Did you know May is National Meditation Month? If you haven’t tried already, it’s the perfect time to start your own meditation practice or even try a new technique if you’ve been meditating for years. Given the short- and long-term benefits meditation can bring into your life, from relieving stress and increasing compassion to boosting memory and managing chronic pain, it’s worthwhile to start today.
To celebrate National Meditation Month, let’s go over some types of meditation you can try, tips for breaking past challenges and touch on some of the benefits of meditation.
Types of Meditation You Can Try Today
When many people think of meditation, images of people sitting cross-legged and chanting om are called to mind. The truth is there are hundreds of ways you can meditate and this is just a style that’s commonly depicted. Here are some great meditation techniques you can try to bring a little peace and well-being into your life.
Mantra meditation. This is one of the simplest techniques and encourages stress relief as well as confidence. To try it, just sit somewhere comfortable in a quiet room, away from any distractions and choose your mantra. This is a phrase or word you’ll repeat to yourself and it may be anything simple such as, “I feel at peace,” or “I am loved.” Close your eyes and repeat the mantra to yourself, focusing only on the sound and feeling of the mantra. Try with 5- to 10-minute sessions in the beginning.
Mindfulness meditation. This is one of the most well-known forms of meditation and it’s about remaining aware of the sounds around you, letting your mind flow from one thought to the next with no focus.
Spiritual meditation. Meditation, for many, is a spiritual practice, although it certainly doesn’t need to be. Some people experience meditation during prayer while others experience it as spiritual guidance or inner wisdom.
Guided meditation be thought of as meditation with a guide and this form is particularly well suited to beginners. Guided meditation, also known as guided imagery, can help you reduce stress, alleviate pain and more and it can be done in a group setting, in therapy or at home using guided meditation CDs or mp3 downloads.
Breaking Past Your Challenges
Many people find meditation challenging, especially at first. Some feel like they just “aren’t doing it right” because they have trouble calming their mind or relaxing. The good news is there is no “right” way to meditate and it gets easier the more you practice!
Start by sitting down somewhere comfortable and closing your eyes. Relax and observe your thoughts for a few minutes. If you have trouble clearing your mind, an easy technique is focusing on your breathing, or even the sensation of your chair against your skin, without attaching yourself to these things.
As thoughts enter your mind, and the undoubtedly will, just notice them and let them pass. This is a part of the meditation process and it’s nothing to worry about. Repeat this process a few times a week and work your way up to meditating daily, for about 10 minutes each day. Don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve some lofty goal — like meditating for thirty minutes every day — only to abandon it. Starting slowly and keeping at it is the best way to work a meditation practice into your daily life and enjoy the rejuvenation, clarity and relief.
Now we get to the heart of the issue: why meditate at all? If you find yourself asking this question, now is the time to learn more about this recommended and widely accepted method for managing stress and more. Meditate offers a number of health-enhancing benefits along with some other perks that might surprise you, including increasing your compassion toward others and creating changes in your body at the genetic level to make you better equipped at handling stress in your daily life.
Here’s a taste of some of the benefits you can enjoy by taking up meditation today.
- Learn to focus on the here and now, not the past or the future.
- Increase brain activity in the area associated with happiness, positive thinking and emotion.
- Literally lower your level of stress: meditation doesn’t just reduce your feelings of stress, it decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body.
- Learn how to objectively analyze yourself and identify your blind spots, which amplify or diminish your flaws.
- Meditating improves cognitive function and working memory for better test scores.
- Meditation and guided imagery have been shown to improve your ability to cope with stress and heal from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (See our guided imagery for PTSD)
- Lessen the pain and stress of chronic migraines, IBS and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Increase signaling connections in your brain for protection against mental illness.
- Improve your brain’s control over processing emotion and pain.
- Meditation increases our compassion and it’s been linked to virtuous behavior by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities.
- Lessen the stress of cancer.
- Lessen feelings of loneliness.
- Reduce your health care costs by encouraging whole-body wellness.
- Meditation reduces depression among pregnant women and teenagers.
- Meditation supports healthy weight loss and helps you reach your goals.
- If you suffer from insomnia or sleep problems, meditating can improve the quality and length of your sleep at night.
Well, there you have it! What are you waiting for? Celebrate National Meditation Month and get into an excellent new habit today. If you’re looking for a great way to get started, be sure to check out our section on Learning to Meditate.
Image: Nick Allen/Flickr