Call it what you want…. meditation, getting still, breathing, sitting, prayer. Being still and focusing on… well, nothing actually, is one of the best daily habits you can have for optimal health and a sense of calm and well-being.
Here is why… when you sit and breathe, you are allowing the Parasympathetic Nervous System to put the brakes on the stress responses going on in our bodies.
Instead of “running from the proverbial tiger,” which is a Sympathetic Nervous System job, your Parasympathetic Nervous System allows the important functions of the body to occur when you are in a restful state. These are immune functions, hormone production, higher cognitive thought (better blood flow to the “thinking” parts of the brain), food digestion, and reproduction.
Getting your body still and slowing down the breath tips the sympathetic-parasympathetic teeter totter in favor of the peaceful parasympathetic nervous system activity.
- The blood vessels to your organs open up.
- Your skeletal muscles relax.
- Your GI tract gets moving.
- Your blood pressure decreases.
- Your heart rate slows.
This puts you in an overall relaxed state that is conducive to healing and repair. This is good if you want your body to last a long time!
The coolest part of trying to achieve this state of well-being? It’s so easy to do!!!
Here is how to meditate:
Sit down somewhere quiet, where you won’t be interrupted. (Maybe this means closing the door to your room or locking yourself in your car.) Now breathe and stop thinking. Done.
You do not have to sit on a meditation cushion, have any special statues or candles, or anything else fancy. I usually just sit in a chair to meditate because that feels best to my lower back. However, the sky’s the limit if you want to go all out and create a special place with decorations, cushions, or an alter of some sort. It’s just not a requirement.
OK, so you are saying that it’s impossible to stop thinking.
In the beginning, you may find it difficult (or nearly impossible!) turn off your thinking brain.
Do one of these things instead of thinking, and when you catch yourself thinking again, simply return to one of these tasks:
- Count your breaths.
- Focus on your hands and how they are sitting in your lap.
- Mentally say “breathe in” and “breathe out” matching each inhalation and exhalation.
- Count backwards from 1000.
For some people the statement “If you don’t plant flowers, you will forever pull weeds” rings true. It did for me in the early days of my meditation. This meant that if I didn’t give my brain a task to do, it would simply keep wandering off into thought and I was constantly mentally scolding myself for thinking. It’s much easier if you count or focus strongly on one thing.
How long should you meditate? Anything is better than nothing! As little as five minutes to sit still and take slow, deep breaths, when done regularly, can give you great benefits. Longer meditation times may happen naturally as you crave the good feelings you get as you let your body relax, be still, and rejuvenate. A reasonable goal would be 20 minutes per day.
You Type A people who want to go the extra mile….slow your breathing down to a rate of 4 breaths per minute. I heard a brain researcher once talk about this slow of a breathing rate is great for the brain. True or not, I don’t know, but I do know that it feels great.
There are many ways to meditate besides sitting still and quieting the mind.
You might want to try Kundalini meditations that are more active with breath, movements, or hand positions. Yoga Nidra is a super relaxing guided meditation that is done laying down. Chanting can get you into a meditative state. Guided meditations are nice for beginners, especially, because you have someone’s voice on which to focus. (Look any of these types of meditation up online – tons of free ones to access).
My favorite meditation app is called “Insight Timer.” It’s free and you can quickly set it up for the length of time you want to meditate silently. There are choices of bells and sounds with which to start and end your meditation. If you turn on Location Services on your smartphone, you can even see how many people are meditating with you locally (look for me!), as well as see the number of people meditating globally. Whenever I use this app to meditate, there are usually at least 2,800 people meditating at the same time as me. Wow! Something about knowing that makes me feel happier.
Guided meditations are another way to go. This keeps your mind busy listening to someone’s sweet voice which is great in general and especially helps beginners to stick with the meditation. Type “Guided Meditation” into YouTube and try one out that matches the amount of time you want to meditate.
Yoga Nidra is fun way to get into that deep, relaxed state. It’s often done in yoga studios, sometimes as a separate class or occasionally at the end of a class as part of savasana. However, you can also find them on Youtube. Yoga Nidra is a specific kind of guided relaxation where you are lying down and relaxing one body part at a time. Try it!
The bottom line about meditation is that you can’t do it wrong. Just get still and focus your mind on one thing. Yes, it takes practice to get to where it feels like the most amazing thing in the world yet it is a positive thing for your state of mind and your health even if you feel inadequate at it. (Stealing from Nike now…) Just do it.