When you hear the word “meditation”, what thoughts immediately pop into your head? Do you see in your mind’s eye a turban-wrapped Indian mystic sitting on a carpet? You may envision incense, weird chanting, spiritual devotees and impossibly crossed legs.
Meditation will always conjure up such stereotypical thoughts (and memories for some of us). While this is only natural, it is an entirely limited and close-minded view of a centuries-old practice proven to provide so many health benefits. Meditation was long ago accepted by the global medical community as a healing treatment for multiple conditions of the mind and body, and not just for hippies, monks and yogis.
What Meditation Is, and What It Isn’t
First off, let’s take a look at what meditation is not. To the uninformed layperson meditation is often thought of as a religious or spiritual practice. While it certainly can deepen your spiritual awareness, and is an integral part of multiple religions, the act of meditating is in itself a singular and non-religious event.
You can involve meditation in your religious practice, or use it to bolster your spiritual understanding. You can also use meditation simply to calm your mind and silence the constant chatter of your inner voice, as it was intended to be used.
Meditation does not require you to move to a monastery, shave your head, burn incense, chant secret verses or adopt a cross-legged sitting position that is impossible for many. You will not go into a trance or become a “psychic Superman”, and you are not required to be a saint or holy person to benefit from meditation.
It is not difficult at all. Meditation can be beneficial for anyone, women as well as men, young and old alike. You can meditate successfully in a crowded, noisy environment, whenever and wherever you have a few minutes of free time. You do not have to dedicate years to meditation to receive its incredible benefits, and science even shows that meditation is perfect as “… a healing agent that improves the functionality of brain systems.” (January 2011 issue of Cognitive and Behavioral Practice)
To best define meditation, let’s look at what it offers. The Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA) has concluded that meditation provides so many mental and physical benefits because…
“Cultivating a more mindful way of being is associated with less emotional distress, more positive states of mind, and better quality of life,” as well as noticeable improvements in “… the brain, the autonomic nervous system, stress hormones, the immune system and health behaviors, including eating, sleeping, and substance use.”
For just about anyone, meditation can be very powerful. The kitchen table entrepreneur or seeker of a laptop lifestyle often times launches an entrepreneurial dream part-time. Personal, family and career responsibilities combined with launching a part-time business account for every minute of every day, and then some.
To cut through this hectic, busy, “I never seem to be gaining any ground” lifestyle, meditation is perfect. The same can be said for anyone in any walk of life, small business owner or not. More than 3,000 published clinical and scientific studies on meditation show that a constant practice improves your mental abilities, boosts your ability to focus, supercharges your sleep and energy levels, reduces stress and improves feelings of well-being and contentment.
How Meditation Can Improve Your Life
Productivity is a necessity for everyone these days. Estimates show the average person in a modern society is bombarded with somewhere between several hundred to several thousand messages each and every day. The proliferation of electronic displays literally staring us in the face means that we consciously choose to be deluged with constant streams of information.
This means focusing can be very difficult, even with a concerted effort. Meditation definitely can help in this regard, as it helps you productively pinpoint your energy and attention. Meditation can also improve your life in the following substantial ways, whether you are a stay-at-home mom, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a small business owner, or anyone else seeking peace, health and well-being.
Being able to focus is often a lost art these days. Due to the number of toxins and poisons that enter the average person’s body through the air, through diet and through a constant and relentless digital attack of eyes and ears, it is tough to narrow your focus. You have so many different information streams begging for your attention that it is easy to become distracted.
One of the principal benefits of meditation is that it allows you to ignore any message or sensory input you don’t want to pay attention to. You will always have a chattering inner voice. Monks call this the “monkey mind”. Meditation does not silence this voice, or any of the many marketing messages you are assaulted with every day.
It does however provide you the ability to choose one thought and concentrate on that and that only. This supreme focus enables you to turn the incredible power of your mind onto whatever task or goal you desire.
Incredibly, spend some time meditating and you raise your ability to ward off infections, disease and illness. When you calm your mind and live in the moment, something wonderful happens with your immune system. This natural defense system against unhealthy foreign invaders actually makes you less prone to becoming sick or injured.
What is probably even more amazing about this aspect of meditation is that you don’t need to focus on an improved immune system. Meditating for any reason automatically gives your body an enhanced ability to keep disease and illness at bay.
Would you enjoy less stress in your life? What if you could become calm and in control in situations where previously you were anxious and stressed out? Do thoughts of depression plague you? Meditation helps out in all of these situations.
The power of mental stress to break down physical processes and body parts is well-known. Meditation’s best-known benefit is stress-reduction. In this way, you enjoy a more total control of your emotions, while also boosting physical health. Both your self-esteem and self-acceptance levels are heightened through frequent meditation.
