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New to meditation? COVID is a perfect time to start

Whether you’ve never tried meditation or think it isn’t for you, the pandemic is an excellent time to start a practice.

“We’re such active, moving beings that it’s hard to slow down in the normal course of life,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “One blessing from the pandemic is that it has caused us to have a time of deep reflection and reassessment, and to have a chance to learn something new like meditation.”

The benefits of meditation

The pandemic has caused a tremendous amount of fear, says Buttimer. We want to know when will it end and when are we going to get back to normal.

“In all that fear, confusion comes into the mind,” he says. “One of the benefits of practicing meditation is that it can help you get into a state of calm and clarity.”

When you’re stressed out and scared, part of your brain hijacks another and you can’t think straight, Buttimer explains. This takes a toll on the body, causing constriction, high blood pressure and sleep issues. These problems make it difficult for the body to perform at its best.

Meditation has been shown to:

  • Improve immune system functioning

  • Regulate blood pressure

  • Improve sleep

  • Regulate appetite

  • Decrease anxiety and depression symptoms

Meditation can also have social benefits, helping you become a more patient, compassionate person who interacts well with others. 

In addition, training your brain to focus can improve your work life.

“People tend to make better decisions on the job because meditation trains the brain to focus rather than being scattered,” he says. “When a person feels good inside, it helps with function and performance in all areas of life.”

Common misconceptions about meditation

One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you must be completely still and empty your mind during the practice.

“If you’re alive, you’ll experience mental chatter,” says Buttimer. “Meditation is really a matter of gaining concentration and focus so you can skillfully slow down all of the chatter.”  

Another common misconception Buttimer hears is that you need the “right” personality to practice meditation.

“Some people think they need to be calm and easygoing to start meditation and that’s not true,” he says. “It’s not something that’s elusive – it’s a very doable thing.”

Meditation tips for beginners

Buttimer recommends the following tips when starting a meditation practice.

Determine your motivation. Ask yourself why you want to meditate. Is it to reduce stress, improve your focus and concentration, or be more patient in your relationships? Your “why” will drive you through the times you get challenged or frustrated, he says.

Start with a guided meditation. There are many apps, videos and online programs that teach a variety of meditation styles. The best kind of meditation is the one you’ll do, says Buttimer.

Go slow. Start with a five-minute meditation. As you continue to practice, work your way up to longer sessions. Starting slowly sets you up for success. 

Be intentional and passive as you meditate. “You can’t make yourself meditate, just like you can’t make yourself go to sleep – you let yourself meditate,” he explains. “Having a passive attitude doesn’t mean you don’t care, but the non-striving aspect of meditation is really important.”

Have compassion for yourself. “The mind is going to lean toward what’s wrong in a situation,” he says. “If you’re constantly evaluating your performance or if you have ‘monkey mind’ or mental chatter, you just need to catch yourself and gently bring your focus back to your breath or mantra.”

Be curious. “When a person starts meditating, they get distracted easily,” says Buttimer. “Don’t get mad at yourself. Remember that meditation is for fun and exploration. No one’s life is on the line. Be curious about how it works.”

Keep practicing. “Your mind will meander and you may find it goes all over the place, from wondering if you put gas in your car to remembering a memory from fifth grade,” he says. “When that happens, compassionately guide yourself back. The ‘coming back’ is the meditation. Your mind is going to wander, but being willing to gently focus your attention back is what’s considered meditation.” 

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