You know that meditation is good for you the way you know that kale, jogging, and fresh air are good for you. You’ve heard about the effects a meditation practice can give you: renewed focus, more compassion, greater resilience—the list goes on.
Why, then, does the idea of meditation still trigger an internal eye roll for many of us?
Maybe you feel like it’s something “other people” do, like marathons or juice cleanses. Or you might think that it’s part of an alternative lifestyle that just doesn’t feel like you. The fact is, even though it’s just started to capture popular attention in the past few years, meditation is hardly a fad. “Meditation, in all its various forms, has been around for thousands of years,” says meQuilibrium meditation expert Katherine McHugh, founder of Awaken Wellness Resources.
Over the past 30 years, there have been studies showing meditation’s beneficial effect on a whole host of health issues, from blood pressure to inflammation. It’s even been shown to boost memory and learning capacity. In Mass General’s groundbreaking study, participants who ranged in age, gender, and background—and who had no previous meditation experience—were put through an 8-week mindfulness meditation program. MRI analyses of the participants showed that meditation increased density in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is key to learning and memory, as well as in parts of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion. There was also a reduction of the density in the amygdala, the seat of our stress response.
Okay, so we know meditation actually works. Still, your skeptic brain has questions. Let’s have McHugh answer them directly:
“What if I don’t have time?”
You don’t need a lot of time. In fact, there is no magic number for how long to best meditate. Make it a goal to carve out a few minutes to just sit quietly. Nothing magical has to happen! Even one minute of quiet breathing is enough to calm the mind and slow down the thought stream that can drain our energy and focus. You’ll return to your day with more clarity and less mental chatter.
“I don’t know what to do during meditation.”
There’s no wrong way to meditate. You don’t need to master the “right” posture or have a meditation room—all you need is a few undisturbed moments. Sit quietly and tune in to your breath or the sounds around you. The goal is to slow down, not stop, your thoughts. If you need help getting started, there are plenty of guided meditations out there. But most importantly, remember that meditation is not another thing to “do.” It’s the opposite. Instead of doing, you get to just “be.”
“What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?”
Mindfulness is simply the act of being aware and tuned into the present moment without judgement. Meditation centers us and allows us to practice mindfulness more often. It’s much easier to live and respond to life from a mindful place with a formal meditation practice.
“What if it’s just not for me?”
Anyone can do it. If you can breathe, you can meditate. In fact, everyone from CEOs, to celebrities, to sports teams like the Chicago Bulls practice mindfulness. It’s not about adopting a new lifestyle; it’s about adopting a new habit. There are so many different kinds of meditation practices—experiment and find one (or more) that works for you.
“How do I start?”
Simply! Take a few minutes at the beginning or end of your day where you sit quietly and start to notice the rise and fall of your breath, the sounds around you, and the way your body feels. If a thought pops up, as it will, you can label it (that thought is about work, that thought is about my family, etc.), and then return your attention back to noticing your bodily sensations. Don’t try to solve problems or replay scenes from your day. Don’t try to change anything or get anywhere. Bring open awareness to your body, mind, and surroundings. You’ll finish ready to reengage with the world around you, with a bit more clarity, calm, and ease.
Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT