Feeling more stress and anxiety these days due to the pandemic? You may have heard about people meditating as a way to keep their stress levels down.
The concept of meditation sounds appealing to anyone looking to bring more peace to their days. Still, the practice can seem daunting at first glance. Are you picturing devoting hours to sitting with your legs crossed on a cushion? Or attending a retreat on a mountain top? If so, it’s time to take another look at the basics of a meditation practice.
You may be surprised to learn that meditation is more accessible than you thought — and you don't need a cushion or a mountaintop. The truth is that you can easily incorporate meditation into your daily routine as a way to improve your mental health.
Want to join the one-quarter of Canadians who have been actively practicing meditation recently? Before you get started, here are the answers to questions you may have about meditation.
What is meditation anyway?
With a meditation practice, the goal isn’t to transform yourself into a vision of tranquility, unruffled by everyday aggravations. Meditation won’t transform into a completely new person. Instead, a reliable meditation routine is meant to help you cope more easily with daily life.
During meditation, you’ll focus on your thoughts and learn to be more aware — or mindful — of those thoughts and feelings. But it’s important not to silence them or judge them.
What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
People may use the words “meditation” and “mindfulness” are often used interchangeably. But they aren’t necessarily the same thing.
To differentiate the two, think of mindfulness as a “state” of being fully engaged in your surroundings. Meditation, on the other hand, is a “practice” for which you set aside time.
How can meditation help you?
Studies attribute a host of benefits to meditation. It’s known to help:
- lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol,
- reduce anxiety, depression and pain, and
- increase your attention span.
What are the different types of meditation?
There are many different types of meditation practices. Here are three common ones to get started:
1. Sitting meditation
First, get comfortable in a quiet, distraction-free location. Then, focus your attention on something that’ll help you clear your mind.
You might hone in on your breathing as you inhale and exhale. Or, you can repeat a simple, uplifting mantra, like “It will get done” or “Today I am peaceful.” Other useful mantras include calming words like “harmony” or “joy.”
The goal of a sitting meditation is to identify an idea or emotion you want to immerse yourself in and then focus on it.
There are also a number of apps that lead you through meditation routines, such as Calm and Headspace. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center also offers free guided mindfulness meditation exercises you can try.
2. Moving meditation
In moving meditation, you become conscious of the sensation of your feet touching the ground, whether you are taking a hike in nature or just walking around your kitchen. The idea is to be aware of the movement itself, rather than being focused on your destination.
You also could try meditating while you do yoga, which already has a natural connection between mind, body and breath. In this moving meditation, you’ll notice the physical sensations of your body as you hold poses and stretch.
3. Sleep meditation
Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep? Sleep meditation is a guided practice you can do while you’re in bed. To help you get a more restful slumber, sleep meditation encourages you to relinquish:
- tension in your body and
- stressful or worrying thoughts from your mind.
Many meditation apps and websites can offer guided experiences to help you let go of the day and get better sleep.
How can you make meditation a daily or regular habit?
As with anything, it’s important to start small and not try too hard to be perfect.
It often takes a while for a new practice to become a habit. To start, carve out a few minutes at a time that works for you. That could be:
- first thing in the morning to start your day with a calm attitude,
- in the middle of a busy workday to ground yourself or
- before you go to sleep to help you relax.
Ready your mind by creating a ritual around your meditation practice. Try steps like:
- laying out your mat or blanket,
- donning a particular cozy sweater,
- spraying a calming scent, or
- playing a certain piece of music.
This routine will help your body and mind reflexively prepare for what’s coming next.
Think of a new meditation routine like you would a new kind of exercise. After all, it can take a while for your body to assimilate to a brand new workout. And just like exercise, while the challenge is sticking with it, the payoff is well worth the effort.