Our minds are constantly distracted by endless streams of information, whether it’s work-related communication or social-media scrolling. Sometimes it’s hard to take a moment to yourself without feeling the need to check your phone, leaving many people feeling that they lack the skills, time, and energy to follow their passions — while watching everyone else's life highlights on a screen.
The antidote to a distracted mind? Mindfulness, in the form of meditation. Meditation forces you to embrace moments of quiet and stillness that can lead to reduced stress, feelings of well-being, and improved blood circulation.
Despite the misconception that meditation requires a complete absence of thoughts, it’s actually the practice of focusing your intention and allowing thoughts to pass through your mind, leading to a healthy and positive mind state. Many meditation practices focus on building the skill of mindfulness, which is defined as the moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations within your environment, according to Ariel Garten, a neuroscientist and the founder of Muse.
The Benefits of Meditation
“There's a range of benefits that you can expect from a meditation practice," says Garten. "One is the ability to more effectively observe your own thoughts, emotions, and experiences rather than be caught up in them. Another is the decrease in stress that comes from the shift in observing your thinking as opposed to being engaged within it. A third is an improvement in relationships, because when you're able to observe what's going on, you're more likely to find a bit of a space between your intention, your tendencies, and your actual reactions. This allows you to self manage more effectively when you listen to somebody else."
The practice of meditation is ancient, dating as far back as 1500 BC in India. It has its earliest recorded roots in Hinduism and Buddhism in ancient India and China, in texts that guide readers through the path to spiritual enlightenment. Reading texts written by ancient scholars and modern monks will help you better understand how meditation can fully enrich your life and spiritual practice. In recent years, Western neuroscientists have dedicated studies in exploring the myriad of chemical benefits to our mental wellness.
“Meditation practice has been demonstrated to thicken the prefrontal cortex, which is the area on the front of the brain associated with higher-order planning, thinking, processing, inhibition, so you're stopping yourself from doing something stupid or impulsive,” says Garten. “In meditation, we also see a decrease in the activity of the amygdala, the part of your brain associated with your fear response of fight or flight."
"The prefrontal cortex is able to increase its amount of projection to the amygdala, in order to downregulate it, so the amygdala is like a scared little child freaking out at everything it sees, and the prefrontal cortex is the wise parent."
Meditation has also been documented to have several short-term effects on the nervous system, including lower blood pressure, heart rate, perspiration, blood cortisol levels, and stress. It triggers a “relaxation response” in our bodies that battles anxiety and helps us live better.
How to Start Meditating
Meditation is a practice accessible to anyone; the easiest way to begin meditating is to sit or lie in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breathing, and notice how your body moves with every inhale and exhale, how your shoulders relax, your rib cage rises, your chest falls. Avoid trying to control the length or intensity of your breaths; simply be.
Whenever your mind begins to drift, bring your focus back to your breath. Try for a few minutes at a time; some beginners find guided meditations to be helpful in maintaining attention. YouTube and various apps offer a plethora of guided meditations.
“Meditation is a long game. Your life is not going to change the first time you sit down for three minutes and focus your attention on your breath. But just like going to the gym, when you do it consistently, your life over time gets better and better,” says Garten.
“To build the habit, find a time of day that feels right for you when you can do it everyday, and it will fit in like a habit.”
As you deepen your meditation practice, you may find that a particular type of meditation appeals to you most. Besides guided meditation, here are several other popular meditation paths for beginners.
1. Focused Attention Meditation
This is a basic meditation practice that most people learn in the beginning stages of meditation. As you meditate, pay attention to the thoughts drifting through your mind and allow them to pass without judgment or involvement, simplifying taking note of patterns. Focusing on the breath or body sensations can help with maintaining focus.
“When your attention is on your breath, you are in the present moment to be mindful. You're not thinking of the past or the future, you're just paying attention to what is here. In that moment, you are fundamentally shifting the relationship between you and your thinking,” says Garten.
“You are now a person who has a choice over the contents of your own mind. Once you do that with the thoughts in your head, you realize you can also do that with the stories in your head about you, who you need to be, and how the world works.”
2. Loving-Kindness Meditation
If you would like to increase feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward yourself and others, loving-kindness meditation is a great option. During meditation, practitioners will open their mind to receiving love from others and send their goodwill out to friends, enemies, and all living beings, usually accompanied with a simple chant for each inhale and exhale.
“The point is not to get rid of your thoughts, but to notice that you have a thought, except lovingly, and then gently move your attention elsewhere,” says Garten.
“When we get upset that we have thoughts, it only generates more thoughts. Part of the lesson that we learn in meditation is called equanimity, which is simply the non judgmental acceptance of what is.”
3. Moving Meditation
For those who struggle to be still, moving meditation is perfect. Hatha yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and even gardening are excellent practices in bringing focus to your body’s movement.
Perhaps the simplest way to start is with walking meditation. In walking meditation, match your breath with your steps. With each inhale, raise the heel, then sole, then ball of the foot and step forward. With each exhale, place your foot on the ground and shift your weight onto it. Remember the purpose isn’t exercise; it’s using movement to develop your sense of awareness.
Meditation and CBD
Meditation is known to reduce stress and improve focus, and it may work harmoniously with CBD (cannabidiol), a compound that also assists with helping users relax. Furthermore, separate studies have shown that both meditation and CBD are effective in reducing physical pain. Users can try taking a dose of CBD around an hour before meditation to help bring them into a calm state that eases them into meditation. (Try pairing one of these three Prezence meditations with House of Wise Sleep, Stress, and Sex products.)
“Cannabis and meditation can be woven together with a conscious approach,” says Marijuana Mommy founder Jessie Gill, RN. “Finding the ideal dose is the key to using cannabis properly overall but especially for enhancing meditation. If someone consumes too much, it can increase distraction or sedation instead of increasing focus. Cannabis may inspire a person to meditate more often or it may help people reach a meditative state which can then have positive implications for their health.”