Meditation is a mental exercise that trains attention and awareness. Its purpose is often to curb reactivity to one’s negative thoughts and feelings, which, though they may be disturbing and upsetting and hijack attention from moment to moment, are invariably fleeting.
It’s impossible for us to make our thoughts disappear; often, the more we try to suppress them, the louder they become. But practicing meditation can help clear away the mind’s chatter.
Meditation has been shown to increase focus, reduce stress, and promote calmness. It can also help people recognize and accept negative emotions—especially when it is done in combination with mindfulness practices that keep people grounded in experiencing the present.
In mindfulness meditation, one turns their attention to a single point of reference, such as one’s breath or bodily sensations, or a word or phrase known as a mantra. The practice has been shown to decrease distraction and rumination, make negative automatic thoughts seem easier to let go of, and promote greater enjoyment of the present moment.
It’s common for a person’s thoughts to wander during meditation, especially when they are first starting out. Trying to stop thinking completely is futile and often serves to intensify unwanted thoughts. Instead, the key is to notice when the mind wanders and bring one’s attention gently back to the meditation practice.
Meditation involves a heightened focus on the present moment that can be disorienting at first. Many beginners start with short sessions of three to five minutes each and gradually increase the time they spend meditating. The length of the meditation is less important than being consistent, as many meditators agree that they see results practicing just 10 minutes every day.