Does the word “meditation” conjure up images of chanting in a hushed room, chasing after an elusive Zen while encircled by incense? Don’t let intimidation—or outdated stereotypes—stop you from achieving calmness.

“People mistake some of the ‘traditional’ guidelines for how to meditate, but meditation at its core is a training, a practice,” says Carla Goldstein of the Omega Institute, a nonprofit wellness retreat and workshop center in Rhinebeck, New York. “It’s training your mind to focus and to observe yourself and life without going into deep reactivity.” In fact, meditation can have an immense impact on your well-being.

Studies have linked it to better moods and a decrease in blood pressure, among other health benefits. It can even change how your brain is wired.

“We’ve learned a tremendous amount through research about how these meditative states, when cultivated, significantly change the brain over time,” says psychotherapist Stephen Cope, scholar-in-residence at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and the author of Soul Friends: The Transforming Power of Deep Human Connection (Hay House, Inc.).

“The brain and the nervous system are much more plastic than we used to think,” Cope says. “With long-term practice, we know that meditators’ brains change in very salutary ways, becoming more ‘organized,’ less easily over-stimulated, less reactive.” The trick is to reframe traditional meditation—which can be a bit overwhelming to a beginner—into something manageable for everyday life. Our experts share ways to recharge and reconnect without psyching yourself out.

Step 1: Take the pressure off.

“Practicing mindfulness is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety in your life and increase a sense of balance. But, ironically, people often put a lot of pressure on what they think meditation should be, how long they should do it and how it should look or feel,” says yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco, author of Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life (HarperCollins). Her specialty is helping people incorporate mindfulness into hectic schedules in an approachable way.

“The key turning point for me was removing all those constraints. Meditation is not a performance-based activity, and there’s a great expression in meditation circles that the only way to do meditation wrong is not to do it,” she says.

Spend a few moments in silence and stillness each day, whether it’s pausing for a contemplative moment at your desk between meetings or spending a few minutes lying still before hopping out of bed in the morning.

Step 2: Unplug.

It’s not a coincidence that mindfulness is growing at a time when our lives and attention spans seem more distracted than ever, Pacheco says. “I always aim to teach yoga and meditation within the context of real life, and right now, our lives are tethered to our smartphones and the internet. It’s essential to spend time each day free from these habits and devices,” she says. Unplugging might not qualify as traditional meditation, but Pacheco says that it’s essential to our ability to be present in our lives as they actually unfold.

Step 3: Find your happy place.

“Ask yourself: Where and when during the day do you feel protected, safe, contained and able to settle? Why not let this experience become a little more intentional?

A little more regular? Why not allow yourself to really savor these moments?” Cope asks. You don’t need a formal practice. If cooking dinner helps you to calm down

and focus on one task at a time, embrace it. The point is to be aware of the simple experience of creating, without distraction.

Step 4: Realize that meditation is all around you.

You can carve out ways to meditate anywhere – from the kitchen to the office.

“Meditation is, primarily, simply the training of attention,” Cope says.

“When the mind settles on an object of concentration, it naturally begins to experience a kind of gathering and centering.” Maybe this is activated by digging in a garden, maybe it’s by walking the dog. “As long as we’re [mindful], the mind responds in much the same way as it does in meditation,” he says.

Step 5: Choose a mantra.

“Mantras are a great way to add a dose of meditation to your day. Simply choose a word that speaks to you,” Pacheco says. “Take a moment to sit quietly by taking a few deep breaths. When you feel ready, take a long, slow breath in and silently count ‘one.’ On the exhale, silently say your one-word mantra. Inhale, count ‘two,’ and silently repeat your chosen word. Keep going until you get to 10.” At this point, return to one and begin again or continue to meditate by simply focusing your breath.

You can do this in traffic, while walking the kids to school or anywhere you need a dose of grounding.

And if you falter a bit? Don’t worry, it’s a learning experience. As the Omega Institute’s Carla Goldstein says, “The moment you lose your concentration—and notice you’ve lost it—is the best moment of all. Without that happening, you can’t train your mind to bring yourself back.”

 

New Feature of the John Hancock Vitality Program

With the HealthyMind benefit, the newest feature of the John Hancock Vitality life insurance program, you’re rewarded for taking steps to give your mind and body the relaxation and rest they need to improve your overall health. You’ll earn Vitality Points for meditating as little as 10 minutes a day and completing a 30-day sleep challenge. Plus, you’ll receive a free subscription to Headspace®, a top-rated meditation app with millions of users in more than 190 countries.*

Learn more about the John Hancock Vitality Program and some of its other great benefits, like how you can earn an Apple Watch for as little as $25 or save up to $600 a year at the grocery store

* Based on internal data from Headspace.com, About Us, accessed from: https://www.headspace.com/about-us. This feature is not available in New York.This article is intended to promote awareness and is for educational purposes only.

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