Running late to a doctor’s appointment, argument with your sister, unpaid invoices. Every day we are hit with stressors big and small that can take us down if we’re not careful. These stressors actually start to add up and compound day after day. When stress goes unchecked, it can affect our health and our relationships in serious ways. Unfortunately, these stressful situations are inevitable. There will just be days that don’t go well. Your client won’t like your work in the morning, then you’ll get a speeding ticket in the afternoon. So how can we protect ourselves and make sure we’re still living fun, joyful lives despite the day-to-day stress?
The answer is much simpler than we often think and just a few thousand years old. Meditation, or the art of focusing on and accepting the present moment, not only controls our stess in the moment, it actually has positive long-term effects.
It’s hard to keep up with all the positive benefits of meditation. From improved health to better sleep and job performance, there’s not much that can’t improve with a little deep breathing. So throw down that meditation pillow and get your ‘om’ on. It’s going to be a good day!
What is meditation?
The Meditation Society of America describes meditation as a “state of consciousness that brings serenity, clarity, and bliss.” Sounds pretty amazing, right? Simply put, meditation is focusing on the present moment, and we can all benefit from it.
How to get started
With all of the meditation experts, gurus and retreats out there, starting to meditate on your own can feel a little overwhelming. Many of us worry that we’re “doing it wrong” or literally just cannot get our minds to slow down. The good thing about meditation is that anyone can do it any time, any where. You do not have to be sitting a pillow on a mountain top. You simply need to take a deep breath and go inward.
Focus on your breath
A great way to start practicing this mindful meditation is focusing on the breath. Taking slow, deep inhales and exhales slows down not only our breathing, but our heart rate and thinking as well. As you inhale, feel the clean, fresh air filling your lungs, then feel your entire body relax as you deeply exhale all the stale air out of your lungs.
What if my mind wanders?
Any time you’re starting something new, it takes practice. When you went running for the first time, you weren’t setting out to run a marathon that day. Staying in the present moment simply takes practice, and even regular meditators experience racing, drifting thoughts during their practices. The trick is to just gently bring your awareness back to your breath without judging yourself.
Meditate all day long
Don’t worry – we’re not suggesting you sit with legs crossed saying ‘om’ for 12 hours. We can practice mindfulness all day long no matter what we’re doing. Throughout the day, check-in with yourself and see if you can bring your mind back to the present moment. Feel the sun on your face, hear the breeze through the trees, feel the cool water on your hands. Most of us spend much of our days on autopilot, so just checking-in a few times a day could be a big change. To make it even easier, try setting an alarm on your phone to go off every hour and check-in with how you’re feeling.
It’s well worth it
Like with any new practice, meditating can feel uncomfortable in the beginning. Maybe you feel awkward just sitting with your own thoughts or aren’t noticing any benefits. Promise yourself you’ll stick it out for a month before giving it up. Just a few minutes everyday truly adds up for your health and wellbeing.
Researchers at UC Davis found that mindfulness meditation is not only associated with feeling less stressed, but it actually lowers stress hormones in the body. High levels of stress hormone are linked to increase rates of depression, heart disease, headaches, and weight gain. In their study, UC Davis researchers found that the more participants reported meditating, the lower their stress hormone (cortisol) levels.
You could even start right now! Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out. Feel your shoulders relax and your jaw loosen. Look at that; you just meditated!