How To Meditate Properly [For You]Sep 21, 2018
By Tim Culbert, MD
You've likely been told that you HAVE to meditate. Perhaps even in a particular seated position, in a particular outfit, in a particularly-decorated room.
Have you tried that strict meditation technique only to discover that you're more stressed out when you finish than before you began it?
Don’t worry! That meditation technique is just one mind-body practice and there are many others to explore that can offer the same benefits. Finding a better fit is worth your time as many mind-body practices will work to enhance your ability to deal with symptoms related to depression, anxiety, or focus. This ability is often called “emotional regulation” or “self-regulation.” At Natural Mental Health, we also refer to this ability as resilience.
Additionally, as you find practices that fit you better, you'll be more likely to practice consistently and for longer durations at a time. This is key because the time you practice and the positive benefits for your health have a dose-response relationship. That means the more you practice, the better you feel and the more progress you can make toward your long-term goals such as building resilience in mind, body, and heart. Other benefits of mind-body practices include:
- Re-balancing your autonomic nervous system. This means your stress response leaves the room and your relaxation response comes back to visit.
- Improved functioning of your immune system.
- Shifting from depleting/negative emotional states to more positive/renewing emotional states.
- More alpha and theta brainwave frequencies occur.
- Improved health of the digestive tract, specifically the microbiome (the helpful bacteria that live in your gut).
Find Your Proper Mind-Body Practices
Think of the many mind-body practices available to you as different hallways and doors that lead to the same room. The room is your resilience room- the peaceful and balanced place in body, mind, and heart that you want to spend more time in.
The good news is that there are many doors for you to enter from. The key is to let your thoughts, feelings, and energy level help you choose what’s best for you at a particular moment. Don’t spend your time wandering through hallways or trying to pick the door locks that don't fit you. A good way to find a better path is to identify either a “passive” or “active” practice.
Passive and Active Mind-Body Practices
Do you want to enjoy a hike into your resilience room (an active practice) or have someone gently roll you in (a passive practice)? Mind-body practices can be lumped roughly in this way and it’s good to include both in your routine. See below for some guidance on when to choose a passive or active practice and some examples of each.
Passive Practices. These can be good when you're feeling tired or emotionally drained. Practices that you listen along with or view such as guided imagery, body scans, relaxing music, phototherapy, or affirmations are good examples. Simply inhaling an aromatherapy scent can also be a passive way to support your mind-body connection. Electrical stimulation through cranial electrotherapeutic stimulation (CES) or trans-cutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tc-VNS) are also becoming more popular and can be enjoyed passively to help balance your mind and body in positive ways.
Active Practices. If you are restless and agitated, try a more active practice. Biofeedback training is a good example of this. Biofeedback practices include monitoring of a physiologic function such heart rate and then use of a specific relaxation technique to change it. Yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics, mindful walking, mindful eating, dancing, and tai chi are also examples of more active mind-body practices. These require a higher level of engagement, movement, and/or effort to practice.
It’s common to feel like there’s one “proper” way to practice meditation or mind-body skills. There’s not. There are many ways to enter your resilience room. Trust that you can explore and select the hallways and doors that work best for you. The practice of exploring different paths is beneficial for your wellbeing in and of itself and when you get to your room… be sure to take off your shoes and stay a while.