Dr. Frank Lipman
Chief Medical Officer at THE WELL
Plus, six science-backed reasons why you’d want to learn how to start meditating in the first place.
In the swirl of daily chaos, it can be challenging to find a respite — even a short one — and many of us see vacation as the only opportunity to fully relax. But it's essential to find ways to quiet our hyped-up minds and feel more at peace without having to book a trip to paradise.
The answer? Meditation. Perhaps you've vowed to get around to it when you’re less frantic, when the kids graduate from college, when the cows come home... you get the picture. But now is as good a time as any to start — or re-start — your practice (and, in turn, experience the many benefits of meditating along the way).
Not only is meditation an always-accessible, drug-free stress buster, you’ll also be gifting your heart, brain and gut with healthy benefits. Behold the reasons to start a meditation practice and how to fit it in your busy schedule — no more excuses!
6 Reasons to Start Meditating
1. It will help you feel calm and balanced.
A steady practice can help you manage strong emotions and ride the choppy waves of life because it cultivates adaptability and resilience and reduces reactivity. When you start the day from a calmer place, you’ll be less likely to flare up when life triggers you — whether that's in the form of a demanding boss or bumper-to-bumper traffic. Think of it this way: Meditation is medication without a single downside.
2. Your brain will be healthier for longer.
Meditation delivers plenty of physiological benefits — it has a remarkably positive influence on keeping chromosomes young, helping to improve focus, attention, memory, processing speed and creativity. It may even slow brain aging, counteracting the atrophy that can lead to cognitive decline and conditions like dementia.
3. It takes the edge off of anxiety.
By stimulating the release of feel-good endorphins, meditating can boost your mood, help curb anxiety and tame pain. It is also linked to decreased blood pressure and a healthier heart, which is why a daily practice “primes the pump” for getting a good night’s sleep.
Best of all, you can reap the benefits in as little as 10 minutes a day. With practice, as your sessions grow to 20 minutes or more, all those physiological and psychological benefits will grow as well.
"Meditation is medication without a single downside."
4. You can do it from anywhere.
When you think of meditation, images of ancient holy men in the cross-legged Lotus position may spring to mind. But meditation is now practiced by pro athletes, school children, military veterans and many other people looking to experience its myriad benefits. Moreover, meditation can be done in whatever position you want.
Feel free to sit with your feet folded over your thighs, if you like, but you can just as easily settle into a comfortable chair. You can even meditate while standing, walking (a moving meditation) or lying down. Just shut your eyes and focus on your breathing.
5. You don't have to go it alone.
If you're learning how to meditate, there are many (and I mean many) resources out there to help you develop a practice. There are numerous books by established teachers and plenty of YouTube demos — all of which are great for getting your toes wet. But frankly, nothing beats working directly with a live instructor, in real time. That's why THE WELL frequently offers meditation classes. For extra support, you can also incorporate an app into your practice such as Calm, The Mindfulness App, Breethe or Stop, Breathe & Think.
6. It doesn't take as long as you think.
I’m not asking you to put in hours every day. If you do, bravo! But it’s really about being creative with your time and committing to a program that fits into the small slivers of availability that you do have. Down the road, as your practice grows, you can carve out more time, if you choose to. But to begin, feel free to start small with these pointers:
- At the start or end of your day, trade 10 minutes of time-sucking social media for 10 minutes of meditation.
- Two to three mornings a week, get up a few minutes earlier to meditate.
- Meditate in the car before or after your commute, instead of listening to the news or making calls.
- On the public transportation, put on a pair of noise canceling headphones and meditate instead of reading email or texts.
How to Start Meditating
First thing's first: There's no one "right" way to meditate. But when you're just beginning a practice, having a set of steps to follow can help you get started on the right foot. So if you're wondering how to start meditating, these simple tips will help.
Find a comfortable position.
Sure, this could be cross-legged on a cushion in a quiet corner of your room. But it doesn't have to be. Maybe you feel best lying on your back or sitting upright in a chair. As long as you're in a position that feels comfortable to you (and that you can maintain for the length of your meditation), you should be good to go.
Set a time limit.
The secret to a sustainable meditation practice? Starting slowly by doing a 5- or 10-minute session a few times a week before gradually moving up in duration and frequency.
RELATED: What It Means to Be Present
With your eyes open or closed, breathe naturally. Rather than focus on the pace, intensity or manner of your inhales and exhales, pay attention to your body. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you breathe or the sensation of your feet on the floor or hands on your thighs (depending on your position when meditating).
Be kind to your mind if it wanders.
Whether you’re just starting to meditate or have maintained a practice for years, your attention might very well leave your breath and move onto other things (think: your to-do list). When you ultimately notice that your mind has wandered, don't beat yourself up; simply return your focus to your inhales and exhales.