Meditation is a critical aspect of yoga—in fact, every yoga pose is designed to prepare the practitioner for hours of seated meditation. Good news: You don’t need to try to meditate for hours to experience the many benefits of meditation. There are also countless ways to meditate, so what you “think” meditation may require could be wildly different than what works for you. There’s guided meditation (in a group or with a recording), forest bathing (conscious walking in the outdoors), candle meditation where you gaze at the base of a flame, and much more. But why do we meditate, and what are the benefits?
Mediation is thousands of years old, but perhaps we need it more today than ever. The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind and look inward. Striving towards a “blank” mind is a common description, but that’s nearly impossible. Humans are natural worriers. Instead, a better goal can be to focus on a task, such as counting equal breaths in and out, so that our mind is just distracted enough to not dwell on what’s for dinner or if our email is piling up. In that small distraction, we can allow ourselves to relax and let go.
Meditation can soothe anxiety, depression, and can be a great tool for addiction recovery. It makes us stop, slow down, and gives us permission to “do nothing” when we live in a culture that demands action around the clock. Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure and ward off illnesses. When our mind isn’t healthy, perhaps because of addiction or too much stress, the rest of our body isn’t healthy. It’s a holistic machine and is only as strong as the weakest link.
When is the best time for meditation? Whenever you can work it into your schedule. However, most people find that immediately upon waking and before bed are fantastic times to meditate. You can start and/or end your day dedicated to bettering yourself. For morning meditation, common in Ayurvedic practices, you can even start in bed (as long as you’re not prone to falling back asleep). Meditation while lying down is possible, but many people practice seated, so they’re not tempted to nap. (Napping can be great, but it’s not meditation). In the morning, try a cup of warm lemon water and waking up the body with gentle head to toe massage. A pranayama (breath control) where you count exhales and inhales can invigorate and energize you. Morning meditations can also include mantras, such as a kind goal for the day that’s very realistic (such as speaking kindly to yourself).
Evening meditations can be relaxing. “Legs up the wall” is a popular yoga pose before savasana and can be practiced by almost anyone. Reversing the blood flow cues your body that it’s time for sleep. You should keep legs up the wall until you feel a tingle for the best results. The pose, while on the floor, prevents sleep for most people but prepares your body well for it.
If you’re looking for an easy and quick way to better your mind and health in 2018, meditation might be the tool you’re looking for. There are no rules. Japa meditation using mala beads (108 beads, similar to a rosary) works for many. You may choose a short mantra to repeat as you finger each bead. Completing one, two, three cycles or more gives you something to gauge tangibly and can help if you suffer from restlessness.
Meditation can help nearly any ailment, both physical and mental. Challenge yourself to meditate for at least one minute for one week. You can increase the minutes as you go. Generally, no more than 30 minutes is recommended.