Last month I attended an amazing 4 day conference at the Chopra Center that was focused on the power of meditation and Ayurveda in healing the mind, body and spirit. It was definitely an enlightening experience, and reminded me how important it is to build a meditation practice, ideally every day.
So let’s start with – what is meditation all about?
Let me share what I've learned, and my interpretation.
Meditation is about tuning in to ourselves, and just being present in the moment. Sitting in silence, letting go of our worries about what happened yesterday and what we need to do today, and just being aware of how we feel in the moment. Meditation helps bring us to that peaceful place within ourselves. If you think about it, throughout most of our day, we are focused on all the chaos in our lives - the deadlines, the commitments, the never ending to-do list, the stress, etc. - so taking some time each day to forget the chaos and find a bit of peace is HUGE.
The way I see it, meditation brings us closer to our inner true self, so that we become more in tune with our bodies; it helps us listen to our bodies’ subtle messages. It makes us more present, so that we pay more attention to how we feel at every moment. We become more aware of everything going on around us and within us.
Why does this matter? There are TONS of reasons, but I’ll give you THREE.
First - because it helps us really enjoy life through increased physical sensations. If you’re able to really tune in to your body, you will feel sensations more deeply, so you’ll enjoy that warm bath so much more, and you’ll really embrace each moment of that expensive massage, instead of zoning out. It can even lead to a better love life as you’ll be more present with your partner, and more focused on the sensations of the moment.
Before I started meditating, I had never noticed the soft noises from outdoors that I can hear from inside my apartment each morning, and I would barely notice the smell of my essential oil diffuser that sits on my coffee table. Nor would I take the time to notice how my body feels at different moments of the day. Now I wake up and notice the flatness of my belly, and often the dryness of my feet if I forgot to put lotion on. And as the day goes on, I notice the heaviness that builds on my shoulders, reminding me that I need a break, a good laugh, and/or a good massage!
Second – it lowers stress, which is the precursor to so many health issues, including weight gain. When you’re under stress, your body releases cortisol, aka the stress hormone. Cortisol has an important role, and follows a natural daily cycle in our body, so for ex., cortisol is released when your body is waking up in the morning after a fast, and it gives your body that energy it needs to get up and start our day before breakfast. Cortisol is also responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” response that occurs in scary or very stressful situations, for example, giving you that extra energy to run away from a bear in the woods (ok, extreme example, but you get my point!). Excessive stress will put your body into this mode where your body is "under-attack", and not only does it mess with your hormonal cycle, but also, many of your other bodily functions temporarily slow down / get out of whack, and your body goes into fat-storing mode.
Chronic stress means chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which means slower metabolism, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, lower immune system, and more. Meditation helps avoid your body from getting into this chronic state of stress, therefore avoiding the above issues. It's been proven that when you meditate, your stress hormones normalize, your breathing slows, and your blood pressure lowers.
Third – it helps you feel rested, therefore allowing you to have more energy for the rest of your activities. It is said that meditating for just half an hour provides more psychological rest than a full night's sleep. And when you begin to meditate on a regular basis, you will notice greater energy, creativity and an increased sense of well-being.
OK so now you know that you should be meditating to help manage stress, weight gain, and to enjoy life more fully (among so many other things!).
Now, what about when/where/how to meditate?
When? It’s suggested that we meditate first thing in the morning before breakfast, and in the evening before dinner, when our bodies are naturally in their quieter rhythms. But I say its about when you can fit it into your schedule! Where? Anywhere that is somewhat quiet, distanced from distractions like your kids and pets. How? There is no exact posture that’s right, but it’s best to sit up straight, either on the floor or on a chair, to cultivate awareness, and because if we’re lying down, we’re more likely to fall asleep, which beats the purpose of meditation! The idea is to be still, close our eyes, and let our thoughts drift away as we focus on our breathing, on a guided meditation, or on repeating a mantra.
What I learned in this Chopra event, that I absolutely LOVED, is that there is no right or wrong mediation. ANY meditation, even if it’s just 10 minutes, is beneficial. While there are many tips on the ideal way to meditate, the best thing we can do is to stop trying so hard, stop worrying about doing it perfectly, and just do it, however we want, a little at a time. Any time that we can dedicate to sitting still and finding some peace in our minds, even if thoughts keep coming and taking over, it’s all ok. We will get better with practice, just like most other things.
And we each find what works for us. Many people find that sitting on a chair with their feet on the ground works well. I personally received a lovely meditation pillow for Christmas that I’ve been using for my practice, sitting comfortably cross-legged on the floor. And as a beginner, I’ve been using apps with short guided meditations that I find easy and enjoyable. (I use both Calm and Headspace, and love them both!). Now I've also started applying my personal mantra that I learned during my Primordial Sound Meditation classes at the Chopra Center, which I find works really well to bring me to that quiet, peaceful place.
Now it’s your turn to try it out, if you haven’t already! If you’re totally new and think that its “impossible” to find 10 minutes to squeeze into your day to meditate, then do what I did - start by taking yoga once or twice a week, and find one that dedicates 5 minutes to meditation at the beginning and/or end of class. Once you start getting a liking for it, try downloading some of the many free meditation apps, and start with their intro meditation plans. It just takes waking up 10-15 minutes earlier, and squeezing in a 10 minute meditation before you start your day. I usually do it after having my lemon water, and before breakfast. But find what works for you, and get started! You’ll thank me later, I promise!
Love and Meditation,