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The Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

January 12, 2015
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I don’t know how to meditate. It’s a strange realization, considering how pervasive meditation is in modern culture. I know how it should look, but I don’t know how it should feel. And, considering you’re reading this now, you’re probably in the same boat.

In my quest to become a self-taught meditator, I was struck by just how good meditation is for us. It’s so good, in fact, that I decided to start this piece with the benefits. I think they’ll inspire you so much that you’ll want to start your own practice and, guess what? You’ll find out just how to do it in part two of this piece.

Without further ado, here is the beginner’s guide to meditation:

I.  Benefits of Meditation

People who meditate swear by meditation, and there’s a good reason for that: it’s really good for you, your body, and your mind.

Goodbye, stress

Perhaps the most well-known side effect of meditation is that it can help you de-stress. It’s no surprise that people are more stressed than ever these days, what with rising rent costs, fewer job openings…  I’m getting antsy just thinking about it. When you meditate, you take time to think about and understand what you’re actually feeling. This allows you to be stronger and more in control of your emotions later, as you’ll know the true root of your emotions after a good meditation session.

Bulked up immune system

You and I both know that many of our emotional problems are caused by stress. What’s surprising is that stress can also have physical effects on the body and its functions. It turns out that your high anxiety might cause your immune system to short-circuit. This leaves you defenseless against colds, viruses, and other bothersome illnesses that’ll probably cause you to feel even more stress and discomfort. Keep as many of them at bay as possible by taking time to relax, thus alleviating stress on your body.

Perma-smile

Okay, maybe you’re not the smiling type, but research has shown that regular meditation can keep you grinning on the inside. It turns out that meditation slows or stalls brain function on the right side. This just so happens to be the side of your brain that controls negative emotions. Meanwhile, your left side — the one that helps you think happy thoughts — gets a boost from meditation.

Similarly, your brain also becomes a bit more compassionate when you meditate regularly. It’s almost as if your brain is trained to quiet your emotions and let go of them while you’re meditating, but let them out when necessary. It sounds like a win-win to me.

Aging happens in slow-motion

In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget just how beneficial it is to slow down every once in a while. While researchers can’t say for certain that meditation adds years to your life, there are plenty of findings that show that it keeps your mind sharp in the long run. For one, those who meditate tend to have more brain cells in general — who couldn’t use more of those? It also helps keeps your cognition fresh and extends the length of your telomeres, the tips of chromosomes that help determine your biological age. Again, many experts believe that the slowed-down aging can be attributed to the fact that meditation helps reduce the stress you feel.

II.  How to Start

Now that we’re all sold on the art of meditation, it’s time to get going. Here’s the best way to get your ohm on, even if you can’t make it to an actual studio or class.

Make the time

You might want to start your day off on a peaceful foot, or you might want to do some meditation after work to clear your mind. No matter when you think meditation will be most beneficial, set aside the time and commit to it.

Read up

There are books that help us teach ourselves to do just about anything — meditation is no different. If you’re really dedicated to becoming a master of meditation, read books, watch DVDs, or listen to CDs that explain the steps in-depth.

Make yourself comfortable

You’re going to be sitting alone and in silence, so you should eliminate any distraction that might get in the way of your calming thoughts. Put your phone in another room and silence it if you have to. Use the restroom. Make sure you’re hydrated. Move or turn off a wall clock that ticks loud enough for you to hear.

Stretch and start to breathe slowly

Stretching can help eliminate another distractor: tight or sore muscles that ache once you take your meditation position. Once you’re limber, start breathing slowly and deeply. The cadence of your breath is vital to reaching a meditative state, as it’s what you’ll focus in order to reach it. Breathe steadily in and out of your nose, taking note of how the air feels as it goes in and out over your upper lip. Calming, huh?

Find your perfect position

Most people envision meditation to be a seated practice, and it very well can be. If you choose to be seated, make sure that you maintain good posture. You can also try lying down. And, once you’ve found the right body position for you, try meditating with your eyes open or closed to see which you prefer. Sit inside or outside, in the dark or in the light. Manipulate the situation and find the right setting for your practice.

Set the scene

If you do choose an indoor practice, make sure that you’re not meditating in a heavily-trafficked room, or one where you spend time working, exercising, etc. Instead, dedicate a quiet area to meditation where you won’t be disturbed. You can even add spiritual decor, such as statues and candles, to make it even more effective.

Don’t give up

Meditation can be difficult to start. Many people find sitting in silence for long periods of time to be, well, boring. They most likely burn out because they attempt to meditate for too long of a period without any experience or dedication. If you’re just starting out, it’s okay to start small. Five or ten minutes isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing; it’ll also prepare you for future 30-minute sessions that you’ll build up to. Stick with it! The times that you want to quit are the times that you need meditation most. So, follow your schedule, start to breathe, and focus on you. Good luck!

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