The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its benefits. Meditation is a practice focused on the present moment and increases awareness of yourself and your surroundings.
Studies show that it reduces stress and anxiety, and depression. Normally, mental and physical stress cause increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This produces many of the harmful effects of stress, such as the release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines. These effects can disrupt sleep, promote depression and anxiety, increase blood pressure and contribute to fatigue and cloudy thinking. In an eight-week study, mindfulness meditation reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
People who meditate find the practice improves mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, pain tolerance, creativity, brain clarity and focus.
So clearly there are significant benefits but many people find meditation hard to do. The way many people are told to approach meditation is to focus on the breath and repeat a mantra. Following this advice can make meditation a mechanical “doing” activity, a task that requires focus. Meditation is meant to happen spontaneously. The meditative state flows from remaining unoccupied with thoughts, and from just experiencing the present moment.
In the following video Alan Watts shares an approach that transforms meditation from a “doing” task to a “being” experience.
Watts recommends beginning by simply listening, by just closing your eyes and being open to hearing all the sounds that are going on around you. You can think of this as listening to the general hum and buzz of the world the same way that you listen to music. Don’t identify the sounds or try put names on the sounds you’re hearing. Let your eardrums hear whatever they want to hear, without letting your mind judge the sounds and guide the experience. If you label the sounds by interpreting them, just accept it. This is normal and automatic. Just accept. Over time you’ll find that your're experiencing the sounds without judgment.
I find that guided meditation is very helpful, especially when new to meditation. Find a teacher and consider using an App like Insight Timer which has a free introductory course. The App also has timed meditations and other courses available. Meditation can also be done in movement, and many people doing endurance activities in the outdoors report that their exercise is a form of meditation. A blend of regular "still" meditation and in the course of activity, might be just what your mind-body needs.