How to Meditate More Effectively
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
December 1, 2017
- Everyone starts off not really knowing how to meditate. Learning the difference between superficial and deep meditation can improve your technique.
- Years of consistent meditation practice helps you learn the differences between superficial and deep meditation. You’ll still benefit, but maximum benefits come with a deeper state.
- Supporting your mitochondria helps deepen your meditation, and computer-assisted meditation can help you see (and hear!) what your brain is doing so that you can know for sure whether it’s working or not.
The benefits of meditation
Learning how to meditate can feel daunting to beginners. Yet people have been meditating throughout history, and for good reason. Meditation rewires the circuitry in your brain, and the changes come with loads of benefits, like:
- Improved health
- Feeling happier
- Being nicer to others
- Increased self-awareness which increases control
- Increasing folds in the outer layer of the brain, which is a marker of intelligence
- Reduced stress hormones
Of course, to get all of the benefits of meditation, you want to know that you’re actually meditating — not just sitting there. While learning how to meditate, you won’t go too deep at first. But, there are things you can do to shorten your learning curve and set yourself up to meditate as deeply as you can. Keep reading to find out how.
How to meditate
If you’re a newbie, you’re probably familiar with the meditation cycle of sitting quietly, following your breath, catching your wandering mind, and bringing your attention back to your breath. Then your timer goes off and you’re not sure whether or not it did a thing for you. It’s reasonable to expect your first meditation sessions to come with some uncertainty.
Consistent meditation practice familiarizes you with superficial vs. deep meditation. After a while, you learn what the beginning stages feel like and you can feel yourself slip into deeper meditation.
Mitochondria and meditation
Think of your mitochondria as the battery packs of your cells. They burn a ton of energy just keeping you warm, and what’s left goes toward the things you have to do and want to do.
When your mitochondria are strong, you feel awake and alert, and your body works. When they don’t have what they need to power you, you feel slow in your body and mind. Or worse, you end up with disease.
Your mitochondria power everything, including your meditation. You may think of meditation as a time to turn off, but your neurons have an incredibly active role in getting your brain waves into the beneficial state of deep meditation. In order to do what they need to do, neurons burn through a ton of energy — that your mitochondria provides.
Learning how to meditate and getting into a meditation groove is easier when your mitochondria are happy. Here are some ways to keep them tip-top.
Avoid kryptonite (aka energy zappers)
Kryptonite is anything that makes you weak. Your mitochondria are powerful in the sense that they create energy for your whole body, but they’re vulnerable to less-than-optimal conditions.
To maximize what your mitochondria can do, practice these habits:
- Avoid junk food. Your mitochondria are especially susceptible to toxic substances floating around your cells. If you’re eating well-sourced, real food, there’s less for your mitochondria to spend energy resisting so they can make energy for you.
- Seek out sunlight. It goes without saying that artificial lights emit wavelengths that do not match the ones that come from the sun. Your skin absorbs these wavelengths and exposes your mitochondria. Early in the day, sunlight on the skin can energize you for hours. Later in the day, blue wavelengths can disrupt your mitochondria and circadian rhythm, and mess with your sleep. Which brings us to…
- Get good sleep. Lack of sleep damages mitochondria. Here’s how to clean up your sleep habits.
- Minimize your toxins. Toxic substances, like heavy metals and mold toxins, don’t just interfere with mitochondria — they reduce the total number of mitochondria you have, and that messes with your energy and focus. Think of it as having extra battery packs. The more power you have, the longer you can go.
Incorporate high-intensity interval training
Moving is good for your mitochondria. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is better. Doing resistance training and high-intensity intervals HIIT increases mitochondrial function after just two weeks.
Add good fats
Your mitochondria work better when they have a steady supply of fuel. Undamaged medium-chain triglycerides, like those found in coconut oil, and grass-fed butter will keep them going.
Tools that make meditation easier
Technological advances have made it possible to determine whether or not you’ve achieved a meditative state. Whether you’re a newbie or a Zen Master, you’ll find benefits to measuring your progress and tracking it over time. Try these techie devices to help improve your meditation techniques.
Measurement vs. neurofeedback
Knowing that you’re meditating is one thing. Training your brain to get into a meditative state faster takes your meditation to a whole new level.
Neurofeedback tools measure your heart rate or brain waves (or both) to determine whether or not you’re meditating, and when they detect that it’s working, they let you know either by playing a sound or changing the color of a light. Here are some shortcuts to deeper, faster, longer, and better meditation.
The Heart Math device trains you by using heart rate variability. When you’re stressed, your heart rate increases.
Normally, you wait for your calm state to return on its own. With a Heart Math, you can quiet your stress response when you want to, just by breathing. All you do is clip the sensor to your ear and look at your phone while you take long, slow breaths. If it’s red, keep going. When you get the green light, you’re back.
The Heart Math tells you how your nervous system responds to stimuli or meditation. The overall goal is to train your sympathetic nervous system to chill out when you want it to.
The Muse headband offers real-time feedback on how your meditation is going, second by second. When it senses that your mind is busy, it plays sounds of heavy winds. When your mind is quiet, it plays calm, gentle winds.
While you meditate, muse logs what it senses. You can use this information to quantify your ability to calm yourself and focus. That way, you can track your progress over time and stay motivated.
40 Years of Zen
If you want an intensive, therapeutic, advanced neurofeedback workshop in a group setting, 40 Years of Zen is for you. The idea is that with advanced neurofeedback technology coupled with group sessions to help you get to know yourself intimately, you get the benefit of 40 years of Zen meditation practice in 5 days.
The neurofeedback technology senses brain waves like the Muse does, only much more accurately. You don’t get much instruction — your brain does all the learning for you. When the electrodes detect the desired brain waves, it plays a tone that your brain sees as a reward.
Realistically, all you need to get the benefits of meditation are a quiet place to sit, patience, and consistency. Also, keep in mind that there is no goal when learning how to meditate. Just go with it, and eventually you will notice a change. Deep meditative states don’t happen overnight, but they’re within reach for sure. Shortcuts don’t hurt, though.