Your Mind on Meditation
We’ve all been there: You are exhausted and desperately trying to sleep, but your mind is racing a million miles a minute. Or maybe you are preparing for a big presentation at work, planning a family vacation or trying to organize your schedule but are struggling to stay focused. If any of these situations sound familiar, then you might benefit from a few minutes of meditation.
Meditation – mindfully paying attention to your breath – is more than a fad. About 15 percent of American adults said they meditated in the past year – a threefold increase from 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and more doctors and therapists are encouraging the calming, centering practice.
The health benefits linked to meditation are extensive: It can reduce depression and anxiety, help control pain, improve sleep, enhance cognition, increase body satisfaction and reduce PMS symptoms, according to recent studies. Its physical, mental and emotional benefits may also include help for people with irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, psoriasis and fibromyalgia, among others.
“Meditation can be as simple as five minutes of quiet breathing, taking some time to clear your head and calm your body,” said Allie Nowak, physician assistant and functional medicine specialist. “Sometimes we think we have to go away on a fancy retreat, dedicate hours of our time or completely change our lifestyle, but meditation is one of the simplest things to add to your day. We already breathe all day, we just need to take a few minutes to focus on the breath and let the rest drift away.”
How to meditate
Meditation is simple to do (sitting and breathing) and yet challenging for many people who are more accustomed to racing from task to task.
First, find a place where you can sit or lie quietly and consider setting a timer for five minutes to start (you may eventually increase this to 15-20 minutes at a time). Notice your inhale, notice your exhale. Let the rest go. Every time a thought pops into your head, release it with an exhale and return to your breath. It might help to silently say “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breathe out. You can also create a mantra – anything from the words “peace and calm” to affirmative statements such as “I am focused. I am strong. I am present.” Some people enjoy walking meditation, where you focus on your footsteps as you slowly move forward.
If you want a higher-tech option, check out the many meditation apps available on your smart phone; these offer different styles and time options as well as guided meditation variations. Popular apps include Headspace, The Mindfulness App and Insight Timer, with a variety of free and low-cost options available for download. You can also check out meditation classes and groups, both online and in person.
Don’t worry if it’s difficult at first or if you’re “doing it right.” The more you focus on your breath and the less you give in to the constant thinking your brain is accustomed to, the more you can relax, enjoy and soak up the many benefits of meditation.