Long ago, I read a book by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard named The Relaxation Response. It explained that individuals who meditated experienced a greater sense of relaxation and a variety of health benefits, including lower blood pressure, less insomnia, reduction in chronic pain (among others). To learn how to elicit the relaxation response, see Massachusetts General Hospital’s web page.
I’ve meditated off and on over the years, but never kept it up because I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. (Yes, I do realize that’s a silly reason!)
I recently ran across former monk Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app when looking for relaxation apps to load onto my phone (note: it’s available for both iPhone and android). The app features a series of Puddicombe’s guided meditations that are brief, easy to follow and secular. I’d never heard of Puddicombe before but thought, hey, this sounds interesting and it’s only 10 minutes per day, so why not? I installed the app and so my renewed meditation practice began…
At first, I had trouble sitting still for 10 minutes. My mind would wander off over and over again — I’d think about a project at work or a chore I needed to do. Listening to Puddicombe’s guided meditations, I understood this was all normal — I didn’t worry about it and just continued to meditate for 10 minutes each day. I soon finished Take 10 and subsequent programs, and am now working my way through the Headspace “Discovery” series of guided meditations.
Note: The headspace programs beyond Take 10 aren’t free. I chose to purchase them because Puddicombe’s approach using a blend of insight and mindfulness meditation works so well for me. Certainly, there is an abundance of free guided meditation audio available on the web and videos on youtube.
Although I’ve only been meditating for about 7 weeks, I’ve found the benefits to be substantial and noticeable. I feel calmer and less anxious. I find that tension melts away quickly as I sit down to meditate. Throughout the day, I am more aware of when I start feeling tense, and understand how to use breathing and visualizations to feel calmer. When I’m confronted with a stressful situation, I’m better able to take a step back and not take it personally — I can let it go more quickly. I feel more patient and happier. Using my Fitbit One and web dashboard, I notice my sleep trends have improved: I sleep longer and awaken less frequently. I generally feel more refreshed when I get up in the morning.
Each time I sit to meditate (20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes again the evening) it feels like an oasis of relaxation. It’s like taking a vacation without leaving home. I use the headspace program for one meditation daily, and then use an app called Insight Timer for a more free-form meditation later in the day. Note: Insight Timer has iOS and Android versions available.
I’ve only just restarted my meditation practice but find the benefits overwhelmingly positive and well worth the time. If you’re struggling with stress of some kind in your life (and hey, who’s not?), meditation is definitely worth trying.