How to meditate properly: Tips from experts to get the most out of meditation.
Americans are soothing their senses and quieting their minds like never before.
The percentage of adults in the country who practice meditation increased from 4.1 percent in 2012 to 14.2 percent of the population nearly six years later. Today, that number has grown higher still, with many adults now frequently turning to mindfulness and meditation apps for help with the practice.
There, superstars like Harry Styles, LeBron James, Kate Winslet and Matthew McConaughey help listeners achieve a relaxed state of being, proving that meditation has moved beyond its spiritual roots to become a trendy, mainstream activity.
But seeking inner peace and finding it are two different things, and meditation experts say some techniques are more productive than others.
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What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice in which an individual follows specific focus or breathing techniques to gain mental or emotional clarity. "It's a strategy to help you achieve a relaxed state of being and move in the direction of achieving inner peace," explains Juanita Guerra, PhD, a clinical psychologist practicing meditation in New Rochelle, New York.
How does meditation work?
By learning to focus one's breathing or attention on a specific thought or activity, meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and enhance clarity and emotional well-being. This is thought to happen because, while in a meditative state, several regions of the brain are known to be affected at once, and continuous deep breathing has been shown to increase air and blood flow throughout the body – calming one's nerves, releasing toxins, and expanding lung tissue.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Such physiological responses in the body heighten focus and reduce stress and anxiety. Research has shown that meditation can also strengthen areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and, over time, may increase one's cognition and attention span. "Practicing meditation on a consistent basis can convey many benefits to one’s well-being," says Danielle Casioppo, MS, a meditation, yoga and mindfulness instructor and coordinator at Yale University. Some additional benefits she shared include enhanced body awareness, improved emotional regulation and increased self-awareness.
"Meditation also enhances attentional control through less mind wandering, which has been shown in studies to increase feelings of well-being," she adds.
"Meditation can also help you build your patience," explains Guerra. "More than anything else, mediation helps you to quiet the mind, feel more grounded, and live in the present moment."
How to meditate properly
While there are many proven techniques to help one meditate productively, some basic practices are consistent throughout:
Lose distractions and get comfortable. "Make sure that you’re in a quiet setting, free from distractions and that you wear comfortable clothing – you shouldn’t feel constricted in any way," advises Guerra.
Choose a specific period of time. "If someone is new to meditation, I suggest that they start small and begin with a short, simple practice," recommends Casioppo. "Try to set a timer for two minutes to start off because most people are not prepared to sit for 30 or 45 minutes in silence in the beginning."
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. "Sit comfortably and follow the inhale and exhale of your breathing. Then, when the timer goes off, end the practice," says Casioppo.
Increase the length of future meditation sessions until you find a duration and technique that works for you. "Repeat this brief practice throughout the day as needed and gradually increase the time as desired," suggests Casioppo. "It’s a learnable skill, something that takes practice and patience."
Another thing meditation newcomers should keep in mind is not getting hung up on enhanced breathing techniques or stressed about breathing "correctly." "The breath is a common entry point for many types of meditation," explains Casioppo. "However, it’s not required as the focus." For some people, she says focusing on sound or the sensations of one's body may also be helpful. The important thing is finding a relaxing anchor point for your focus so external stressors and distractions can melt away.
Can you meditate lying down?
Guerra also recommends trying different methods of meditation until you find the one that makes you feel most centered and calm.
"Try meditating sitting up and lying down and see which you prefer. Also, try different forms of meditating such as walking mediation, repeating a mantra or guided mediation and see which one works best for you," she explains. "There is no right or wrong way to meditate, it’s a matter of personal preference."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to meditate: What is meditation? And how to do it properly.