This post kicks off an occasional series about tools and resources for self-care and wellness. The What's up with. . .? series explores some of the common and not so common practices used in alternative health and wellness, including things like breath work, tapping (EFT), reiki, affirmations, mirror work, EMDR therapy, acupressure, shadow work, inner child exploration, and more.
Often when we're just starting on our wellness journey, some of these concepts and practices can feel strange or uncomfortable. So I wanted to dive deeper into these resources to help shed some light on what they are, where they come from, and how they can benefit us.
We're kicking off the series with the commonly known practice of meditation. Though I'm sure you've heard of it, you might be surprised to know that there are several different types of meditation, and that it has been extensively studied as a resource for self-care.
As someone who's been trained formally and informally in several of these tools -- as well as being a practitioner -- I'm always happy to serve as a guide if you are interested in exploring more. Feel free to reach out!
Years ago, before I really understood meditation, I was scared to try it.
I had a lot of fears: Is some type of spirit going to hijack my mind?, Will eerie things start to happen?, Will God be mad?, Am I getting brainwashed? and so on.
Happily, I can say that none of those things happened, and now I meditate pretty much every morning. What once seemed weird and creepy is now a vital part of my self-care routine. And science has backed up the benefits of meditation.
Several thousand years old, meditation is thought to have originated in India. It spread to other regions and was often incorporated into different religions. The word itself comes from the Latin meditatum, meaning "to ponder".
Though there are different meditation practices, the basic idea is about getting quiet with yourself, without distractions, and focusing on a thought, a mantra or affirmation, usually with your eyes closed.
Unlike the photo, though, you don't need to sit cross-legged in nature with your palms up and your hands in a specific position (these hand positions are called mudras, and are used to enhance the mind/body connection). You can meditate in many different ways, including lying down, stretched out, and in pretty much any setting where you won't be disturbed.
What's also great about meditation as a tool is it's free and easy to do. You don't need any special equipment or gear, or formal training. Though I've found it helpful to use guided meditation, either online or in-person, it's not a requirement and you can do it on your own whenever and wherever you like.
Studies on the benefits of meditation are numerous, with institutions like Harvard Medical School backing the positive effects meditation can have. Some universities even have research centers and curriculum around mindfulness practices like meditation. UCLA (my alma mater) offers free meditation sessions on their Mindful app, through their Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Some benefits of meditation include:
1. Reducing anxiety and depression
2. Cultivating positive emotions
3. Improving your physical health (like IBS, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and more)
4. Focusing on the present
5. Increasing creativity, and
6. Increasing patience (who doesn't need that!)
Personally, I've found that meditation has given me the ability to "step outside" of a thought or emotion to question my thinking or feelings when I'm in a place of negativity. This happens almost automatically for me now, providing me with the advantage of being able to stop before I react badly to a situation, person or group.
Though meditation is still not fully understood and is by no means a miracle cure, even the moderate benefits it provides can improve your life and well-being in dynamic ways.
Whether you are brand new to meditation or have been doing it for years, there are a ton of online resources to help you get started or deepen your practice:
Science of Meditation Meditation - A simple, fast way to reduce stress - Mayo Clinic Meditation: In Depth - NCCIH (part of National Institutes of Health, HHS) 10 things we know about the science of meditation - Mindful.org Types of Meditation What type of meditation is best for you? - Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley A guide to 7 different types of meditation - Everyday Health Meditation 101 - Meditation techniques, benefits, and a beginner's how-to - Gaiam.com