By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Meditation has become hugely popular because of the health benefits associated with the practices. Plus, meditation is powerful portable method for combating the stress that most of us face in our everyday lives. The biggest barrier to picking up the practice is often where to start, how to do it and how to get our minds quiet enough to actually relax. If this sounds familiar you’re not alone.
There are definitely reasons that most of us should be doing more mindful breathing and meditating (me included!), but like most new things, it can take some guidance and direction to get us started. Here are a few key points that will help you learn more about meditation and how to get started.
Meditation by definition means to engage in contemplation or reflection and also to engage in mental exercise to concentrate on breathing or repetition for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
In short, meditation is the act of taking time to breathe, reflecting inward and taking time to quiet your mind. This can be achieved through simple quiet breathing or can be achieved through other types of activities like yoga.
My recommendation for each person is specific to their individual goals, where they’re coming from and what they’re hoping to achieve. So some of us will be comfortable with one minute and some of us will be comfortable with one hour. My best advice is to start slow and be kind and patient with yourself through the process.
The benefits of meditation are largely still being studied, but some research has found that meditation may help with the following health benefits–not to mention that meditation and breathing can also help with promoting mindfulness.
Stress reduction: Stress in moderation is good for us—stress can help get us up and going, but in excess (which is what most of us experience on a daily basis) it’s not quite as good. Meditation and breathing practices can help us clear and quiet our minds, which can help us to breathe more and quiet down as well.
Improvement of certain health conditions like fibromyalgia: Researchers found that meditation was helpful in reducing physical and psychological symptoms of fibromyalgia.
May protect against heart disease: One study showed that eight weeks of meditation helped to reduce c-reactive protein levels, which may be a precursor to the development of heart disease. Meditation may also help to prevent against high blood pressure.
May boost the immune system: The same study that found benefit in heart disease prevention also found that there was a drop in expression of genes that activate inflammation and are part of the body’s immune response.
Start with sitting in a quiet place for one to five minutes daily and simply closing your eyes and breathing. From there, you can extend your meditation to longer periods of time. If you’re someone who likes to move with their breath try an active yoga class. Starting slow and not overwhelming yourself is key in the process of being successful with your meditation practice.