If you’re wondering how to meditate, there’s a good chance you’ve heard all sorts of things about how good it can be for you. People love to suggest meditation for a variety of reasons: to relieve stress and anxiety, to relieve depression, to help you fall asleep, to feel more present, and to magically transform you into a better, more grounded person. The claims go on and on. And while the benefits of meditation have been greatly exaggerated in many ways, many people consider it a worthwhile practice, and we agree. With all that is going on in the world, it is a good time to research meditation and see if it could be of use to you too.
Meditation may seem easy ̵
1. What exactly is meditation?
First things first, there are many different types of meditation. “Meditation is generally used as a broad umbrella term that covers a wide range of contemplative practices, many of which stem from Buddhist traditions, but have often been adapted and secularized for use in Western society,” said neuroscientist Wendy Hasenkamp, Ph.D. Scientific director at the Mind & Life Institute and visiting professor of contemplative science at the University of Virginia previously told SELF.
In this sense, the questions of what meditation is and how to meditate are not exactly easy. It’s like asking how to exercise, Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and author of The little book of beingsays YOURSELF. “Just as there are many types of exercise, there are also many types of meditation,” she says. And just like different sports have important things in common (like competition and physical activity), meditation has core tenets. “I define meditation as any practice that encourages inner inquiry,” says Winston.
In this article we will mainly focus on mindfulness meditation. Why? A couple of reasons. For one, mindfulness is at the heart of many different types of meditation. Plus, it’s very accessible to beginners and has the most compelling evidence of its psychological benefits (more on that later). It’s also a very popular form of meditation, especially in recent years. If you are interested in developing a meditation practice to support your mental health, you are likely thinking about mindfulness meditation.
As with meditation, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of mindfulness, but experts generally agree: you are openly focused on the present moment without judgment. “If at any point in the day you check in on your mind, you will likely find yourself thinking about the past or the future, or planning in general, obsessed, worried and catastrophic,” says Winston. “Mindfulness is the practice of pulling our minds away from these places in order to return to the present moment.” Mindfulness meditation is the formal practice of cultivating mindfulness.
If all of this sounds a little abstract to you, keep in mind that you have probably meditated – or at least felt meditative – at some point in your life. “In my classes, I always encourage my skeptical beginners to share their favorite hobby,” Laurasia Mattingly, a Los Angeles-based meditation and mindfulness teacher, told SELF. “Then I tell them that they have meditated before. Any activity that allows you to be fully present without worrying about the future or the past is a gateway to meditation. “
2. What are the benefits of meditation?
This is where things get a little tricky. The proven scientific benefits of mindfulness meditation are difficult to summarize (so much so that YOURSELF has its own explainer). The TL; DR is that there are three conditions with strong and compelling evidence to support the effects of meditation: depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. That said, a not inconsiderable number of meta-reviews and meta-analyzes have shown that mindfulness meditation can help moderately with symptoms associated with these conditions (or with chronic pain, like humans) deal with at least with symptoms). This article provides a full breakdown of our activities and information on the health benefits of mindfulness meditation.