Meditation may not seem like a serious form of healing for many people — however, the ancient art has made a comeback in modern times.
Within the last couple of years, big companies like Google and Facebook have added more and more perks to their workspaces — specifically meditation rooms and classes among their already sprawling programs and snack bars.
So if meditation is proved to be useful, why are people still skeptical about its healing effects? Well, for me, it was time-consuming and ineffective. With my myriad of mental illnesses, it was impossible to sit still and focus on myself.
Eventually, my stress levels and anxiety skyrocketed, even with medication — so I decided to read up on it and found the practice to be immensely helpful.
The number one most common myth about meditation is that it is time consuming. In reality, a couple minutes is all you need — you can even increase time as you go until you master the practice.
Another myth is that people think their minds are too messy. The truth is that you don't need a blank mind to meditate — in this day and age, no one has that privilege.
And if you think that being relaxed will make you lazy and content — it doesn't. If anything, meditation will give you a larger perspective on your life and goals, making it easier to recuperate after things go wrong.
The Science of Meditation
Harvard University conducted a study in 2011 that took people who've never meditated before and put them through 8 weeks of short, daily doses of meditation. When they scanned the participants' brains at the end of the time period, the sections of gray matter related to stress shrank while the sections related to wellbeing and compassion grew.
Meditation can lower our levels of cortisol — the stress hormone, make us more compassionate, lower high blood pressure, lessen anxiety and depression, help with chronic pain, and up our self-esteem.
So, how should I start?
Yay! This is farther than most people go in pursuing meditation — it honestly took me a while too. The way to make meditation a routine and not blow it off is to set aside time everyday and make the practice a part of your routine.
First, you'll want to sit up straight either cross legged or in a chair — or lie down, but make sure you don't get too relaxed and fall asleep. You don't want your mind to wander, but you don't want your mind to be blank either.
Focus all your attention on your breath — kind of like yoga, if you've ever taken a class. Feel your lungs expand and collapse, stress and toxins coming in and out. Pay attention to the present moment — what you're feeling, touching, hearing, emoting.
If your mind wanders or you find yourself stressing about other things, make an effort to return your attention to your breath. Yes, this will be hard and for many beginners, will happen a lot. Especially living in New York, my mind is always on high-pace.
Simply, note that your mind wandered and what distracted you — take a minute to think about why it did and then return back to your breath.
When you first start, it can be helpful to listen to basic guides and apps to help you on your journey. Nobody is a natural at meditation unless you've had a particularly peaceful upbringing and relaxed personality.
Apps like Happify, Headspace and Calm are available on both iOS and Android to help — they contain very clean, modern interfaces with simple designs and tools so you're not spending all your time figuring out how to work the app.
Your local community center or school may offer free classes too — students at universities such as UCLA and NYU can attend free meditation and yoga classes to help destress from their busy days.
Other ways of meditating
When you're finally comfortable with the practice of meditation, you can work up to being active while meditating. The same rules apply — only now, you're walking through your surroundings. Pick a nice, peaceful place without too much people or technological interruptions.
You can even meditate while eating — instead of binging and stuffing yourself, be mindful of what you eat and how you eat it. Pay attention to all of your senses and how this new food makes you feel.
So now that you have all the tools, take a stab at it. There are no expectations nor commitments that you have to make with meditation. Simply take yourself to a safe, peaceful space and begin your journey.