Increasingly more research is beginning to suggest that daily meditation can provide a boost in health benefits for the mind and body. It can improve mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, it can improve attention span, and it can raise self-awareness, to name a few.
Meditation is the act of practicing self-awareness by focusing your attention on a specific task. Some methods involve focusing on a particular object–a lit candle or tip of a pen–and other forms emphasize the use of a mantra which is spoken aloud repeatedly to help anchor attention.
It makes sense why meditation can provide these benefits. Anxiety is a hyper-sensitivity to worrying about the future. Meditation forces you to be in the present, giving you the opportunity to evaluate those feelings you have, and the beliefs you carry, without the lingering fear of future events. It can help you recognize when your fears might be unfounded, leaving you more relaxed and less stressed.
Additionally, taking the time to explicitly practice focusing your attention trains the attention span like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. (And in today’s fast-paced, social media society we could all use a little more attention span.)
Lastly, many forms of meditation allow you to evaluate your internal thoughts and feelings, rather than escaping into nothingness. My favorite form of meditation, which I’ll get into the specifics of in a moment, allows me to drown out my never-ending to-do list. In fact, it’s my secret for coming up with and writing many of my articles. (I actually write most of my articles in my head, in their entirety, before ever putting them on paper.)
Even with these benefits, and the many more not discussed here, many people are apprehensive to give meditation a try. Why? Well, because for a long time meditation was shrouded in religious practice. Even after it became more mainstream, there was an aura of “foo foo” around the activity.
What follows here is some advice for adopting a meditation practice even if you wouldn’t ever describe yourself as a spiritual or religious person. Meditation is an activity that anyone can benefit from.
Focus on Thoughts
Many of us are stressed as it is, with enormous amounts of racing thoughts going through our heads on a daily basis. Jumping right into blocking all of these thoughts is a recipe for disappointment.
Instead, dive deeper into what’s going through your mind. Acknowledge these thoughts, evaluate them: where they come from and how they make you feel. This can help you identify the origin of your thoughts, and even teach you a little bit about yourself.
Choose An Activity That Forces You Away From Distraction.
I have two particularly effective forms of meditation that I practice. The first involves the use of a dry sauna. If I were to sit at home on the couch to think about what I’m thinking about, I’d habitually reach for my phone within five seconds. The temperature of the sauna prevents me from having any electronics within reach, so I’m forced to sit in silence with nothing to do but think.
It reminds me of a story about a famous author I once heard (ironically I don’t remember the author’s name), where he would lock himself in a room with nothing but a pad of paper and a pen. Then, he would stay there until he became so bored he would come up with the plots to his books just to entertain himself.
Metaphorically locking myself in a sauna is my version of that author’s story. I simply give myself nothing else to do BUT to think about my thoughts. Not to mention, the benefits of the sauna help compound the benefits of the meditating so that I leave feeling refreshed. (The natural timer of the sauna helps give me a finish line for my meditating too.)
The second strategy I use to meditate is my weekly runs. I’m always moving a million miles an hour. Ask people who know me, and they’ll confirm most of my movement is dramatic and with high energy–even something as simple as getting a glass of water. Within seconds of waking, I’m leaping out of bed and already talking too loudly.
Running is how I distract the physical parts of my body. The natural repetitive and rhythmic motion of running combined with the music that helps drown out other background noise; it allows my mind to focus. I can see thoughts clearly, and they linger longer, giving me the opportunity to really explore ideas. (Instead of them racing through my mind like a game of Mario Kart–out just as fast as in.) Not to mention, it’s also incredibly hard for me to reach for my phone to check social media while running.
This is how I write articles in my head, from start to finish, before putting them on paper.
Meditation takes many forms, and each person will find a routine that works for them. (Just like with exercise.) If you find yourself apprehensive to try meditation because you don’t click with the spiritual side, follow this advice for its wonderful practical applications.
What activities can you work into your day that eliminate distractions and allow you to turn your attention inward toward your thoughts?
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