If you were only allowed to take up one habit, what would it be? For me, it’s meditation. Unquestionably.
Why? Meditation has helped me perform better in every aspect of life. It helps me be more focused and get more done. It makes me more calm and peaceful so I don’t suffer from emotional fluctuations as I used to. More importantly, I have greater control over my mind so I can master the art of living in the present.
Wondering whether meditation can bring so many positive changes to one’s life? Let’s see what science says!
A Harvard research in year 2011 found that meditation can help increase the density of grey matter in the hippocampus of our brains, which is associated with the ability of learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Such restructuring of our brains can improve our mental health and make our minds sharper.
What’s more surprising is meditation can rebuild our brains in only eight weeks! That means you don’t need to be an expert in meditation to reap the benefits.
▲ Subjects of the study demonstrated significant change of brain structure after practicing meditation for 8 weeks.
Thinking of taking meditation as one of your habits but don’t know how to get started? Here are 6 things you can follow:
Look for a distraction-free environment
While an area with total silence is an ideal environment for meditation, it is not a must for everyone. If you think playing some light music can help relieve your stress and make you more relaxed, it’s definitely fine to do so when you meditate. Studies have shown that white noise can help lower our stress level and increase our concentration level.
If you don’t want to meditate in a totally silent environment but have no idea of what to play, you can try start with this one:
Meditate with the posture you feel comfortable
The Quarter Lotus is the most popular meditation posture. You sit on the floor cross-legged and rest your hands on your lap. And your back needs to keep straight throughout the process without slouching.
But if you are the one with chronic back pain problem, this posture may not be the best choice for you. Actually, what posture you have is not the key for meditation. You can also lie on your bed or the floor to meditate. The most important thing is the posture can make you completely relaxed. Here are some variations for you:
But please be reminded that if you choose to meditate while lying down, you should keep yourself awake throughout the process.
Focus on your breathing tempo
Having the right breathing tempo is important as it can make you highly relaxed and concentrated, which is the ideal state for meditation.
Close your eyes softly. Breathe as slowly and deeply as you can. Inhale with your nose and exhale from your mouth. If you do deep breathing correctly, you will feel your diaphragm is expanded and stretched.
Some people may even feel some mild pain in their chests. But don’t worry, it’s acceptable as deep breathing is not our usual way of breathing. The discomfort will fade when we practice more.
Always aim for longer exhalation than inhalation. If you difficulty in doing so, you can help yourself by counting numbers. For example, count 1 to 3 to make sure you inhale air within 3 seconds, and then count 1 to 7 for exhalation.
Replace judgement with understanding in your mind
It’s a common misconception that we need to empty our minds and stop any kinds of thinking when we meditate. That’s not the case. Instead, you should be open towards whatever thoughts or emotions pop up in your mind without judging them.
Even if negative emotions like frustration, anger and anxiety creep into you mind when you meditate, you should not avoid them but understand why they are formed.
After all, the ultimate goal of meditation is to understand more of yourself and so you can have greater control of your mind.
Never let time disturb you
Whenever you meditate, always aim to do it for at least 15 minutes. Why? As a beginner, it is challenging for you to get your mind instantly prepared for meditation. If the time is too short, you may not be able to enter the zone before the session ends.
But if 15 minutes is too challenging for you for the first time, start with 2 minutes first, and then gradually increase the time afterwards.
Also, remember to grab a timer with you. This can spare your mind from thinking much about the time so you can focus on your breathing and thoughts. If you don’t have a timer yet, try this free online meditation timer !
Have a guide to keep you on the right track
You are inevitably prone to feeling lost whenever you start doing something without proper guidance. This is the case for meditation too. Audio guided meditations which provide clear step-by-step instructions can be a great help to you. By listening to what the instructor says, you can shut out the mental self-talk and keep your concentration intact.
Here’s a good one for you:
So how do you know you’re meditating instead of just daydreaming?
We all struggle between mental turbulence and mental dullness every day. That’s what we call emotional fluctuations in another term. Through meditation, we aim to find our inner equilibrium, which is the sweet spot in this image:
▲ Through meditation, you can strike a mental balance.
When you reach your inner equilibrium, you will experience unprecedented calmness, mental clarity and sensitivity to the surroundings.
But honestly, this is hard for beginners. So better indicators should be the ability to get less influenced by your emotions and feel concentrated more easily.
When do you know you’re having progress when you play sports or musical instruments? That’s the moment when you need less time to perform a skill. It’s the same for meditation. You should look for spending less time to get into the zone in the beginner level.
Common problems you may encounter when you start
Q: My mind just keeps wandering and I can’t stop self-talk when I meditate. What should I do?
A: Keep your mind occupied with a simple task. You can play a game of counting your breathing when you meditate. And it would be good if you keep changing the rules in the process. For example, you can start by counting 1 to 10 in sequence, then count backwards, and finally only count the odd numbers or even numbers. The key of this game is to maintaining the sensitivity of your mind and your focus.
Q: It’s hard for me to be fully relaxed. Should I start meditation first and calm myself by tuning my breathing tempo afterwards?
A: No, you should never meditate when your mind is highly agitated. Doing this will only weaken the effectiveness of meditation. Make use of some external means, like doing exercise, listening to soft music, taking a shower or talking to your friends, to de-clutter your mind first.
Q: I feel sleepy and just can’t help nodding off when I meditate. But I find this relaxing to me. Is this state acceptable for meditation?
A: There’s nothing wrong if you meditate only for relaxation. But if you want to reap the benefits of having a sharper mind and better concentration through this habit, you should train your mindfulness and alertness. When you feel sleepy, you can straighten up your back, lift up your chin a bit, and inhale more deeply. Then you will feel more awake when you meditate.