A Beginner’s Guide To Meditation
If you landed here, start by taking a nice, big breath—bigger than any breath that you’ve taken all day. When you let it out, continue reading! Meditation is a way we can naturally reduce anxiety and stress levels, allowing us to better connect with our physical bodies and minds. With regular practice, that mindfulness in meditation allows us to be kinder to ourselves in addition to exploring how we feel, what might be bugging us, and what could be keeping us from focusing on the tasks at hand. We preach a lot of routine building at Lazarus Naturals to help to achieve your best you. Hopefully, you’ll find this guide a helpful introduction to the basics of meditation so that you can get started.
What Is Meditation, Anyway?
Many people look at the word "meditation" as some super mystical granola thing. However, it’s not about changing yourself or focusing entirely on the universe. Meditation entails training your awareness so you can have a healthy perspective of yourself and your feelings—observing your thoughts and connecting with your body and mind. Meditation may lead to more mindfulness (or the ability to be in the present moment) and better rest.¹ People who meditate tend to be more centered, less anxious, and more focused.
Why? Because meditation allows you to be more comfortable within your mind.² As you begin, you may have a few setbacks or intrusive thoughts that make you uncomfortable or judgemental of yourself; but that's all part of the process. Your mind will wander to all sorts of places, and you will occasionally forget to breathe—but that's okay. All that matters is that you practice it every day; even if only for a couple of minutes at a time.
Meditation looks a little different for everyone, but regardless of breathing techniques, body positions, and time limits, you want to start by sitting comfortably in a place that feels calm, quiet, and peaceful for you.
To get started, you might set a time limit for how long you'd like to practice. Beginners will likely find it better to practice for a shorter period of time at first—anywhere from 5-10 minutes. As you practice, more and more things will come up, and you'll have an easier time understanding what to do and how you'll feel.
As you begin your journey in meditation, use these four tenets to guide you:
Start by focusing on your body. Listen to the sound of your breath as it goes in and out, focusing on how it feels. Notice how your body breathes, stretches, moves, and feels. Scan from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes and check in with each part. You may notice that your shoulders are tense and opt to stretch them—and that's okay.
You may lose focus during your full body scan—that's also okay. You don't have to correct your mind or judge it, just let it be and gently bring it back to the scan.
Next, hone in on your breath. Try to focus on deep, slow breaths in followed by slowly breathing out. Allow your chest to rise and fall, and feel the air entering and exiting your body. Try and stay in the present for a bit. Allow your breathing to become natural and background. Think of your breath as a sort of home base throughout your meditation practice. If you get restless, at any point you can return your focus to breathing in, and breathing out.
After you have checked in with your breathing and your body, you can just let your mind do whatever it wants for a while. If your mind is wandering other places, it may be trying to tell you something. The key isn't to ignore your thoughts or make them stop; the goal is to observe them, see where they go, and gently bring your focus back toward your breath as you work things through. Some thoughts will be frivolous and irrelevant—like how tasty your breakfast was that morning or what you're planning on doing after meditating, and that's okay!
If you catch yourself dwelling on something that's been bugging you, don't be afraid to check in and mentally talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend or even a child. Getting to the bottom of complicated emotions during meditation could help you be more present-minded and positive after you’re finished.
You can always bring yourself back to the present by focusing on your breath.
Just remember to never judge or obsess over anything that comes up! Observe those thoughts like fluffy clouds in the sky for a moment…and then let them float away so you can return to your breathing. When you're done, finish your session by lifting your gaze and recognizing sounds or smells around you—checking in with your body and your emotions one last time. It helps to return to some nice deep breaths before you stand up.
That's it, really! Meditation is simply focusing on the mind and body without judgment. Your mind can wander, but you never want to speak to it harshly. Kindness is key in meditation practice, as well as on your journey to mindfulness.
How Does Meditation Help?
Evidence suggests that meditation comes with a handful of potential physical, mental, and emotional benefits. That may be part of the reason why depictions of meditation have been found all the way back from 5,000 to 3,500 BCE.³
When we meditate, we take a deeper look into ourselves and discover things that may not be immediately obvious. A lot of people begin meditating to help with managing stress, reducing anxiety, or finding peace within themselves—and the evidence suggests it helps.
