When you think of meditation, what images come to mind?
Is it a person sitting for hours upright, with their legs crossed and eyes closed underneath a tree? Do you think of a yogi, a monk, or a hippy sitting on a pillow surrounded by tapestries and incense?
Though you’re not wrong for conjuring up images of such as these, as they definitely do exist, however, meditation and its practical use, is much broader and more inclusive. In fact, any of us can do it.
Meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm, and stable state. Which would make sense given that the name, meditation, comes from the Latin verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, ponder”
Historians trace the origin of meditation to India, where they’ve discovered the earliest documented records about the practice. They found that meditation was practiced as a Hindu tradition in India, documented around 1500 BCE. However, historians and anthropologists wholeheartedly believe, that meditation was practiced long before this time.
Though the original concept of meditation was to achieve a heightened level of spiritual awareness, today it is used for all sorts of reasons. It is a tool to bring us a sense of peace, to increase awareness, focus, clarity, compassion, connectivity to ourselves and others. It can help us develop a connection to the deeper meanings in life, and to our own personal concept of a higher power. It can also just be a special time to give your body and mind a much-needed break.
So now what? Do we have to sit crossed-legged on the floor for 10 or 20 minutes twice a day? Or maybe even a whole hour?
Studies have found that meditating for as little as 5 minutes a day, can make a significant difference in your quality of life. Research has shown that sitting quietly, for just 5 minutes a day is enough to help clear the mind, improve your mood, boost brain function, and reduce stress. As if that’s not enough, these positive mental and emotional benefits have significant effects on our physical health as well. By helping to support a healthy metabolism, daily meditation can even slow down the aging process.
So how exactly do we meditate?
There are many forms of meditation, but most yogis and spiritual teachers, recommend starting with mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation is simply defined as a meditation practice where the focus is on maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. The recommendation to begin is to sit upright, eyes closed, palms resting on your lap, sitting either crossed-legged on the floor, or upright in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Whatever is most comfortable for you.
Once you’ve found a comfortable seated position, set a timer for five minutes, and during that time, focus on your breathing. The in-breath, and the out-breath.
Immediately you’ll notice that your mind is wandering. You might find yourself thinking about things you need to do, someone you need to call, or some other action that you need to take. You might find yourself worrying about something or someone or obsessing over a difficult situation, health issue, family issue, etc. Or you might find yourself thinking “Has it been five minutes yet?”
This is completely normal and does not mean that you are incapable of meditating. No matter how hard we try, we are going to have thoughts, as that’s just the way the mind works. However, with meditation, we have a chance to practice letting go of our thoughts and bringing our attention and awareness back to our breath.
If focusing on the breath is uncomfortable for you, there are other techniques as well. You could listen to a piece of music ( youtube has all sorts of free meditation music ). You can also focus your awareness on the sounds in the room, thus bringing your attention to the world around you at that very moment.
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a guide. This can be done in person at a local meditation group or class, and it can also be done at home by listening to a guided meditation youtube video or podcast. One such podcast that can be very helpful is actually a DC local, Tara Brach. There are also many apps out there with guided meditations from “Calm” to “Headspace.”
So start small. With all of the information out there regarding meditation, it can be a little overwhelming, so it’s important to find a practice that is simple, and that you can commit to.
Start with 5 minutes, and if that’s too much, try 3. Make a routine out of it, like meditating after your morning coffee for 5 minutes. Or as soon as you wake up.
Use this time to connect with your breath and the present moment. And after some time, you may find yourself feeling calmer, more patient, and more connected to yourself and others in your day-to-day life.
For more information on meditation, a great resource is the following website: