Just Say “Om”

Photo from Time Magazine

I’m sure you have all heard about the perks of meditation from countless blogs, dedicated meditators who seem to never leave a state of ‘zen’, and maybe even your shrink. There are so many scientifically proven benefits to meditation and here are just a few:

  • Meditation reduces stress/anxiety
  • Meditation improves concentration
  • Helps you feel more connected
  • Leaves you feeling happier
  • Improves functioning of your brain
  • Helps you have a good night’s sleep
  • Increases serotonin production which improves mood and behaviour
  • Lowers high blood pressure

Photo from ‘The Art of Living’

Meditation, recently, has really picked up and it’s become much more popular in the Western culture. People have started to realize the benefits to keeping the mind still for just a few moments during the day. Sure, you can go for a run, invest yourself in your art, or take a nap, but I feel like that meditation offers something different that the others don’t.

So, meditation is good for you. It’s amazing for you, and I’m sure we can’t really think of many counter arguments to that. But still, so many of us, including myself, find it hard to make it a daily habit.

A few months ago, the art of meditation really piqued my interest. I attended a meditation workshop at my local yoga studio in June and I absolutely loved it. The instructor walked us through the different sitting positions, hand positions and breathing techniques in meditation. You can sit cross legged, on your knees, against a wall with your legs out, lie on your back or so many more. You can have your hands folded on top of another, stack your palms and have your thumbs touching, or put your thumb and index finger together. What is great about meditation is that it is your practice and your practice only. You choose the position that works best for you, the one that makes you feel the most comfortable and most at peace.

Photo from ‘The Springs LA’

After the basics, she talked more about the actual practice of meditation and allowed us to ask any questions we had. There was a big one that I’ve always been curious about and this was my chance to ask. During meditation, are you supposed to not have any thoughts at all and force your mind to be completely blank, or are you supposed to have thoughts but just push them away when they pop up?

She explained that you’re not supposed to force yourself to not think because that wouldn’t be so calming and easy, now would it? Allow yourself to acknowledge the thoughts that pop up but try to just let them pass without engaging with them. Acknowledge that these thoughts you have, whatever they may be, don’t serve a purpose and they certainly don’t help you. They get in the way, but they are almost impossible to avoid.

Meditation is all about staying in the present moment, however difficult it may be. So often, we’re so consumed with the idea that our life is 5 minutes from now, 5 months from now, or 5 years from now. But we need to remember that our life is right now. This very moment. And meditation helps with that focus and concentration.

Photo from Carnegie Mellon University

Then, to finish off the workshop, she led a half an hour meditation practice with the group where we got our first taste of meditation. For most of the time, she was speaking and doing more of a “spoken” meditation session, but about halfway through, I was no longer listening to what she was saying. I could still hear her voice, but it seemed so far away, like a whisper so far off in the distance, like soft echoes travelling back to me. It felt like I was transported to another place, as cliché as that does sound.

After that workshop, I wanted to incorporate meditation into a part of my daily routine. Luckily, I discovered Insight Timer, an amazing (and free!) meditation app.

Photo from Amazon

With Insight Timer, you can either choose to do a guided meditation or your own “self-guided” meditation.

Photo from ‘Rocket Matter’

For the self-guided meditation, all you need to do is choose how long you want to meditate for (If you’re just starting out, 5 minutes seems to be a good time), choose a sound you want to be playing in the background during the meditation, and choose a starting and ending bell to mark the beginning and end of the session. Then, you just press ‘start’ and meditate away. Before I discovered this app, I was just using the built-in timer from the Clock App on my IPhone, which was nowhere nearly as good.

I love Insight Timer most of all for their guided meditations and they have so, so many to choose from. There are thousands and depending on what type of meditation you’re looking for – deep sleep, morning rise, fighting anxiety, relaxation, self-confidence – you’re sure to find one that’ll be the right fit for you. You can also choose one based on how long you want to meditate for. Some are 5 minutes while others are more than an hour long – usually the deep sleep ones.

In my opinion, Insight Timer is better than some random meditation YouTube video or my IPhone timer because it fosters a sense of community with others around the world who are also meditation. You create a profile and with each meditation session, it adds it to your log. After each session, it usually tells you how many people you meditated with around the world, and you can even reach out and message these people.

The key to meditation is doing it every day, even if it means you’re doing it for only 2 minutes each day. Doing it 2 minutes each day is proven to be more effective to do it 30 minutes a day, but only once or twice a week.

I’ll be honest. The first week I had that app, I was meditating every day for 20 minutes at a time. But after a certain period of time and after work got hectic or after vacations started interrupting and throwing off my schedule, I fell out of the practice. Sometimes, a week or two would go by where I wouldn’t meditate, but then one day, I’d just get back on my little meditation cushion and meditate again. I found it so hard to make it consistent, even though it wasn’t time consuming at all. So that’s definitely something I’m still working on: the ability to keep it a habit despite ever-changing schedules.

So what are you waiting for? Go find a comfy spot (outdoors or indoors – anyplace works!), find a comfy position, close your eyes, and just breathe.

Just breathe. Focus. Relax. Nothing more.

You’re meditating. Smile. (:

Photo from Greatist

~Julia

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