As we enter the new year, we typically focus on resolutions and goals for self-improvement. Packing up the holiday decorations and reaching for our running shoes, yoga mats and gym memberships, it is easy to forget there is more to health than just our physical wellbeing.
Mental health is just as imperative as our physical health. In fact, they are intertwined as one unit creating the mind-body connection. One way to help strengthen this connection is through meditation. Many people steer away from this in fear of not doing it “right.” In reality, the only way to be unsuccessful is by not doing it at all. Meditation is just like any other skill — practice and consistency generate better results.
Meditation allows us to sit without the “doing” of our daily lives, to slow down and breathe. Our nervous system is on constant overdrive. By having our minds be quiet and present, we gain awareness of our thoughts and where they are felt in the body.
The autonomic nervous system has two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of your “fight or flight” reactions. Daily life, work, stress and anxiety all increase the brain’s responses in this way. The parasympathetic nervous system is “rest and digest.” Breath work during meditation allows our bodies to shift towards a calmer state.
Having a longer exhale in your breath cycle, you transition from fight or flight to rest and repair. Your body will then receive those signals of safety through breath, and your body will naturally relax. Try this: breathe in deeply for four seconds, hold for two seconds, and exhale for six to eight seconds. Do this for about two to five minutes to feel calmer.
Why should I meditate?
There are many health benefits to meditation:
- Lowers stress
- Decreases anxiety and worry
- Lessens pain and muscle tension
- Improves sleep
- Boosts mood
- Helps self-awareness and confidence
How do I meditate?
Find a time each day that feels right for you in a quiet, calm space. Some people enjoy morning meditations to jump-start their day, while others prefer before bed for a more peaceful sleep. There is no perfect amount of time to meditate, but ideally, it’s longer than five minutes, with the average about 10-20 minutes. You can
set a timer and enjoy the silence or sounds of nature. Guided meditations with a phone app are also very common, and the app can coach you through a practice.
What if my mind wanders?
That’s okay! It is natural for our minds to lose focus. When you notice that you drift, just become aware and return to your breath or the guide. This will improve the more you practice.
Free and paid apps for meditation include:
- Insight Timer
— Erika Hoffmann, PA-C is a physician assistant at UnityPoint Health-Meriter’s DeForest-Windsor Clinic