To Sit or Not to Sit, That is The Question:
Believed to have originated in India thousands of years ago, meditation has become increasingly popular in the U.S. at a time when the impact of technology on work has meant an increase in the rate of production and the speed at which we get things done, even despite the challenges of an almost crippling pandemic—maybe, especially so.
People want ways to relieve stress they haven’t tried. They want to feel well.
The use of meditation and mindfulness as an adjunct to conventional medical therapies for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, as well as in some patients’ fight against cancer, has also been on the rise.
Quoting data from the National Health Interview Survey in an article for the LA Times in 2018, Science and Medicine Editor Karen Kaplan notes that
“The proportion of adults who at least tried meditation more than tripled over five years, while the proportion of children who meditated at least once increased by a factor of nine.”
The National Health Interview Survey is a long-running study of the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As far as the types of meditation practice themselves, the study included “transcendental meditation or other forms of mantra meditation; mindfulness meditation, such as Zen Buddhist meditation or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy; and spiritual meditation based on prayer.”
While meditation is central to some religions, you don’t have to change your beliefs (agnostics and atheists included) or the way you worship to reap the benefits. And there can be many benefits. Meditation can help to:
reduce stress and manage pain;
increase focus and self-awareness;
support addiction recovery;
improve age-related memory loss; and
generate an overall sense of wellbeing.
But where to start? Meditation styles, preferences, and practices vary widely. Some people find it best to focus on their breath and others to chant a mantra. Some prefer listening to guided meditations while others prefer to stare quietly at a point on a wall. Some like to stand, others to sit, and some turn to walking meditation. Others are driven by their chronic health conditions to lie down.
However you choose to meditate, the more often you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become at doing it and the more benefits you’ll reap.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Cultivate curiosity in your search for what feels right and works best for you.
If you think you’d prefer to meditate in community rather than alone, look for a workshop or group that may be part of a yoga or healing arts center, a healthcare facility, or a nondenominational place of worship.
You can also look for a Zen or meditation center near you. Many cater to beginning meditators.
At the outset of the pandemic, many meditation groups and organizations took their practices to Zoom. Joining online from home may help you take the leap sooner rather than later.
Some groups and workshops are free to join, and a contribution of a size you can afford may be expected. Others charge a small fee to cover expenses related to gathering.
Be wary of anyone who expects you to pay large amounts of money, promising to turn you into an overnight yogi and the like.
If you’re a tracker like me, apps can be great helpers in building good habits. You have plenty to choose from when it comes to meditation, and some of them feature free versions. I’ve used Sattva’s (https://www.sattva.life) for several years and love its timer and tracking features.
That said, the opportunity to practice in a community of like-minded people who support your efforts is a great gift.
Above all, start small and be consistent. Pat yourself on the back for showing up, even if it’s for a single minute. And, of course, don’t give up. You’ve got this.
Naomi Ayala Poet, Teacher, Writer
Naomi Ayala has published three books of poetry. Her most recent, Calling Home: Praise Songs and Incantations, was published by Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe. Meditation is a part of Naomi’s everyday life. In 2018, she took her precepts as a lay practitioner in the Soto Zen lineage.
Small Business Chronicle. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/technology-affect-work-environment-today-27299.html
Accessed January 20, 2022.
“A Lot More Americans are Meditating Now Than Five Years Ago,” LA Times. Karen Kaplan [November 8, 2018] https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-americans-meditating-more-20181108-story.html
Accessed January 20, 2022.
“Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over,” National Center for Health Statistics (Data Brief No. 325, November 2018). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db325.htm
Accessed January 20, 2022
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