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How To Meditate for Brain Health, Mental Fitness and Energy

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Updated May 30, 2014

While meditation is surrounded by religion, beliefs and superstitions, it is a valid body state like any other, such as arousal or sleep. By learning to meditate, you can reap the benefits of this body state which include relaxation, energy and perspective on your life. Meditation is being taken seriously by health researchers interested in stress reduction and methods to improve overall health.

Meditation is used by people interested addressing conditions such as anxiety, pain, depression, emotional problems, insomnia, and stress. Meditation is also the ultimate brain workout.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 20 minutes, everyday

Here's How:

  1. Sit: Find a place where you can sit comfortably, uninterrupted for about 20 minutes. The most important thing is to sit with your back as straight as possible. Some people find that sitting on the edge of a cushion helps keep the back straight. You will hear about special meditation cushions, candles, incense, statues, bells, and so forth -- don't worry about any of that stuff. The important thing is to sit comfortably and to practice meditation often. You can add in accessories whenever you want.

  2. Set a Timer: At times when you are meditating, you may secretly be looking for any excuse to get up and do something else. One of the most compelling excuses is to "check the time." Often during meditation your sense of timing is lost and that leads to the feeling that you have gone past the time you set for meditation. This will often happen after you have been sitting for 1 or 2 minutes. A timer helps to assure you that you have not meditated too long. If you do not have a timer, you will probably look at a clock or your watch every 30 seconds. So set a timer and then forget about time.

  3. Breathe: Breathing is an unique bodily function. It is automatic, we take over 10 million breaths per year without noticing, but we can also control breathing voluntarily. Think of breathing as how we can communicate with our bodies. If we breathe slowly, our bodies relax. While you sit:

    • bring your attention to your breathing
    • notice everything about your breathing:
      • the inhale
      • the exhale
      • the tiny pause between them
    • breathe naturally, just be aware of your breath

    This is your only task in meditation -- be aware of your breath. If your thoughts wander, just come back to breathing.

  4. Label: The goal of meditation is not to have no thoughts (that is impossible) but to not interact with the thoughts that occur. If, while you are meditating, you start wondering when was the last time you changed the oil in your car, that is perfectly normal -- just come back to your breathing and try not to 'chase' the thought.

    Some people find it helps to label the thoughts. When you notice yourself drifting, just place a neutral label on the thoughts -- if you are thinking about everything you have to do at work, label the thoughts 'work' and return to breathing.

  5. Don't Judge: Meditation is hard and perfect meditation is impossible. Your thoughts will drift. You will find that on some days you spend your entire meditation time thinking about your kitchen sink. Your awareness will drift away and the time will disappear. That is fine. Whenever you drift, come back to being aware of sitting and breathing. Do not judge yourself. Do not create a train of thought about how you can't meditate, how you are no good at this. Just come back to your breath.

  6. Don't Listen To Yourself: While you meditate, there is a little voice inside your head trying to get you to stop.

    • This voice will come up with "great ideas" that you just have to write down immediately.
    • The voice will read your to do list to you, leaving you feeling pressured to just stop and get something done.
    • The voice will, at least once, utterly convince you that your timer has stopped and you have been meditating for hours and are late for something.

    Don't listen to the voice. While you are mediating there is nothing more important for you to do. Just sit.

  7. Watch the "Thought Clouds" Drift: Treat meditation as an experiment. Watch yourself thinking. Examine how thoughts emerge randomly and then begin to connect to other thoughts. Watch what happens to thought if you do not nourish them. How do trains of thought stop? Eventually you will see that most thoughts are random and not really worth your time. You will also begin to develop an awareness apart from your thoughts. Perhaps the greatest lesson of meditation is that you are not your thoughts.

  8. Bring Meditation Into Your Daily Life: Many of the skills learned in meditation can be applied during your daily life. Meditate when:

    • waiting in line
    • doing the dishes
    • feeling upset

    Take a two-minute breathing break several times during the day. Watch as your thoughts and ideas turn up at work, in conversation, or while you are solving a problem. Use the same experimental mindset and watch how you behave and think throughout the day.

  9. Repeat Daily: Meditation is a skill that needs practice and more practice. Set a daily time for meditation and stick to it. Your brain will benefit from the endlessly fascinating journey into your own mind. Your body will benefit from the deep relaxation and stress reduction.

    More Ways to Improve Your Mental Fitness

Tips:

  1. Make every Monday the day you recommit to living your healthiest life. Sign up for our free Healthy Monday newsletter full of tips on reducing stress, eating right, getting into an exercise routine, and more.

    About.com is a proud participant of Healthy Monday, a project of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.



What You Need

  • quiet place to sit
  • timer
  • 20 minutes

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