Meditation for Your Health & Performance
Science says so. Just 20 minutes of meditation during an otherwise hectic day will likely improve your performance instead of sidetracking it, according to a Harvard Medical School study.
The researchers found that meditation improves the function and communication of nerve cells in the brain. In MRI scans, brain waves were very active, much like those in the highly integrated minds of world-class athletes, performers, and entrepreneurs. Their brains are buffed up by powerful connections between the different areas, sharpening attention, memory, creative thinking, and problem solving.
Other studies have found that meditation yields physical advantages too: improved sleep, healthier eating habits, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death. A recent study from the Max Planck Institute in Germany tracked 229 meditators over nine months and found that they felt more energized, positive, and focused overall.
So how can you incorporate a daily meditation into your busy life? It’s easier than you think. Whether you have 3 or 30 minutes to spare, here are five meditations for beginners you can try today:
Meditations for Beginners
Meditation 1: Breathing
Try it if: You’re a newbie to meditation and you’re skeptical.
How to do it: Sit quietly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. To start, try the 4-7-8 method: Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds, making a whoosh sound.
Benefits: Increases your internal awareness and decreases negative thoughts. The 4-7-8 method can also induce sleep in as little as 60 seconds, according to researchers at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
Meditation 2: Body Scan
Try it if: You’re overly tense or sore, or your mind won’t stop racing.
How to do it: While sitting or laying, close your eyes and begin breathing deeply and evenly. Focus on the sensations of your body. Move your attention slowly from head to toe, or vice versa. Notice any pain and pressure, and try to “breathe into” those places. Feel your body expand with each breath, releasing any tension on each exhale. Complete a full scan, then slowly open your eyes.
Benefits: Brings awareness to your whole body by helping you notice how each part connects with another. It also releases tension, quiets the mind, and helps pinpoint precise locations of any pain.
Meditation 3: Observing Thought
Try it if: You feel like the world just took a dump on your head.
How to do it: Sit or lay in a comfortable position, focusing on the rise and fall of your breath. Shift your attention from your breathing to any thoughts that dash through your mind. Note how they make you feel but don’t dwell. Treat them equally, quickly letting them come and, more importantly, go.
Benefits: Builds awareness of what’s on your mind—and what may be dragging you down. Your goal is to release your negativity.
Meditation 4: Loving Kindness
Try it if: You’ve been a little on edge lately.
How to do it: Find a quiet place and focus on your breathing. Then, three choices: 1) Visualize a person (or people) you want to develop warm feelings toward. 2) Silently reflect on their positive qualities. Or 3) repeat a mantra about them (“love,” “appreciate,” “thank”) to help arouse positive feelings.
Benefits: Fosters positive emotions about others, and strengthens your ability to empathize. This meditation is often recommended by Buddhist teachers for those who have anger issues or regularly give in to feelings of regret and shame.
Meditation 5: Mantra
Try it if: This all sounds great, but who has the time?
How to do it: This one is perfect for busy people because you can repeat the mantra in your mind as you go about your day. Pick any word or phrase that you’d like to reflect in your actions: “calm,” forgive,” “gratitude.” Or opt for an oldie. A study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that repeating “om” increases mental alertness even when you’re in a relaxed state.
Benefits: Lowers blood pressure and heart rate, decreases anxiety and depression, eases stress, and creates feelings of relaxation and general well-being.