After doing yoga for many years, I thought I didn’t “need” to meditate. Practicing yoga on a regular basis should be enough, right? Not quite.
Although yoga and meditation tend to go hand in hand, it’s too easy to run through the craziness of the day in your mind while going through the yoga poses. But sitting still, closing your eyes, and forcing yourself to quiet your mind has both short and long-term benefits to your mental health that one can’t achieve by practicing yoga alone.
In this article, we’re shining a light on meditation, and by extension, mindfulness, as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been celebrated each May since 1949. Its 2022 theme is “Back to Basics,” and there’s no better fit for this element of mental health than meditation, which has been practiced and aiding mental health for thousands of years.
What is Meditation?
Meditation goes hand in hand with mindfulness, which is the practice of being fully present in the moment, aware of what’s going on around you without expressing judgment.
Meditation Technique: How to Meditate?
To meditate, you close your eyes or soften your gaze, and focus on one thought, one word, or one object.
You might repeat a mantra to yourself, such as, “The universe supports my efforts,” or even just one word that represents how you’d like to feel, for example, “joyful.” Or, you might imagine a bright, white light behind your forehead or the so-called “third eye.”
The key to meditation is to keep coming back to your focus, to the present moment. Notice the thoughts that come up without judgment, and bring your mind back to the moment at hand.
What is the Purpose of Meditation?
The purpose of meditation will vary by individual, but common reasons people meditate are:
- To achieve a sense of calmness and tranquility in what is otherwise a hectic day-to-day existence,
- To reduce stress, and
- To help become less reactionary and more thoughtful over time.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
Although meditation can absolutely bring about a sense of calmness and well-being in the moment, pulling you out of what may be a stressful day, it also succeeds in making those who practice regularly calmer in general, even when they are not meditating at the moment. In yoga, we say we’re bringing this state “off the mat.”
As a parent, I find meditation helps me stay calm in moments of stress with the children. If they have colored on walls or are asking me for juice for the umpteenth time, instead of feeling my heartbeat quicken and my voice level rise, I’m much more likely to be able to take a breath before responding appropriately.
In this sense, meditation is an important technique that can contribute to better parenting and breaking the cycle of abuse, which prevents ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and benefits both parents and children.
Can Meditation Help Mental Illness?
Those suffering from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others, often resulting from ACEs, can benefit greatly from incorporating a frequent meditation routine. Even just five minutes a day can prove beneficial!
When used in conjunction with therapy and possibly medication, mindfulness can serve as a great tool for preparing the mind for taxing situations, helping to default to a state of calm instead of stress. In fact, some research suggests that meditation can actually help restructure the physical makeup of your brain.
Types of Meditation to Help Your Mental Health
There are several different types of meditation that can help your mental health. Regardless of which kind you’re trying, you’ll want to be in a quiet space sitting or laying down in a comfortable position.
Two common types of meditation that each help with mental health and well-being are mantras or positive affirmations, and imagery or visualizations.
Mantras involve internally repeating a calming word, phrase, thought, or positive affirmation. I’ve found these to be helpful for morning or bedtime meditations. Your morning meditation word might be “productive,” for a busy workday. At the end of a day, you might repeat to yourself, “I did my best, and that’s enough,” before getting ready for bed.
Visualization meditation is when you picture yourself in a place that brings you a sense of calm and peace. This could be a real or imagined place such as a beach or an open field. I’m also a fan of the “Mountain Meditation Script,” which is a guided meditation you can google and have someone read to you.
If you’re taking a few moments out of your day to focus on the present and quiet your mind, then you’re “doing it right,” and your mental health will be better for it.
Meditation for Anxiety
Does meditation help with anxiety?
Anxiety, which can be the foundation of other mental illnesses such as depression, in particular, can be effectively combated with meditation. A regular meditation and mindfulness routine can help alter how you react to moments of high anxiety.
When a person feels anxious, they may experience a foreboding sense of dread or panic, like something terrible is going to happen, or they might be restless or tense.
As mentioned, meditation can prove helpful both in the moment and in the long term. So, if you are feeling anxious before a job interview or a date, taking a few minutes to meditate beforehand can help you calm down.
But the benefits of meditation go beyond a single session to relax your mind and body from anxiety. If a moment of anxiousness threatens to overcome you, with a solid meditation practice under your belt, you’re more likely to stay calm in the moment, so you react mindfully and appropriately—even if you haven’t meditated for hours.
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is when the effects of a traumatic event persist over the long term. This traumatic event could be anything from serving in combat to experiencing a car accident or an assault, or a traumatic childhood experience (ACE).
While most human beings feel stress and anxiety after a traumatic event, it usually dissipates over time. But with PTSD, symptoms like frequently reliving the event in your mind, or constantly feeling on edge that something terrible might happen, persist over time and affect the sufferer’s sense of well-being.
A part of PTSD is feeling a loss of control. Meditation can help with that. Instead of reliving the past or dreading the future, you’re pulled into the present moment. This can help those suffering from PTSD to feel more of a sense of control over their lives and emotions.
Additional Resources for Help
If you’re interested in using meditation as a tool to counter stress, help combat a mental illness, or to practice mindfulness in your daily life to improve your mental health, there are numerous apps, such as Head Space, and articles to get you started. WebMD even has a How To Meditate video you can check out.
If you need immediate help, please contact:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – 1-800-662-4327 (“HELP”)
Crisis Text Line – Send a text to 741741
During this Mental Health Awareness Month, learn more about ACEs associated with Parental Mental Illness on our website and subscribe to our newsletter for more information and resources. Help us help others by supporting our work. Read about the ten categories of ACEs by following our blog. Do you know your ACE score? Take the ACE test here.
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Erin does writing, editing, social media, and SEO for a marketing company, and is working on her first novel.