The idea of having no thoughts in your head may feel foreign to you. In this hurry-up world where everyone is on the move, it’s very rare to have the time to quiet the mind and bring your attention entirely inward. Through meditation, you can learn to control the racing thoughts that clutter your head and weaken your sense of clarity. When combined with yoga postures, the peaceful practice of mediation has many healing benefits for both your body and mind.
In Indian culture, yoga is a way of life. Postures, specific breathing practices, and meditation are the holy trinity—they are used in conjunction with one another to attain the highest level of consciousness. In Sanskrit, meditation is known as dhyana. Although dedicated yogis throughout the Eastern world have been practicing dhyana for millennia, it has only recently become a mainstream topic in the Western world. And while meditation might be a topic that’s commonly talked about in health news, few people find success integrating it into their lives. Read on to learn what you can gain from making meditation a part of your regular yoga practice, some practical ways you can use meditation to ease your nerves in the workplace, and the types of postures most commonly used for meditation.
Mind-Body Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
Stress manifests itself in the body in different ways. While some might suffer from physical stress symptoms, such as migraines or chronic neck pain, others might experience mental stress symptoms like an inability to concentrate or fall asleep. It is human nature to self-soothe. All too often, people self-medicate to put a short-term stop to their stress level, indulging in alcohol, drugs, or prescription pills to help manage their negative feelings.
What if there was a better way? Would you be interested? By incorporating meditation techniques into your yoga routine, you can help clear your mind and reach a state of calm (no RX needed). Over time, you may find that holding certain yoga postures in a meditative state helps to:
- Increase your awareness
- Relieve chronic stress patterns
- Improve your concentration
- Center your attention
- Let go of negative thoughts
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety
- Minimize depressive symptoms and stress triggers
- Restore your sleep cycle (allowing you to sleep deeper and for longer periods of time)
In addition to these impressive mental health benefits, a comprehensive research review published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences shows that the combination of yoga postures with transcendental meditation yields significant physical benefits as well. These include the following:
- Better brain function
- Improved breathing
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Lower body mass index (this is your weight-to-height ratio)
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased risk of developing diabetes
- Boosts in immunity
In the study, researchers also found that yoga and meditation may help to improve performance on basic tasks. When yoga breathing exercises were performed just before tasks that involved repetitive motor response, selective attention, concentration, and visual scanning abilities, researchers found that participants’ scores improved. Plain and simple, folks made fewer errors following this specific type of mind-body intervention compared to no intervention at all. This improvement is attributed to a clear, calm head and reduced stress levels.
Mindfulness Activities in the Workplace
More and more, mindfulness activities, often including yoga and meditation, are being integrated into the workplace. The American corporate landscape is beginning to see the value of reducing stress and improving the well-being of their employees. After all, when employees are overloaded and unhappy, it leads to more missed work days and less productivity. CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies are doing their best to mitigate these losses by creating a culture of wellness that focuses on the whole employee.
Even if your employer is not yet on the cutting-edge of this groundbreaking mind-body movement, it’s important to remember to take time out of your workday to focus on your health. Yoga and meditation can be especially helpful for those held hostage by a desk and computer all day. Make a habit to get up from your desk and do a few stretches throughout your workday. You may be more reluctant to try meditating during your daily grind. It’s not exactly normal, after all, to break out into lotus pose in the middle of your office. Because there’s a time and a place for everything, it’s important to know that meditation doesn’t have to look like meditation. There are many ways to quiet your mind on-the-go—whether you’re out on a walk during your lunch break, driving to work in your car, or on the train headed home. Give these ideas a try:
- Practice some deep breathing: The purpose of this exercise is to slow down your breathing and increase your oxygen intake. Use deep, even-paced breaths using belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing). This will help increase the amount of air you get in and out of your lungs. When you get into a good deep breathing rhythm, you will feel the meditative and restorative effects of this simple mind-body practice.
- Say a prayer: Religions across the world use prayer to connect to a higher power. When combined with meditation, prayer can be an incredibly soothing and transformative experience. You may choose to create your own prayer, using your own words. Or you may have a favorite scripture, verse, or mantra that you enjoy repeating to yourself. Your faith is your own so make meditation and prayer your own too.
- Open your heart to love and gratitude: It may sound cliché, sure, but focusing on thoughts of love and gratitude is a sure-fire way to begin the meditative process wherever you might be. You may choose to think of a loved one and replay a favorite memory in your head. Or you can try dreaming up a sacred image or spirit animal that you cherish and worship.
Next time you need to take a breather at work, steer clear of Frappuccino runs, cigarette breaks, and fast food fests. Instead, opt for a few minutes of meditation. You can try it on a walk, at your desk, or even in your car after a lunch break. Keep in mind that by taking care of yourself, you boost your brain function, which is likely to improve your performance throughout the workday.
The 123s of Meditation Postures
When you first set out to meditate, you’ll want to pick a comfortable, open spot. There are many meditation postures you can choose from; be sure to pick the one that feels most relaxing and empowering to you. You can always change your meditation posture as your flexibility, skill, and mood changes over time. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common yoga postures to adopt during meditation:
1. Burmese Position
2. Quarter Lotus Pose
3. Lotus Pose
4. Bound Angle Pose
As you settle into the posture of your choice, elongate your spine and rest your hands (either by placing them on your lap or gently dropping them to your sides, palms faced down). Next, relax your neck and shoulders, tuck in your chin, and open the muscles of your face so that jaw hangs ajar just slightly. Finally, maintain a loose gaze at a point in the room three to four feet in front of you. If you feel that you are unable to meditate with your eyes open, feel free to close them for deeper relaxation.
Meditate More for Better Health
Meditation is just as much about the body as it is the head. This ancient, spiritual practice has the power to heal the body from the inside out. In reducing depressive symptoms, such as anxiety, meditation results in physical benefits, too, like lower blood pressure and improved respiratory function. Finding a way to fit in a few minutes a day can significantly improve your overall health. So opt for meditation to calm you down from a stressful situation. And make an effort to incorporate it into your yoga practice for more focused, intentional postures and flows.
Mayo Clinic. Meditation. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/about/pac-20385120. Updated August 2017. Accessed January 10, 2018.
Mayo Clinic. Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858. Updated October 2017. Accessed January 10, 2018.
American Osteopathic Association. The benefits of yoga. http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/yoga.aspx. Accessed January 10, 2018.
Franklin RA, Butler MP, Bentley JA. The physical postures of yoga practices may protect against depressive symptoms, even as life stressors increase: A moderation analysis [abstract]. Psychol Health Med. 2018:1-10 [Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1080/13548506.2017.1420206.
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HuffPost. Why companies are turning to meditation and yoga to boost the bottom line. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/11/mindfulness-capitalism_n_3572952.html. Updated April 2015. Accessed January 10, 2018.