By Alex Orlov for Life by DailyBurn
Odds are good that you’re one of the 90.6 percent of Americans that have not meditated in the past 12 months. Despite its many proven benefits, meditation is easy to brush off — who really wants to spend time om-ing when they could be tackling a to-do list? Plus, focusing on your innermost feelings can be scary: One recent study found that when given the choice, people preferred getting a mild electric shock to being alone with their thoughts. (Yikes.)
It’s time to set the record straight. Meditation and quiet contemplation might be difficult in the beginning, but it’s worth mastering — especially if you have a packed schedule and zero patience. “With the current pace of life, there is no question that the mind is experiencing a new and potentially harmful degree of pressure,” says Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, an online meditation resource. “Most people assume that this stress is simply part of life, but it really doesn’t have to be that way.”
In recent years, mindfulness meditation, which is derived from Buddhist Vipassana techniques, has exploded in popularity. This practice centers around focusing on in-the-moment emotions, thoughts and sensations. The goal? To be able to observe whatever you’re feeling without judgment — and truly pay attention to and accept the here and now.
Plenty of busy people are making time for meditation: Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, successful entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington and Russell Simmons, and even the U.S. Army is hoping veterans can reap the benefits of mindfulness-based training.
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So, why should you join them? “Meditation impacts all areas of your life, from mental health to physical wellbeing, and there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support this,” says Puddicombe.
Why Impatient People Should Care About Meditation
Over 3,000 studies on mindfulness have demonstrated that meditating can lower anxiety, increase productivity, improve sleep and memory and reduce your risk of heart attack — in addition to a few dozen more benefits. But why is it especially important for people with little patience?
Well, if you’re plagued by indecision or prone to making poor choices, meditation might help you make smarter calls, faster. One study conducted by The Wharton School and INSEAD showed that just 15 minutes of meditating helped participants concentrate on making a business decision instead of getting distracted by irrelevant factors like sunk costs. The takeaway? Meditating could help you pause and think logically before your next big purchase or investment.
Another study suggests that meditation might help improve academic performance. Compared to non-meditating classmates, students at a California university retained more information from lectures and scored better on quizzes when they had meditated before class.
Plus, did you know that meditation can change your brain composition — just like exercise can change your body? MRI images taken during one study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that eight weeks of meditation can increase the grey-matter density in a person’s hippocampus (an area crucial for learning and memory). The images also revealed that participants had decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, an area that regulates stress and anxiety.
Ready to start reaping these benefits? In honor of the skeptical, fidgety, busy, over-committed and impatient people out there, we present this guide to getting the most from meditation.
7 Meditation Techniques for Beginners
1. Find 10 minutes of time.“There is a common misconception that you need to sit for hours on end and often, in our busy lives, this just isn’t possible,” says Puddicombe. He recommends that beginners start off with just 10 minutes of meditation a day. No clue how to start? Try one of these apps to help guide your practice. Or, simply set a timer to ring once your session is up.
2. Limit distractions.Find a quiet place where other people won’t disturb you. Leave your phone in another room or, if you’re using a meditation or timer app, remember to turn it to silent mode so you won’t be interrupted by texts or Facebook notifications.
3. Get comfy.Assume a relaxed position — but no lying down! (You don’t want to doze off.) In the Headspace Trial, Puddicombe recommends sitting upright in a chair with both feet planted on the ground and both arms at your sides or resting on your thighs. You can either close your eyes or leave them open.
4. Pick a point of focus.Dr. Michael Gervais, Ph.D. a sports psychologist to top athletes from the Super-Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks, recommends focusing your mind on just one thing as a way to ease yourself into your practice. Pay attention to your breath, a spot on the wall, a word or even a particular sound. According to Gervais, counting your breaths can be especially effective if you’re struggling to stay present.
5. Recognize when your mind wanders.Can’t stop your thoughts from drifting to yesterday’s big meeting or that party next weekend? Meditation is all about training yourself to “course correct in thinking and movement,” says Gervais. When your mind begins to stray, Gervais suggests gently saying “hello and goodbye” to a distracting thought in order to bring your mind back to the present moment. Acknowledge that you have become distracted. Then, without berating yourself, redirect your attention back to your practice.
6. Accept that frustration is normal.“It is very normal to experience uncomfortable feelings during practice at first, in fact, it’s very natural,” says Puddicombe. Thoughts will invade your consciousness and your mind might be anything but calm and focused during your first meditation sessions. You might be bored, discouraged or even angry. The key is to embrace those emotions. “Simply acknowledge the feeling, recognize it is part of being human and understand that all human beings experience something similar — even if it sometimes feels like we are the only one,” he says.
7. Make meditating part of your routine.You won’t truly see the benefits of meditation unless you commit to practicing regularly. Since building a new habit can be tricky, your best bet is to piggyback your meditation practice onto an already existing habit, says Dr. Gervais. For example, if you usually run or do yoga when you wake up, try a short seated meditation after you’ve stretched or once you’ve finished your flow.
Before you know it, you’ll be able to use the relaxation and mindfulness techniques you’ve mastered to excel in other areas of your life. If you’re an athlete, your ability to reject distractions will help you get “in the zone” and stay there. Prone to food cravings? Mindful eating will allow you to savor your food and eat more intuitively, rather than emotionally. Best of all: You’ll stress less, feel more focused and even improve your productivity.