On April 4th of 2019 I began a daily meditation practice. Since that time I’ve seen some incredible improvements in pretty much all aspects of my life. My practice of meditation wasn’t purposeful nor intentional at first. I stumbled on to it. I had no real expectations and no serious commitment. But once I began seeing the positive effects, it became a part of my life that I’d never want to do without.
I had tried to meditate when I was younger. I began the practice with high expectations and lofty spiritual goals. I read books. I obsessed over how to sit, how to position my hands, how to breathe. I judged myself over the smallest details of what I did during sessions, what I thought, and what results I was (or, more precisely, was not) achieving. I soon gave up in frustration.
This time around, I went into the experience unencumbered of expectations. I was able to practice without judgment, and I soon learned a powerful truth. When it comes to meditation, the only way you can “do it wrong” is to not do it at all. If you practice every day, and make it part of your routine, you will see surprising benefits, and likely in pretty short order.
Meditation for Wellness
Although meditation is certainly a spiritual practice, it can be helpful to think of it first as a wellness practice. There’s lots of good research on the effects of an ongoing meditation routine. Here are just a few of the benefits (some physical, some emotional, some social) that have been documented.
- reduces cortisol – the stress hormone
- reduces cytokines – inflammatory chemicals
- increases oxytocin – the love hormone
- better sleep
- less anxiety
- reduced inflammation and pain
- lower blood pressure
- balances autonomic nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic
- gets you out of fight or flight response so your body can rest and heal
- stimulates the pituitary gland
- more electrical activity in the areas of your brain related to positive thinking and optimism
- increased intuition, insight and self-awareness
- improved self-esteem
- more creativity
- better focus and attention span
- better memory
- increased compassion for others
- compulsions, bad habits and addictions tend to go away
How I Started
I didn’t know any of the above information at the time I started a routine of daily meditation. I began almost by accident. I was reading a book called Wheels of Light. It describes the seven bodily energy centers identified in ancient wisdom as the chakras. In one particular passage it described a set of symptoms that are typical of blocked energy at the second (sacral) chakra. High blood pressure, inflammatory issues, painful joints, heartburn, etc. It might as well have been describing my daily life. So I got the idea in my head that if I could get the energy flowing through that blockage, maybe I would feel better. At the same time, this seemed a little weird and New Agey and pseudoscientific for my tastes. Also, even if there was some validity to the material, I had no idea how to approach the issue. So I hesitated.
In another of those odd coincidences that seem to happen in situations like this, I ran across an audio program from BrainSync with a guided meditation that was supposed to help “open the flow of energy to your chakras.” I figured that for ten bucks, it was worth the risk to see if it did me any good – and it would certainly be easy enough to sit and listen to an MP3.
So I downloaded the file, and after work one day I got into a comfy chair and put in my earbuds. Here are the notes I made later on.
“I felt incredibly light afterwards. My eyes seemed softer, somehow, and it seemed like my brain was moving in slow motion. It wasn’t that I was confused or dull, more that I was very relaxed and taking time to just experience what was going on.”
What was happening here, was that I was getting to something called the “relaxation response” and my brain waves were slowing down. This is something that happens during meditation practice. I still had no clue what was going on at the time. It just felt really good so I kept doing it.
Before long, my blood pressure was down, I began losing weight, I began feeling less anxious and angry, depression subsided, I was sleeping better, I had less joint and back pain, everything started looking up. I added other audio programs to my practice for variety. I learned some Tibetan and Indian mantras, and began sitting and chanting for ten or fifteen minutes during a morning break from my workday. Before long I was hooked, and multiple short daily meditation sessions of one sort or another were a habit.
Some Suggestions on How You Can Start
The reason I wanted to share my own story above is that it’s a pretty clear demonstration that meditation practice is an easy thing to start, and that even someone with little knowledge or instruction can benefit. Here’s what I would suggest to someone who is interested in giving it a try.
Set aside time every day to practice. Ten or fifteen minutes is plenty for starters. You can eventually work up to twenty or thirty minutes a day, and you may find yourself enjoying it so much that you look for opportunities to work in some additional sessions each day. But if the time commitment bothers you, just keep it to ten minutes at first.
