Whoever makes up the seemingly random holidays and monthly honorings has designated May Meditation Month. I am not going to ask too many questions about the how or why, but I’m going to go with it as an excellent excuse to encourage people to get off their butt and get motivated to put that butt right back down onto the meditation cushion.
It’s pretty hard to escape the moment that Mindfulness is having in our popular culture now. Despite its practice for thousands of years without catching on with the mainstream, it seems Mindfulness has finally gotten the right agent and celebrity backers. Oprah meditates, that’s all some people need to know.
It’s ok now to meditate, kind of cool even. Katy Perry, Madonna, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Aniston, CEOs. Musicians, … everyone is doing it. With the exception maybe of our political figures who arguably need it the most, people are starting to notice this thing called meditation. Your dad’s doctor told him it might help his blood pressure, your sister heard it helps weight loss, your boyfriend read it gives a competitive edge. Meditation and Mindfulness are no longer for the fringe, but for all of us.
Are you feeling left out? Good. Time to get started. But many people have no idea how to get started. Yes, meditation is simple to do in practice, just watch the breath. But it is very hard to begin and stick with. A successful practice needs more than hype, it needs guidance, support, and consistency.
The easiest way to get started and not have to go somewhere scary or intimidating to you is a meditation App. My favorite is Insight Timer because it lets you search for meditations, track and time your session, and doesn’t try so hard to be cool and make you go through its own program. Other Apps that people like are Buddhify, Headspace, and Calm. These to me have some start-up guy’s finger prints all over them and seem less authentic and too mainstream packaged, but they are friendly and accessible and may be the right fit for some beginners who are more comfortable with extra structure. Check them all out and see which draws you in.
If you’re the type who just wants to dive in and go big, you could get started with a few days at a Meditation retreat. Most of these are multi-day events conducted in silence where you spend your days in sitting and walking meditation and learning from a teacher about the practice. These days are both incredibly challenging and life-changing. You will leave knowing how to practice and having seen first hand the changes in brain and body when you do. There are many opportunities for retreat you can find with a google search, but here is a list of excellent and reputable centers that would be amazing places to find your cushion.
There are many online courses to learn meditation. Most have weekly classes you view at home for 6 to 8 weeks with ‘homework’ of 20-60 minutes of meditation per day between classes. I have personally done this one from UMass and found it to set a great foundation for practice, though it required about an hour a day. Another class from UMass also looks excellent and allows for real-time interaction with the teacher.
This last option isn’t very techy or new, but it might be one of the best. If you live in area where there are local groups getting together to meditate, go join them. Many communities have groups of people who get together weekly to practice, at the library, local college, coffee shop… somewhere people are coming together to do this. Finding a group to share questions and comments and support for your meditation practice can be invaluable and significantly increase your chance of continuing. And most people who meditate are pretty awesome, like Oprah and Katy Perry, and you’ll probably enjoy being around them as an added benefit.
There is a reason that meditation and mindfulness are becoming so popular, this is not an empty trend. There is expanding scientific evidence showing that mindfulness significantly improves many medical conditions as well as or even better than current pharmaceutical approaches, including anxiety, pain, stress, cognitive decline, and immunological diseases. Mindfulness has been shown to change the size and function of brain regions related to emotion and decision-making, as well as empathy and creativity. It is not surprising that a meditation practice leads to less emotional reactivity, more self-control, increased attention, enhanced cognitive performance, and greater social connectedness among many other outcomes for overall better job performance and relationships.
Happy Meditation Month.
** This article first appeared on Thirty on Tap