1. Sit in a quiet space. Make sure there is nothing to disturb you and your phone is on silent.
  2. Sit comfortably. Use a cushion, blanket, or chair. Sit straight, but don’t tense up: your body should feel relaxed.
  3. Breathe gently. Focus your attention on your breathing. Use this as your anchor. Alternatively, you can begin with a body scan: focus on each part of the body, down from your toes and up to your head, pausing to notice the sensations.
  4. Let distractions come and go. Once your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought that has distracted you, and try to let it go as fluidly as it came into your head. Then, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Getting distracted when meditating is inevitable, and one of the biggest worries for beginners – but distraction is a necessary part of the process.

“The moment when we notice that the mind is distracted is a moment of awareness, and is equally important as sustaining our attention on the breath or another anchor,” says Ralitsa Ivanova, a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction meditation teacher at Enhale Meditation Studio. “No matter how often the mind wanders off, we bring it back – this is how we re-learn to pay attention.”

Paying attention to each individual body part can help you meditate.

Skye Gould/Business Insider
Harvard recommends meditating for two 20-minute sessions daily to experience the maximum benefits, while a 2019 study on the efficacy of the meditation app Calm found that stress, mindfulness, and self-compassion were all significantly improved in the intervention group, who were using the mindfulness meditation programs for an average of 38 minutes per week.

For beginners, the most important part is getting into a routine – five to 10 minutes each day is a good place to start. Ivanova says that consistency is more important than the length of time you practice, and you can always increase your time later.

“It’s like creating a new, healthy habit: it requires some level of discipline and commitment,” Ivanova says. “The good news is that it works, but it takes time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

What is meditation?

Meditation originated in Eastern wellness traditions, such as Ayurvedic practices in India, or traditional medicine therapies in China and Japan. It’s now practiced across the world and is growing in popularity in Western cultures. For example, in the US, the use of meditation increased by more than three times from 2012 to 2017.

Because there are varying practices across cultural, spiritual and religious traditions, there are lots of ways to meditate. Some types include movement meditation, mantra meditation, and transcendental meditation.

“Depending on the technique used, you can have a focused attention meditation, body scan, loving-kindness meditation, visualisation or mantra meditation, to name a few,” says Ivanova.

Mindfulness meditation is especially popular

Mindfulness meditation is one of the most regularly-practiced forms in the US, according to the Global Wellness Summits’ 2019 Trend Report.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), describes mindfulness as awareness that comes from paying attention in a purposeful way, on the present, and without judgment. MBSR is an eight-week evidence-based mindfulness meditation program that Kabat-Zinn founded with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

According to Ivanova, mindfulness meditation involves focusing on ‘anchors’ such as breath, sounds, sensations in the body, and even visual objects. Having an anchor is an important way to begin improving concentration and awareness, which can then help you be more mindful – the goal is to ultimately pay attention to your own mind without judging your feelings.

“We also observe and hold in awareness our thoughts and emotions, cultivating the stance of an observer, without over-identifying or getting caught up in them,” Ivanova says.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of people in the US regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, with 48% saying stress negatively affects their work or home life. While a certain amount of stress is good, too much can lead to burnout.

However, mindfulness meditation can allow you to better cope with stressful situations when they happen, as you can build up your ability to remain calm and de-escalate to a relaxed state.

Does meditation work?

One of the reasons mindfulness meditation’s popularity has soared in recent years is the wealth of scientific studies that have confirmed its benefits.

study from Harvard Medical School in 2011 was the first to showcase the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain’s grey matter, demonstrating that meditation increased the parts of the brain associated with memory, controlling emotions, and identity.

Moreover, in a 2016 study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University focused on the neurobiological effects of mindfulness meditation, discovering that the practice stimulates the part of the brain that aids with stress, concentration, and decision making.

Improved focus, concentration, sleep, and stress management are just a few of the health benefits. Ivanov says mindfulness meditation can also reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety, help manage chronic pain, and contribute to an increased sense of well-being.

For example, a 2018 study showed that just 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation had the same effect as a day of vacation, while a 2016 study on 42 schoolchildren in South Korea reported lower levels of anxiety and aggression after an eight-week meditation program.

Most recently, a number of studies have showcased meditation’s effects on pain. A 2020 meta-study of more than 6,400 participants across 60 trials found that mind-body therapies like meditation could help reduce pain in those who suffered from acute, chronic, or post-surgical pain that was being treated by opioids, and also resulted in lower opioid drug use in those patients.

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