When first introduced, meditation sounded like a new-age hippie activity that was only reserved for the yogi’s – now it is being picked up by the everyday individual for its benefits on stress reduction, mental health and more! Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which is a form of therapy integrating mindfulness meditation and CBT, is now a mainstay in conventional mental health treatment for stress, anxiety and depression. Meditation and mindfulness therapies are now even part of many hospital programs and used by busy doctors, CEO’s and more. We all have heard about meditation and mindfulness being good for us, but it is difficult for many people to keep it up as a long-term habit (myself included!).
Before we begin, let me sell you on the benefits of meditation even more. Researchers have shown that in meditators brains, there is increased activity in the prefrontal cortex – which is the decision-making and problem solving part of our thinking. What’s more, is that meditation has even been shown to down-regulate the “fear-based” or anxiety part of our brain called the amygdala – leading to a lower anxiety response in times of stress. Another interesting area of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, responsible for connecting cognition and emotion, also shows higher activity during meditation. This means that: meditation has the potential to increase our decision-making, make us better problem solvers, and increase our ability to process emotions! This, done regularly, has great ability to decrease anxiety, stress and low moods. The cherry on top is also that meditation increases dopamine production, the “reward” hormone that helps us feel accomplished and a sense of satisfaction – much like shopping, gambling and eating a treat.
If you are anything like myself, you read all of this and say, “I’m going to start meditating now!” Usually I do start meditating, but then life gets busy, I feel tired or don’t feel motivated to continue. To get the benefits of meditation you do not need to be meditating for hours on end, all you can start with is 1-3 minutes a day. The key here though is consistency.
Before we begin, let me dispel some myths. Although it is nice to have a “relaxing” meditation spot in our house (cue comfy cushion and incense), you don’t even need to have this to start meditating. You also don’t need to know how to make your mind go blank. It takes Buddhist monks years or even decades to get to the point where their mind is in complete stillness. Our minds are designed to be thinking about something, so to meditate you just need to be doing something other than your totally fixating on your thoughts. You also don’t need to pay for expensive phone or Ipad apps as the only way to meditate. There are great apps out there though like, Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to tell you now how to start meditating with no experience, and no fancy meditation tools. The best way that I have found to meditate is to focus on my breath while I am lying in my bed before I go to sleep or when I have breaks throughout the day or am feeling higher anxiety.
21-Breath Night-time Meditation
Count from 1 to 21 using your Inhale and Exhale. One inhalation followed by an exhalation equals one count. If your mind gets distracted by something else, or if you lose track, start at 1 again. There is no real “goal” with this, because this is training your mind to focus on one thing at a time. Even if you do get distracted and you need to start at 1 again you are learning how to train your mind J.
5 Breath Day-time Meditation
When you have “natural pauses” throughout your day – ex. waiting in line, traffic, on your way walking somewhere, use this as an opportunity to be focusing on your breath for 5 counts. This involves focusing on your inhale and exhale for 5 counts – that’s it! You can start from 5 and count down, or count up, whatever you prefer. This technique is also useful if you are feeling high stress, anxiety or any other intense mood. This acts as a “refresh” button to your brain, and gives you a break to de-stress or even catch your thoughts as you are moving throughout the day.
Start where you are. Also, with meditation there is no incentive to use it as a tool to feel totally blissed out after. Now, if you are experienced and have been meditating for years you can achieve this for sure – but starting out as a newbie meditator you can expect that there to be struggles and frustration. The point of starting a meditation practice is to practice. It is no different than starting to work out. There will be resistance early on, and throughout, but over time if you stick to it you will notice gains. You may notice that you start feeling calmer, are better at making difficult decisions (especially under stress) and feel like your mood is more regulated.