There’s a Zen adage that goes, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” I love this quote because it suggests that the busier and crazier our life is, the more important it is that we take time to unwind and recharge.
Regardless of where your life sits on the hectic scale, adding meditation to your daily routine, or even just a couple times a week, can bring about positive changes to your mental and physical health. A 2014 review and meta-analysis that looked into the health effects of meditation, found that mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety, depression, pain, stress, and mental quality of life, when incorporated regularly over the span of a few weeks to months (1).
I’ve seen firsthand the powerful effect that meditation has on health. Meditation, along with exercise, group support, and a plant-based diet, are used to halt and/or reverse the progression of heart disease in patients enrolled in the intensive cardiac rehab program where I work (2). The lifestyle interventions used in this program (which is based on the work of lifestyle medicine pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish, MD) have also been shown to reverse early-stage prostate cancer in men, positively influence up to 500 different genes, and lengthen our telomeres (the caps on our DNA associated with aging), which is great because shorter telomeres are associated with faster aging (3-5). It’s powerful stuff!
Yet despite all of the evidence supporting the health benefits of meditation, I’ve still had a hard time making it part of my daily routine. And when I first started, I had no idea what to do. Do I need to sit upright and cross-legged like those Buddha statues? How do I know when I’ve finished? Is there an ideal time of day I should practice? If you’re new to meditation, or are just now considering it, here are a few tips from one beginner to another.
How do I meditate?
When I googled “how to meditate”, the number of meditation techniques was overwhelming. By far the most common and basic practice is one where you sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed and bring your attention to your breath without trying to alter it. Maintaining focus on the rhythm of breath keeps the mind clam, but also prevents it from wandering. Thoughts like, “which awesome Eat Wild Greens recipe should I make for dinner tonight?” or “I can’t wait to go subscribe to the Eat Wild Greens blog.” are totally normal, but undesirable during meditation. When these thoughts pop up, simply allow them to come and go, while bringing the focus back to your breath.
How long should I meditate?
This is totally up to you. Personally, I started meditating for 5-10 minutes per day. The typical amount used in research studies ranges from 20-60 minutes per day, which may be required to see more significant health changes. But even spending 30 seconds to close your eyes while taking a few deep breaths can help lower stress levels. Personally, I would recommend starting with 5-10 minutes per day. You can keep track of time (so you’re not constantly wondering “am I done?”) by setting a timer on your phone, or by playing a timed meditation music video on YouTube.
Where should I meditate?
The good thing about meditation is that you can do it practically anywhere, although you should probably avoid practicing during a work meeting or while driving. An ideal location would be somewhere quiet, isolated, and in nature. Consider a park, garden, nearby lake or pond, or anywhere that you can immerse yourself in nature. Behind the hospital where I previously worked, there was a small pond surrounded by trees with a few benches. I would spend part of my lunch break taking a walk and getting in a quick meditation session by that pond. Although a natural setting is ideal, anywhere that is quiet and free from distractions can be used. This could be your bedroom, a patio or balcony, or anywhere that works for you. Headphones can be used to help drown out any unwanted background noise.
Other tips to get started:
- Establish a regular time and location where you will meditate every day. For me, it’s sitting in my bed for five minutes first thing in the morning and for five minutes just before going to bed.
- Try guided meditation videos on YouTube. Search for something like “10-minute guided meditation” and dozens of options will pop up. Some are definitely better than others, so when I find one I like, I keep the webpage up on my phone and use it for a while before searching for another option.
- Use a mediation app on your smartphone. There are a bunch of free mediation apps that you can download on your phone. Many will remind you of your daily practice, can be used as timers, and will track your progress.
- Check out a restorative yoga class. While many yoga classes nowadays are fitness focused, restorative yoga is more meditation focused. Typically, the lights are dim, calming music is playing, and poses are easy and relaxing.
- Find a mediation buddy. As with any major lifestyle change, having someone there with you often leads to higher success rates. This person could be anyone you see on a regular basis, such as a significant other, friend, family member, or coworker.
Everyone has stress in their life, but it’s how we respond to it that determines if it becomes detrimental to our health or not. Meditation is a proven way to keep stress levels in check, but it’s not the only option. Check out my post, 4 Science-Based Ways to Reduce Stress, for other proven strategies to help you manage stress.
Peace, love, health
- Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-beingA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
- Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial.
- Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer.
- Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study.
- Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention