Although more recently popularized at the turn of the millennium, meditation was first documented in 5000 B.C. via cave art, which depicted people sitting crossed legged with their eyes halfway closed. During recent years as scientific advancements have made the study of meditation more accessible, therapists and doctors are suggesting it be implemented into your daily routine.
This is no wonder given the scientific benefits of meditation. There is evidence to show that it actually changes the chemistry of the brain, which leads to improved physiological and psychological reactions to stress. Brain-imaging studies reveal that meditation not only changes the brain’s structure, but it also changes the brain’s activation patterns, altering activation of brain regions involved with emotional regulation, attention, and self-awareness.
Despite the numerous proven benefits of meditation for mental health, this coping skill can be challenging to put into practice for a number of reasons. Based on my own personal experience and experience as a therapist, some of the common challenges to implementing regular meditation practice include difficulties finding time to slow down, the lack of a non-distracting environment available, the challenge of slowing down thoughts while meditating, and the frustrations with lack of progress. The majority of these challenges can be mitigated with one simple suggestion-managing our expectations about meditation.
Meditation is counterintuitive to our culture. We are constantly on the go, priding ourselves in our ability to multitask and fit as many activities as we can into one day. When we are not “doing,” we are on our phones and other devices and rarely engaging in the present moment. Even entertainment throughout recent years reflects our limited attention spans, as movies and television have gotten increasingly more action-packed and faster moving. However, although these factors may make meditation seem difficult to put into practice, they actually serve as proof that we need meditation more now than ever.
Meditation does not have to involve sitting cross legged with hands in prayer and chanting for it to be effective. Meditation should fit the individual, starting with small and reasonable objectives. The purpose of meditation is to bring your body and mind to the present moment. A good way to start is by counting your breaths. State to yourself, “Breathe in….breathe out….1; Breath in…breathe out…2.” See how high you can count without getting distracted. In the beginning, you may only reach 5 or 10, but with time and commitment you will see your progress. Be patient with yourself.
Another technique that can be beneficial is implementing the use of guided meditations. There are many applications and YouTube videos that offer free guided meditations for a variety of topics. Start with a 2-minute meditation, and work your way up to a 5-minute meditation. It is better to start small and be successful than to set your standards too high and fail to achieve them.
A third strategy that can get you started on your journey is what is referred to as “moving meditation.” This involves engaging in an activity while being fully engaged in said activity, such as walking, dancing, riding a bike, cooking, or any other task that engages your five senses. While completing the activity, focus intently on what you are doing rather than your internal dialogue. This will take constant redirection back to the present until you gain the ability to do so.
Meditation can be challenging, however the more you practice the more you will build up your mental muscle. The most important thing is to be open minded and kind to yourself along this journey. The amount of peace and feelings of well-being waiting for you on the other side is worth the wait.