As a neuroscience researcher with an active yoga practice, I have experienced first hand how meditation is a fantastic ritual to improve mindfulness for increased attention and focus. In our fast-paced world with so many distractions, like the constant pinging of my phone, ongoing notification about deadlines, and project goals, it’s easy to get carried away and lose the gift of the present.
My own meditation practice has been a constant source of tranquility and rejuvenation. On a personal level, it helps me de-stress and slow down when my mind is suffering from overwhelm. As an academic, I’ve also been thrilled with the growing neurological research on the beneficial effects of meditation on the brain. It’s a time-honored wellness practice that truly merits the hype, and I’m here to explain why.
Whether you have been practicing meditation for a while or you are a complete beginner to this wonderful practice, I’m sharing 3 easy steps (supplemented with neuroscience facts to help you understand the cognitive impacts) to help you get started or boost your existing practice.
How To Start A Mindfulness Meditation Practice In 4 Easy Steps
Step 1: Before you start, I want to gently encourage you to BE KIND to yourself. You might not find your meditative groove on the first go, or find the whole process difficult, but that’s okay. Be kind, accept your struggles, and keep going. It takes time to build a practice. Even active practitioners can have their lapses, so take it slow – one step at a time.
Step 2: Find yourself a comfortable place, preferably one with minimal noise and good ventilation. You can sit cross-legged on a pillow, a yoga mat, or the floor. Feel free to support to your back by leaning up against a wall, a cupboard, or a tree.
Neuroscience fact– An upright and comfortable body posture can help improve negative moods. Maintaining a positive mood helps you stay more motivated during your meditation.
Step 3: To begin, pay attention to the natural flow of your breath – how your chest rises with every inhalation and falls with every exhalation, and how the air moves in and out of your lungs.
Neuroscience fact– Meditation helps you slow down and deepen your breath. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to relax and reduce stress.
Step 4: If you get distracted, simply accept it, move on, and return back to your breath. Remember, the purpose of meditation is not to vanquish all your thoughts, but to simply be aware of when your mind goes astray and away from its focus point (i.e., breath), so that you can bring your attention back to it.
Neuroscience fact– Neuropsychologist Kim Willment of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital says that training your brain to notice when you get distracted helps to strengthen the monitoring process and be more focused. So, meditation essentially TRAINS your brain to be more present and focused!
Your practice can start very slow. A 1-minute meditation twice a week is plenty! You can gradually build your practice as you begin to feel more confident. Regular practice certainly helps you improve and builds your meditation into a habit, so make sure you’re keeping consistent. You can also try out other kinds of meditation to find out what works best for you: sound meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation … never feel like you’re limited to just sitting cross-legged in silence.
Verdict: meditation is a wellness practice that’s absolutely worth it. Scientifically and spiritually speaking, there’s a good reason that wellness experts recommend maintaining a regular meditation practice. Even if it is just a few moments a week. It is something that can be hard to get into at first, but as long as you’re patient and persistent you will be able to reap the benefits.