Meditation: What It Does … and Why You Need It

By Cheryl Lock for Discover and Play

The concept of using meditation as a way to de-stress, focus and find a sense of calm is really nothing new … the newness of this idea comes from the fact that big-name companies like General Mills, Target and Google are now jumping on the band wagon as well and offering meditative sessions to their employees.

So what exactly is meditation, why should you do it and — perhaps most importantly – how can you find time in a busy schedule to do it?

Don’t stress. We can help you get started.

The Basics: What is Meditation?

If you’re worried that meditation involves too much worshiping or prayer and you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly religious person, it may be time to re-learn what meditation actually is. In fact, meditation is all about “awareness,” as opposed to anything religious. The goal of any good meditative session will be to focus on one thing in particular — your breathing, for example, or the way your feet are planted firmly on the ground — and to practice keeping your mind free from other distractions while doing so.

Why Meditate

With the endless distractions and interruptions of today’s constantly connected world, wouldn’t it be nice to unplug (even if only for a few minutes) and concentrate on something more calming?

People have been using different forms of meditation for thousands of years now to do just that.

While it’s not a miracle cure for all that ails you, of course, meditation can in fact help with a wide range of issues from stress and anxiety relief all the way to decreasing blood pressure and hypertension, lowering cholesterol levels and helping to provide more restful sleep, among other things. In fact, new studies have even shown that in as little as just eight weeks, meditation can produce changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self and stress regulation.

How to Fit it In

Don’t give up on the idea of meditating just because you can’t imagine shutting all the blinds, turning off your phone and sitting quiet in a room with no interruptions for 45 minutes — meditation doesn’t have to be that specific. Just a few minutes multiple days a week can really make a difference. Here are a few ideas on how to get started:

  • App it Out: If you aren’t sure where to start, or you’d like something more specific and guided on your first attempt, there are many apps to help set you up. Calm and Headspace are two good ones for beginners.
  • Go at it With a Buddy: We don’t mean that you need to actually have a friend in the room while you’re mediating (although that’s fine if it helps you get through it). Sharing your meditative goals with a buddy and checking in with him or her when you complete them may be a good way to stay motivated with your meditation plan.
  • Work With Your Bad Habits: If you find that you spend a lot of time spacing out or staring into space in general, try training your body to use that wasted time to meditate, instead. In fact, there’s a name for this type of meditation: Trataka, or fixed-gazing meditation. Trataka essentially means to gaze steadily at a fixed point. Doesn’t seem much like meditating to you? Think of it this way: instead of staring blankly at an object and zoning out, Trataka asks that you concentrate your mind on that particular object — usually a flame — and curb any shifts that your mind may try to make during that time. Practice this regularly and you’ll begin to see how such an act can help train your brain to remain in the present, rather than hop haphazardly from thought to thought.

Above all else, it’s important to give yourself time when you’re first trying to learn to meditate. If the first couple of sessions don’t appear to do much for you, try to stick with it for a while longer. If you can, you might be amazed by the benefits you can gain from it.