What is meditation? And how to do it right.
Americans are calming their senses and calming their minds like never before.
The percentage of adults in the country who practice meditation rose from 4.1 percent in 2012 to 14.2 percent of the population nearly six years later. Today, that number has grown even higher, and many adults now frequently turn to mindfulness and meditation apps for help with the practice.
There, superstars like Harry Styles, LeBron James, Kate Winslet and Matthew McConaughey help listeners achieve a relaxed state of being and prove that meditation has transcended its spiritual roots and become a trendy mainstream activity.
But seeking inner peace and finding it are two different things, and meditation experts say some techniques are more productive than others.
What you need to know:Study shows meditation can reduce anxiety just as well as medication
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice in which a person follows specific focus or breathing techniques to gain mental or emotional clarity. “It’s a strategy to help you achieve a relaxed state of being and move toward inner peace,” explains Juanita Guerra, PhD, a clinical psychologist who practices meditation in New Rochelle, New York.
How does meditation work?
By learning to focus your breathing or attention on a specific thought or activity, meditation can induce a deep state of relaxation and improve clarity and emotional well-being. This is thought to happen because during a meditative state, multiple regions of the brain are known to be affected simultaneously, and continuous deep breathing increases air and blood flow throughout the body – calming nerves, releasing toxins, and expanding lung tissue.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Such physiological reactions in the body increase concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. Research has shown that meditation can also strengthen areas of the brain responsible for memory, increasing one’s cognition and attention span over time. “Practicing meditation regularly can have many benefits for one’s well-being,” said Danielle Casioppo, MS, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness teacher and coordinator at Yale University. Some additional benefits she shared are improved body awareness, improved emotional regulation, and increased self-esteem.
“Meditation also improves attentional control through less mind-wandering, which studies have shown increases well-being,” she adds.
“Meditation can also help you build your patience,” Guerra explains. “More than anything, mediation helps quiet the mind, feel more grounded, and live in the present moment.”
How to meditate properly
While there are many proven techniques to help one meditate productively, some basic practices are consistent throughout:
- Lose distractions and get comfortable. “Be mindful of rest, distractions, and comfortable clothing — you don’t want to feel constrained,” advises Guerra.
- Select a specific time period. “If someone is new to meditation, I suggest they start small and start with a short, simple practice,” recommends Casioppo. “Try setting a timer for two minutes to get started, as most people aren’t willing to sit in silence for 30 or 45 minutes at first.”
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. “Sit comfortably and follow the inhalation and exhalation of your breathing. When the timer goes off, stop the exercise,” says Casioppo.
- Increase the length of future meditation sessions until you find a duration and technique that works for you. “Repeat this short exercise throughout the day as needed, increasing the time as you like,” suggests Casioppo. “It’s a learnable skill, something that takes practice and patience.”
Another thing to keep in mind for new meditators is not to dwell on improved breathing techniques or fret about “proper” breathing. “The breath is a common entry point for many types of meditation,” explains Casioppo. “However, it is not required as a focus.” For some people, she says, focusing on sounds or the sensations of your own body can also help. The most important thing is to find a relaxing anchor point for your focus, allowing external stressors and distractions to melt away.
Can you meditate lying down?
Guerra also recommends trying different meditation methods until you find the one that makes you feel most centered and calm.
“Try sitting and lying down meditation and see what you prefer. Also, try different forms of meditation, such as “There is no right or wrong way to meditate, it’s a matter of personal preference.”
Learn more about meditation and mindfulness:
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