Tightness in your chest, a dull headache, inability to concentrate—no one is immune to stress or its inconvenient effects. For some, stress is a constant companion in life and for others, it comes and goes in particularly busy or uncertain times. We can’t completely rid our lives of stress and anxiety, but we can learn how to manage it!
Read on to learn how to start meditating and use mindfulness to mitigate the negative effects of stress.
Disclaimer: Beginner level meditation is generally considered safe but you should always consult with your healthcare provider before trying meditation, yoga or any form of energy work.
A common misconception surrounding meditation is that it’s complete woo-woo with no basis in scientific evidence. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Meditation is an ancient practice and the full benefits are still being studied today. But one thing scientists know for sure is that regular meditation and mindfulness exercises (like yoga and breathing) are proven to change your brain and your body.
Harvard has done multiple studies on meditation, and one study found that regular meditation is more beneficial for stress levels than taking a vacation! Mayo Clinic also cites that regular meditation helps with stress, anxiety, pain, depression, insomnia and high blood pressure. In addition, meditation helps with mindfulness (aka the act of being present in your life through each experience).
When many people picture meditation, they see a Tibetan-monk-looking person sitting in robes with their legs crossed and eyes closed. They think that meditation is only for philosophers or yoga teachers and that it’s just sitting still and “emptying your mind."
In reality, meditation is a highly-underrated self-help tool that’s accessible to everyone. You don’t have to “know how”, go to a class or commit hours every week.
There are many different types of meditation and deciding which type is right for you takes time. In the meantime, you can start meditating with a simple concentration meditation where you focus on your breathing.
Starting a meditation practice is intimidating, so we want to start as small as possible. Begin by dedicating just 30 breaths per day to meditation.
1. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably. It could be at home or in your car before work. It’s nice to have your back against a wall or sit on a cushion.
2. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes, resting your hands on your knees.
3. Focus on your breathing, counting an exhale and inhale as one cycle of breath.
4. Pay close attention to how your breath sounds, how your belly feels rising and falling, and on breathing slowly and relaxed.
5. If you have loud thoughts that you can’t seem to silence, just let them happen while you continue focusing on your breathing.
Practice a short meditation of 30 breaths every day and when you get to a point where the time flies by (could be days or months!), increase to 50 breaths per day. Eventually, you may want to start setting a timer instead of counting breaths, say two minutes, five minutes or even 15 minutes.
While meditation may be a “simple” concept, there’s nothing easy about it. Being alone with your thoughts can be uncomfortable and sitting in stillness takes extreme self control. Build a little at a time and go easy on yourself. Learn how to meditate in small, digestible chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
“Mindfulness is not about being positive all the time or a bubblegum sort of happiness — la, la, la,” she said. “It’s about noticing what happens moment to moment, the easy and the difficult, and the painful and the joyful. It’s about building a muscle to be present and awake in your life.”