Meditation can be an intimidating, confusing, and sometimes frustrating practice that we may think is impossible for us to begin. A lot of us have this grand idea in our minds of what meditation entails—we envision a monk sitting like a pretzel with his eyes closed in silence for hours on end. No wonder we feel this is not for us! Maybe you have believed meditation would be good for you but have no idea where to start. Maybe you have thought you wouldn’t be good at it and have felt weary to try. Maybe you have a really hectic schedule and finding time to sit still just is not feasible. Wherever you are coming from, just taking that first step is often the most difficult part of the process. That is the good news!
There are many different types of meditative practices with some including physical exercise such as yoga or t’ai chi. There is no right or wrong way to practice; in fact, every single type has benefits for your health. Meditation has been associated with reductions in blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, and substance abuse. It can assist in improving quality of life, emotional well-being, mental health, and memory. A number of people use it to manage the stress in their everyday lives as it can increase focus and self-compassion, and decrease ruminative thinking (Horowitz, 2010).
While meditation has a long history in Eastern religious and spiritual roots, the reality is meditation is for anyone—all you need is a couple minutes, a quiet space, and an open attitude.
You can begin by finding five minutes in your day of uninterrupted time. For a lot of us, this may be in the morning before the rest of the family wakes up, or late at night when getting ready for bed. If five minutes is too much, start with one or two. Sit in an upright, comfortable position with your feet firmly planted on the floor. You can choose to close your eyes or keep them open and gaze softly at one spot directly in front of you. Start to notice your breathing without changing it. Notice how fast or slow it is, how deep or shallow it is, without judging or placing value on it or yourself. Once you get oriented to your breathing, begin to deepen it and slow it down. Inhale to the count of four, exhale to the count of four. After a few rounds like this, begin to add a few seconds at the top and bottom of your breath cycle. Inhale for 1, 2, 3, 4, hold for 1, 2, exhale for 1, 2, 3, 4, hold for 1, 2. Repeat six times. After that, begin to open your eyes or re-focus them to the larger space around you. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Thank yourself for taking the time to be still and your body for its ability to breathe life into you.
If you have never meditated before, this is a great place to start—simply acknowledging and focusing on your breath. Putting this into practice once daily can re-orient you to the present moment, the only moment we ever really have to work with. If you enjoyed this, tune in for Demystifying Meditation Part 2, where we will introduce a new method to try! If you are feeling overwhelmed by thoughts of the past, worries of the future, or stresses of the present and are in the Chicago area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associated, Inc. at 708-633-8000.
Written by Kathryn
2021 Graduate Intern
Horowitz, S. (2010). Health benefits of meditation: What the newest research shows. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 16(4), 223-228.