Take a moment to ask yourself which morning scenario you’d prefer: Being jarred into wakefulness by your iPhone’s alarm, or gently making your way into the day with a soothing meditation practice?
We’ll just put it out there — your morning routine has the power to shape your entire day. Laura Maciuika, EdD and clinical psychologist, knows this, which is why she suggested to Psychology Today that a morning meditation practice be the first thing you do each new day.
It makes sense, too. When your first sensation upon waking is of being startled, feelings of confusion and chaos create the precedent for an uncomfortable day. However, when you take the time to slow things down, gradually greeting the day with the help of a morning meditation practice, perhaps guided by a self-help guru like Deepak Chopra, the benefits abound.
Now, as we approach one of the most stressful times of the year — the holiday season — cultivate a sense of inner-calm by incorporating a self-care technique like meditation into your everyday life. When facing the burdens of the holidays (i.e. budgeting concerns, travel, work constraints), the various forms of meditation — from Zen and Mindfulness, to Transcendental Meditation, Tonglen, and more — will help to keep you grounded, productive, energized, resilient, and happy.
To get started on your meditation journey, check out Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, grab yourself a meditation cushion set and prepare to get schooled in the art of relaxation with a couple of guided meditation cd’s, like these babies created by Oprah & Deepak Chopra. Here are the Top 5 ways morning meditation makes for a calmer day.
While it’s easy to get swept up in life’s stresses and distractions, morning meditation starts your day with a fresh reminder of the bigger picture. Getting caught up with deadlines, bills, holiday shopping and rush hour traffic, we can lose touch of the fundamental values in life. Taking a moment to ground yourself on your intended path each day prevents rushing through life on autopilot.
In his 2005 Stanford University Commencement Speech, Steve Jobs stated: “[For] the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
When you take a step back to consider what feeds your soul, you’re re-connected with your truth. Maybe it’s love, spirituality, service or gratitude that speaks to you — whatever your deepest values are, sometimes it takes tuning-in to a more relaxed state to remember what you hold most important. You’ll find that when you’re not losing sight of the bigger picture, it’s easier not to sweat the other stuff.
It might surprise you to learn that corporations like Target, Google and Ford have begun incorporating Mindfulness curricula into their workplace. Why? Well, as The Atlantic reports, mindfulness training is a good business decision because of how it positively impacts the workforce. Reduced stress, fewer health expenses and greatly increased productivity are among its many gifts to the workplace.
If you’re wondering how, exactly, it comes down to the practice of mindfulness meditation itself. While no meditation technique changes the external factors contributing to your stressed-out state, they do equip you to more capably handle the stress that life throws at you. Take it from the mindfulness master himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose best-selling book — Wherever You Go, There You Are — is the mindfulness community’s go-to.
Think of it this way: When you have a mountain of assignments piling up, the sense of overwhelm is paralyzing. Mindfulness brings your focus to the present moment, honing in on each singular task at a time. Rather than letting your emotions and thoughts turn to how much there is to do, mindfulness teaches you to gently redirect focus back to the task at-hand. Without the self-imposed pressure, you can often proceed unhindered.
And the end result? A boost in productivity so pronounced that a shift towards socially responsible corporate behavior is already in the works.
Harvard University’s Harvard Health Blog reported on a scientific study’s finding confirming the hypothesis that meditation improves your sleep. As a direct consequence of getting better sleep, practitioners enjoy better sustained energy throughout the day.
How? Well, if we’re to believe Dr. Herbert Benson — the director emeritus of Harvard’s affiliated Institute for Mind Body Medicine — it’s because it improves our ability to invoke the ‘relaxation response.’ (Cue the holy music.)
The relaxation response refers to a set of biological processes initiated by the parasympathetic nervous system, countering those bodily processes your body’s stress response initiated. These “anti-stress” responses range from decreased heart rate and blood pressure, to improved digestion and —duh — better sleep.
Each time you meditate, you’re practicing a skill — the skill of calming yourself down, even in the presence of racing thoughts and stress galore. When nighttime rolls around, this comes in handy when it’s time to catch some shut-eye. And there’s no better medicine than a good night’s sleep. So meditation’s capacity to lessen insomnia and improve sleep quality leads to increased, sustained energy throughout the day.
Wanna learn more about the benefits of sleep? Check out our Top 5 Ways More Sleep Means Less Stress During the Holiday Season
One of the most ah-mazing ways that morning meditation can transform your life is the way it fortifies stress tolerance, while simultaneously cultivating a sense of well-being. A key feature of meditation practice (the operative word being practice) is the process of guiding your mind back to present-moment awareness, whether it’s a Mindfulness activity, your mantra in Transcendental Meditation, or, simply, your breath.
You’ll notice yourself becoming more aware of your mind’s wanderings when left unchecked (i.e. Did I leave the flat-iron on? How long ’til lunch?). Then, each time you notice it’s strayed, you’ll develop the skill of re-directing your thoughts back to the task at-hand. Sometimes it’s harder than others — the term “monkey mind” was developed for a reason — but the critical component here is that you’re learning a new skill: developing the capacity to shift your thoughts.
The result of conscious redirection is that you can choose to focus on thoughts and feelings that aid you in meeting your goals, rather than exacerbating your stress. This ability itself yields improvements in life that are simply too great to pass up. For starters, Mindful cites the statistically significant advantages of simply being present as: a heightened sense of well-being; a diminished psychological distress; and even greater pain tolerance.
In other words, morning meditation will drastically improve your ability to handle stressful situations, as well as your sense of well-being in the face of stressors. Plus, as your self-mastery grows, so, too, will your confidence in the ability to cope and self-regulate.
One of the worst parts about handling stress is how hard we tend to be on ourselves. In the face of disappointment, countless “should’s” arise in our minds to inform us of how we could have done better, or we should have acted.
Gross! What if we told you that harsh self-talk actually hinders your growth and well-being?
Suffice it to say that berating yourself into “better behavior” is a recipe for stress disaster. The same goes for how you treat others. Instead of adopting an abrasive approach to self-discipline, meditation practices — like Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation — teach you to gently use tools for self-improvement through values like self-acceptance, self-compassion and loving-kindness.
By separating your judgments from your emotional processes, you learn to observe your emotions without judging them. Harvard University’s Harvard Health Blog points out that this practice tames your brain’s emotional reactivity by literally re-balancing activity between your two brain hemispheres.
What are the outcomes? A greater tolerance for anxiety and stress; decreased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol; increased serotonin accessibility in the brain stem; less emotional reactivity, and the improved ability to process emotions. Along with them, improved self-acceptance and psychological well-being.
What’s not to love?
Want more ways to ensure a stress-free holiday season? Check out our Guide to Relieving Stress During the Holidays.
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