Anyone who has glanced at the health and wellness space in the past few years knows that meditation has increased in popularity. In a short time span, it went from a niche activity practiced by hippies and yogis to being promoted by billionaire CEOs of huge companies like Twitter and Salesforce. What happened? What was discovered that made meditation so appealing to such a broad audience of people—and will it help you?
The answer to the last question is yes. In this blog, we’ll explain what mediation is (and importantly, what it isn’t), the benefits of establishing a daily practice, and how you can get started and make meditation a sustainable part of your routine.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is one of those subjects that many people intuitively feel they understand. The subject has drifted around the public consciousness long enough that most of us have picked up bits and pieces here and there without ever fully assembling the puzzle, so it’s not a surprise that when you ask people to provide a definition, you get mixed answers. It’s making your mind go blank. It’s following your breath. It’s about ego. These answers are partially correct.
The form of meditation most commonly practiced in the West focuses on awareness. It’s about separating our experiences from our thoughts and realizing that we are not in the driver's seat of our minds. The goal isn’t to stop thinking, but to realize that thoughts appear in our consciousness whether we want them to or not. Understanding how little control we have allows us to get out of our head, to stop being constantly caught up in our own thoughts and swept away by the emotions they evoke.
There are a number of ways meditation achieves this goal. Beginners will typically begin practicing with their eyes closed, focusing on their breath. The goal is to observe thoughts as they appear without identifying with them. Watch them pass by like you’re watching people through the coffee shop window. After a while, you can try new techniques such as meditating with your eyes open, or focusing on other parts of your body.
Because many people believe they intuitively understand what meditation is, they feel that they don’t need to practice in the traditional sense. “My meditation is going to the gym,” is a commonly heard refrain. Exercise is great and has a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. Everybody should find a way to incorporate physical exercise into their weekly routine—but it is not the same as meditating. Specificity matters. If you’re going to the gym because you want to build muscle, you lift weights instead of doing cardio. If the muscles you most want to grow are your biceps, you do bicep curls instead of squats. When it comes to meditation, people get the most benefits when they treat their brain like a muscle; research has shown that the more you meditate, the better your mind gets at reaching a state of calm awareness. We’ll talk more about the benefits of mediation in the next section.
Why Should Meditation Be Encouraged?
Say it’s your first day at a new job. You’re calmly riding the bus when a thought pops into your head, “What if my new boss is mean?” Before you know it, you’re thinking of all the mean things a boss might say to a new employee. Then you’re imagining making a mistake and getting in trouble. Your heart is racing, your throat tightens, and your breathing becomes more shallow. A moment ago you were sitting peacefully on your way to work and now a flood of cortisol is working its way through your system. And for what reason? Because you had a thought, which caused a cascade of inter-related thoughts, and you just couldn’t break free of this negative thought loop.
This sort of thing happens all the time. We do this to ourselves on a daily basis and don’t even realize it. Meditation trains us to be more focused and less reactive.
There are also plenty of well researched benefits of meditation. The number one benefit is its ability to reduce stress. According to MayoClinic, other research has found that meditation may help you manage the following conditions:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Sleep problems
- Tension headaches
How Do I, or My Employees, Get Started?
When it comes to developing a meditation practice, the analogy to the gym and exercise is again useful. A big mistake many people make in the beginning of their fitness journey is trying to do too much, too fast. They go from being completely sedentary to lifting weights and running seven days a week. Inevitably, they burn out. Either their body resists and they get hurt or find themselves too sore and tired to continue with their routine, or they get mentally tired of never having a break. People do the same with meditation, assuming they’ll start doing an hour a day, everyday. But that’s a hard routine to stick to—and it’s not even necessary.
Sustainability is the name of the game. A little bit of meditation, done everyday or every couple days, is far more beneficial than long sessions done sporadically. Ten minutes a day of meditation is all you need to start seeing benefits.
There are a plethora of free applications to get started on your meditation journey. Some of the most popular meditation apps are:
Most of these apps have a beginners section, allowing those new to meditation to get their feet wet in an easily accessible place. Waking Up, for instance, provides 50 days of 10-minute meditations designed specifically for beginners, walking them through different forms of meditation as they progress and become more comfortable with the process.
Over the past few years, meditation has deservingly been recognized as one of the best ways an individual can improve their mental health. Since the coinage “mental health is health” has entered the lexicon, it makes sense that we begin to develop routines and habits that treat to train and exercise the mind like we do the body. Research has shown meditation to be highly effective in relieving stress and anxiety, and strengthening the mind to deal with life’s obstacles. Best of all, all you need is 10-minutes a day.