This article was written in collaboration with TOVI's mental health expert, Dr. Lorena Ruci, Ph.D. Learn more about Dr. Ruci here.
What is meditation?
At its core, meditation is focused on cultivating the ability to pause and reflect. Our minds have a tendency to multitask. We jump from one thought to another, between things that have happened and things we are anticipating in the future. Meditation gives us an opportunity to slow down our minds and be present. This is true regardless of the type of meditation, and there are many types including mindful meditation, loving kindness meditation, mantra meditation, and zen meditation.
How can meditation help me?
One of the realities of the modern society is that we are incredibly busy. We’re constantly thinking about all the things we need to get done and reacting to the world around us. Chores and errands invade our weekends and work rarely stays confined to the office (how often do you find yourself checking work emails during dinner or before you head to bed?). We can’t stop being busy.
In truth, this urge to be busy, to be productive, is ingrained in the fabric of our culture. We’re rewarded for being productive at work and at home. We fear judgement if we don’t have anything to show for our day. We fall into that dreaded line of thought: if I’m not busy, I’m not productive, and as a result I must be lazy. Unfortunately, this “busy” mindset can lead to problems like burn-out, especially if you’re not taking time to care for yourself. (Click here for a TOVI article about self-care).
When you practice meditation, however, you’re practicing not being busy. You’re giving yourself an opportunity to pause, to take a step back from all your obligations and duties, and to check in on yourself. Taking this time to pause, even if just for a few minutes, can be a powerful tool when it’s practiced consistently over time, leading to a variety of psychological benefits, including decreased stress and better anxiety management. (1-3).
How do I get started with meditation?
Read about it
It’s difficult to stick with meditation if you don’t understand the process. A meditation practice can be different from day to day, and when you’re not sure what to expect or do, comparison and self-doubt come into play (like those nagging questions: is it working? am I doing it right?). By educating yourself about meditation before you start, you’ll be more prepared to take it on as a consistent practice (you can find some meditation articles in TOVI here).
Be open minded
Chances are you have some idea of what meditation is, and chances are some of your ideas are actually popular misconceptions. You won’t be “clearing your mind” or reaching an elevated state of being after one meditation session. In fact, you probably won’t notice a tangible outcome from meditation right away.
That’s challenging to accept because we’re wired to be busy, to seek praise for being productive, and to look for instant feedback when we do something (or even better: instant gratification). The effects of meditation, however, can’t be measured by these standards. In fact, the whole point of meditation is to practice separating ourselves from the busy side of everyday life, if only for a few minutes.
Instead, practicing meditation takes open-mindedness to counter our expectations for immediate outcomes, discipline to stick with a regular practice, and faith that meditation will bring benefits over time.
Start with TOVI
Once you feel ready, start with short bouts of meditation a few times a week. TOVI can help you get started with meditation by providing education, including expert-vetted articles and guided-meditation videos, and by helping you set a manageable SMART goal. With TOVI, meditation will become a new, healthy habit.
- Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E. , Forde, D. , Magidson, J. , Dachman, L. and Lejuez, C. W. (2012), Meditative Therapies For Reducing Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Depression & Anxiety, 29: 545-562. doi: 10.1002/da.21964
- Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., … Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine, 174(3), 357–368. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
- Miller, 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: 192-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M
Topics: Mental Health
Written by Ashley Miller-Dykeman, MA
Ashley is a science communicator and writer with a background in biology (BA, Boston University) as well as bioethics and science policy (MA, Duke University). In addition to writing for TOVI, Ashley is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and a loving dog mom.