When a popular home improvement store has the tagline, “How doers get more done,” it’s clear our culture values doing.
But how well is all that “doing” working for us?
It may be making us stressed. According to The American Institute of Stress, the latest statistics show (pre-pandemic) that 77% of us experience stress that affects our physical health, 73% of us have stress that impacts our mental health, and nearly half of us have trouble sleeping due to stress.
It’s time to place more value on being.
That’s where meditation comes in. Although it’s been around for thousands of years as a spiritual exercise, today, people are learning how to meditate specifically for stress relief.
A National Institutes of Health survey reported that since 2012 the number of people practicing meditation has tripled!
Meditation and Stress
While some stress is good and normal, prolonged stress isn’t. In a state of extreme stress, our sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones so that we’re ready for a “fight or flight” response. This can happen when we overdo it.
Yet, we also have the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis. It helps us recover from a stressed state. It’s the “being” to our “doing.”
Medical studies have shown that individuals who practice meditation daily have lower blood levels of these stress hormones, which indicates the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Evidence also suggests that meditation may help support healthy blood pressure levels, as well as gut health. It can also promote calm, elevate low mood, and even help with sleeplessness. Some emerging studies indicate that meditation is good for the brain as well, helping to protect it from aging and to process information and emotions better.
Meditation Techniques for Beginners
So why isn’t everyone meditating?
Being still requires a certain level of discipline. With endless distractions, too many of us will find anything to do besides be with our inner lives.
That said, there are ways to ease your way into meditation. All you need is a genuine willingness to try.
There are many different types of meditation – some of the most popular include mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, and chi gong.
Here are a few easy meditations for beginners.
From Dr. Andrew Weil, this 4-7-8 breathing meditation can be done at any time of the day or night. It’s both energizing and calming. And it’s super simple.
Sit comfortably. Move the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. Sit quietly for a few minutes once you finish, taking note of the changes in your body. Let your mind go wherever it wishes.
Mindfulness as a concept helps us put some “space” between ourselves and our reactions, so that we get freedom from our conditioned responses.
Here’s a simple mindfulness meditation.
- Set aside a designated amount of time, in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Start by focusing on your breathing in and out, the sensations in your body and being fully present in the current moment. Your goal is to pay attention to this present moment without judgment.
- Your mind will invariably go off on a thought process, out of the moment. When it does this, bring your attention back to the present moment. You will likely do this over and over. There’s no judgment.
- Keep recognizing when your mind has wandered off and gently bring it back.
The work is just to keep practicing it. Results may begin to appear in your daily life, such as being less reactive, slower to be upset. This is good for stress levels!
Guided meditation has become wildly popular in the digital space. Some of the top apps include Headspace, Calm, and Sattva.
All you have to do is download an app, select a meditation, and you’re good to go!
You can choose a mindfulness meditation or a meditation designed to calm anxiousness and stress. The apps offer meditations with sacred music, soothing sounds, and nature sounds. There are meditations designed to calm you before bed, too.
These meditations come in varying lengths. You can start short and move your way up to longer meditations as you’re ready.
Using these guided meditations provides structure, variety, and ease.
The Value of Being
Remember that life is equally about “being” as it is about “doing.” Meditation will help you be more present during the day, and less stressed and concerned with all that you need to do.
Stick with it until you find what works for you!
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