Can you remember the last time you ate a meal without checking your email or taking a photo of it to share on Instagram? Are you able to watch a television show without tweeting about it? How often do you perform one task and ONLY one task at a time? We’re willing to bet it’s been a long time, which is why the practice of meditation and the effort to obtain mindfulness, is becoming a popular practice.
Whether you want to slow down your day-to-day life and be more “in the moment,” improve your concentration, feel more spiritually connected, de-stress, or just want to sleep better—starting a daily meditation practice may be the answer.
What is Meditation?
According to Yoga International meditation is “a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state.”
Much of meditation derives from philosophies and practices associated with religious faiths. (Studies suggest meditation can increase compassion and improve empathy.) Meditation, however, doesn’t have to be tied with religious practice. The latest studies in science prove that meditation is much more than a “namaste” thing.
In a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team of researchers from Harvard University found that after eight weeks of meditation, people practicing for the first time were able to grow the gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area of the brain associated with stress.
According to ASAP Science, “those who practice meditation also have higher levels of alpha waves, which have been shown to reduce feelings of negative mood, tension, sadness and anger.”
A study from Carnegie Mellon University found mindfully meditating for 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days is all it takes to significantly reduce stress levels.
Reduction of stress is important for overall health. Dr. Dušan Knežević, a cardiologist at Montclair Cardiology, explains, “Mindfulness and meditation are excellent means to reduce stress. Stress, anxiety and anger significantly increase the risk of a heart attack and sudden cardiac death. In our practice, we counsel patients about the importance of stress reduction techniques. Physical exercise is an important way to reduce stress. Ideally physical exercise should be combined with meditation.”
How to Meditate
If you’re convinced it’s a good thing and want to meditate, but you’re not sure what to do, keep reading.
Leo Aristimuno of Montclair, a spiritual guide and mindfulness-based life coach who teaches meditation programs at Be Evolution Yoga Studio and Clear Mountain Zen Center, offers 10 Tips to Getting Started with Mindfulness Meditation:
- Find a group or a course to support you and to share the journey with. When you sit with a group, you commit to meditating for a specific period of time. For the length of the meditation, you have the support of people who are also sitting with you, sharing the journey of just being alive.
- Transform expectations into intentions. Instead of expecting meditation to change you in this way or that way, create an intention to inspire your practice without limiting the journey. Set forth an intention: “With my new mindfulness skills and my new peaceful mind, I will ….. “
- Trust. The benefits of meditation are well documented and researched. Use this knowledge as inspiration, not a checklist. Trust that with sustained practice, you will begin to notice subtle changes. Trust that, with practice, you will enjoy the many benefits of meditation in your daily life. Allow yourself to be surprised. Allow yourself to discover.
- Embrace yourself as your best teacher. Once you learn the techniques, meditation invites you to learn from yourself. You observe the present moment as it is lived by you. Your practice, your journey, your life challenges, your transformations, your moments of inspiration are all unique.
- Cultivate beginner’s mind.Know that each time you sit, you do so with a new body, a new mind, a new coming-together of everything that is you. Just as each moment is unique, each meditation is a new experience.Each time to sit is an opportunity to observe a completely new manifestation of this marvelous thing we call life.
- Enjoy the journey. Meditation is not about reaching an end state of enlightenment. It’s more of a way of being fully alive and present in each moment. With meditation, you are invited to observe and embrace each step of the way. Life is not over there. It’s right here, right now.
- Return with kindness, patience, compassion.We all wander. We all stray. We all have monkey minds and fidgeting bodies. When we find ourselves carried away, distracted, or entangled in thoughts, sensations, or emotions, meditation invites us to return with kindness.
- Open your mind to new perspectives. Meditation invites us to notice that all which arises is impermanent. The physical realm, thoughts, sensations, emotions — these all arise, take shape, and pass away. Know that you are not any one of these sensations, thoughts, or emotions. You are the space where these arise.
- Open your heart to what is. With meditation, we see that we spend much of our lives judging life. We develop ideas of how life “should” be. We each have our preferences and our aversions. We spend much of our lives picking and choosing what parts of life we want to experience. In fact, we have developed habits with which we react to (and sometimes try to avoid) certain things, people, sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise in our lives. We even try very hard to make life follow our script. We often stress and feel bad when we realize that we can’t control life. And, ironically, this stressful effort actually harms us physically and emotionally. Meditation invites us to let go of our tight grip. We can release. We can stop trying so hard. We can breathe. We can be. When we meditate, we practice accepting the present moment exactly as it is. We become intimate with life. If we open our hearts, we may even come to love life, and ourselves, right now, in this moment, exactly as we are.
- Open your heart to others. We are all in this together. We all have judgments and ideas of how life “should” be. We all try very hard to make the world follow our script. We all react habitually based on our picking and choosing. And we all suffer when we realize we can’t control life, that it is impermanent.
Kanan Kapila, Co-Founder of Jaipure Yoga and currently teaching a free guided 20 minute meditation on Saturdays at Powerflow in Clifton, says “Anyone can learn and practice meditation…you just need to be open and willing!” Here are her three tips on getting started:
- Attend a meditation class with an experienced teacher to learn the technique (there are different types for different purposes from Vedic, Zen, Buddhist, Kundalini,Transcendental) and/or view videos on Meditate.
- Breath & Manta. We all have one minute to spare, right? Try a 1 minute breath awareness: close your eyes, focus your gaze up between your brows or towards the tip of your nose, invite the breath in through your nostrils for a count of 5, savor for a count of 5, then softly release for count of five. Repeat the cycle again, this time breathe in the word “LET” and breathe out the word “GO.” The idea is the more we learn to consciously let go….stuff that no longer serves our well-being, then the more conscious space we create for good. Not all types of meditation practices use mantras but a simple one such as “Let Go” is profound.
- Set up space. Anywhere. At home is ideal, create a clean space where you can sit from one min to twenty mins or longer, on your commute, walking, cooking, etc. Once or twice a day.
Kerri McClain, who is currently teaching a Mindful Meditation and Movement Series with Mari Griffin at Starseed Yoga, says, “Everyday, Even if its just for 30 seconds. Consistency, without gaps, over a long period time is everything. It’s nice to start meditating for a short period of time (30 seconds or more) and build from there.” McClain adds, “Picking a spot in your home, to honor as your own sacred space,will help.”
Local Workshops and Classes
There are many resources to learn or practice meditation, such as apps, local classes, and labyrinth walks. You can try to achieve mindfulness at the Montclair YMCA, the Adult School of Montclair, and at most yoga studios. Here are some other centers that offer classes and workshops:
The Yoga and Meditation Center
292 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ, 07042
Offers Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation, Introduction to Natural Meditation, and Just Being; Explorations in Mindfulness and Meditation
Jewish Meditation Center of Montclair
Weekly meetings at B’Nai Keshet, 99 South Fullerton Avenue, Montclair, NJ
Offers various courses and workshops throughout the area.
Clear Mountain Zen Center of Montclair
22 Lackawanna Plaza, Montclair, NJ 07042
Offers a form of meditation practice called Zazen: A formal time of sitting meditation, intermixed with instruction, walking meditation, and chanting.