You develop a natural resistance against emotional pain and adversity, increased optimism and relaxation, and can even conquer emotional addictions like eating, smoking and drug abuse with a regular meditation practice. In so many ways, meditation has been proven to make you healthy emotionally.
Creation of a “Super Mind”
Meditation should be seen as a multivitamin for your brain. When used daily, meditating increases your mental strength. Multiple studies show that people who meditate regularly show a larger amount of gray matter in their brains than those who do not. Meditating actually builds the size of your brain.
Your memory retention and the ability to recall even ancient memories and events is increased. You establish creative skills and cognitive thinking processes that you may never have had access to before. Your decision-making and problem-solving abilities are enhanced, because meditation increases your brain’s ability to process information.
Better Physical Health
We already mentioned how meditation can boost your immune system. This obviously makes you the owner of a healthier body. You don’t get sick as frequently as you used to, and this leads to better physical health.
As it turns out, a meditation practice also improves your health by reducing blood pressure. You enjoy fewer health conditions related to your brain and your heart, as well as less inflammation throughout the body. Meditation is effective for treating asthma. Women experience fewer premenstrual and menopausal symptoms, and meditating has even been shown to help prevent HIV, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Body Weight Control
As mentioned, meditation helps you control your emotions. You learn to live in the moment, and also not to respond to outside stimulus in ways that are unhealthy. Your immune system is boosted as well. All of these benefits combine to help you lose weight if you are overweight, and to maintain a healthy body weight once it is reached.
The same applies to individuals who are underweight.
If you need to put on some pounds to reach a healthy weight, meditation can help. The incredible power of the human brain is limitless, when you cut through all the clutter and distractions that are keeping you from harnessing it. In this way, by focusing your intent and blocking emotional distractions, meditation has been proven to help reach and maintain a healthy body weight.
If you need any other physical reasons to begin meditating today, there is also the fact that those who meditate regularly live longer than those who do not.
One of the wonderful ways meditation can enhance your life has to do with your experience level. The rewards of a meditation practice do increase over time. This is true of many things that you will do in your life. Your ability to accomplish something, some task or action, increases proportionate to the amount of time you spend doing that thing.
However, one amazing benefit of meditation is that it offers rewards for the first time user. Less stress, an improved ability to focus, better concentration and enhanced feelings of peace and well-being are all mentioned as benefits received by those just learning to meditate for the first time.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Have you ever cut yourself while preparing a meal? This usually happens because you are not paying attention to what you are doing. Self-awareness, understanding the present moment and existing in just that time-frame can keep you from making this and other simple mistakes. This is the heart and soul of mindfulness meditation.
A practice of mindful meditation simply means the following …
“Shifting your mind away from preoccupations, thoughts and distractions, toward an appreciation of the moment.”
This gives you a much larger perspective on life. You will find that your existence is so much more complete and meaningful than you ever imagined. Just the fact that you are a living being is such an amazing reward in itself that the simplest acts of living should be noticed and appreciated.
When you practice mindfulness, you do not judge. You simply recognize and appreciate the present moment. Whether an experience or behavior is positive or negative, no judgment is made. You do not wonder how your past brought you to this moment, or where the future will take you.
When distractions interfere, you are aware of them. You don’t simply “turn off” your senses and ignore everything else. If you are folding clothes while watching your toddler, you can simultaneously be aware of your child’s presence, yet mindfully fold your clothes and be present in the moment.
How to Meditate Mindfully
You can become mindful of your presence right now, in any given moment, by learning to breathe properly. This reduces stress and anxiety, along with negative emotions, sharpens your concentration skills and focus, and allows you to mindfully partake in the “right now”.
Begin by focusing your attention on your breath. In an ideal situation, you want to sit or lie in a comfortable position. However, you can do this standing, reclining or even jogging or running. Your eyes may be open or closed.
Take an exaggerated breath, through your nose.
Experience every second of the inhalation. Hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale through your mouth. Be a part of the breathing process. After a couple of deep breaths, return your breathing to normal and focus on the rise and fall of your chest, any aromas you experience, and every other bodily sensation involved with breathing. If distractions and thoughts interfere, recognize them, and then immediately return your attention to your breathing.
Doing this for just 60 seconds can help focus your mind so that you can meditate mindfully on any process or no process at all.
How to Meditate for Complete Beginners
The breathing process just mentioned calms and focuses your mind. It prepares you for a mindful meditation session, whether that means 2 minutes or 20. This is the first step for a beginner who wants to learn to meditate properly.
Another important tip for a beginning meditation practice regards how you position your body. You do not have to achieve the lotus position to meditate. You just want to be seated comfortably, with your back straight and your head up. You may also meditate in a prone position, as long as you are lying comfortably.
