What does Hugh Jackman, Katy Perry, Oprah Whinfrey and Rep. Tim Ryan have in common? They all swear by the benefits of meditation. Of course it’s not only them but there is a plethora of other celebrities and people who are not very well known who use meditation as a practice and a lifestyle to improve themselves and their lives.
But what does mediation entail? It’s a practice and discipline usually done daily and involves sitting still for about 20-30 minutes to calm and observe the mind.
What purpose does meditation have for practitioners? According to psychologist, Tara Brach, author of “Radical Acceptance” and co-founder of Insight Medication Community of Washington, the purpose of meditation is “to intentionally cultivate mindfulness — to approach life with non-judgment and compassion, to improve concentration, open-heartedness and clarity.”
Looking at meditation this way and the benefits that one can reap with the practice of mediation, there’s a lot to like about it.
“It’s the answer not just to stress and emotional issues, but also Helps improve self-esteem and address depression,” added Brach.
How and Where do you get started? What are the different types of meditation and how do you know what type suits you best?
The most common way to start is to go online and look for resources for “guided meditation.” This is a form of meditation where a teacher will give you instructions on everything you need to know such as observing your breath or visualizing your ideal future, according to Tris Thorp, a life coach and meditation teacher who trained under Deepak Chopra and currently teaches at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, CA.
Although there are people who report extraordinary experience upon first trying meditation, Thorp says not to expect improvement overnight.
“Give it time. I would say a minimum of 30 days and at least 20 minutes per meditation. It usually takes 10 minutes to get out of your day and get settled to where you can stop swearing at yourself for not being able to focus.”
An important part of getting settled is finding a comfortable seated position. This may sound very basic but it isn’t necessarily easy.
According to D.C. photographer, Danuta Otfinowski, it took her a year to figure out how to sit. And she has been practicing the discipline for the past eight years!
“You want to find a position where you are comfortable, where your legs don’t fall asleep and you are not fidgeting.”
She has actually dedicated a meditation space in her house. She assigned a space on her sleeping porch which consists of cushions she sits on where she’s comfortable, Buddhist prayer cards and the ashes of her parents.
She finds the afternoons most conducive for her to sit and meditate, which she says helps her reduce stress and increase self-compassion and inner confidence.
This raises the question about what the ideal time of the day is to meditate…
According to Thorp, it’s early morning.
“Do it right away. Get up, pee and then sit down to practice. You’re getting your day started with silence and peace.”
She says that this silence and peace will greatly help buffer you against small and big irritations and challenges that you face later as yo go about living your day.
“It’s an awareness that allows you to choose how to respond and not fall into reactivity.”
“It is much like letting other drivers go ahead of you in your lane rather than cutting them off.”
For some people, just sitting there makes them restless and all they can think about is a thousand reasons why meditating is a waste of time, or how sitting interferes with their to-do lists which is only getting longer.
Otfinowski says that this hurdle can be dealt with by joining a meditation group. This was what she did in 2008 and attributes it for her sticking with the practice.
“You have a community and you feel more accountable,” she says.
Joining a group also makes it feel more manageable — other people with hectic schedules took time out of their day to practice, encouraging her to do the same. “I didn’t have to put my life on hold to figure it out,” she says.
Brach also also agrees that joining a group can be a good way to start with the discipline. Sometimes having a peer meditation circle is enough. She compares it to having a running partner.
“Especially in the beginning where it can be very beneficial to put together a group, and then you can use a recorded guided meditation by a trained teacher,” says Brach, whose website has dozens of audio recordings of meditations. Brach also hosts meditation sessions through Insight Meditation Community in Bethesda and other locations.
Because of scientific and anecdotal benefits that meditation has for people, meditation circles are trending right now. Thorp says that people are joining meditation groups to be part of like-minded community for the accountability of it and for the hugs and fresh-pressed juices afterward.
Getting started in meditation begs the question of what type of meditation will suit you best.
Meditation experts agree that meditation is a very personal practice and it is best that you experiment with various different classes online to see which resonates with you.
There are two basic categories of meditation — and to perhaps make it a tad confusing, many teachers use a combination of these two.
One is mindfulness meditation and the other is various forms of concentration (Thorp calls it “intention”) practices.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on being in the present and observing the mind and body without judgment. Brach explains that this is shifting from thinking to being n the bod.
Mindfulness meditations often revolve around breathing and breath awareness — in other words, paying attention to your breathing. This is quite simple and accessible. But, it is often not engaging enough for people and they tend to get bored easily.
Concentration practices center on directing your attention toward something. This may be visualizing your goals that you want to reach (visualization), focusing on showing and feeling kindness to others and yourself (loving-kindness meditation) or repeating phrases (mantras).
You have to Try various types of meditation to know what suits you best. If you know yourself to be restless, then guided meditation is preferable to, say, mantra meditation as the repetition might get on your nerves.
Religious or spiritual people often find that loving-kindness meditation is their go-to type of meditation since it’s much akin to prayer.
At the end of the day, meditation is all about learning how to pause and observe the mind will work with you and not against you. You train the mind to the point that you control and channel the fight or flight response into a more thoughtful, mindful and compassionate response toward yourself negative self-talk and disappointment in ourselves) and others (people who try your patience on any level).
“Meditation helps me disengage from the storyline of me — my defaults, like negative self-talk,” says Otfinowski, who has brought her practice to the D.C. jail where she guides inmates in meditation.
According to Gabriella Boston, when you can disengage from the thoughts of the mind and instead observe the mind, there is an element of freedom.
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