Wellness Strategy: Begin a Meditation Practice

This article is part of the Wellness Strategies Series

Problem: Stress, poor attention, or trouble falling asleep
Strategy: Learn how to meditate & build a practice

Meditation is a mind-body practice that trains the attention of the mind. According to science, meditation is good for well-being. It can also enhance treatments for mental and physical health conditions when used along with (not in place of) exercise, traditional therapies, medications, and other prescribed treatments. Scientists have documented several benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Reduction of stress-related symptoms
  • Improved levels of sustained attention
  • Improved mood
  • Improved sleep
  • Lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased levels of self-awareness
  • Increased levels of empathy and compassion

Method

The following is a basic mindfulness meditation technique for beginners.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may use a chair, cushion, yoga mat, or bed (especially at night).
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Breathe naturally. Do not try to control the breath.
  4. Focus your attention on the breath. Observe the movements of your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly as you breathe in and out. Continue to focus on the breath without controlling its pace or intensity.
  5. If your mind wanders (which it will), return your focus back to the breath without judgment.
  6. As a beginner, aim to meditate for one to three minutes per session. It is best to set a timer so you won’t have to worry about the time. As you become accustomed to the basics, you can increase your sessions gradually for longer periods. 

When first establishing a mindfulness practice, some people find it helpful to use various apps to guide them through the techniques, provide daily reminders, and track progress. Top suggestions include Headspace, Insight Timer, One Moment Meditation, Serenity, and UCLA Mindful,

You can also access free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Why It Works

Meditation techniques such as transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation can change the brain’s function and structure. According to research, meditation affects the structures regulating blood pressure and heart rate. Neuroimaging has also shown changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area responsible for higher-order thinking skills such as planning, decision-making and moderating social behavior. Other studies have shown meditation activates a network of brain regions associated with compassion, empathy, self-awareness, and learning.

Besides changes in brain structure, meditation promotes cognitive and behavioral changes. Researchers explain meditation and other forms of mindfulness-based training seem to reduce the use of maladaptive emotional regulation strategies (such as overthinking and worrying that the worst will happen) that can lead to poor mental health. Meditation can help individuals develop a set of cognitive and behavioral skills that will help them handle stressful situations more effectively.

The meditations featured on this website demonstrate various forms of mindfulness meditation. Transcendental meditation is a unique form of meditation taught by the Maharishi Foundation via one-on-one instruction. To learn more about it, visit the official website tm.org.

Demonstration

The videos below provide foundational instruction Once you become accustomed to the basics of meditation, you can explore a variety of full meditations in our Guided Meditations Library

Video 1 (Instruction)

In “How to Meditate for Beginners,” Mitch Manly provides detailed instruction for beginners. He explains where to meditate, how to meditate, and how to “turn off your brain.” He also provides suggestions regarding how long you should meditate, and how long it takes to see the benefits.


Video 2 (Intro + Demo)

Martin Boroson, founder and CEO or the One Moment Company demonstrates how to meditate “quickly and powerfully” in the video, “One-Moment Meditation: How to Meditate in a Moment.” Learning to meditate in a moment can help you to reduce stress and live more in the moment.


Video 3 (Brief Intro + Full Guided Meditation)

Jason Stephenson guides you through a 15-minute “Back to Basics Guided Meditation: For Beginners & Returning Meditation Users.” This video is for beginners and those who want to re-establish their meditation practice.

References:
Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression & Anxiety, 29(7), 545-562. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.21964

Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), 192-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M

Gathright, E. C., Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., DeCosta, J., Balletto, B. L., Donahue, M. L., Feulner, M. M., Cruess, D. G., Wing, R. R., Carey, M. P., & Scott-Sheldon, L. A. J. (2019). The impact of transcendental meditation on depressive symptoms and blood pressure in adults with cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 46, 172-179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.009

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537 559. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611419671

Lieberman, B. (2018, January 29). Peering into the meditating mind. Knowable Magazine. https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/mind/2018/peering-meditating-mind  

Marchand, W. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18(4), 233-252. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000416014.53215.86

Martires, J. & Zeidler, M. (2015). The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, 21(6), 547-552. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000207

Rosenkranz, M. A., Richard J.Davidson, R. J., MacCoon, D. G., Sheridan, J. F., Kalin, N. H., & Lutz, A. (2013). A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 27, 174-184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013

Smith, J. A., Newman, K. M., Suttie, J., & Jazaieri, H. (2017, December 5). The state of mindfulness science. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_state_of_mindfulness_science

Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62(5), 613-622. doi: 10.1097/00006842-200009000-00004

*Image: Cliff Booth