Meditation is a practical skill that can be used by anyone, nearly any time. It can be a spiritual exercise for seekers of any path, a straightforward way to calm the mind for a stressed out life, or simply a way to fall asleep when the z’s are hard to come by. Now solidly scientifically backed (see the NIH health information page on mindfulness and meditation), meditation is a life skill, a habit, a practice, that is available to all.
Some of the benefits of a meditation practice can include:
- management of anxiety, depression, or stress
- increased ability to be present in daily life and connect with what’s happening in the moment
- increased connection to self and others in relationships
- improved sleep and other health benefits
- a greater sense of calm and peacefulness throughout your day
- an ability to handle difficult situations with less distress overall
There are countless ways to practice meditation, and enough books/podcasts/spiritual teachers on theory and practice for everyone to find their “flavor”. Below are one therapist’s (mine) personal tips for a good beginner meditation experience.
- Consistency: in order to see benefits of meditation, you’re likely going to have to have a daily practice. You’ll still get benefit from an occasional meditation here and there, but most would agree that things really start to get rolling after a couple of solid weeks of any habit. The changes in your brain will take some time to happen, as well.
- Duration: the first few minutes of a meditation, you’re likely just working on getting the rushing thoughts to slow down. The second five minutes or so, thoughts might have calmed and you’re starting to drop in. But it’s the minutes after that where you’ll really feel like you’re “in it”. I usually recommend people give it a minimum of 15 minutes each day. If you can’t swing that (kids, work, exhaustion, life!), no problem. As above, you’re still going to get some benefit no matter what you can do.
- Posture: you’ll hear all sorts of opinions on posture when learning about meditation. Most will tell you to be seated in an upright position with feet on the floor or crossed in front of you. Some will say to lie down, and others are even walking meditations. There are mindfulness practices you can do as a part of just about any activity you are doing as well. My thoughts? Whatever feels most comfortable for you without making you fall asleep.
- Type: do a search for “meditations” on any search engine and you’ll find more kinds than you can count. There are guided ones, all kinds of genres of music, crystal bowls, spiritual ones, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, anything from the most simple and mainstream breathing exercise to channeling angels! There are Buddhist ones, yoga ones, self-help (manifestation, etc.), and specific ones targeted to anxiety, stress, pregnancy, and other topics. You’ll hear people talk about a mantra, transcendental meditation, vipassana, and the list goes on. There is no right or wrong here – the key is play around with various techniques and find the one that works for you: the way your brain and personality work, your personal worldview, and what you seem to respond to best. Sample some, take what speaks to you, and leave the rest. A word of note: you can read up on every single one and spend ages choosing before you start. No benefits until you practice! Just get started somewhere.
- Patience: just about everyone I have ever talked to says some version of, “I can’t meditate. My mind is too busy.”. This is all of us. We are the ones who need a practice of calming the mind. Just as we can’t go to the gym one time and have completely chiseled bodies, we have to work at it. You will be frustrated, and you will check the clock. You’ll probably think about what you’re going to have for lunch or the phone call you need to return. It’s all part of the process. Just keep at it, and you’ll start to see it become easier.
Therapy and meditation often go hand in hand, and can work in conjunction to help create positive change in whatever goals you may be working on. Your therapist may do meditation exercises with you in session, or may point you to resources and have you try it on your own. The Insight Timer app has free meditations and talks of all kinds to try out, and there are the popular Headspace and Calm apps as well.
As a new daily habit to go along with exercise, brushing your teeth, and having your meals, a meditation practice can be a wonderful addition to help create a more peaceful, aware, content experience day to day.
If you’re interested in virtual, online therapy services in California, contact us to schedule!
Abigail R Hitchen, PsyD