You’ve no doubt heard about many of the ways meditation can improve your physical and mental health. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation might help with high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
“Meditation can improve various aspects of your life,” said Divya Singh, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. Meditation can help you:
- Feel more relaxed
- Be more aware and focused
- Increase your patience and tolerance
- Experience fewer negative emotions and anxiety
- Feel more motivated to eat healthily and exercise
- Sleep more soundly
- Be more resilient to stress
With meditation, you use mindfulness to help your mind focus and be more aware. “This helps you achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state,” Dr. Singh said.
How to get started with meditation
You might feel like meditation is too “woo-woo.” Or maybe you simply don’t know where to start or what to do. Despite the stereotypes, you don’t need to sit cross-legged, chant “om” or even clear your mind. All you need to meditate is a few uninterrupted minutes and a quiet place where you can sit.
“Take a couple of moments to wind down and clear your mind. Start with a few breaths to calm the body. Relax. Just breathe,” Dr. Singh said. You can focus your attention on your breath—pick a point, such as the rise and fall of your belly or the sensation of the air entering and leaving your nostrils, and let your attention follow your breath.
Your mind will wander sometimes, and that’s OK. It’s normal for your brain to rehash things that happened in the past or worry about things that are coming up in the future. There’s a name for this tendency—it’s called “monkey mind.” Don’t scold yourself or tell yourself you aren’t meditating correctly. Gently let go of whatever thought was pulling your attention and refocus on your breath. If visualization helps, you can picture those thoughts drifting away like clouds or floating down a river. You’ll find it gets easier to focus as you meditate more.
Meditate for two to five minutes to start—you can set an alarm if you think you’ll distract yourself by peeking at the time. If you would prefer a guided meditation, apps like Calm and Headspace can introduce you to the basics in a range of short meditations.
“Slowly reintroduce movement after meditation and acknowledge what you feel,” Dr. Singh said. “Most of the time, a sense of calmness will prevail after you meditate.”
Try to make meditation a habit. Block off a few minutes every day—a lot of people like to meditate soon after they wake up in the morning, but you might find another time is better for your schedule.
The bottom line
It’s easy to get started with meditation, and a short, simple meditation practice can boost your physical and mental health. If you would like to connect with a behavioral health professional to learn more about how to meditate, reach out to Banner Health.