When you think of meditation, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Is it a highly enlightened being sitting on a white pillow with their legs crossed and a bright light all around them as they achieve nirvana? I’ll admit, that is exactly what I thought for a while, which is why it took me until college to take up a serious meditation practice.
I was studying abroad in Japan. It was late at night and I was alone in my dorm room. As I was getting ready for bed, there was an earthquake. I had never experienced one that big before and I was freaking out. As I calmed down, I thought “there must be a way to deal with this stress or hopefully even prevent it.” It turns out that more and more research suggests that meditating is good for everyone in so many ways: It can reduce anxiety, improve memory, improve sleep, and may even be linked to better heart health!
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Just start. The great thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. You don’t need any fancy apps (unless that’s your thing), equipment or a special room. Nothing is required except an open mind. Bonus: taking 30 seconds to meditate counts as an accomplishment for your day, so enjoy that little burst of dopamine as you check it off your to-do list!
- Start small. The idea that meditations should be hours long is so discouraging. Try this: Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Notice the quality of your breath. One more breath, deeper than the first. Congratulations, you just meditated! Meditation sessions should last for as long as you feel comfortable. Of course, you’ll learn to push yourself and your focus levels once you get started, but in the beginning, feel free to cut it short if you’re feeling antsy.
- You don’t have to think about anything. You don’t have to think about nothing. Just notice your breath and you’ve done it. Recognize when you’re struggling to quiet your thoughts. Awareness is the benefit of meditating, not a completely silent mind.
- Hold onto something. I know, I know—fidget spinners are SO 2017, but there’s something to the idea of holding something to keep your focus. I like to hold onto my favorite crystals on days when I feel extra fidgety. It gives me something to focus on while trying to gain awareness of my breath. Is there something small that means a lot to you? Incorporating it into your meditation practice could not only help you stay focused, but make you look forward to your daily practice.
- Set the tone. Try meditating in the morning to start your day. It just feels good to set intentions then return to them as the day goes on. It’s also great to get something checked off your list right away! Think of a goal or a happy thought and repeat it to yourself as you notice your breath. Close your eyes and imagine how it would feel to achieve that goal. Some of my go-to intentions are “be happy,” “make healthy choices,” “patience for others,” and “make it happen.”
- Consistency is key. The benefits of meditation are best over time. The feeling of accomplishment after finishing a quick session is great, but when you notice that your mood has improved, you’re sleeping better, and you can focus just a little better during that meeting, you’ll really be thanking yourself for meditating daily. Why not try it for a month and see how you feel? There’s nothing to lose—you're breathing anyway!