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Meditation has increased in popularity in recent years and become more mainstream. The practice of mindfulness and meditation has been around for centuries and has tremendous benefits for our mental and physical health. But even if we know how beneficial meditation is, most of us don’t meditate every day because we feel too busy or it just seems too hard to get the daily habit started.
The great thing about meditation though is that, like other micro habits, you will get benefits from simple doing it regularly as part of your routine. A brief short mediation is better than trying to set an unrealistic goal and not very doing it. Here are some tips that will help you make meditation part of your daily habit routine.
Benefits of Meditation
Researchers have discovered numerous benefits to meditation. Here are a few of the top benefits:
- Stress Reduction – this is one of the top reasons why people try meditation. Scientific research with thousands of participants shows that mindfulness mediation improved anxiety, depression and pain management.
- Reduced Anxiety – If you have less stress, you will have less anxiety. Many scientific studies with thousands of participants have shown that meditation improves anxiety symptoms and even improves anxiety disorders.
- Improved Sleep – Research shows that mindfulness meditation has helped with insomnia. Specifically, it helps people fall asleep more quickly and say asleep longer.
- Improved Emotional Health – two studies (study, study) showed that mindfulness meditation decreased depression in over 4600 adults. And other studies suggest that meditation may reduce depression by decreasing cytokines (inflammatory chemicals that are released in response to stress).
How does meditation affect your brain?
It’s fair to say that the reason meditation practice are so popular (and still increasing in popularity) is because of the many positive effects associated with this activity, many of which are confirmed by scientific studies. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine  reported significant increases in left-sided anterior activation in subjects practising meditation compared to control group. The findings of this study also produced demonstrable effects on immune function, with significant increases in antibody titers to flu vaccine in participants subjected to meditation as opposed to those who did not meditate.
A study on effects on transcendental meditation practices on brain functioning conducted in 2009  revealed significant increases in Brain Integration Scale scores (broadband frontal coherence power ratios and preparatory brain responses) for immediate-start students, as well as significant reductions in sleepiness and increases in habituation rates for delayed-start students, therefore confirming the value of meditation practice for college students.
Another study from 2012 set out to determine the effects of meditation on functional connectivity of distributed brain networks  poses a question of how meditation can bring benefit to daily life. The general conclusion was that repeated engagement of relevant brain networks over time encouraged positive cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes.
Should you meditate every day?
It’s a difficult question to answer definitely. On one hand, even short periods of mindfulness practice can have a beneficial effect on our mind. On the other hand, meditation is not the type of thing that should be rushed or forced, both in terms of duration and frequency. To become more skilled at meditation practice, you ought to learn to relax and relent to your thoughts. Ironically, the harder you try to calm yourself, the less likely you are to achieve a meditative state. It’s catch-22.
The best strategy is to start small and slowly build up. Most meditation practitioners recommend starting first thing in the morning to start your day off with a calm state of mind. Try sitting still and directing your attention inwards for 5 minutes at a time. There are various techniques to help you increase awareness to your mental and physical awareness, some are as simple as focusing on your breaths and physical sensations.
If staying still for 5 minutes feels overwhelming, you could reduce the time to 2 minutes at a time. There isn’t a wrong or right answer, just what works best for you and what you can maintain as a regular habit. If meditating every day (even for as little as 2-5 minutes) yields positive results, then it is definitely worth continuing and developing your meditation practice.
How do you meditate every day?
First, it’s important to be realistic with your goals. It would be really difficult if not impossible to go from zero to meditating for hours every day. Like with any other skill, it takes some time to develop it, to get better at it, and to work out the type of routine that suits you in this scenario. In this day and age, there are many options for assisted or guided meditation – from mobile apps and YouTube videos to scheduled meetings where you meditate as a group.
As well as having some options among free apps, there are also subscription based applications that are more tailored to your needs. These are great for complete beginners as they offer extra guidance different techniques, time of day you choose to meditate, overall environment and duration of your mindfulness practice.
Once you get a grasp of the basics, you could expand your repertoire to YouTube videos or perhaps guided meditation available on Spotify. It’s important to feel at ease while you are meditating and it’s worth trying a few different approaches until you find the one that works best for you. Even the slightest things could make a difference – from the speaker’s tone of voice, to the music in the background or temperature in the room. The beauty of using mobile apps or pre-recorded tracks is that you can practise anytime and anywhere.
Note: some of the meditation apps to check out – Headspace, Calm, MindU, Simple Habit, Insight Timer, Breethe and Oak. Some YouTube channels to check out – The Honest Guys, Great Meditation. Spotify playlists to check out – Guided Meditation (compilation), Guided Meditation for Everybody (Headspace)
If you’re looking for more of a “hands-on” approach, check your local yoga studios and spiritual locations (such as Buddhist centres), as they often offer guided meditation sessions as part of their weekly schedule. You’re not likely to be able to go to something like that every single day but it’s a great way to obtain the skills you need to make a transition towards every day meditation. Attending a group meditation may be less convenient because of having to set aside a certain time for it, however this approach allows to to ask any questions you might have, develop a network of mindful acquaintances and perhaps open your mind to more mindfulness techniques.
