What is meditation?
Whether you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, lower anxiety levels, or simply clear your mind of distracting thoughts, meditation is often looked to by many as a means to improve mental and physical health.
Meditation refers to a number of different disciplines; the one which most Westerners are familiar with is mindfulness meditation. It’s a discipline that encourages you to be mindful of wandering thoughts as your mind drifts. The goal isn’t to get involved with the thoughts or to analyze them, but to be aware of those thoughts as they arise.
Even if relaxation isn’t the goal of meditation, it’s often the result. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response” after conducting research on people who practiced transcendental meditation. The response is, according to Dr. Benson, an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
Those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) will benefit from meditation as part of their treatment. People with ADD tend to thrive on adrenaline; they put tasks off until the last minute, seek drama, keep our minds busy, and generally do whatever it takes to kick in an adrenal response. The cost of this is decreased health and increased stress. What meditation does for those with ADD is cause a decrease in the mental state that leaves so many with ADD in a frustrated, distracted, confused state.
Suggestions for beginning meditation
Ready to give it a go? Try this simple introduction!
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe naturally. Don’t make a conscious effort to do so.
- Concentrate on your breathing. Pay attention to how your body is moving with each breath. Think about how your chest, shoulders, stomach, and rib cage are moving. Be careful to not control your breath; you want to focus on your natural breathing at this point. If you find your mind wandering, return your focus to your breath. Start with 2-3 minute intervals, and move on to longer time periods.
The good news is that there’s no wrong way to meditate, and there’s no true way to fail. Here are a few suggestions for ways to mediate:
- If sitting or lying down doesn’t work for you, try pursuing mindfulness while working, or while exercising.
- Spend a few minutes each morning in quiet meditation, between the time the alarm goes off, and the time you rise from bed. You may want to hit the Snooze button rather than turning the alarm off, in case you relax and fall back asleep.
- Come up with a mantra, and repeat it inwardly. It could be anything from, “I will relax,” or “I will not smoke today,” to something as complex as, “I will meditate for my health, there is no wrong way to do this, and I will succeed.”
- Meditate to music. If you can’t relax through mindfulness training, find some relaxing music to listen to. Try wearing headphones to block out external sounds if simply concentrating on the music isn’t enough.
- Do you pray? Do you otherwise have a regular religious practice? Make meditation part of it. This isn’t an either/or situation; mindfulness and spirituality go hand in hand. If you have trouble letting go of anger, try meditating on those issues, and put them to the side.
- Make it a routine. Whatever you find that works for you, do it regularly. No excuses! Unless it’s a dire emergency, you should always be able to find time to meditate, whether it’s when you first wake, during a lunch break, or just before you go to bed.