Benefits of Meditation & Tips for Getting Started
You've certainly heard of meditation — after all, it's been practiced by people all over the world for thousands of years.
But how much do you actually know about it?
For starters, you might wonder how (or whether) it differs from mindfulness and deep breathing, two other practices often mentioned as ways to relax and reduce stress. Also, if you're already considering meditation, you might wonder how to meditate exactly.
In addition, there might be things you, like many people, misunderstand about meditation.
For instance, you might think of it as something that takes years of practice and dedication, that's only for seriously focused, solitary or spiritual people, not the everyday person.
"Anyone can benefit from meditation," says Kimberly Gallien, a licensed social worker at Houston Methodist who meditates every day. "And with meditation apps offering a variety of guided meditations these days, anyone can easily get started."
To fill in the gaps in our knowledge, as well as correct any misconceptions we may have about it, Gallien is here to help us understand the benefits of meditation and share tips for getting started.
What is meditation?
Perhaps one of the biggest hang-ups people have about meditation is understanding what it is. It helps to start by defining another term, mindfulness.
"Mindfulness is the state of being present in the moment — in a healthy state of calmness, happiness, peace or tranquility," explains Gallien. "In this place of stillness, you can more easily let go of the thoughts and clutter of the past or future and gain the clarity that you're looking for. And meditation is a way to get there. It's the catalyst to get us to a state of mindfulness."
It’s a practice that uses mental and physical techniques to bring your mind toward a state where you can focus on reframing your viewpoint on things.
"Our thoughts impact our mood, and our mood impacts our behavior," says Gallien. "If we can reframe our thoughts and find a fresh outlook — whether that's on how we feel about ourselves or something else — we can directly impact our mood and our actions."
Gallien uses the example of waking up on the wrong side of the bed to illustrate its use.
"Let's say you wake up in a bad mood and want to change your outlook to be more about happiness," says Gallien. "First you need to clear out the thoughts and clutter of the day or week crowding your mind — such is life, right? — and meditation is a great tool for doing that."
Tied to the process of meditation is a minimization of distraction and a focus on breathing. Gallien says that controlling your breaths in and out can help bring you to a state of calmness where you can more easily ground yourself and control your energy. Many people find that following guided meditation is helpful for this reason.
"Guided meditation is great because you're prompted through controlling your breath, grounding your mind and your thoughts, and reframing toward whatever it is you're trying to focus on, whether that's happiness or energy or something else," explains Gallien.
What are the benefits of meditation?
The goal of meditation is to help yourself reset mentally so you find your focus and move toward the things you want to achieve. But there's more to it than this.
The benefits of meditation include:
- Taking the edge off of everyday stress
- Improved mood
- Reducing anxiety
- Lessening symptoms of depression
"Meditation really allows you to re-center and clear your head of negative thoughts or feelings of self-doubt, so it can absolutely help with anxiety and depression," says Gallien. "Those are the direct benefits, but meditation can indirectly benefit you, too, since stress, anxiety and depression can impact our health."
It's why the stress reduction and relaxation that comes from meditating can indirectly help improve everything from your sleep to high blood pressure and more.
5 tips for how to start meditating
Once you've opted into the idea of meditation, your next question is likely how exactly you should go about doing it.
"What I always tell people is that it's best to start by determining what you hope to get it out of it and having a plan for what you want it to look like," says Gallien.
Here are Gallien's five tips.
1. Start with guided meditation
"Some people can meditate without anything at all, but most people like to use guided meditations," explains Gallien. "This takes the work off of you since all you have to do is listen and be present in the moment."
There are plenty of meditation apps — some free, some that require a fee — that offer guided meditations. You can also find guided meditations online through videos or podcasts.
“Prayer can also be a form of meditation, and some people meditate by focusing their thoughts after reading a journal entry or another way," says Gallien. "These are all a bit more difficult, especially if you're new to meditation, so I always recommend starting with guided ones so you can get a feel of what meditation is like."
2. Consider what mindset might benefit you most
We're all looking for different things, so it’s important to start by determining what you want to get out of meditation. Don't worry, there are plenty of options, including guided meditations for sleep, energy, happiness and much more.
"Maybe you want to start your day off with positive energy or end your busy day with peace and calmness," says Gallien. "There are all sorts of guided meditations out there to choose from, and it's important to be sure you're connecting with the ones that are going to benefit you specifically."
3. Keep it short at first and build from there
While you might be tempted to dive right into a 30-minute meditation, Gallien recommends starting with one that's just five minutes or so.
"It's difficult to start with a longer meditation since your attention span will likely want to fight against that," says Gallien. "Five or ten minutes — that's much easier. You might even find that you want more once you're done, and that can be motivation to try meditating longer next time."
As far as how often to meditate, Gallien recommends starting by practicing a couple times per week and building from there.
4. Create the right environment
While meditating, you want to be in a space that offers little distraction, like your bedroom or maybe your patio. But it could also be sitting in your car before heading into work. Anywhere that's quiet and unlikely to divert your attention works.
"It's also important to set the tone, starting from a place where you're already existing in stillness," says Gallien. "Maybe for you this means you meditate at bedtime or right when you wake up. Or maybe the timing matters less and you listen to a certain song or read a book before starting your meditation."
5. Keep trying
Don't worry if you don't complete your meditation. Gallien says you shouldn't take this as a sign that meditating isn't right for you.
"The biggest thing I always tell people about meditating is that even if you don't like it in the beginning, keep trying," says Gallien. "There is a meditation for everyone, especially if we're talking about guided meditations. Just keep trying and don't give up."
And she points out that, in some cases, not completing your meditation might actually be a good thing.
"If you're doing a 5-minute guided meditation for sleep, falling asleep before it's over is great since that's the goal anyway," Gallien adds.