Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How To Meditate (And Get The Most Benefit Out Of It)

George Dvorsky
How To Meditate (And Get The Most Benefit Out Of It)
Neuroscientists and psychologists keep discovering more health benefits from mindfulness meditation. And luckily, it's a simple practice, that virtually anyone can do. But how do you get started, and how do you get the most rewards from the practice? Here's our quick and easy guide to meditating.

Mindfulness meditation, or focused attention, turns out to bring a surprising number of health benefits, including stress reduction, better attention and memory, and even increased creativity and feelings of compassion. It can also alleviate disturbed sleep, restructure our brains for the better (including developing more grey matter), and help you lose weight. It's also incredibly relaxing and reinvigorating.

There are many different ways to meditate, but for the purposes of this article, and because it's the most studied form, we're only going to consider mindfulness meditation. That's not to suggest other forms of meditation aren't likewise valid or beneficial.
An Ancient Practice, A Modern Need

Mindfulness meditation can trace its roots all the way back to the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. And in fact, it's often considered the first real attempt to study mental processes in a systematic way.

Developed over 2,500 years ago in what is now India, its basic purpose was to help practitioners perceive things as "they really are" and for them to gain enhanced control over their (often scattered) thought processes. Today, mindfulness is practiced both within and outside of the Buddhist context. You don't need to be spiritual or a Buddhist to reap the many benefits of focused attention.

Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to strengthen contextual awareness and our ability to stay "fixed" in the present moment. As a result, meditation can have a profound influence on the way we approach the minituae of our daily lives; studies have shown that meditators have an easier time sustaining voluntary attention."Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are," says Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela of Naropa University. "Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is."

It's never been more difficult to stay focused on the moment, or on a fixed concept or task. Modern technologies in particular have created an intensely distracting environment, and our attention spans have suffered accordingly. We dart from activity to activity, in an often futile effort to multitask. Mindfulness offers practitioners the opportunity to to stop this cycle and focus on one concrete thought.

Getting Started

You can meditate at virtually any point during the day, and you can do it as many times as you want, and for however long you want (but just like anything else, don't overdo it). Some people prefer mornings, others like to do it just before bed. Some folks meditate for five minutes, others for 20 minutes, and some for an hour or more. Personally, meditating for 20 to 30 minutes works best for me. And in fact, during the course of a 2011 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness, beginners spent an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness meditation. That's a good benchmark time to be aware of. Eventually, with much practice, and as you get more comfortable with the sitting position, you should be able to extend that to an hour or more (if you want).

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