The idea is to get your body relaxed, and your brainwaves slowed down. That’s all. You don’t have to empty your mind of thoughts, or cultivate mindfulness, or seek some great mystical breakthrough or anything else. Some of those things may eventually come to you, but for now it’s just relax, breathe, slow down.
Our brainwaves, when we are awake and active, are most often in what is known as the beta range (12 to 38 Hz). During meditation, we can slow those down to 8-12 Hz (alpha) or even lower (theta). Time spent even in the alpha range each day offers significant benefits, and the benefits can become really profound when we can get down into the theta range and stay there for awhile each day.
Using traditional methods, it can take years to develop a meditation practice that routinely and reliably brings a person to these brainwave states. Fortunately, there is technology available to us now that can help us achieve them much earlier in our practice. It’s something called “entrainment.” It uses audio signals to create the proper wavelength in sound, and the listening brain follows suit.
There are a couple of different approaches to these audio programs. One approach simply incorporates tones of the proper wavelength into the sound signal. The other one does something a little more complicated, but exceptionally interesting. It uses one tone in one ear, and one tone in the other and your brain splits the difference, creating the perception of a third tone that doesn’t actually exist in the audible recorded signal. For instance, if there’s a 200 Hz tone in your left ear, and a 207 Hz tone in your right, you perceive a pulsing 7 Hz tone. This has the effect of drawing your brainwaves into the neighborhood of 7 Hz (theta range). Pretty cool, yeah?
This “binaural beats” technology is what’s used by BrainSync in their recordings. They have a wide range of products available, and meditations for almost any concern or purpose. Some are simply music or nature sounds and the binaural beats. Some include subliminal messages. Some are guided meditations.
Begin by sitting comfortably in a spot where you won’t be disturbed. Shut your eyes. You can just put on the headphones and listen to the audio, or you may want to go through a short relaxation routine. I usually start with some square breathing as the audio begins. Then I draw my attention to areas of my head, one-by-one, scan for tension and tell the area to relax – scalp, ears, forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw, etc. Just a few seconds of attention to each area will do. If you want to continue to scan your body for tension and relax each area, you may. I usually find that I’m pretty relaxed by the time I’m done with my head, neck and shoulders.
Then just breathe, and if your mind begins to wander off in thoughts (about work, or what you’re going to do after you meditate, or what you’re going to fix for supper, or whatever) just gently focus on your breath by following it in and out. If you’d like, you can visualize that you’re in a peaceful natural surrounding, or even visualize the breath as a soft beautiful light that’s entering your body through your heart and nurturing you each time you inhale. The main thing is to just relax and try not to latch on to linear thoughts.
Some people like to chant, either with or without prayer beads, but that’s absolutely not necessary. A simple mantra can help give your brain something to do so it can’t get caught up in thinking. But again, this is a personal choice.
The main thing is just to sit quietly and comfortably and breathe, and listen to the audio. If your mind does wander, it’s okay. That still happens to me, and it happens to even experienced meditators from time to time. Try not to latch on to thoughts when you notice them, but don’t fight yourself and don’t judge yourself. This is a PRACTICE, so it takes practice. :)
Even if you fall asleep, don’t judge. If you do, you probably needed the nap worse than you needed to meditate.
Be kind and gentle with yourself. Just make sure that you set aside time to meditate every day, and you’ll be on your way to better health and well being soon. There’s no way to fail, no way to do it wrong, and no way to miss the benefits, so long as you get in the habit of meditating every day.
But I Don’t Have Time!
A final note here that may be helpful. Some of us who would benefit most from meditation – who really NEED meditation – don’t do it because we’re already so stressed trying to keep up with everything in our lives that we just don’t think we can spare the time. The thought of committing to even ten minutes a day actually increases our stress.
When I began my practice it was an incredibly busy and stressful time at work. I was working long hours and barely keeping up. Oddly, on the days when I took time to meditate during a morning break I got more done and felt less stressed at the end of the day. Things just seemed to work out better on those days. When I skipped a day, it was always nightmarish.
I don’t have any actual data on this other than my own experience, but my conviction is that you’ll make up any time you dedicate to meditation with better focus and less wasted time due to stress.
I hope that this information is helpful to you, and I look forward to hearing how it goes!