What Is Meditation? Here’s What You Need to Know—and How to Get Started
Plus, all the science-backed benefits that come with it.
You might not have even heard of meditation a few years ago, but all of a sudden, it seems like everyone and their dog is doing it. It's become a serious buzzword in the world of wellness, and for good reason. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep, curb anxiety, and more. Uh, sign us up.
Some people get intimidated by the word "meditation." They think, You want me to sit in total silence? For how long? I don't have time for that. We get it, time is our most valuable resource. But what if we told you that if you commit just 2% of your day to meditation, the other 98% could possibly be more productive and enjoyable?
Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation in New York City and author of Stress Less, Accomplish More: Meditation for Extraordinary Performance, lives by that motto, and she has a point. It really only takes is a few minutes of meditation each day to start seeing some serious benefits. So what is meditation, anyway? And how can you get started? Fletcher answers all of our questions below:
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What is meditation?
Put simply, meditation is a tool for stress relief, Fletcher says, adding that by relieving stress, you're setting yourself up to be able to perform at the top of your game. "I believe we meditate to get good at life, not to get good at meditation," she says. Many people have the misconception that meditation is about focusing on the present, but Fletcher actually considers that to be mindfulness (which we'll get into later). Meditation, on the other hand, is about getting rid of all of the stress the body has stored from the past.
Fletcher says when done properly, meditation can actually give your body rest that's deeper than sleep. "When you give your body the rest that it needs, it knows how to heal itself." She says to think of your brain like a computer, and imagine that every stressful event in your life has left an open window on your Internet browser. "When you give your body deep healing rest, it closes down those open windows so that you can operate as nature intended," she explains.
What is mindfulness?
A lot of people use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably, but they're actually very different, Fletcher says. "I would define mindfulness as the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment," she explains. It's a combination of techniques, such as breath work and visualization, that help you to relieve stress in the now. A main difference between the two is that mindfulness asks you to focus on the present, while meditation asks you to let your mind drift into a fourth state of consciousness that's different than waking, sleeping, or dreaming.
What are the benefits?
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed nearly 19,000 studies on meditation and concluded that there's plenty of evidence that the practice can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and even pain. In addition, Fletcher says improved sleep, productivity, and mood are some of the most common benefits she's seen among her students. She tells us she's also had students who claim to have experienced other perks, such as a boost in libido.
How can I get started?
It can be intimidating to add something new to your daily routine, which is why the key to actually meditating every day is finding a technique that's right for you. There are countless apps, online courses, and books that can get you started, but before you commit to one, really think about whether it's going to fit into your schedule. For example, maybe you don't have time to read a book on meditation when you get home from work, but you do have 10 minutes to spend on an app in the morning before you start your day. Figure out what's going to work and stick with it. Once you do, Fletcher says you'll quickly realize you don't have time not to meditate.