We all know that meditation is ‘good’ for you, but what is it good for? And what actually is meditation?
Meditation can be a fuzzy concept and confusing for a lot of people. This is probably because society, the media and maybe your yogi friends (through attempted self-promotion) have made it seem much more complicated than it actually is.
In fact, meditation is all about simplicity, it’s about shutting out the noise of everyday life and taking a few minutes for yourself, with the focus of realigning your body, mind, and spirit. Meditative practice certainly doesn’t have to be sitting perfectly still with an empty mind in a tranquil environment for hours each morning saying ‘om’.
People in China and India started using meditation techniques (the same ones we use today) over 5000 years ago. You would think that for something so simple to be used for so long, it’s got to be beneficial. In addition to that, in recent years scientists and psychologists alike have performed hundreds of studies using MRIs and EEGs to determine exactly what benefits we receive from regular meditation.
Through these studies, meditation is linked to the following benefits:
reduced levels of depression, anxiety, stress, and risk of disease;
a strengthened immune system;
increased emotional wellbeing;
improvement in breathing, focus, heart rate, and energy levels.
But how do you actually meditate, especially if you haven’t done it before?
Try taking a few minutes a day in a quiet spot to just be with yourself. Either sit or lay in a comfortable position and begin to focus on your breathing. Start with 3-5 long, deep, slow belly breaths to help you relax faster. You’ll find that breathing into your belly so that it rises and falls with each breath is much more calming than breathing from your chest only. I like to breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts and breathe out for 4 counts but you can vary that to suit you. After these initial deep breaths you can return to normal breathing. As thoughts come into your head (which they will), simply acknowledge they are there, then gently bring your focus back to your breath.
Gradually increase your focus and reduce the background ‘noise’ (all of your other thoughts). Try this for a few minutes every day, progressively increasing the duration as you get better at focusing. You’ll start to feel calmer, more relaxed and you’ll notice the difference in your general wellbeing.