The practice of meditation is becoming a popular tool for stress management and relaxation. Multiple studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of meditation on various cardiovascular risk factors. In addition to decreasing cardiovascular mortality, meditation has also been shown to improve conditions such as depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol and cortisol levels.

Despite a growing awareness of the benefits of meditation, and a growing desire to try it, many people aren’t exactly sure how to go about it. Do I need a special cushion? How often should I meditate, and for how long? How will I know if I’m doing it right? How will I know if it’s working?

Developing a regular meditation practice is a good form of self-care, and may help you reduce your risk for serious illness, including heart disease.

Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Get situated. Find a quiet spot. Turn off the TV, silence your cell phone, and try to minimize any other distractions. You can sit in a straight-backed chair, lie on your back or sit on a cushion, whichever is most comfortable for you. Just don’t get too comfortable, or you’ll fall asleep.
  • Set a timer. You might start by committing to just a few minutes a day, gradually increasing your time per session. Initially, you probably won’t need the timer to bring you around, but somewhere along the way, you might find you need that timer to bring you back.
  • Close your eyes and relax. Relax your shoulders. Relax your neck. Relax your hips. Your jaw.
  • Breathe. You might start with three calming breaths. Don’t force your breath. Just breathe naturally.
  • Gently, passively notice what’s happening. If you are like most, your mind will wander or fill with thoughts. Am I doing this right? My left ankle hurts. I have an itch; am I allowed to scratch it? I wonder if Cynthia got my email yesterday about changing my appointment time. Oops. I am supposed to me meditating. Now how do I do this again? What’s supposed to be happening now? I have no idea what I’m doing. This is perfectly normal.
  • Each time your mind wanders. come back to your breathing. Focus on this one, breath in. Now focus on this one, breath out. When those thoughts inevitably pop up, it’s OK. Notice them and let them pass on by. You can imagine letting them blow away in the wind, or imagine you are sitting alongside a river, and let them gently wash downriver.
  • Let it happen. Don’t try to make anything happen. (And this can be difficult for many.) Meditation is about letting go. Each time you meditate, it’s a different experience. And each time is perfect, regardless of how it goes.
  • Experiment. There are many different types of, and techniques for, meditation. Check out books on meditation from your local library or search the Internet, where you’ll find plenty of tips and free guided meditations.
  • Practice regularly and have faith. Even if you’re not sure it’s working, keep at it.

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