We could all use a little more calm in our lives. Work is busy, traffic is hectic, the weekends just fly by. Meditation can be one way to get that — a few minutes just for you every day, to give yourself a chance to reflect and recharge.
You've probably heard of the benefits of meditation, and may even have tried it, but it's hard to know if you're doing it right, and if it's doing you any good. That's why we've assembled this meditation guide — consider it Meditation 101, your quick-start outline for mindfulness.
We've pulled together the resources to teach you how to get started with meditation, why you should do it in the first place, and where you can find things like classes and apps to help you get going. The good news is that there are many different ways to meditate, which means that there's one out there that's perfect for you. And that it's a lot easier to do, and more accessible, than you may think.
Types Of Meditation: There are several different kinds of meditation, and you may find that more than one of them is helpful for you. This guide from the Institute for Applied Meditation outlines eight of the main methods — including mindfulness (vipassana), which comes from the Buddhist tradition; transcendal, a meditative tradition of Hinduism; and qi gong, a Taoist form that works with breath and movement.
Why Meditation?: There are many reasons why meditation should be a part of your daily routine. A regular meditation practice can reduce stress, which has a host of potential health benefits including easing headaches, high blood pressure, and anxiety, notes WebMD. It could also help you fall asleep and get better rest, which is very important; people with poor sleep have been shown to be at a higher risk for accidents, weight gain, and diabetes, according to Harvard. And time set aside to meditate means time just for you — something we could all use more of!
The Science: If you're not convinced yet, studies have shown the benefits of meditation. Research published in 2011 showed that meditation could increase grey-matter density in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion regulation, reported the Globe and Mail. Another study published in 2012 found that meditation classes, over the course of several years, were associated with reduced cardiovascular risk for people with coronary heart disease. And a five-year Harvard study is looking at how meditation may lead to changes in the brain activity, and even genes, of people who are chronically stressed.
How To Do It: There are many ways to meditate, which means there's one out there for you. Some people sit while meditating, while others lie down; you can go with the method you prefer, or mix it up based on where you're practicing. Either way, good posture helps you relax and breathe properly. You can close your eyes or keep them open, but if you prefer them open, try to keep your gaze down and unfocused. Most of all, try to find a time when you won't be interrupted — even if that means meditating for just five minutes. Put away your phone, get off the laptop, and focus! Mindful, a publication dedicated to bringing mindfulness to everyday life, has more tips for getting started with meditation.
Where: The beauty of meditation is that you can do it anywhere. Obviously, it'd be great if you can do it sitting on a beach listening to the waves crash in, or in a quiet temple with an expert to guide you. But the key is actually doing it, not making sure you only meditate in the best possible environment. In your home, try to find a room where you can relax, be comfortable, and not be interrupted. However, you can also try it on the go — download an app or podcast (see some suggestions below) and make the most of your commute!
Is It Working?: How do you know that all this mindfulness is doing its job? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because it's not as obvious as other health practices: you don't have a cut that you can watch heal or a headache that goes away. But there are still ways to check in. Wildmild advises that you can tell that meditation is helping you if you begin to develop more concentration or start noticing things like your breathing or how particular parts of your body feel while you're meditating. You may also feel calmer overall and have improved posture. If you don't feel that meditation is working for you, don't be afraid to mix it up, as different approaches to practice work for different people.
Gear: The only things you truly need to meditate are time and yourself. But there are some items that can help you get zen. Try meditating lying on an acupressure mat like a Sponk, which can help with relaxation and loosening your muscles. A zabuton is a padded mat that makes it more comfortable and supportive to sit on the floor while meditating, and a zafu can help you sit cross-legged.
Apps: There are several apps that can help you establish a meditation practice. Buddhify 2 (iOS) gives you several meditations of varying lengths for a variety of situations, including "Eating" and "Can't Sleep." Omvana (iOS) lets you mix and match meditations with background sounds and music, and you can purchase new files from the app's built-in store. And Buddhist Meditation Trainer (Android) lets you work through ten levels of enlightenment with daily meditation.
Online: Many meditation resources can be found online as well — even for free. Elisha Goldstein, the mental health blogger for Mindful, has a 10-minute body-scan video on YouTube that is a great short meditation. If you have a bit more time, try this 20-minute video that focuses on breathing. The Guardian ran a series of five podcasts about mindfulness that looked at bringing the practice into your everyday life. And UCLA posts a new guided meditation podcast every week.
Classes: You can also get some help in person by attending a meditation class or workshop. Many yoga studios offer classes, some of them combining meditation and yoga. Buddhist temples may also offer sessions that are open to the general public, often for a small donation. You can also look for a local Shambhala group — the organization often runs introductory meditation programs.