The more often you practice, the more you will bring mindfulness into everyday life. After a while, you may not even need a voiceover or even background music to meditate. In fact, eventually it is possible to meditate while you’re performing automated tasks, such as commuting, walking, showering, cooking or crafting.
How to Start a Daily Meditation Practice
Getting started with meditation can be easy and simple. Like with other habits, it’s easier to start with it as a micro habit and start with ONE minute per day and to do it regularly. And then add time each day or week. That keeps the habit regular and instead of an all-or-nothing thing where you either meditate for 30 minutes every day (how many people actually have the time?!), you will actually get some benefits daily.
To keep you on track and make your meditation habit as simple as possible, here are a few quick tips:
- Commit to just one minute per day – start with a simple commitment of just one minute. If you want to do 2 minutes or 5 minutes that’s fine. The main thing is to set a simple goal you can achieve daily and not an unrealistic aspirational goal that will set you up for failure and feeling bad.
- Pick a specific time and trigger – You don’t need to have an exact time like 2pm, but a general time or place in your schedule such as the afternoon, or upon waking, or right before bed. The best way to start any new habit is to tie it with an existing habit. So if you use a regular event to be the trigger, that will help you make this automatic. Try first thing upon waking in bed, or set a recurring reminder in your phone to be the trigger.
- Visualize how this will go – right now just close your eyes and make a quick image in your mind of how this will work. For example, see yourself waking up in the AM and then closing your eyes for a quick minute to start this habit.
Can meditation be dangerous?
It is true that everything is best in moderation, even activities that seemingly only carry positive connotations. Exercise, for example, is a key component to wellbeing, yet too much exercise can lead to exhaustion, injury and body dysmorphia. Yoga has been proven to have great health benefits, and yet too much yoga (especially hot yoga!) can also cause issues in the joints and place unnecessary strain on muscles and ligaments.
Meditation is no different. While it undoubtedly has a positive effect when it comes to you wellbeing, there can also be downsides to meditation. Unlike other lifestyle choices, direct effects of meditation on a person’s mind and body are not as well-researched as, say, exercise or diet. The goal of meditation is to become more mindful and aware of your thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you are in control of said thoughts.
Venturing into the depths of your mind may bring negative thoughts to the surface and if not addressed in due time, could result in negative thinking patterns that in turn would have an adverse effect on mental health. Taking the time to stop and submerge into your mind could also unlock unpleasant or painful memories. Sometimes our brain suppresses memories of stressful or traumatic experiences as a method of self-preservation, and bringing these memories to the surface could cause additional damage.
Meditation side effects are not always limited to psychological effects, either. In a study conducted by researchers from Brown University and University of California in 2017 , some participants reported having visual hallucinations and changes in sensory perception, such as increased sensitivity to light and sounds as well as warped perception of time and space. Subjects of the same study also reported feeling negative changes all throughout their systems, including pain, pressure, involuntary movements, headaches, fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, and dizziness.
It’s also worth noting that spending prolonged periods of time in poses traditionally associated with meditation (i.e. lotus pose, cross-legged seat, seared hero pose) can be potentially dangerous, in some cases cutting off blood supply to one’s feet or even causing nerve damage.
Another common symptom reported among meditation practitioners both in the aforementioned 2017 study as well as 1992 study conducted by Prof. Deane H. Shapiro, Jr (PhD) , was a distorted sense of self. Prof. Shapiro’s study was conducted to look at adverse effects of meditation and showed that participants were more aware of their negative qualities after returning from a meditation retreat. Participants in the 2017 study described feeling a loss of agency, a loss of sense of basic self, and a loss of ownership. That’s not to say that everyone who practises meditation will necessarily experience negative side effects, however it’s best to be aware of such possibilities and be on the lookout for symptoms.
Academic References for this article: Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation by Richard J. Davidson, PhD; Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD; Jessica Schumacher, MS; Melissa Rosenkranz, Daniel Muller, MD, PhD; Saki F. Santorelli, EdD; Ferris Urbanowski, MA; Anne Harrington, PhD; Katherine Bonus, MA; John F. Sheridan, PhD for Psychosomatic Medicine, 2003 – https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2003/07000/Alterations_in_Brain_an d_Immune_Function_Produced.14.aspx  Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students by FredTravis, David A.F.Haaga, JohnHagelin, MelissaTanner, SanfordNidich, CarolynGaylord-King, SarinaGrosswald, MaxwellRainforth, Robert H.Schneider for International Journal of Psychophysiology, 2009 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167876008008088
 Effects of meditation experience on functional connectivity of distributed brain networks by Wendy Hasenkamp* and Lawrence W. Barsalou for Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012 – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00038/full The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists by Jared R. Lindahl, Nathan E. Fisher, David J. Cooper, Rochelle K. Rosen, Willoughby B. Britton for Plos One, 2017 – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176239  Adverse effects of meditation: a preliminary investigation of long-term meditators by Deane H. Shapiro Jr. for International Journal of Psychosomatics, 1992 – http://deanehshapirojr.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Adverse-Effect-of-Meditation.pdf