Beginners find meditation easier with their eyes closed. This minimizes distractions. At first you should also seek out a quiet, cozy environment. Eliminating as many distractions as possible is important for beginners. Then you move through the breathing exercise discussed in the last section.
Begin by understanding your body as you focus your thoughts on nothing more than your existence right then. This does not mean those things which influence your life, but rather your physical being. Notice your body, its shape and its weight, and do not judge. Simply recognize. Feel yourself relaxing as you breathe normally, and give each physical experience it’s due.
Feel how your arms contact the chair you are sitting in. Feel the clothes on your body. Continue to experience physical sensations, and relax any area of your body that feels tight or tense. This may take a few seconds or a couple of minutes. Eventually, just focus on your breathing and nothing more.
Feel how your breath naturally flows, and don’t force your breathing process. Simply recognize it and allow it to happen. Where do you feel your breath in your body? Is it in your throat, your chest, your nostrils or your stomach? Do not try to direct or enhance this process. Simply feel it, and be present in that moment.
As you attempt to minimize the amount of input you experience, distractions will naturally pop up. This is a natural process. It even happens to meditation veterans. Whatever the distraction is, whatever senses it caters to, recognize it. Understand it as a part of your present moment and your current state of being. Then simply redirect your attention back to your breathing.
Beginners should stay in this moment for 5 to 7 minutes.
“Checking out” of this process means beginning to notice your body again. Notice where you are seated, and appreciate your physical experiences like you did at the beginning of your mindful meditation session. Slowly let the outside world in. Reengage your body, and express gratitude to yourself for the mindful meditation of your existence that you just enjoyed.
Eventually you will be able to meditate mindfully for a longer period of time. You will also learn that mindful meditation can take place anywhere, at any time, during even the most mundane and normal activities (more on this in the very last section of this report).
Be aware that some beginners report a quicker path to meditation benefits when they receive guided assistance. This can come in the form of a meditation coach or master, either in a one-on-one or group setting. You also may simply get your hands on a meditation DVD or video program. A couple of benefits of guided meditation are that your instructor can answer any questions that you have, and ensure that your first attempt is rewarding and beneficial.
How to Make Meditation a Habit
There are a few tips that can help make your meditation practice a simple habit. When you consciously have to remember to do something, it seems like a task. When your subconscious takes over, you habitually perform that activity or enjoy that experience without having to consciously make an effort. The following tips will help you work a meditation habit seamlessly into your daily routine.
- Meditate at the same time every day.
- Minimize clutter, clear your environment of all unnecessary distractions.
- Wake up earlier than usual and meditate in the mornings.
- Be accountable. Tell yourself you are going to meditate on a certain schedule, and then stick to it.
- Understand that it requires anywhere from 21 to 60 repetitive sessions for a conscious behavior to become an unconscious habit.
- Write out a meditation journal, schedule your meditation sessions, and write down your thoughts immediately after meditating.
- “Attach” your meditation session to something else you do every day, such as lunch, dinner, a mid-morning break at the office or some other normal, daily activity.
- Be mindful of the present moment you are in throughout the day. This can mean activities as simple as driving to work, changing your baby’s diaper, mowing your grass or shopping for groceries.
- Join a meditation class or group, online or off. Spending time with like-minded individuals improves the likelihood you will engage in any particular type of activity.
- Express gratitude to yourself after each meditation session. You truly are doing wonders for your health and well-being, and thanking yourself for doing so will help you look forward to your new habit.
Common Meditation Obstacles and How to Overcome Them
Even when something is incredibly simple, it is easier to not do it than to do it. Tying your shoes is something you don’t even think about, it is that easy to do. But “not tying your shoes” is even easier. This is how human beings sometimes justify continuing to do what they are currently doing, rather than engaging in some other behavior or action, regardless how easy that action is.
This keeps people from exercising, losing weight, eating right and even meditating. The following obstacles are common excuses people make to avoid meditation.
- I don’t have the time.
- Meditation will not work for me.
- I fall asleep when I meditate.
- I have too many more important things to do.
- I have not received any benefits from meditating.
- I don’t know how to meditate properly.
- I will look silly.
- Nobody else I know meditates, why should I?
- I will do it tomorrow.
Study the above excuses for not meditating. They all have one thing in common … the person making those excuses is prioritizing something else above meditation. This provides you with the simple answer to ensuring you benefit from a regular, daily meditation practice.
You have to prioritize meditation, just like you do any other important activity in your life.
Look at the tips offered in the previous section on how to make meditation a habit. Put them into practice. The next time you want to put off meditation, ask yourself what your true motivation is. If you are simply avoiding meditation because it is easier to do so than to practice mindfulness, that is not a valid reason.
