Where the word meditation once would have conjured images of flower children and chakra cleansing, today it invokes a large body of scientific research on its health benefits. Meditation has shown to be a low-cost, low-risk, effective intervention for myriad conditions.
So, how can you reap the rewards of a meditation routine? A good start is to become familiar with the more popular forms of meditation. This overview can give you a jump start on your own practice.
Mindfulness meditation is about taking the time to reconnect with your body and mind by focusing awareness on the present moment. This means paying attention to your body, breathing and surroundings. It also means noticing without judgment.
To begin, find a quiet place to get comfortable. Start noticing your breath, calming your thoughts and focusing on the here and now. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center provides several free guided mindfulness meditations that can get you started.
In mantra meditation, you return to certain key phrases to banish distressing thoughts, regain mental equilibrium and refocus attention. You can change your mantra for each particular practice based on your focus and intention.
To get started, find a comfortable, quiet place. Calm your thoughts and focus on your breathing. Then, repeat your mantra silently, using it to focus your attention and return to the present when your thoughts starts to wander.
For some, sitting still is the most effective form of meditation. Others require a more dynamic approach. Rather than using a mantra to focus attention, these people can use a state of mindfulness often referred to as flow.
For example, Qigong, tai chi and yoga can be meditative. These styles of meditation involve a specific set of movements, poses or gestures as well as controlled breathing and relaxation. Each form has subsets that specialize in certain benefits, such as vinyasa or power yoga to build muscle strength and coordination. Yoga has been studied as a treatment for many conditions involving the mind, such as anxiety, depression and stress. It combines mental benefits of meditation with physical benefits of exercise.
You should seek a qualified instructor when getting started with these types of meditation. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advises people to ask potential instructors about their training and experience before beginning to practice with them.
Guided Meditation (or Guided Imagery)
Guided meditation, also called guided imagery, is a practice primarily directed at relaxation. In this form, visualizations guided by a recording, a teacher or your own internal narrative can help you build mindfulness skills. Positive images engage the mind while relaxing the body and warding away negative thoughts. A guided imagery meditation practice can also improve coping skills for pain, anxiety and stress.
Tips for Getting Started
1. Shop around. Try several types of meditation to see which ones are most beneficial for you.
2. Build up to it. It can be difficult to shut off your thoughts and focus, so start with just five minutes and build up your meditation routine from there.
3. Put your phone on silent while meditating. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible when you're just getting started.
4. Find the right tools. Many free resources, apps and instructional videos are ideal for beginners and readily available online. When your technique improves, you can meditate by yourself, guided by your preferences and experiences.
5. Remember there's no one right or wrong way to meditate. It's a highly individualized practice that you can tailor to your specific situation, tastes and goals.
No matter what kind of meditation routine you choose, practice it consistently. If you make the space in your busy life to reconnect for peace of mind, you'll reap rewards that you deserve.