Many people believe that the goal of meditation is to sit still and stop thinking. In fact, trying to turn off thinking is not only pointless, but also very frustrating for beginning meditators, and can ultimately counteract the positive effects of a meditation practice. The human mind thinks, just as the ears hear and the nose smells. Allowing this process to unfold without judgment can help cultivate more calm and emotional resiliency on and off the meditation cushion.
New studies are continuously being published about the health benefits of meditation and its effectiveness in treating anxiety and depression. In a January Forbes article, contributor Alice G. Walton points out that meditation can be just as effective as medication in treating certain cases of depression. “On a purely biological level, MRI studies have shown that meditation is linked to a reduction in activity in the amygdala, the brain area that governs the stress response, and to reduced activity in the default mode network, the brain network that’s “on” when your mind is wandering from thought to thought, which is often linked to feelings of unhappiness and stress.”
Of course, no one should ever stop taking medication without consulting their doctor, but the beauty of meditation is that it has no side effects and can be used along with medication, therapy, and other treatments that are already in place. It isn’t necessary to meditate for hours at a time to feel the calming benefits of the practice either. In fact, meditating for 10 minutes first thing in the morning, on your lunch break, or before you fall asleep at night should feel good immediately. You can even practice walking meditation on your way from the car to the grocery store. Meditation can easily be incorporated into a busy life and the practice can always be lengthened and deepened over time.
Try this simple meditation practice for 10 minutes. Set a timer and find a quiet place to sit where you won’t be distracted or interrupted.
Sit comfortably while keeping your spine erect. You may want to sit up on a few pillows on the floor or on the edge of a chair with your feet touching the ground, but you can even meditate lying down if sitting doesn’t feel comfortable to you.
Take three deep breaths in and out of your nose focusing your attention on the air entering your body and filling up your lungs, and then slowly leaving your body. Pay so much attention to the breath that you can sense the difference in temperature of the in and out breaths.
Now place your palms, face up or down on your thighs and continue to breathe naturally. Try not to control the breath, but simply notice the breath as it enters and leaves your body. If your mind begins to wander (and it most likely will) simply return your attention to the breath as soon as you notice. Remember: thinking is normal. The key here is to notice thoughts when they happen and then gently steer your attention back to the breath.
Once this practice starts to feel comfortable, you can increase your sitting time by a few minutes each day, each week, or each month. Start slowly and be gentle with yourself.
These local meditation centers offer support, community, and education:
Common Ground Meditation Center
2700 East 26th Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406
Minnesota Zen Meditation Center
3343 East Calhoun Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Mind Roads Meditation Center
2046 St. Clair Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
The Metamorphosis Center
1301 East Cliff Road, Suite 105
Burnsville, MN 55337