What is meditation?
Meditation is a set of techniques to encourage focused attention and a heightened state of awareness. Meditation helps develop concentration, emotional positivity, clarity, and a calm way of looking at things. It also helps you better understand your mind, habits, and emotions.
During meditation, you focus your mind on a single point of attention, such as an image or the sound of your breath. You clear away all other competing sounds, thoughts, and feelings to become fully engaged with the single point of focus. This practice disciplines your mind and helps you develop an altered sense of consciousness that lowers stress and improves brain activity. Some interesting things to note about meditation:
- It has been practiced in cultures around the world for thousands of years.
- It is part of most religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- It can be used for psychotherapy.
- It is a set of practices, not a single technique.
Meditation is a deliberate focus on doing nothing in order to reset our brains and bodies and become more healthy and aware. Sitting still and doing nothing can be very difficult for many people, so let’s look at some tips and tricks on how to meditate.
Learning How to Meditate
Guided meditation is guided, narrated, or led by someone else. This person is usually a facilitator who has trained in meditative techniques. The guide may be physically present, such as in a studio, or recorded on video or audio.
Most people prefer starting with guided meditation. It helps them focus better and helps them learn more easily. It also helps them feel more confident that they are “doing it right.”
Unguided meditation is the opposite. You meditate alone, without anyone narrating you through the process. This method can be preferable in spaces such as your office when you want to close your eyes and refocus for 15 minutes to reduce stress and clear your mind.
Tips for unguided meditation include: finding a quiet space where you are unlikely to be interrupted, finding a comfortable place to sit and a posture you will be able to sustain for several minutes, and deep breathing, usually in through the nose and out through the mouth.
How to Meditate in Bed
Many practitioners prefer sitting meditation rather than meditating while lying down. Often teachers will advise lying on a mat on the floor instead of your bed. Being in bed tends to signal your brain that it is time to sleep, and you may drift off. Of course, if this is your goal, then that’s perfect!
Some people find they enjoy meditating in bed because they are more comfortable. For beginners in the practice, meditating in bed before sleep can be a great way to start. Meditating helps you fall asleep and wake up feeling replenished, full of energy, and more emotionally capable. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, meditating lying down can be the best option.
Adopt the “Corpse Pose”
Called savasana in Hindi, the corpse pose is the best position for meditating while lying down. Lie on your back with your legs about shoulder width apart and your arms out at your sides, away from your body by 6 to 12 inches, palms facing up. Make sure your spine is in a straight line as if it is a chain that has been pulled taut from the top of your head. Place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth or on the roof of your mouth. Stare at the ceiling, or close your eyes.
Squeeze and Release
Beginning at your feet, tighten, squeeze, hold, then release groups of muscles. For example, start with the feet, then the calves, then the thighs, then the entire leg. Do this until you are tensing, holding, then releasing your whole body, including your neck and your face. As you release your muscles, imagine sinking into the bed, with it supporting you without any effort on your part.
Breathe from your diaphragm and imagine your breath traveling from your navel to your nose and back down. It may help to think of it as a thermometer rising, hovering, and then falling. Breathe intentionally and slowly and deeply.
5 Benefits of Meditating
1. Reduce Your Stress
Studies show that meditation correlates to a reduction in your stress levels. Stress increases the amount of cortisol in your body, which then leads to sleep disruptions, increased anxiety, inflammation, fatigue, and pain. Study participants who meditated frequently showed lower levels of cortisol in their blood, with the most significant improvement for those with the highest stress.
2. Improve Your Chronic Illness Symptoms
If you have a chronic illness, mediation can help reduce the symptoms and flare-ups. Conditions, such as PTSD, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases, improve with regular meditation and lower stress.
3. Boost Your Mental Health
Several research studies correlate meditation with improved mood and mental health. Regular meditation lowers the number of cytokines in your system. Cytokines are stress-response chemicals associated with depression. Additionally, study participants showed increased brain activity in the areas related to optimism and positive thinking.
4. Improve Your Attention Span
In today’s world, we may have 25 tabs open on our laptops, or constant phone notifications drawing our attention. All of these distractions compromise our ability to focus. Meditation helps our brains learn or re-learn how to focus, lengthening and strengthening our attention spans. These benefits present themselves quickly, usually after about four days of meditation.
5. Get Better Sleep
People who meditate fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer, according to a recent study. Meditation helps you redirect or eliminate the racing thoughts that often cause insomnia. It also helps release tension so you can achieve a peaceful state, which relaxes your body and makes you better able to fall asleep.
Phone apps that can help you meditate
If you’re looking for some guided meditations to help you begin your practice, there are several apps to choose from. Here are a few:
- The Mindfulness App
- Insight Timer
- Smiling Mind
- 10% Happier
At Balanced Care, a meditation practice is often part of our personal and holistic wellness plan for you. If you have questions about the benefits of meditation, feel free to reach out to us for a consultation.