Studies show that meditating daily could help improve awareness, compassion, self-esteem, mental clarity, and an overall sense of calm. One study found that meditation programs may help ease the psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain brought about by stress.⁴ Another study discovered that a few days of meditation actually helped increase the subject's satisfaction with life by 7.5%.⁵
Mental health benefits aside, meditation could bring about positive changes within your body, as well. Dedicating time to breathing, letting go of the day’s worries, and recharging your battery all can play an active role in your physical health. For example, one study found that when both the mind and the body are relaxed, your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and stops releasing stress hormones like cortisol.⁶
Evidence suggests that reducing stress and stress hormones might lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and your overall oxygen use—which may in turn offer increased energy, a healthier immune system, and better rest.⁷ More importantly, lowering stress makes it easier to manage the symptoms of many health conditions (like inflammation).
Inflammation is often triggered by stress and is associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, and several other serious diseases. According to one study, meditation dulls the genes that cause inflammation and may promote other genes known for DNA stability.⁸
Outside of physical and mental effects there’s the profound effect that meditation seems to play on our emotions. Evidence suggests that meditation could be able to rewire our brains towards more positive thoughts and feelings physically. One study found meditation decreases negative connections to the medial prefrontal cortex—better known as the "me" center within the brain.⁹ Meditation could reduce fear, stress, and anxiety while building positive connections to the part of your brain that controls focus and decision-making.
Some research demonstrated that meditation may increase your gray matter, which in turn may help in emotional regulation, problem-solving, planning, memory, and learning.¹⁰ It could shrink your amygdala—which controls how stressed, fearful, and anxious we are.
All that is to say that meditation may have a strong effect on our emotions. By training ourselves to be less in our heads, we become more present and have an easier time distancing ourselves from the negative feelings and thoughts that bring us down.
Other Ways To Meditate
There are many ways to slip into a meditative state that don’t require a whole process of sitting down and concentrating on being still. We've broken down a few other ways to meditate below.
Exercise is a great way to bring mind and body together.¹¹ Repetitive activities, music, counting your reps, and monitoring your breath may help you slip into a meditative state as you exercise. Whether you choose to run, bike, practice intervals, swim, or otherwise—you may find yourself feeling better physically and mentally while working out. This type of physical and mental union is a form of meditation, so feel free to open up your mind and let your thoughts go where they want while you work out!
Yoga is an exceptionally meditative practice, as it focuses mainly on breathing.¹² As you stretch your body, your breathing is crucial to monitor. In yoga, you focus on breathing and all the other sensations in your body. This can open the door for quiet introspection and a sense of self and mindfulness as you practice in the present moment. Many yoga sessions end in the Shavasana pose, which is used for relaxation and quiet meditation at the end of your practice. Yoga enables you to connect the mind and body, making it easier to slip into meditative states where you can observe your thoughts and let them be.
Journaling & Writing
Sometimes, putting pen to paper slows down your thoughts enough to process them.¹³ The physical act of writing something down forces you to take extra time to think about the things you may be feeling or want to say. Many people who journal consider it a form of meditation for these exact reasons. Even though breathing isn't technically involved, it demands introspection, interpretation, and meditation as you observe the things you saw and felt. Take care to journal intimately and without judgment as a meditation practice.
If you're not sure how to meditate on your own, you can always try guided meditation practices. The kind folks at Headspace have a platform full of guided meditations covering everything from stress and anxiety to self-esteem, fear, grief, and various other areas of the spectrum of human emotion.¹⁴ However, there are many timed practices available that might help you set goals for your practice, as well as help you to become more mindful in as little as five minutes a day.
CBD For Mindfulness & Meditation
Another thing you may want to consider on your journey to meditative mindfulness is integrating CBD into your practice. Before many people begin exploring the concept of trying a meditation practice, they may be experiencing overwhelming stress, anxiety, grief, fear, and/or sadness.¹⁵ Sometimes people feeling emotions as intense as these may struggle to benefit from meditation at first as their thoughts may become too loud. One thing that might help is to take CBD before you begin to meditate. Evidence suggests that CBD may reduce stress and anxiety thanks to its potential to balance our endocannabinoid system.¹⁶
With CBD, it may be easier to ease into a more meditative state thanks to its ability to potentially alleviate stressful or anxious thoughts that could make it increasingly difficult to practice or reap the real benefits of not judging your own thoughts. If you are looking for something to assist you on your journey toward mindfulness and wellness, you can rely on Lazarus Naturals to offer you effective and all-natural support each step of the way.