The what, why, and how of meditation.

Feeling anxious? Meditation can help with that. Feel down or depressed? You guessed it. Meditation. Want to feel more balanced and centered? Meditate. Want to lose weight? Meditate. Want to get off that pesky medication for high blood pressure? MED-I-TATE. Just want to do something good for yourself? Medi… Do I really have to say it again?

Over the years, I have felt like a broken record because I am constantly touting the benefits of meditation. But then I remember why I do.

Because it works.

Meditation helps to reduce stress, control anxiety, improve cognition and focus, promote emotional health, control pain, improve sleep, slow down the aging process, lower blood pressure, fight addictions, and encourage other healthy habits (source and source).

It’s so effective, that you can start to feel an impact within 60 seconds (or 4 breath cycles). Meditation also has what is called a cumulative effect, meaning the more you practice it, the more of an impact it will have on your physical and emotional health.

So let’s break down what meditation is and how to go about doing it.

What IS meditation?

One of my favorite definitions of meditation comes from Headspace, an app that teaches you the fundamental techniques of meditation and mindfulness. This is how they describe the practice:

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.

In other words, meditation is a practice in concentration.

It’s a way to bring more awareness into your day (and life) so that you can better understand yourself and why you do what you do and feel the way you feel. By being more present to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we are able to create meaningful change in our lives and health.

Whiiiiich is why I recommend meditation for pretty much every ailment and phase of life.

How do you meditate?

The physical act of meditation generally consists of sitting quietly or laying down with your eyes closed and focusing on one’s breath, a word, or a phrase.

There are many traditions and countless ways to practice meditation, making it important to find the right style for you. Not sure where to even start? Here’s a great post from Mindful Minutes and another one from Mind, Body, Green outlining several different styles of meditation to try out, including information about who would benefit most from each style.

Regardless of what approach you choose, it’s important to start small and build your way up. Think of meditation like the muscles in your body — it takes time to build up your strength and stamina. Just like you wouldn’t go from sitting all day to running a marathon, you will be hard-pressed to meditate an hour each day in the beginning.

When I first got started, I would find a quiet space in my home, set a timer for 5 minutes, and simply focus on how warm or cold my breath felt going in and out of my nose. Once that felt easy and like time was flying, I increased to 10 minutes. It took months before I was able to meditate for 25-30 minutes at a time. When I really struggled to settle in, I would opt for a guided meditation. I also dabbled with group meditations as a way to explore different styles and see what setting felt most comfortable for me.

These days, I tend to gravitate more towards loving-kindness meditations, body awareness meditations, and energy clearing meditations where I imagine any negative or stuck energy leaving my body in order to create room for new, more positive energy to take its place.

Something to remember as you’re getting started: it’s fairly common for people to wonder if they are doing it right in the beginning. The truth is, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. If you are feeling better after meditating then you’re doing it right. (Here’s a great post from Headspace that covers this very topic.)

Resources to help you get started

Now that you know what meditation is and how to do it, let’s focus on resources to help you get started. The ones listed below are a few of my personal favorites. Please know that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that resources and website that focus on the ins and outs of meditation and mindful abound.

  • Meditation Oasis
    Meditation Oasis was one of the first resources I came across when I was just getting started with meditation. And it has been on my Apple Podcasts queue ever since. Not only do they have free guided meditations, they also have some insightful articles, an online course, and an entire suite of apps on the topic of meditation.
  • Headspace
    Headspace is an app — with both free and paid content — that’s available for both iOs and Android devices. The app itself has a resource library of videos, guided meditations, and mindfulness exercises on a variety of topics like anxiety, stress, sleep, and focus. There is also a section specifically for kids. (Other apps to check out: Calm, Insight Timer, and 10% Happier)
  • Yoga with Adriene
    It’s no secret that Yoga with Adriene is my go-to when it comes to yoga routines for my at-home practice. So it should come as no surprise that she also has some amazing resources for yoga-based meditations and breathwork on her YouTube channel.
  • Binaural Beats
    While not specifically a form of meditation, Binaural Beats can help to put you in the same brain space that meditation does through the use of sound waves. Some consider it a shortcut, while others use it as an accompaniment to their regular practice.
  • Group Meditation
    Whether you’re just getting started or are a regular meditator, meditating with a group of people can really supercharge your practice. There are amazing groups that meet in every single city. Try a google search for groups in your area. Look on to see if there are any groups that already exist. Or put out a call on Facebook or Twitter. You might be surprised at what you find.

In addition to everything listed above, there are several books, podcasts, free courses, and websites on the topic of meditation (and mindfulness) that are worth mentioning:

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Getting started: The what, why, and how of meditation

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More about Emily Levenson

Emily Levenson is a therapist turned holistic health coach, podcaster, meditation encourager, and seeker of everyday magic. Emily recently kicked off her third #The100DayProject, focusing her efforts on daily meditation.

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