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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  1. saijanai

    Transcendental Meditation (note capital letters -it’s a registered trademark) is not concentration; nor is it mindfulness, and it is the only form of meditation recognized by the American Heart Association has having sufficiently robust research that they say that doctors can recommend it to their patients with high blood pressure as a secondary treatment for high blood pressure. They explicitly rule out all other forms of meditation including mindfulness and Benson’s Relaxation Response (which IS a form of concentration), pending more and better research.

    TM works by allowing the mind to settle down, which allows the brain to rest more efficiently. With long-term practice, the brain spontaneously starts to rest more efficiently, even when not meditating. All the positive effects from TM can be explained by that.

    Concentration and mindfulness, on the other hand, are about training the attention and with long-term practice, the brain becomes less and less likely to ever fully rest. This is somehow seen as a good thing by many researchers, but understand that there is almost NO long-term research of the effects of mindfulness practice on meditators, and the only such research suggests that the effects change over time, so whatever scientists find about 3-months of mindfulness may not apply to 3 years of mindfulness.

    With TM, on the other hand, the nature of the practice doesn’t change: it starts out as an enhancement of normal rest and remains an enhancement of normal rest, no matter how many months, years or even decades the person practices it. All that happens is that the brain continues to become more efficient in its resting mode outside the TM period, in the direction of what goes on during TM.

  2. ExpatEUTherapist

    Mindfulness is beneficial for everyone. I have been teaching mindfulness to my psychotherapy clients for almost 4 decades. Doctors, lawyers, executives, line workers, teachers, kids and moms. Everyone benefits. I usually recommend that people work consistently with a guided mindfulness meditation audio program that they can carry with them in a phone or tablet, wherever they go. The ones I recommend are at http://www.lightunlimitedpublishing.com. They are all good. There are different programs for various purposes. It takes practice but it is well worth the small effort involved.