Andrew Johnson, the meditation specialist for Grokker.com, a wellness video network with more than 3,500 fitness, yoga, cooking and meditation tutorials, offers his expert advice for anyone who wants to get started with mediation but isn’t sure how. Plus, we included suggestions for a few more easy ways you can stress less and rejuvenate your mind and body for spring.
“If you are an absolute beginner at meditation, ignore all advice that you need to sit in a lotus position and have a straight spine,” Johnson said. “Feeling physically uncomfortable will slow any progress you make in the early stages.” In other words, start by finding any position that feels most comfortable to you, Johnson said that once you’ve established a regular practice, then you can change into a better position.
“Sitting still with your eyes closed, even for five minutes can be strange for beginners, so I always advise learning some basic skills like progressive relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing,” he added. “These gentle techniques will occupy your conscious mind and also relax the body. With some regular, gentle practice, the drifting down into relaxation will become automatic, and spending quiet, eyes-closed time will seem natural and pleasant.”
“My advice to beginners is to understand that although it may seem like you’re doing ‘nothing,’ meditation is actually an active process,” Johnson explained. “I suggest guided meditation as a starting point, so you understand how to get your mind to focus your attention on your thoughts, without allowing your mind to run wild.” You may find it pretty difficult to “quiet your mind” when you first begin, Johnson said, but in order to avoid becoming frustrated he suggests that you focus on your breath. “It will also give your mind somewhere to go,” he added.
Another tip for when you're finding it difficult to quiet your mind: “Think of the conscious mind as a naughty monkey,” Johnson explained. “When you try to push the monkey—your thoughts—away, all it wants to do is come closer, and when you want to hold onto the moneky, all it wants to do is escape. All you can do is become the observer of the monkey and eventually, the monkey will end up fast asleep up a tree somewhere.”
Johnson said that even if you don’t immediately notice the benefits of practiced relaxation and meditation, it doesn’t mean it’s not working. “The changes and benefits should feel completely natural, as if you are just becoming a different you,” he said. “Meditation assists in stress reduction, making you feel emotionally ‘lighter.’ It can also help you focus your thoughts when dealing with everyday scenarios, thus making you more productive and allowing you to see situations more clearly.”
In addition to benefits such as a boost to your immune system, increased serotonin and vitamin D levels, and improved sleep quality, research has shown that taking your workouts outdoors can lead you to feel more revitalized, as well as decrease your risk for depression and increase in your enjoyment of the activity. Plus, exercise in general has been shown to help reduce stress levels, so combining the two almost guarantees that you’ll feel recharged and renewed.
Yoga, which also commonly involves meditation techniques, has long been used as a way to reduce stress and tension within the body. And a growing body of research supports that a regular practice can help to reduce depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder. “[Yoga] stretches and strengthens the body and provides a relief from mental stress through deep breathing,” says Jill Braverman, a certified yoga instructor, health coach and personal trainer.
In addition to being more aware and present while relaxing or meditating, try practicing the same mindfulness at mealtimes. Experiment with being more cognizant of the tastes, smells and textures of your food, as well as any feelings that arise while you eat. Not only can this help you to better enjoy your meals, but it may also play a role in helping you to maintain a healthy weight.
It’s basically common sense: regularly getting a good’s night sleep (seven to nine hours per night for adults 18 to 64 years old) is one of the best things you can do to feel revitalized and relaxed. Not to mention, research continues to associate poor sleep habits with long-term issues like an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and impaired immunity.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center that examined the relationship between social media use and stress didn’t find that frequent Internet and social network use directly causes higher stress levels. However, the study’s authors did conclude that “social use of digital technology” can sometimes play a role in increasing stress by heightening our “awareness of stressful events in the lives of others.” On the other hand, data compiled from The Huffington Post found that social network users were actually 14 percent more likely to describe their lives as “somewhat stressful” when compared to non-users. Ultimately, research hasn’t been able to clearly identify why digital technology and social media might increase our stress levels, but some studies have shown that “unplugging” can offer several important health benefits, including decreased stress and increased mindfulness.
If after all your stress-reducing efforts, you still can't seem to get your mind to quiet down, especially while meditating or trying to fall asleep, experiment with a little bit of aromatherapy. Studies have revealed that it can be an effective stress-reducing strategy. Lavender is often recommended for relaxation as research supports its ability to help lower stress levels.