the brain seems to “respond favorably” to meditation and that regular practice may play a role in staving off neuro-degeneration and help in Alzheimer’s disease prevention.
Learn More: How To Improve Brain Function Naturally
4. Improves Sleep
You have likely heard the recommendation for adding a nightly meditation to your routine if you have trouble getting to sleep at night or if you suffer from insomnia. And there is a good reason why. Research has shown that the practice can reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that “mindfulness meditation mildly improves some sleep parameters in patients with insomnia.” Another study published in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found that mindfulness meditation may be effective at treating some aspects of poor sleep quality.
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5. Reduces Cardiovascular Disease
Meditation has been shown to improve overall health and one of the ways it does this is through reducing cardiovascular disease. A study published in the Journal Clinical Research in Cardiology has shown this to be true. The authors write "it appears appropriate to incorporate yoga/meditation for primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.” A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that research has shown the overall benefit of yoga and meditation in reducing cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, it is a low cost tool with no side effects that could be beneficial and should be studied more widely.
6. Improves Longevity
If meditation improves sleep, reduces hypertension, and reduces cardiovascular disease, it should not be too surprising that it also improves longevity. Oxidative stress is the connection between stress and disease. It is thought that oxidative stress is linked to cardiovascular disease and telomere shortening which is linked to aging. According to a review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, “although few studies have examined oxidative stress balance, two initial studies found that meditation practitioners (transcendental and Zen) had lower levels of a marker of oxidative stress.”