Meditating isn't just for monks or hard-core yogis—everyone can do it. In fact, maybe everyone should do it. Meditation doesn't just make people feel good, it even can decrease symptoms of depression, according to research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Importantly, these findings were true regardless of religious affiliation, sense of spirituality, gender, or age.
"Meditation, despite its mystical connotations, is first and foremost a practical perspectivetaking exercise," says Brook Cosby, former director of the meditation program at Kula Yoga Project Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY and contributing author to Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi's Guide to Discovering Your Best Self. "It's a tool to get to know your own mind and that part of you that is eternal. Over time, meditators not only feel strong and flexible, but also more confident and clear-minded."
Cosby explains that meditation gives our minds the undisturbed time to understand our minds. "During most of our waking hours, we are so engaged with our thoughts and perceptions that we don't have an awareness of the filter through which we receive them," she says.
Here are her four ways to start meditating today:
Know What You're Getting Into
Cosby points out that people don't always start meditating with a clear picture of what it's going to be like, which can lead to quitting. "Meditation may appear serene, but it can actually be quite strenuous," she says. "When we sit, we are asking ourselves to peel away the multilayered defense of conditioning. In meditation, there is no one to impress or hide from. You come face-to-face (so to speak) with your raw, unguarded self.
To overcome this, she reminds us that there's no need for worry or judgment. "Nobody can see whether you're a good meditator or not. But with sustained effort, most practitioners discover very quickly that they are less reactive and come out of anger and other states more quickly than before," she says. The trick is: You have to commit to the practice.
"The truth is, no seat will be perfectly comfortable, especially at the beginning," Cosby says. "The good news is: It doesn't need to be. It just needs to be comfortable enough that you stay still and unbothered for your designated period of time." She says that some characteristics of a comfortable seat is good posture, relaxed hips, arm support, a soft jaw, and easy breathing. And if sitting on the floor isn't an option for you, it's fine to elevate yourself on a blanket or cushion, or even sit in a chair.
"This is actually one of the more challenging instructions," she admits. "As soon as we find a position and close our eyes, inevitably our nose will itch, back will need to crack, hair will need to be redone, you name it. This is the nature of the mind: It is never satisfied." Instead of giving into your mind's demands, Cosby suggests that you reassure yourself that where you are now is just fine as it is. "Each time you indulge the urge to fidget, you draw your awareness away from the breath."
Focus on Your Breath
Meditators use the breath as the focal point because it's ever-present and your mind doesn't have to do any work to imagine it. It's also OK to silently label your inhales and exhales as you follow them.
"The mind is unlikely to be satisfied with just watching breath," warns Cosby. "It will prefer to wander off and find things to think about. To have a mind that wanders does not make you a bad meditator. Actually, there's no such thing as a bad sit! Your job is to notice, and when the mind does wander away, see if you can use the feeling of breath in the body to bring it back."
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