4 Steps For Meditation Neophytes

Meditation has been shown to mitigate anxiety and depression, reduce blood pressure, slow the aging process and improve attention.

A student at the New Jersey Center for Mindful Awareness meditates on the Ramapo campus.
A student at the New Jersey Center for Mindful Awareness meditates on the Ramapo campus.
Photo by Sue Barr

Lao Tzu, Confucius, St. Teresa of Avila, Paul McCartney, Al Gore, David Lynch, Oprah Winfrey, Cory Booker and 19 million of today’s Americans have all found some manner of inner peace through meditation, a practice dating back at least 3,500 years. Meditation is essentially a way of resting the mind to attain a state of altered consciousness. It’s been shown to mitigate anxiety and depression, reduce blood pressure, slow the aging process and improve attention.

There are many forms of meditation, but three of the most popular are concentrative (like transcendental meditation), in which practitioners focus on a single point of attention like an object, a mantra or their own breath; open awareness (like the Zen practice of zazen), which involves opening the mind to whatever is happening, internally and externally; and mindfulness meditation, essentially a combination of the two.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of meditation but haven’t yet gotten your om on, consider these tips from Lanie Kessler-David, a social worker and mindfulness educator at Atlantic Behavioral Health’s Chambers Center for Well Being in Morristown:

1. Breathe
Take 30 seconds or so a few times a day to slow down and do nothing but breathe, paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out. If you enjoy the experience, which is central to many forms of meditation, you may well feel the same way about meditation itself.

2. Look It Up
One benefit of the rising popularity of meditation is the abundance of books, videos and apps on the subject. Some good places to start: Jack Kornfield’s classic volume Meditation for Beginners (Sounds True, 2008); the similarly named short video Meditation for Beginners, narrated by ABC News anchor (and enthusiastic meditator) Dan Harris (mindful.org/meditation-for-beginners-video/); and the popular Headspace app, aimed at those new to meditation.

3. Dip a Toe In
The absolute best way to find out what meditation involves—and how it feels—is to sit in with an established group or attend an introductory session—some of which are free. An Internet search of “New Jersey meditation” brings up dozens of groups across the state.

4. Expect to Be Lousy
Don’t be surprised if your first stab at meditation has you thinking about your grocery list, your annoying coworker and your itchy nose—all at the same time.  Our minds are wired to wander, and like any skill, meditation takes time and effort. “That’s why we call it a practice,” says Kessler-David.

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