Meditation is the practice of training your mind to focus on one thing at a time, and to be fully present in the moment. People who meditate report learning to quiet the constant chatter of their minds and experience more calm and serenity.
While some forms of meditation have roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is not an inherently spiritual or religious practice. Instead, people who meditate aim to tune into themselves to experience inner quiet and cultivate a state of peaceful contemplation.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation is a highly researched, evidence-based tool that can foster increased well-being – mentally, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Meditating may help you:
- Quiet your mind and be more present
- Improve memory, attention, and focus
- Increase productivity
- Reduce stress
- Increase contentment and decrease depression
- Manage negative emotions, physical pain, and addiction
- Increase energy and self-esteem
- Improve sleep patterns
- Create deeper levels of relaxation
Some research indicates that regular mediation may even increase brain size and grey matter, improve intelligence and creativity, strengthen the immune system, normalize blood sugar, and lower blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries.
However, it doesn’t take years of meditation to experience results. The benefits can be immediate … and long-term!
How to meditate
Meditation can take many forms. However, its foundation lies in being able to focus on one thing or object at a time, and to continually re-focus when the mind drifts to other thoughts. Some inaccurately assume that meditation is an act of shutting down; in actuality, it’s an active process. Meditation is like exercise for your brain. The more you practice, the more efficient your brain becomes at re-focusing and remaining in the present moment.
Some people meditate while sitting still. Others do it through repetitive movements such as walking, biking, paddling, drawing, coloring, or even kneading bread dough – anything that allows you to focus your attention on the present moment, acknowledge thoughts and feelings as they arise and then to let them go out of your awareness. Below are some resources to get your started.
Online guided meditation
Enjoy these guided meditation recordings from our Skorton Center for Health Initiatives. Click on any link to listen.
- Body Scan Meditation (2 min, 18 sec) [Body Scan transcript]
A quick and easy way to re-center yourself in the hustle and bustle of a busy Cornell day. This short meditation exercise can be useful to calm yourself when experiencing times of heightened stress during the day, and is a good way to quickly focus-inward and clear your head in order operate with a bit more clarity throughout the remainder of your day.
- The Lake Meditation (9 min, 12 sec) [The Lake transcript]
This nature-oriented, soothing meditation is a good way to de-stress! Coupled with the sounds of a calm night around a lake, this meditation uses the lake as a metaphor to bring relaxation to your whole body, and calm your mind simultaneously.
- Into the Stillness Meditation (7 min, 54 sec) [Into the Stillness transcript]
This meditation is set to the ambient sounds of a warm, sunny day. It is a good way to create space within the day to invite a sense of stillness and calm to occupy your consciousness.
- Mindfulness Relaxation Exercise (8 min, 16 sec) [Mindfulness Relaxation transcript]
This meditation takes you through a complete body scan, from your feet, to your head. It is a good way to actively invite a sense of relaxation both to individual parts of the body, and also, to the body as a whole.
We also recommend these free online meditation sessions (including ones in Spanish) from Mindful Harlem, a non-profit meditation center (no spiritual or religious affiliation), and these online affinity group practices (with groups for people of color, queer individuals, transgender individuals, and more) from InsightLA.
Sample meditation exercise
This simple exercise is an excellent introduction to basic meditation techniques:
- Sit or lie comfortably, and close your eyes.
- Take several deep breaths through your nose, releasing bodily tension on the out-breath.
- Focus your attention on the breath, making no effort to control your breathing. Simply breathe naturally. Notice how the breath moves in and out of the body with each inhalation and exhalation. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, or belly. Keep focusing on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity.
- If your mind wanders, observe without judgment the thoughts or emotions that have arisen and then release them, returning your focus back to your breath. When noticing thoughts or emotions, you might name them -- saying to yourself, “thinking” or “planning” or “worrying,” as this acknowledgement can help with letting them go.
Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.
Things to keep in mind …
- Meditation is typically easier and more successful when you detach from trying to “get it right.” Instead, just be present to what is.
- The benefits of meditation occur even when you are noticing the “chatter” of your mind.
- Like any skill, mastering one’s mind takes practice. Enjoy any moments of pure silence or peace that arise amid the chatter, and build upon those.
- Even a few minutes of meditation daily is better than none at all, and can result in real benefits.