When you find yourself continually making excuses for skipping a meditation practice, guided meditation may be the answer. A meditation veteran can show you how to realize benefits, even if you are a beginner to this age-old practice of stress-relief and overall health and well-being.
When it comes right down to it though, you are the only person in charge of you. This means that you will have to prioritize meditating on a daily basis, and stop giving into the natural rationalizations and excuses that people make for skipping this and other worthwhile and beneficial activities.
How to Bring Mindful Practices into Everyday Life
By now you understand that being mindful can happen anytime and anywhere. You don’t need to attend a specific meditation class, or confine your practice to a particularly quiet and comfortable environment. This is good because most people are incredibly busy. Because of this, you may find yourself limited to time you can dedicate specifically for meditation. Fortunately, you can be mindful during any activity, event or set of circumstances.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk. He is also co-author of several books and resources on meditation (check the resources section at the end of this report). He is also a scholar, a poet, and believer in mindful meditation. He relates a story about washing dishes when he was a novice monk in training.
He says that he and one other novice had the chore of cooking and washing the dishes for more than 100 monks. They had no soap to wash the dishes. They only had “… ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all.” Cleaning the dishes in the winter meant freezing cold water. Doing the dishes was hard in every aspect, until he was taught to “wash the dishes just to wash the dishes”.
He began focusing on every aspect of cleaning the dishes. He existed just in that moment. He was totally aware of the fact that he was washing dishes, not why he was doing it, not that it was a less than pleasant task, but simply that he was opening himself to the mindful awareness of what he was doing.
This is just one very powerful example of how you can bring a mindful meditation practice into everyday life.
To explain the process further, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has now reached the meditation level of Zen master, speaks of a lesson he taught to an American friend. Jim Forest was visiting the meditation master’s home. After the evening meal Forest offered to wash the dishes for his Zen mentor.
Thich Nhat Hanh owns no washing machine for his dishes, preferring to do them by hand. On this particular night, Foster was told by his mentor that he could wash the dishes, but “… if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Foster laughed a response, to which Thich Nhat Hanh calmly responded ..
“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash
the dishes in order to have clean dishes, and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
This simple practice reveals something very important about proper mindfulness. Most of us wash the dishes simply by loading them into our dishwasher. Even so, we look upon this task as less than enjoyable. If washing the dishes requires you to do the job physically, the task becomes even less desirable.
This is because you are not focusing on the task at hand. You may be washing a plate or glass, and you are already reaching for the next item. You are washing the dishes to get them done, and they become a nuisance. You have other thoughts on your mind, and begin thinking about what a pain it is to “have to do” this task.
Washing dishes in this way means you are not alive or existing at this moment.
Being mindful of every single thing you do while washing your dishes, living in that moment, opens up the realization of the amazing properties of life, simply while you are standing at your sink. If you cannot be mindful of this simple process, how can you practice mindful meditation on deeper levels?
This idea can be applied to mindfully driving your car or eating a cookie. Drinking tea, walking, playing with your children or shopping for groceries can all become very revealing, amazing, insightful experiences if you let them.
The practice is simple.
Be aware of what you are doing at any given moment in time. If you have a task you feel obligated to do, be aware of every part of the process. Live in that moment. Experience the “now” of your existence. Forget about the past and the future. Absorb all of your sensory input that applies to this common, everyday task or activity you are partaking in.
Less stress, better focus, more energy and improved health and well-being are your rewards for mindfully washing the dishes “just to wash the dishes.”
Now download the free meditation checklist (opens in a new tab. Click ‘file’ and ‘save’ to your device).
Helpful Meditation Resources for Further Study
We highlighted some of the benefits of meditation here in this short report. To better understand the far reaching ways meditation can improve your life, there is an excellent article written by LiveAndDare.com founder and owner Giovanni Dientsmann. You can find links to countless studies that scientifically prove different meditation benefits, and this article is appropriately titled “76 Scientific Benefits of Meditation“. See also 5 benefits of daily meditation from our friends at positivepsychology.com
Physical Books and Kindle eBooks
- “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD (also available in hardcover)
- “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life” by Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD (also available in hardcover and paperback)
- “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Vo-Dihn Mai (also available in hardcover)
- “Moments of Mindfulness: Daily Inspiration” by Thich Nhat Hanh (also available in hardcover and paperback)
- “Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition” by Henepola Gunaratana (also available in audiobook and paperback)
Audio CDs, Audiobooks
- “Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program” from Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD
- “I AM – Wishes Fulfilled Meditation” by Dr. Wayne W. Dye
- “Meditations to Change Your Brain: Rewire Your Neural Pathways to Transform Your Life” by Rick Hanson PhD
- “Meditations for Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: Revised Edition” by Dr. Joe Dispenza